Thursday, 14 January 2016

Chapter One | My Story

Sometimes I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The thought of answering a phone call gives me an overwhelming feeling of fear. Sometimes I stay in my bedroom with the door closed in an attempt to shield myself from anything that might interrupt my hopelessness. Of course this makes little sense but depression is the biggest rabble-rouser of them all. It's difficult for me to explain to people why talking on the phone or making a trip to the shop gives me heart palpitations or makes me feel dizzy, because I believe that they won't understand or I won't be able to explain why.

I aim to be completely honest and genuine in all of my blog posts so I can try and give a 'real picture' of what it's like to live with a mental illness and the issues I have faced as a result. One of the biggest issues is the social stigma surrounding it, and the discrimination people experience. We may be naive and not understand that this makes the difficulties so much worse, and as a result, makes it significantly harder to recover. I'm not going to sugar coat anything because I believe that everyone should know what the reality of it is.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety early last year and more than anything I couldn't understand why. It's incredibly hard to admit to feeling depressed, especially when there's no way to determine it. Am I depressed enough? Everyone experiences feelings and anxieties that they have to deal with and don't complain about, so what gives me the right to pity myself? I wish I had known the answers to these questions but post-diagnosis, I felt ashamed to admit it.

The truth is I don't feel like myself and I haven't for a very long time. I want to stop feeling that I am weak when admitting that I struggle with my mental health on a daily basis. I've had many conversations with a few people very close to me about how I feel and I find it difficult to explain, because I can't even explain it to myself. The best way I can describe it is with the help of Barbara Kingsolver, an American writer. "Sadness is like a head-cold, with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer."

Now whilst this comparison doesn't necessarily help anyone, because you can't diagnose depression in the same way you could diagnose cancer, the point is some people get it and some people don't. It just is. You can't medicalise misery, and you may think that nothing could compare to the heartbreak that some families go through when their loved ones suffer from diseases such as cancer, but perhaps we should be aware that some of the most devastating and darkest illnesses often stem from the brain. The phrase "mental illness" itself sounds as if it could be describing something imaginary, when the fact of the matter is, a disease of the brain is as physical as that of another organ. It is the cancer of the soul.

Now for the home truths. Living with depression and anxiety for the past year has affected my life in more ways than I could imagine. For months before my diagnosis I felt like what I can only describe as numb to life. Nothing was enjoyable and nothing could make me smile. I felt like every problem I faced had no answer and I struggled to see into the future. But most of all I had completely lost who I was. I didn't know why I felt this way, nor did I like it one bit. I was trying so hard to breathe but the metaphorical tar that was smothering my face didn't allow me to. I was surrounded by people but I felt so desperately alone.

Struggle number 2. Social anxiety. There has been many situations over the years where I've been shopping or been in a crowded place and I've suddenly been overcome with an intense dizziness where I can barely see and I've had to sit down. Shaking like a frightened rabbit, I'd eat something sweet and eventually it would pass. Never have I understood why this happened, but it was something that always happened so I never questioned it. Until it started to happen more frequently and randomly. I could be sat in my room alone and suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of fear and nervousness which I couldn't explain. Or be sat in a lecture hall and start sweating uncontrollably and in constant fear that I'll go bright red in the face if someone talks to me. I also hate queuing in a shop, as I believe that everyone is staring at me as I approach the till, and I'll spend my entire time in the queue going over what I'm going to say to the cashier in my head. And then think about it obsessively afterwards.

After visiting my GP and doing many questionnaires with a local helpline and a psychiatrist, I was given a diagnosis and was referred to the local hospital to start Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). However I must mention that this entire process took a good 5 months. Five more long and difficult months, although I felt pleased that I had been given something to work with. At least there was a reason behind my feelings, I told myself. But there wasn't really a reason at all. I couldn't think of a reason why I felt so depressed or anxious and I think the hardest thing of all was having to accept that it was just the way I was.

I didn't feel normal and I felt ashamed to say out loud to myself that I had a mental illness. The only thing I felt I could do was try and understand what it all meant. When I eventually started my CBT sessions I got a better understanding of what depression was, and what social anxiety was all about. I must admit though, none of it seemed to make me feel better. I never completed my course of CBT because the rogue D and A words managed to convince me that it was pointless. I often feel that things I do are completely pointless and I couldn't tell you how many things I have convinced myself out of doing. Sometimes everyday things are such a tremendous effort, simple things such as having a shower or making a hot drink. I was quite an ambitious person and would make lists of everything that I would like to do within the next few years, such as go travelling or learn how to cook, or learn a new language. Get a first class degree, get my summer body..... Oh absolutely not. How did I lose the desire to partake in life?

I have come to realise now that mental illness was around me all this time but I wasn't aware of it. Call me ignorant or naive but it's never been something that I've known a lot about at all. So when my own thoughts and perceptions of things started to change I would never have guessed that it could be mental health related, the thought didn't even cross my mind. All I can say is that I wish I knew more about it sooner and I do my best to learn about it every day. More than anything I would love for people to do the same, and I believe that it's very important for people to do so.

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