The Time I…realised my greatest strength is my depression

Hi, my name is Tiffany and I experience depression…Speaking about mental health problems is a difficult subject for me, for society in general, to talk about! There is still such a negative stigma associated with people who experience mental health issues and yet it is becoming more and more prevalent. The thing about having a mental health issue is that it is not a choice…what is a choice is how you manage it and how you choose to look at it. For a long time I was ashamed for having severe anxiety and depression and I thought it made me less capable and weak, but I have come to realise that it is actually my greatest strength. Read on to find out why!

A little snap shot of what led to my depression.

There are several kinds of depression; some are episodic (brought on by a trauma or event), some are lifelong, some are mild, some are severe. I had my first encounter with depression when i was in high school, in year 11 heading into mid-year exams. It was brought on by anxiety and placing too much pressure on myself. At the time my depression went undiagnosed as it was masked by anxiety and I had always been a fairly anxious kid. When I was 19 a number of factors combined to bring out a six month period of diagnosed depression and the first time I was medicated for it. I had returned from an overseas holiday, I wasn’t sure what i wanted to do or where I was going in life and I had been rejected by a guy I had my first real crush on. After 6 months i was able to ween off the medication and had a relatively steady 4 – 5 years without another major episode.

At the end of 2011 I went back on medication and I have been on it ever since. I once again had several factors combine that sent me on a downward spiral that i couldn’t bring myself out of. I was working in a job that I hated, I was desperate to travel but felt trapped, I felt lost in life, I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t control my mood and I was having an out of body experience feeling totally disassociated from my life. I was going through the motions of living but i felt dead inside, I was numb and I felt I had no control. I then had (what I refer to as) a ‘quarter life crisis’. In one swoop I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years who I loved very much, I quit my job, I cut off my long beautiful hair and I moved to Dubai to work as an air-hostess for Emirates. In other words, I tried to run from my depression. It worked for a little while, but eventually it did catch up with me and I’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since.

What having depression does means.

For someone who has never experienced depression or who doesn’t have someone close to them who has had depression, it can be very hard to understand. It feels like an incredibly selfish illness, especially when the person with depression seemingly has nothing to be depressed about. I have a very blessed life, a very loving family, a privileged upbringing, I’ve been able to do most things I have set my mind to, I am healthy and I am capable. And yet I have depression. This is what I meant when I said it is not a choice to have this illness. It is just something that is there.

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Image from The Jackson Laboratory

When i explain what depression is to someone, I explain that the little chemicals in your brain that make you happy, otherwise known as serotonin and dopamine, are fewer or are less effective for someone with depression. When I feel down, I feel very down very quickly and without medication (even sometimes with medication) I have a hard time to pick myself back up again. The medication doesn’t magically make me happy, it just makes it so that i am able to deal with my emotions the same way that someone who does not have depression is able to deal with their emotions. It took my parents years to come to the realisation that I would likely be taking medication for the rest of my life and that this is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, its just a thing that i have to do. Just like someone who has heart disease has to take medication to manage their condition, I take medication to manage my mood. I don’t solely rely on medication, I also do a number of other things to manage it which I will discuss later.

What depression feels like for me.

Each person will experience depression in their own way but for me it feels like I am constantly balancing on a beam over a very dark deep hole. As long as I can stay on the beam, I can cope. I’ve slipped a few times, been hanging on by my finger nails, but most of the time I’ve been able to pull myself back up. That is until my recent very public break up which brought on my worst episode in years (I have written a seperate post about this).

When I feel sad or upset it can feel like I’m struggling to hang on , like there are weights on my ankles pulling me down into the hole and it would be so much easier to just let go and fall into the abyss, that I will find peace there. These times are frightening, my thoughts can be dark and my judgment is off. I’ve had fights with family and friends in moments like these that seem so silly now, I’ve made bad spontaneous choices that are out of character. The good news is that these times are few and far between. I know myself much better nowadays and I can see the signs that I am losing balance, I am faster at picking myself up again and I also know how to manage my depression so that I’m less likely to fall.

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Constantly balancing on that beam

How I Manage my depression.

Communicate! Firstly, although it has taken time for them to understand, I have incredibly supportive and loving parents and friends. Communication is key. It is so so so important that you are able to talk about what you are feeling so that both yourself and others can understand why you are feeling or acting in a certain way.

Prevent! While i don’t want to encourage avoiding any life experiences, for me, I know that i need to avoid overly stressful situations. This changed my whole outlook on work. I will never again work in any job that I hate or where I have little control no matter how much money I am offered, for me it is simply not worth risking my mental wellbeing.

Cope! When shit does hit the fan, and it always does, I have coping strategies. Exercise has been a great support for me. If you are running until you can’t breath, i guarantee no matter what was bothering you, you won’t be thinking about it when you’re gasping for air. Music has also really helped me. I have playlists for different moods. I have a ‘powerful’ playlist for when i need uplifting and empowering music, I have a ‘sad’ play list for when i want to cry, I have an ‘angry’ playlist for when I feel frustrated. I talk about it or I write about it and i try to learn more about myself and my experience of life. I have also found that meditation and visualisations help to lift my mood. I’ve found some really great guided meditations even just on youtube.

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Sometimes I listen to a guided meditation to help lift my mood.

Release! I do not let my emotions build up. I let myself feel what i need to feel so that i can deal with it and move on. This may involve lots of crying or yelling but it’s healthier than holding it inside. Sometimes pushing my body to breaking point has helped bring out any trapped emotion, for example, I’ve broken down in tears after doing sprints or after attempting difficult yoga poses. I’ve put on a sad movie to help release the emotion. I’ve screamed into a pillow or I’ve poured my heart out to a friend. Anything to get some of the energy out of my body.

Getting out of the deep dark hole.

There have been a couple of occasions where I have not been able to hang on and have spiralled into depression. When this happens I lose the will or desire to do anything. I lay in bed, not eating, not exercising, not finding enjoyment in anything, sleeping a lot, wishing away the days, just wanting to vanish. This can last for several weeks. The concern and fear this causes loved ones makes me feel worse, like they would be better off without me around, that I am a burden and that I am useless. At these times It is crucial I continue to take my medication and to be kind to myself. It does eventually pass, as much as it feels like it won’t, it always does. Speaking to a Psychologist can help but mainly it’s just time. Until I am ready, no matter what anyone says or does, I will not start climbing back out of the hole. The climb can take several weeks, with setbacks and falling back down. Tiny steps forward is how I have learned to move. It starts with getting out of bed for a few hours a day, then to having a meal, then going for a drive, then to having a friend come see me or take me somewhere for a quiet walk, then maybe doing some exercise, and slowly slowly each day improves.

How you can help someone with depression.

The truth is, there is not much you can do besides just BE THERE without judgement when and if the person wants you to be. Be patient with them and whatever you do, don’t ignore them! I have a tendency to have obsessive thinking which means I can repeat a point of frustration or upset many times without being able to process or accept it which I know can be very frustrating for the person trying to listen to you and help you. Do not pressure them, do not guilt them, do not tell them to ‘snap out of it’. Trust me, they already feel bad enough without you saying these things as much as you may think you are helping to give them a kick in the butt. Now is not the time for tough love. Encourage them with any positive steps they take and continue to invite them to things without pressuring them even though it is unlikely they will go. Check in with them  every few days just so they know that you are important to them, their existence does matter. You may feel like you are not helping them but I promise you that just by sticking by them without judgement you are helping more than you realise. If however, their depression starts to effect your own mental wellbeing, then you do have to put yourself first and do what you need to so you can be ok. You can’t help someone else if you are not ok yourself.

 

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Surround yourself with a strong support network

Why it is my greatest asset. 

While severe anxiety and depression are not things I would wish upon anyone, I do believe they have forced me to be a better version of me. Being able to experience life from a very low place means I can also experience life from a very high place, I can feel things very deeply, I am very self aware, I have a true appreciation of happiness and I focus my life on doing things that make me happy above all else.

I know myself better than most. I have spent years learning about myself, understanding myself, making sense of life and who I am. I need to recognise when I am starting to feel unsteady and I need to implement changes and strategies to keep me balanced which means I need to know myself extremely well.

I am strong and I am resilient. The mental and emotional marathons I have run have given me the incredible strength and ability to run head first into challenges and situations others may fear. I do things that scare me because I know that if I can overcome depression I can do just about anything.

I can empathise and have an enlightened understanding of the human condition. We are all perfectly imperfect, we all struggle, we all need help sometimes. Most people are just better at hiding it and are less willing to discuss it. This is what needs to change. This is why I share my story and encourage others to do the same. You may just be helping someone else to open up, to know that it’s ok to talk about it.

Until Next Time

XOXO

21 comments

  1. Hi tiff
    Thanks for this honest and insightful post. I too have struggled with debilitating anxiety and depression. Am about to start the battle of trying to wean off mess and am a little terrified to do so.
    May I ask what you are taking, and how you went in stopping them the last time you did so?
    Xx

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    1. Hey Jessica,
      I am taking Effexor (I used to be on Lexapro). I came off them last time after just 6 months on them…this was when I was 19. I guess I slowly reduced the amount I was taking and at the time I felt ‘better’. All I can say is to make sure the reason you are coming off them is because you feel you 100% no longer need them and not because you feel ashamed or feel like you are weak for taking them. If you had a heart condition and you needed to take medication for it, you wouldn’t think twice about trying to stop taking them, just keep that in mind. Good luck to you xx

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  2. Tiffany, thank you for your open heart and honest words. It has been so sad to hear you’ve been struggling but I know you’re going to be AOK. You are an inspiration and a treasure and I wish you everything good in life xx

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  3. Tiffany, your blog continues to inspire me. I hope we can talk one day, because EVERYTHING you have said is dead on with how I feel, think and act. Thank you so much for the advice, it’s certainly made me open my mind to new way on how to handle myself xoxo

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    1. Thanks Jess, I definitely don’t have all the answers, or a way to ‘fix it’, I still struggle and am learning as I go, but I do know for certain that speaking about it and connecting with others does help. So speak out, talk to others, be brave, be you. Much love xoxox

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  4. Wow Tiffany that’s so open and raw – it brings tears to my eyes with how relatable these feelings can be. Thanks for sharing your story with so many people and please know how good it makes others feel knowing your not the only one out there that has struggled.

    As everyone’s story is different, mine will be too. I was diagnosed with childhood emotional neglect (CEN) along with my depression and fibromyalgia all at once.

    I could say that sent me spiralling but deep down I was already so low there wasn’t much further to fall.
    I had little friends as I had slowly pushed everyone away to hide in my own bubble and with no emotional support from family – I was an emotional ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

    I still now, 3.5 years since my CEN and depression diagnosis struggle to emotionally connect with people but I have belief it will happen one day. I

    Working through it all I have learnt to love myself and my journey in life. At 26 a little bit lonely still and at times struggling with that emotion is still difficult but i totally agree when you say that you have to move at your own pace. Our mental and emotional state unfortunately can’t be fast tracked.

    I’m moving interstate later this year and I know some people think I’m running away but I feel it’s another step forward in allowing myself to grow as my own person. I need to experience in more life to be able to continue to grow in strength. Your blogs and IG posts are very inspirational in allowing me to know it’s ok to move out of conventional life.

    Keep up the inspiration and moving forward yourself 🙏✌️

    Cheers, Chloe

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    1. Hi Chloe, I hear you! Depression can be extremely isolating and you do push people away, at least until you have a better understanding of it. When I had my first big episode back in 2011 I pushed my boyfriend who I loved dearly away. I pushed my parents, I pushed my friends. I am fortunate in that my parents and friends love me unconditionally but I guess when you hurting you push those closest to you the most. My best advice is that now that you know yourself better, you know that you have these mental health issues, that you need to be open and honest with those around you. My parents still struggle to understand me and be patient with me at times but I have amazingly understanding friends who I know that no matter what I do they will always be there for me if I needed them to be. Connection is what gives life meaning. And having gone through what you have, you are in an amazing position to reach out and connect with those who are struggling too. I wish you all the best with your move. Change can make all the difference, a fresh start! xox

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  5. Such a good post. I have experienced depression for just over 6 years now and this post really resonated with me. A lot of the time when I have bad days it can feel like I’m completely on my own, list and unable to see a way out of feeling the way I do. Although I know lots of people experience depression it can feel lonely. This is a lovely reminder in a way that lots of people experience it and we are not alone. I spend time trying to bury these feelings I get which in the end just makes it worse. It is like being in a deep hole desperately trying to claw your way out but sinking deeper the more you try to climb out. The parts about how you manage your depression particularly resonated. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I wish you all the best.

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    1. Hey Jess, thank you for your comment, I’m glad that I was able to help you in some small way. Depression can feel extremely isolating but it is so important to know that you are definitely not alone and that it is not you fault. There is nothing wrong with you. The hole is so dark and deep sometimes but finding people who can empathise (not sympathise) that will sit down their in that hole with you is so so important. I hope you have at least one person like that in your life. Love to you xoxox

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  6. I have always been drawn to you Tiff. I think you are really down to earth and I can see a lot of myself in you. I also struggle with anxiety and am a massive over thinker. I have had a really difficult last few years coping with my dad having terminal illness and passing away last January. I have had so many sad days, where I feel I have lost my old happy self, and that part of me is missing. But I know everything takes time and slowly I am getting stronger and have learnt from the tough times. Thank you for sharing your story and being so brave. It is really great how mental health is becoming a much more understood and accepted topic of conversation. Sending you love and happy vibes. Rachel xx

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    1. Thanks Rachel, I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad and his passing, I don’t know how I would cope with something like that happening to me. When I was at the book store yesterday I picked up a couple of books that were directed at what they called ‘highly sensitive people’. We make up 20% of the population and have a tendency to feel things more deeply, be more alert, overthink…it’s nice to know that I am not alone and that there is something kind of beautiful and special about being sensitive and having the courage to be vulnerable. Only those like us will ever truly understand. Much love to you x

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  7. thanks for discussing it to the core! you have actually mentioned all the stages in exact manner they enter into your life. but what i really want to know more about is your playlist. please do right a blog about your selection of songs, describe you mood songs. Really want to read about it!

    Thanks and love,

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  8. Strength,love,hope,faith,courage
    Thinking of you on ur new chapter
    Never doubt urself
    Things are rough atm but just ride the wave
    Take care cherie

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  9. I have experienced depression for 6 years now and so much of this resonated with me. Thank you for sharing, especially the tips on coping. Carry on be amazing.

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    1. It’s amazing how many people experience depression but are scared to speak out about it. And also amazing how many peoples experiences of depression is similar so we really can help each other by sharing tips on what has helped 🙂 I hope you are doing ok xox

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  10. Hi Tiffany!
    I love your blog, I have depression to.. During my whole life I have been bullied and even punched and kicked on.. I was a target just because I wasn’t skinny enough and that I was a bit of a tomboy. I also carried the secret, that I’m bisexual, I came out almost a year ago and it was only positive, but if I would have done that in school, it would probably have killed me..
    I still don’t really have any friends and I still relive the years of bullying, some days are better then other but most of the times I just cry and I can’t stop.. I do love my family but I hate talking about this because I feel like a freak and weird, one good friend of mine says that for me to only be 23, I have a lot that I’m carrying around, but I’m working on it.
    So thank you for your honesty and for just being you! And for writing this blog to help other!

    Xoxo

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    1. Hey Julia,
      I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had such a hard time. It sucks how much our childhood can effect our understanding of the world as an adult. I too was bullied (not physically) and for sure it meant and still means I question my self worth. But at the same time it is because of that that I am strong and determined to succeed and do amazing things. Everything that happens to us, good and bad, happens so we can be moulded into the person we are meant to be. Because of your experiences you will be able to understand and empathise with others who go through such struggles. Most importantly (and I say this to myself often) don’t let your past experiences define who you are today. Every day is a chance for a new beginning.
      Take care my dear,
      Tiff x

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  11. 10fVery nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really loved surfing nearly your blog posts.In any case I will be sucsbribing for your feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!194

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  12. Hi Tiffany,

    Thanks for sharing your story with us, I can say that I can related to every word you said here but the part that caught my attention is when you mentioned Dubai. To be fairly honest I lived here for 25 years and I think this place is my main reason of depression, I quit my dream job because I couldnt do any task at all!

    What makes it harder for me is I can’t share my experience with my parents because they are religious and no friends to talk to as well. I am terrified to visit a psychatrist or be on any medication for that matter.

    Wish that all of us here can one day smile and hope that no sadness will follow.

    Thank you,

    Like

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