I’m afraid to say, that it is not going to get any easier quite yet, little did I know at the time that this would take up, so far, 3 months, and I am still only on the road to recovery, I have not yet reached that distant and desired destination.
Once I had acknowledged that I had to face this, once I had spoken to my partner, my mother and a close friend I took my first positive steps. I don’t remember feeling positive in the least, in fact I probably felt the worst I have ever felt. How could this be happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Damnit, this is scary, what is this going to mean? How am I going to find the time to feel better? What do I do about work? Why doesn’t anybody understand? Why can’t I just perk up? I want to feel happier, shouldn’t that be enough? Fuck I don’t want to get out of bed today! I slept about 2 hours last night! And so on. How can that be positive? Recognition, acknowledgement and action are the first steps any initial sufferer will have to take, and believe it or not, they are the most difficult and the most empowering.
I was highly emotional at this time, I was also extremely anxious, incredibly susceptible to alcohol use and prone to outbursts of frustration, anger and crying. A lot of the time, this wasn’t directed at anybody, the majority of my frustration, anger and sadness was directed inward and remained directed inward. In my mind it became a matter of this wasn’t simply happening to me, I was doing this to myself. I was entirely responsible for the fact that I had let myself down, that I had not fulfilled the dreams I had always told myself I had, I had not figured out how to earn more money, how to get on the property ladder, I was too lackadaisical about paying off my debts, I was not fulfilling myself creatively because I was lazy. If I had just figured all of this out I wouldn’t be in this position. These negative thoughts spun and wound around my head incessantly. I couldn’t snap out of it, I felt like people were looking at me wherever I went, I was convinced that I looked sick whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw sad hooded eyes, pale skin, lank hair. I was completely uncaring about what I wore, whether I bothered about putting on make up that day. I was jittery and watchful, I could feel my eyes darting from person to person on the train convinced they were harbouring ill feelings about me, they were going to get to work and tell their desk mate about the crazy paranoid odd and sad-looking girl on the train that morning. Not to mention what I felt my work colleagues felt about me.
I sought help initially with the Employee Assistance Program through my workplace. Most employers will have an EAP program as a benefit. The service offers help for anything from financial advice, Will or Pension advice to information and support about Eating disorders, OCD, Stress and Depression. Most EAP services offer free counselling anywhere from three to six sessions. The advice and support that you receive is entirely confidential (unless, as stated by the representative, they feel that you are at risk of harming yourself or others, in which case they will seek further help on your behalf), most importantly though it will not get back to your employer if you are afraid of any consequences that could incur. I had, however, decided to speak to my employer about how I was feeling, at the time I did down play the range of emotions and difficulties I had experienced, of course I didn’t want to appear weak, unprepared, or incapable in any way(I was fairly new to the company). So I told her that I would be undergoing some counselling, that it has something I had dealt with before, that it was something I could certainly handle this time around, it was no big issue, I was just feeling a little bit low and would perhaps just need to leave work early a couple of days over the next few weeks in order to attend my counselling sessions.
I mentioned in my previous blog post that I have suffered depression before. In stating what I had to my boss I was, legitimately, drawing from previous experience. Despite the marked differences I had already noted, I was confident that with enough will, pure gut strength, tenacity and stubbornness I could purge this demon from my life in a matter of weeks. I applaud my audacity, but should have known that those differences were important and would set this experience apart from my previous illness.
I don’t care how often you’ve gone through it, or how ready you feel to speak to some one, I don’t think any one finds it easy to start opening up. This is not to cast aspersions on any counsellors I have seen, and I understand that this must be a question to at least start, but I have never found it easy to answer those first questions; “So, how have you been feeling?” or ” What brings you to see me?” Every single time I am asked something like this, I find myself uhhhmmmmm’ing and casting around in my mind to try to find the right words to accurately describe the plethora of emotion running laps throughout my heart and mind. How can one sum up months of questioning, doubt, fear, sadness, exhaustion, confusion, guilt and negativity. To add to that, my instinct to down play how I was feeling and what I was going through came back strong, there would be no benefit in my hiding the true problems, holding back on describing what was happening to me. The more insight your counsellor has into those feelings, those fears and what is causing the sadness, guilt, doubt and confusion the better they are able to help, and yet it took me until our second session to actually truly demonstrate the extent of my pain, my sadness, my guilt, doubt and confusion. It wasn’t until the end of my second session that I cried in front of my counsellor. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to cry, it’s that I held it in – ask me why? I have no idea – I was still leaning so heavily on my strength, and even in seeking help, crying in front of the person there to help me was still weakness. Logical, right? Hardly!
It was during my third session in as many weeks that I finally asked, what is wrong with me and am I fixed yet. Seems juvenile to think to ask it now, and my counsellor answered me, it seemed to me with a touch of pity, though not patronising; “no dear, I think you have some more work to do – I recommend that you seek further help.” Something interesting happened at this point, I recognised that I was sick. I guess I had kind of known I was sick, and I have certainly seen a lot of cartoons and video posts and campaigns thanks to our age of internet that reminded me that I wasn’t alone, that mental illness is just that, an illness. But I guess I had never wanted to actually tell myself, Amanda you are sick. Some people really hate these analogies, I believe because they have never themselves had Depression, but it is something my Mother once told me about Depression; When you break your leg, you see a Dr, they tell you it’s broken, you have surgery, you wear a cast and every one around you can see that you have a broken leg. They can ask you how it happened and you can relate it back to a single event. They then don’t ask you to go for a walk with them, whether you would like to use the treadmill or run a marathon. Friends and colleagues are incredibly understanding if you have to, ashamedly, admit that an activity, a request or a responsibility is, sadly, outside your realm of capability for the time being. Conversely, when your mind is broken, there is sometimes not a single event or cause, you don’t necessarily go to a Dr immediately so for some time you may not know how or why your mind is broken. You’re friends and colleagues cannot exactly see that you have broken your mind, they may think you are a bit blue, you may not seem yourself, friends and colleagues can easily misconstrue the meaning behind this and gossip can result. Perhaps they will feel you’ve let yourself go, or you’re not interested in your job anymore, or you’re becoming incredibly selfish and withdrawn and they may think it is your fault. You will certainly not receive help unless you ask for help. You will not receive compassion and understanding unless you are honest about your state of mind. Depression can leave you very much alone, without help and afraid to move forward, unlike a typical physical illness. ( I do not wish demean or downplay the difficulty of physical illnesses, I merely draw a comparison.)
But it is just that – an illness. Until that is accepted and recognised by the general public, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, than double standards like the broken leg/broken mind analogy will continue and people will continue to be ostracised, fired from jobs, left by partners and disowned by friends. A sad state of affairs for people who just need help and may not know how to ask.
Needless to say, as you know I am still working on recovering. My initial assertion that I was going to recover from this in three weeks is a distant memory, despite the fact that I was adamant, and just a bit delusional, that I could up until the end of my last counselling session via EAP. Only my counsellors response to my naive question did I realise this might take a bit longer. I will learn that looking to far forward and assuming that a single result is all that I can accept, is one of the personality traits I’ve picked up somewhere that resulted in this period of depression and something I am actively working on fixing in myself.
Until next time, I will continue to learn what I must learn.