The past few months have been rough. In September and October, I experienced the darkest depression and most intense anxiety I’ve had since I was a teenager. It made me very conscious of the content around mental health on the internet and in the media and I’ve noticed that so much of it, especially tv ads, focus on the importance of talking. And while that is 100% true and we should keep promoting that message, sometimes things are a bit more complicated than that. For starters, some people literally don’t know how to talk about it. That’s something I’ve seen a lot, particularly with guys. I don’t have answers for how to improve that but I think it’s something we need to be aware of. For me the problem is that I can talk about it, but it doesn’t make the sadness go away. Obviously it makes things better in some regards but it’s frustrating when you do the thing that everyone says will help and you still feel like shit. So I thought since I am able to talk about things, I could share some thoughts/things that have helped me handle it, in the off chance someone can take something from it. Everyone experiences these things differently, and I know I have a lot of privilege in terms of the resources I have available to me. But maybe if we share some of the nuances to what we’re experiencing and not just tell people to talk, it could help more people who are suffering from mental health problems, as well as help people trying to understand and support people who are suffering.
- One of the most important realisations that I had was that I wasn’t going to be able to distract myself/snap myself out of it/cheer myself up. This may seem obvious but when you’re feeling bad, you’re just desperate to find something that will make the feeling go away. But being depressed is different from just being a bit down and needing to cheer yourself up. The things that normally make me happy are not going to work in the same way. That’s not to say you should give up everything that normally makes you happy but I think I tried to push myself a bit too far. I was so tired of feeling sad that I booked a pretty spontaneous weekend trip to London because I love London and I normally do really well traveling by myself. However, when I got there I very quickly realised I was not okay being alone. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t listen to music and I couldn’t go a couple of hours without crying. I don’t know why, I was just so sad. So I ended up booking an earlier flight home, asking my mum to come get me from the airport and staying at my parents for a few days (mainly so I could cuddle with my dog). I know not everyone can do that but the point of my story is that the goal shouldn’t be to make yourself feel happy or “normal”, the goal is just to find things that soothe you. Comfort and security are the most important things. For me, I had to accept that trying to make myself feel happy was just setting myself up for failure.
- Going to therapy has been one of the most important things for me. I know, I know, it’s what everyone suggests and I know it’s not accessible for everyone, it’s fucking expensive and so hard to find someone you connect with. But if you can go, than I would really encourage it. I’ve been going for a couple of years now and it’s helped me through so much. In this particular instance, my therapist helped me realise that I was, in fact, depressed. I had been so focused on how intense my anxiety was, but when I explained to her how I felt, she was able to put the pieces together. Everyone is different, but for me, having the label helped. Primarily it helped me to feel less guilt; in particular less guilt about feeling the way I did when other people have it a lot worse and less guilt about sometimes not being physically capable of doing anything except lie in bed. It also helps to have someone to talk to who knows how to handle what you’re saying. As I said, I’m able to talk about it with my friends and family but if I’m being honest in my experience most people that I’ve told don’t know how to handle it and haven’t really been there for me. That can make you feel very alone but having a therapist to talk to really helps you work through it all.
- It’s also important to go to a doctor and discuss the medications you’re on, as well as make sure you’re not deficient in anything. (I kinda hate suggesting this because most doctors are so shite when it comes to mental health but if you do have a good doctor or someone can recommend one to you, it’s worth going). Now, I wouldn’t go as far as to say the pill caused my depression, there have been multiple things that have happened in the last couple of months (as well as the last couple of years) that would understandably make me feel sad and anxious. However, I personally feel that my emotional reaction to things recently has been more intense than normal for me. I’ve been on the pill twice now and both times I’ve felt this way; it’s not that it made me feel bad if I had nothing to feel bad about, but when bad things were happening, I felt they were harder to deal with. Again everyone is different but I think going to your doctor and discussing these things is important. I’m going to see how coming off the pill affects me before considering anti-depressants but that would be the next step if things don’t improve so it’s important to start that dialogue with a doctor.
- You need to find a way to be kind to yourself but also hold yourself accountable. This is a fine line to walk. You need to be understanding with yourself and realise that you’re just not going to be capable of doing the same things you do when you’re not experiencing depression. If you need to cancel plans or you’re not eating enough/eating too much for a bit, that’s okay. It’s hard and you need to cut yourself some slack and forgive yourself. However, you need to also be aware when your behaviours become self-destructive. So if you need to spend a couple of days in bed, that’s okay, but if you continue to shut yourself off from the world for an extended period of time, then you need to do something about it. When you’re depressed, you’re probably going to do some stupid things and it’s probably going to effect your relationships, but this is where it is actually important to talk. You don’t have to tell everyone you’ve ever met every detail of your life, but you need to have some sort of open dialogue with the people that your actions impact. It’s better for everyone involved; I read a post recently that said “avoidance is just prolonged suffering disguised as safety”. It’s hard but I guess you just need to try and figure out what behaviours are helping you get through a hard time and what behaviours are making things worse for you. If you majorly screw up, forgive yourself, but learn from it and work on things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
As I said, everyone experiences these things differently and I realise none of these things are new or groundbreaking, but maybe sharing my experiences might help one or two people who need to hear these things right now. While there is less stigma around certain mental health issues nowadays, I think we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding and being able to help our friends through these things. Honestly, I felt pretty alone in it all. If you know someone who is dealing with depression or poor mental health, please don’t just tell them you’re there for them if they need you. I had SO many people tell me that, but the thing is, when you’re depressed, it’s hard to reach out. What people who are depressed need is for people to actively be there for them. Sit with them, watch a movie with them, check in on them daily, take them for a walk, ask them what you can do for them.
Hopefully this all makes some sense, I wrote most of this post when I was in the thick of it, I just didn’t have the strength to post it anywhere. I don’t feel quite so down these days, but I’m still quite shaken by it all. I hope to write more posts around mental health and my experiences, to hopefully help others but to also help myself work through it all. It’s a complicated subject and so much of it is hard to understand and talk about, but sharing is the only way we can start to change how we handle and view mental health.
P.S. if you are going through a hard time and need help, feel free to dm me on Instagram (handle: janebmrice).