‘It may be a cloud but you are the sky’

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.

The Diagnosis

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.

Now

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.

Laura

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.lifelinehelpline.info/

 

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7 thoughts on “‘It may be a cloud but you are the sky’

  1. Laura you are so spit on I am almost 60.I have battled depression since I was 25 it was hard to admit initial I had a breakdown and was afraid to admit I wanted it all to end but I finally asked for help and 34 years ago it was in heard off I see a physicist and other counsellors and have been on antidepressants every since you will succeed and if you ever met anything ask I help people in work by supporting them and if you need help let me know God Bless Geraldine Lawless

    • Hi Geraldine, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had similar experiences! But I’m glad you asked for help because you do such amazing work in the community and you are very much loved by all those you come into contact with! Thankyou so much for all your support and offering to help, I’ll definitely keep you in mind!xx

  2. Ure so brave to put this up as far as medication goes I can only advise u from my own experience to give this a try as this will help build up chemicals again…oh the dreaded meds I fought myself with them until one day I knew if I didn’t try to help myself then I wasn’t going to get well again sure as I was told if u had diabetes would u take meds yes u would as it’s a illness that needs meds to help with this as is antipressants. ….best decision I ever made I promised myself this was only temporary and it was 1 year later am of them…I give my self a chance to get well my first step to recovery was acceptance of my illness and acceptance of my meds..now I still suffer with depression always will but I’ve learnt how to deal with it and what I need to do to help me get better…its a learning curve depression it’s knowing what triggers it what helps it when you need extra help…talking to my counsellor helped a lot not a hostipal one tho as couldn’t relate to them they were too text book for me I needed someone who could identify with me who was in my shoes..and yes I found them pips they were my rock and got me threw a lot of it..am so grateful for them…so I do say dont give up there is light at the end one day at a time one step at a time wishing u peace of mind and happiness I promise u the side effects will out wiegh the rest give them a chance give ure mind a rest as this is what they do heal ure mind xxx

    • Hi Marian,

      Thankyou so much for your lovely comment and for sharing your experiences, I always like reading other people’s experiences with medication and therapy because it can be so hard to figure out which path to go! And thankyou for all your advice too! I’m sorry to hear that this is something you experienced too but I’m glad that you’re feeling better about it all! Take care xxx

  3. Laura, you’ve inspired me to possibly go talk to someone myself. I have similar thoughts and feelings which you have described. I’ve made appointments before to go speak to someone but always got scared. you would think with studying psychology I would know it be fine to talk to people and they don’t judge but still those fears are there. I don’t have friends I can talk to about this and family are a no go, but there is one person who’s always there but I don’t know how to. Thank you for your honesty in this post 🙂 I wish you the best of luck in your journey battling the stigma and depression and I look forward to reading more of your posts

    • Hi Rebecca, thankyou so much for your comment! Firstly, I’m so sorry that you’ve had similar thoughts and feelings; they can be difficult to leave with but please please be assured that you are not on your own in this and there is absolutely no shame in how you’re feeling either! It’s totally natural to have those fears around talking to someone; it can be tough being honest with yourself about how you feel, let alone other people.

      I’m not sure if you’re still studying at all but if you are, your university/college/wherever you study might have a service! My uni (QUB) had a Disability Services. When I spoke to them, they arranged for me to have a mental health mentor – just someone to talk to once a week and my word, I wouldn’t have graduated without him! The service was so helpful to me and unfortunately not many people know that it exists unless they go and search for it themselves, so if your uni has anything like that, perhaps that’s an option to explore? Nobody knows apart from the service unless you need help with assignments etc 🙂

      I can understand how it can be difficult to talk to family about these kind of feelings – sometimes it is a lot easier talking to a stranger about it that someone you know! I know you did say you have one person to talk to but you’re not sure how to talk to them? If they’re a good friend to you, they will be more than happy to listen to you, support you and offer help if they can!

      If you feel able to, I would really encourage trying to talk to someone, even if it’s not a doctor, there are lots of charities with anonymous services and lines to call/email if that’s an easier approach for you! Taking that first step is often the hardest but I promise it gets easier after that. We live in a very judgmental society and it really angers me that we can’t freely talk abut what goes on in our brains without fear of stigma or judgement but getting it out of your head can really help (that’s why I wrote this post).

      I’m only a message away on this, or Twitter/FB (I think we’re friends on them both 🙂 ) The Twitter MH community are so supportive and have gotten me through a lot of dark times. I really hope you get the help you deserve Rebecca! It’s a scary time when you have those thoughts and feelings but you are never, ever alone, please don’t forget that!

      Sorry for such a long comment lol! But thanks so much for your support and for reading this 🙂 Take care xxx

  4. Laura, this post is just such a fantastic read. I can relate to a lot of these things and I think you are very courageous and strong for putting it out there. I’m really proud of you for sharing your story and I sure hope you will feel better every day. Posts like these are so important to put out there and you have done a brilliant job.

    I’ve struggled and struggle a lot with the stigma around MH, especially that it’s not manly to talk about one’s emotions or feelings, let alone your mental illnesses. I suffer from Anxiety, depressions and panic attacks. It’s who I am and that doesn;t make me less of a person. If only people could see that. That’s why I’m so grateful that you have written this blogpost.

    Please know that I will always be there for you, I always be supportive and kind. You just need to message me and I will try to help and support you the best way I can. You are fantastic Laura and you will get there. Sending you big hugs!
    (Sorry about the English, it’s not my first language haha)

    Marc | Bugger All Blog

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