Matt Haig posted that in a tweet a few weeks back (from his book Reasons To Stay Alive) and it honestly blew my mind. In my opinion, our brains make every negative thing you experience feel like something impossible to overcome, like a huge obstacle that’ll take months or years to climb over. In reality, those negative feelings and experiences are clouds and we are the sky. It’s one small, not-so-fluffy cloud in a vast space that stretches as far as your imagination takes you.
Last week I was diagnosed with some form of depression. I’m still trying to process that diagnosis and I’ll be honest in that it’s a lot for me to come to terms with. People I have told so far will have noticed that I’ve kind of brushed it off with humour and a lame form of positivity. In case you haven’t noticed or don’t know me well enough, humour is my coping mechanism, so I apologise in advance if you find my dry humour towards mental health offensive. Also, I’m sorry this will be a long read, but I thought if I was to be truly honest, I may as well go the whole way.
The Lead Up
I’ve spent the last few months not quite feeling myself but it’s only now that I’m willing to admit that. As someone who doesn’t show emotion very often (see coping mechanism above), all these feelings coming to the surface after years of not dealing with them has been difficult to process. Some days I’m great, some days I’m awful and some days I’m numb. Ironically, my physical health is the best it has ever been because I’ve been so focused on looking after it. That focus sadly wasn’t on my mental health, which as I’ve pointed out on various occasions, is equally as important as the physical.
In hindsight, all the symptoms were there and I was too naïve to admit there was anything wrong. I blamed my exhaustion and lack of motivation to do things I enjoy on being constantly busy with work and studying. For a period, I was in three jobs and studying weekly for a qualification. I’m surprised I was still standing at the end of those weeks. I began to realise something was off when I began sleeping the clock round. As soon as I came home from work, I had a nap. At weekends I forced myself to socialise but when I came home, I was straight into my sweats and under a blanket. I constantly craved sleep. At the time, I genuinely couldn’t figure out any reason for this when in reality, my body and mind were telling me to take a break; to sit and let myself process 4 years worth of emotions that had been locked inside my head. I didn’t listen and now, I’ll be the first to admit that mentally, I have burnt myself out.
Along with exhaustion came the intense feeling of sheer loneliness which was ironic because I’m surrounded by people all the time. There is never a day that goes by where I’m truly on my own. But that’s the reality of my depression and being surrounded by people doesn’t stop feelings of loneliness coming through. It sounds so petty but I feel like at this time in my life, I’m stuck in a rut, and my brain fully believes all of my friends are progressing to new stages of their lives along with their significant others. Don’t get me wrong, the rational side of my brain knows that everyone moves at different stages and it’s okay not to have life figured out at 23 years of age but it doesn’t stop those feelings. All around me it feels like everyone is travelling through life at the speed of light and I’m ambling about in slow motion, not really having a clue what I’m doing. I wrote briefly about this kind of feeling in my last post about online dating (check it out here #shamelessplug) but I wrote with humour and self-deprecation. The reality is, when most of your friends are either married, engaged or in a settled relationship and you’re living the single life, it can be difficult to cope with (even though being single is totally okay and actually very liberating…see how I can’t make my mind up?)
You begin to wonder if it’s actually because there’s something wrong with you and you begin to pick out all the flaws you think you have. Living with anxiety doesn’t really help this (I actually wrote a post about that too). You begin to obsess over your actions and lie in bed thinking about all the stupid things you’ve done on that particular day. If someone doesn’t reply to a message I’ve sent, it’s because I’ve said something to annoy them or I’ve bothered them too much. I stumble over my words 24/7 and believe people think I’m stupid. I send weird snapchats and immediately regret them. In reality, it’s probably those quirks and the fact I care that might make people like me.
All of the above combined, that’s where thoughts of worthlessness begin to fill your day. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to live for with the exception of my family and a few friends who I love more than words can say. I can’t and won’t deny that on the odd occasion, thoughts of suicide and how much easier it would be not to be here would appear. How I wouldn’t have to care anymore, I wouldn’t have to be constantly down all the time. Please be assured that I never actually got close to doing anything, for a few reasons; I love my family and friends with my whole being and those thoughts scared me too much to actually do anything about them.
What was hypocritical of me was that whilst those thoughts flitted in and out, I spent a lot of my days talking to others who felt the same, trying to convince them that life is worth living, even though they’re currently going through hell. One night I spent the early hours of the morning convincing a friend that suicide wasn’t the answer even though it felt like everything would be so much easier if it was. I was blunt and told them that everything they had achieved since their diagnosis would be pointless if they committed suicide. That everything they had worked towards in reducing stigma around mental health would be for nothing. That whilst their brain told them they were useless and a burden, they were in fact someone who means more to me than they could ever imagine. Why, if I was able to tell them that, couldn’t I believe it about myself? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer to that question but what I do know is that sometimes, you don’t see your value or worth until someone else drives it home.
All of this came to a head last weekend. My chest had been aching with anxiety for days but I carried on with daily life as if nothing was happening, still believing if I didn’t think about it, it would go away. Nothing in particular triggered my breakdown but I think a deep and honest chat with a close friend made me realise that I couldn’t carry on the way I was feeling. We talked about a lot of stuff; our anxiety surrounding our jobs, our opinions surrounding euthanasia and suicide (deep for a Saturday night after catching Pokémon all day #teammystic) and then our own mental health. We both cried, we both laughed and then we went and listened to a cringy CD from back in the 00’s.
When I got home that night, I went to bed deciding that the next day I would tell my parents everything. I woke up feeling anxious about it and kept putting it off because I just didn’t know what to say. I FaceTimed my friend to help me figure it all out; I’ve been working on being more honest with people about how I feel and everything just sort of came out. I struggle to articulate the feelings in my head into verbal words but this person somehow made sense of it (as they always do because let’s face it, I have a problem shutting up) and they empathised with me. I’ve never had experience with depression before and frankly the spectrum of emotions I was feeling scared the living daylights out of me and to have them explain their experiences of it and how they cope with it relaxed me to a certain degree. We both agreed that a trip to the doctor’s was the best option and I kind of felt ready to talk to my parents.
It was hard, I can’t deny that. I felt guilty about worrying them because they have enough to worry about without adding my odd emotions on top of it. My parents have always been supportive about my mental health, constantly encouraging me in my ERP (Exposure Response Prevention therapy) with OCD, helping me to rationalise when things get too much and they constantly encourage and build me up. They were exactly the same when I told them I didn’t know what I was feeling, they told me not to feel guilty or ashamed because there was no reason to be. I didn’t choose to feel like this and like everyone else, they wanted me to visit the doctor.
Trying to get an appointment with my GP is like trying to outrun Usain Bolt – impossible. They go on a first come first serve basis but trying to get through on the phone is an adventure of its own. I phoned 37 times before I got through and literally went with whichever doctor was free. I made a list of the things I had been feeling over the past few months (see above about articulation) and when I saw her, I explained my background with mental health and how I was ready to admit something else was wrong. Obviously, she was pleased I came to see her and was eager to start treating me right away. What was nice was that she gave me options. She didn’t take the decision upon herself regarding the course of treatment; she laid out the options and talked about what each one meant. She offered medication and therapy; I could have either or, or both. I opted for both because at that stage I was scared and desperate to feel better.
I was prescribed Sertraline at the lowest dosage and referred back to the centre where I received CBT for my OCD. I went home feeling slightly better and glad that I had made the first step to recovery. In hindsight, I’m not entirely sure about taking the meds. I know full well that there is no shame in medication and I’m an advocate of it as a treatment method but I’m still thinking about it (it’s only been a week since I’ve been diagnosed). The side effects and the possibilities of becoming reliant on it or interfering with my OCD and anxiety make me nervous so it’s something I want to properly consider before I take them. The referral for CBT on the NHS can take quite some time, so in the mean time, I’ve arranged some counselling sessions with a counsellor I used to see at university.
I had my first counselling session on Friday and it went really well. It was easy talking to him because he already knew my history and we just got straight into what was going on with me after a quick catch-up. I was nervous having to get out of work for it because it meant having to explain everything to my manager but I knew I would have to disclose something if they were to be a weekly thing. I kind of blurted it out to her and it didn’t faze her at all. She was totally cool with it and reassured me that she was happy with whatever I had to do and if I needed a break or walk just to take myself off and she would know.
If I’m honest, I’m still taking it all in. My brain likes to try to get me to believe that I’m making it up and that there’s nothing wrong with me but in my heart of hearts I know that the way I feel now isn’t how I used to be. I’m nervous about it all, I’m not used to some of the thoughts and feelings I’m experiencing, but what helps is that I know I’m not alone in any of this. I belong to the nicest community on Twitter where we all help each other out, we can all relate, where the support is never-ending. A special shoutout has to go to Richard, Mike and Amy on Twitter (and anyone else who I may have missed), for being a constant source of support and encouragement to me; I truly love you guys and I can’t thankyou enough! To the family and friends I have spoken to so far, thankyou for offering to be there for me, for your support and for all your love.
Family and friends who are maybe unfamiliar with mental health, I am still me. I am still the same person I have always been, I’m just battling some inner demons at the moment. I am still the same awkward but sometimes bubbly, cringy but sometimes funny girl that you know me to be. I will get through this. I’m determined to not let my mental health issues define me.
As always, I wrote this post with the intentions of raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health. For people who perhaps relate to this, please please know that you are not alone. There are so many of us in the same position, and so many of us who want to offer you our love and support. You can find me on most social media under my name Laura Cloughley and from there, you’ll find a nice wee bunch of people who will be more than happy to support you in any way they can!
Remember; your mental health does not define you as a person.