TW: depression and anxiety
We’re fast approaching the most wonderful time of the year. And, with the year we’ve been having, is that really so hard? Anything could seem wonderful at this point.I spent most of this year at home feeling alone, locked in and away from many of my friends without any idea of when it would end. Understandably, the prospect of going home for Christmas back into that environment didn’t entirely spark joy: looking past the fairy lights and tinsel, December is still grey and cold.
Now, mental illness isn’t the elephant in the room it once was, but the stigma is still having repercussions today. (Especially now that we’re all trying to stay away from the doctors to give them space to deal with the pandemic.) It doesn’t even seem to come from other people for the most part, nowadays we put that pressure on ourselves. Telling ourselves we’re fine and we’ll get through it.
But the biggest thing about depression is recognising it. It’s not like a physical illness, there aren’t always obvious signs like pox or puke. Sometimes it creeps up on you so quietly that it’s difficult to notice the heavy fog that’s settled around your brain stopping you functioning like you used to. It’s important to know you’re not okay before it hurts you even more.
Depression isn’t simply sadness; it’s not as if a depressed person can’t smile. Just as winter can be dressed up in lights and sparkle, so can a person who’s hurting. Don’t kid yourself you’re fine just because you can laugh.
At its worst, my depression left me totally and utterly overwhelmed. I’d become confused and scared by everything going on in my head that I would start screaming. But after a while, I became numb to the sensation and went mute instead. Through both my screams and silence, I was desperately trying to keep my brain in check. I was trying to sort it out by any means possible but I didn’t understand what was going on so spent all my energy locked up inside there. I didn’t have the extra effort to spare. As well as this I became physically sick. Mental illnesses are often buy-one-get-one-free and my depression came with a healthy side of anxiety, manifesting itself in nervous ticks like picking acne, ripping up the skin around my thumbs and chewing the inside of my mouth (all often leading to bleeding.) I also consistently woke up tasting bile, my stomach always hurt, and I became very gassy. Nice.
Understandably these things drained me, body and soul. I became so physically tired that I was napping every day. Either to avoid what was going on or to renew my ever-depleting strength. But I wasn’t just physically exhausted, I became lethargic, apathetic, unmotivated, unexcited. It wasn’t just leaving the house that was a problem, it was getting out of bed at all. For someone who typically loved to sing and dance to music as I cook, I’d become someone who sat at the table, crying quietly into my cereal, desperately trying to start the day. And I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a true one: I knew that things were on the up when I start singing again. Once my mind had calmed down, I finally had enough energy to go back to mindless activities, like humming to myself.
But how did I get there?
If you find yourself struggling, please don’t keep it to yourself. Even if you don’t think it’s diagnosable depression, reach out to someone. A friend or family member, or if you’re feeling so alone that you don’t feel you can reach anyone close to you - helplines are available.
Beyond this, please think about medical attention. Talk about it with your GP, mental illnesses are just as diagnosable and treatable as any physical malady. I know that my diagnosis was a great help in understanding I wasn’t crazy and—most importantly—I wasn’t okay and that was valid. Nonetheless, it didn’t become an excuse— a diagnosis can explain a lot of what’s going on, but it isn’t a crutch. Instead, it should be a signpost to where you need to go.
Mine signposted me to a course of counselling and prescribed medication. Often people avoid meds because they fear overdependence—a valid concern which should always be discussed with a doctor—but ultimately, mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances that make your brain ill, which can be treatable with medication. (I can only talk for depression and anxiety as I have not experienced other conditions.)
However, I would be lying if I said I was 100% cured and when I found myself sinking lower over the summer, I wanted therapy again. Therapy, like all forms of medication, is something you need to find the one that works for you. I’m currently going through psychotherapy and it’s honestly doing wonders. Talking through everything with a professional gets to the root of everything and helping me clear all the junk away in my brain. It’s like taking a breath of fresh air or drinking a glass of cold water.
Basically, depression isn’t something you need to be alone in, even though it can feel that way. Your suffering shouldn’t be put on the wayside just because of the virus—especially because this situation probably isn’t helping right now. If you do recognise anything mentioned here, in yourself, please seek help. Even if it means getting a little emotional.
You got this. Or you will.