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.
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.
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.
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.
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.