My Story

Seeking help : MUST FIX THIS NOW!!

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.

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My Story

The Beginning: Depression Hurts

In hindsight the process of depression started quite slowly, but only in hindsight can I see I was like Dr Evil’s henchman in Austin Powers, with plenty of time to get away from the slow-moving steam roller, but seemingly unable to save himself, I guess it was inevitable. At the time it felt like a surprise, like the feelings had crept up on me and I had no way of fighting them off, the process was already well under way.

When I started to realise I could be on that slippery slope, I started by looking up the symptoms on the NHS website – they read a bit like any average persons bad day; feeling irritable or intolerant, feeling hopeless and helpless, not getting any enjoyment out of life, unexplained aches and pains. Frankly, any Londoner who must travel every day via the Underground goes through this range of emotion throughout the 45 minute journey. So my initial response was just to tell myself to snap out of it, just get on with things and power through. I kept telling myself that there were so many others who had it much worse off than I had, many many others who had more reasons to feel more than blue continuously, others with rough upbringings, unbelievable adversity or difficult relationships, so why the hell did I feel justified in feeling shit, I shouldn’t, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t.

I suppose the reality of my situation started to make itself more felt when the physical symptoms started to kick in.  Isn’t it funny that Depression is a recognised illness and yet as with most mental illnesses are only respected when our bodies, not just our minds, start to tell us that there is something wrong.

Suddenly, I couldn’t sleep, I would lay in bed squeezing my eyes shut and resisting the urge to move about too much so I wouldn’t disturb my snoring partner. I couldn’t quiet my mind, these issues that had seemed so unimportant and menial were playing like a GIF in my mind, short sharp snaps of anxieties I had no idea were such a problem until they were stopping me from sleeping.

Then my appetite changed, if I wasn’t bingeing on crap food and beer, I was practically starving myself. Completely unaware of what my body needed from me, I was dehydrated, bloated, starving then stuffed, parched and quenched – completely uncomfortable and unhappy with whatever physical feeling I had at the time.

I have had depression before about 7 years ago. I didn’t remember any of this, I remembered being grumpy, more irritable than usual and actually angry with my situation, but I didn’t remember the utter restlessness and discomfort that comes with it. All of the physical symptoms came as a complete surprise. I am, in a way, grateful that they are a part of how Depression manifests in a person exactly because of what I stated above. I was inclined to ignore the low feelings, the lack of motivation, it seems I was even prepared to ignore the need to cry at the most inopportune moments. I also recognise that when I speak to people about how it feels to be depressed I tend to lean toward describing the physical symptoms, I can only relate some of the psychological pain to someone who is going through the same feelings at the same time. I’m the first to acknowledge that you forget what it means to be depressed once you come out of the other side. Is it really because the illness is still taboo or is it because even the depressed person cannot tell you what it really means to be depressed without relaying the physical side effects to listeners? Why is depression not respected as a psychological illness without having to rely on physical symptoms to garner understanding?

The full list of psychological symptoms from the NHS includes:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

(http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Symptoms.aspx)

The NHS states that if you are experiencing “some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.”

These symptoms can feel arbitrary, I recall having this page open on my laptop for days using the above as a sort of check list. It sometimes came to a “chicken or egg” argument; am I feeling irritable and intolerant, or am I finding examples because I have asked myself whether I am feeling irritable or intolerant?  Sometimes I felt like some of the symptoms were actually just personality traits, I have a history of finding it difficult to make decisions, does that mean that I will get even worse at making decisions or should I still count that as a symptom?

I could have prevaricated on the symptoms logically and illogically for even longer if I decided to.  I finally decided that I had to recognise that something just wasn’t right. I had to tell myself, Amanda, listen to your gut – you’re not feeling great are you?

I will tell you, that process wasn’t easy and it still took me a further two weeks. I wanted to fight that intuitive self with logic, reality and practicality. It wasn’t practical to try to deal with a mental illness, it wasn’t logical at all that I felt low when I kept telling myself that my life was on track, I didn’t have time, resources, energy or finances to deal taking the time that I figured I would need to heal.

Then one day, I broke – that is the only word I can use, cheesy as it may seem. I just broke into heaving sobs, utter hopelessness and fear like I have never experienced, I felt an extreme anxiety that the whole world was going to fall down around me. Every one I loved was going to leave me, I was going to end up homeless, helpless and useless to this world. All I could think to do was cocoon in my bed and never have to raise my head to deal with all of that feeling.

Now, I was incredibly lucky, and I continue to be incredibly lucky, I have had the most supportive partner anybody could ask for. If you are lucky enough to have a rock like I have, then I know you will get through it. It is incredibly difficult to have that initial conversation with any one about acknowledging depression and deciding how you best need to go about the dealing and healing process, most of the time, it’s not practical, it doesn’t fit well with reality and it can mean some significant life changes for every one around you. So, while it is one of the hardest things to do to admit the weakness, most of us have someone we love close enough to help, tell them! If you don’t feel like you can tell anyone that you know, speak to your GP or contact one of the many support services available. It is incredibly difficult to do this on your own.

This blog will continue to follow my progress, I will be looking at my depression in phases, how I dealt with Dr’s, how I dealt with my working situation, and how I dealt with getting on the path to healing. I will also aim to delve into specific symptoms to address and help others recognise how these can impact us on a daily basis, and how I am working towards removing these symptoms from my life.

I would also like to look at how depression is dealt with, not just from an individual standpoint, but in the media, by Dr’s, by medical services. I’m not saying I am an expert, but I decided to start this blog once I recognised that there is actually a demographic not highly represented when it comes to depression, I am part of that demographic and I hope to address these issues not just for myself, but for the many others who may be suffering alone, confused and unsure.

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