If I’m being honest, if you’d have told me a couple of years ago that I would be sat here blogging about my experiences with depression and anxiety, I’d have laughed at you. I was a firm believer that depression existed, I’d seen it destroy many people, but anxiety? I genuinely thought it was a made up condition that gave hypochondriacs a legitimate reason to panic.
Now before any keyboard warriors start, I said that was the former me. The former me deserves a slap for numerous reasons! Now I realise I was naïve and suffering with my condition without help.
It’s been a bumpy ride for me to get to this point and I only feel as though I can write about this now as I’m properly medicated and have my condition under control.
Depression and anxiety are at their worst when the sufferer doesn’t know they have it or refuses to accept they have it. That’s when a person is in real danger of losing themselves. I had been at that point. I got lost, and really (despite my positive posts from the past) it’s only now that I am fully able to see that my future really is my own.
There are so many symptoms of depression and anxiety and they are so subjective to the individual, that sometimes it can be difficult to recognise when you have it. One thing is absolutely certain:
Depression and anxiety are not something you can ‘snap out of’, it is not merely ‘feeling sorry for yourself’ or being ‘dramatic’, and medication most definitely does not just ‘mask the problem’!
My former self used to believe these things. I know, it’s a vile way to see mental health, but sadly, it’s not uncommon.
My depression manifests itself in a self-hatred of my body and a destruction of self-worth and confidence. It’s not just a feeling either, there are physical symptoms too. Extreme tiredness, headaches, anger and crying, over/under eating…the list goes on.
My anxiety manifests itself in living in a permanent ‘fight or flight’ mode. For example, feeling as though I’m constantly being watched, judged, seeing almost everyone as a threat, being overly sensitive to light, sound and smells, headaches, nausea, and appetite problems, constantly living in fear of something or someone (whether real or imagined).
I’m not sure how long I had been living that way, I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t feel that way. Until I saw a man called John who counselled me with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Possibly the greatest thing he taught me was that a thought is just that. A thought. It’s not a physical thing. It’s the inevitable reaction that is required from having a thought that can be the problem. John taught me to change the way I viewed situations and gave me coping mechanisms to control my anxiety. My GP gave me anti-depressants to control the depression. That was back in January of this year. Only now, do I really feel as though my condition is properly under control.
Here are some of the ways I was taught to cope with my anxiety:
Ride It Out
Right at the moment you feel that you have to get away or get out of a situation, stop and take a breath, physically stop and breathe. You have to allow yourself to go past that fear where all you want to do is run. For me, it was crowds of people (like a busy shopping centre at Christmas). It wasn’t just a fear of not getting a space, it was a physical fear of the amount of people there. It felt like people were closing in on me, like I couldn’t breathe and that everything was so, so loud.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I would just feel the need to leave. Until John. John taught me to just take a moment to focus on anything else; my daughters, a cup of coffee, my phone, anything. Then once the need to flee was over, to look around at what’s going on. Yes, there might be a lot of people, yes it might be noisy, but actually, it’s not so noisy and busy that I feel like I’m going to be crushed. Apparently, your anxiety will peak and then slowly begin to reduce. Within a 20 minute time period; you know what? It does.
Take To The Skies
Take the anxiety away from yourself. When you’re sat there thinking everyone is personally out to get you. Stop. Use something called the Helicopter Method. Take yourself out of your situation and look at the bigger picture. What is the worst possible scenario? Not an imaginary scenario, but something that could actually happen. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be that bad.
Return To Earth
Grounding is also a great way to help you stop feeling as though everything is dangling above your head and you’re unable to grasp it. A little like meditation, grounding helps you to really re-focus your mind on the here and now. Closing your eyes and trying to clear your mind. Only focus on how you’re breathing, how your skin feels, what the chair or floor feels like. Bring your anxiety down and your mind back to reality.
These are just a couple of methods that work for me. There are many others that work too, if you’ll let them. For my depression, medication was the answer. It’s not that I need to pop a pill to get through my day, it’s that my body has a chemical imbalance and the medication helps to restore that balance.
I hope some of this a) makes sense and b) might help either you or someone you know. Mental Health is something that despite campaigns for it, still carries a weighty stigma with it. The more people that speak out, the more the stigma is reduced.