This time last year I had been off work for almost three months with depression.
‘Depression’ was the only word written by my doctor on the regular sick notes she had to issue me in our fortnightly catch ups.
Those A5 pieces of paper were a regular reminder to me that I needed to accept that I wasn’t well and my former routine of wearing my mask and sitting in an overly anxious and depressed silence was no longer an option.
Annoyingly there’s no government-approved checklist that guarantees to 100% heal you once and for all when you are trying to deal with depression. During my time off from work my doctor and family/friends kept telling me to relax and put myself first. It didn’t happen straight away but eventually, little by little, I started to take action in a variety of ways.
By the time I was back in work I realised that I had got to a healthier place by doing so many different things; I had:
finally admitted I was beyond unhappy
reflected a lot
tried to be kind to myself (I still struggle to remember to do this)
had many conversations with people about topics that I’d historically hidden away from
spoken out about my true feelings regarding how I saw myself (and annoyingly still do tend to see myself)
realised I worry about a lot of hypothetical things – then typically worried about the fact that I worried a lot
visited my new counsellor regularly
researched depression and anxiety
challenged myself – I did a Marie Kondo-style clear out session in my house (before I’d even heard of her via Netflix, she’s ace!)
got some hobbies
had numerous anxiety attacks and realised that's what they were
tried mindfulness on many, many occasions and eventually it worked… or maybe I just fell asleep
went on walks in pretty scenery and somehow stumbled into a pub
cried a lot
laughed a lot
spent lots of time with my niece who is the greatest person to have ever entered my life (roll on niece number 2 due in May 2019!)
slept and napped a lot
started saying ‘no’
kept myself away from certain situations (triggers)
made new friends
visited the osteopath a lot
had numerous massages to combat the insane knots in my neck, shoulders, back and legs (yep, legs)
faced some fears (I let people see me without my beloved fake tan – that’s right folks I’m not a natural shade of tango)
read a lot (mostly self-care and CBT books)
written a lot of stuff down to help get it out my head (I write all the time but not all of it’s public on here).
Carrying out activities from this list didn’t stop once I went back to work. Some things on the list I tried to scrap (e.g. I tried to reduce the number of anxiety attacks) and some I had to (and still have to) uphold to get my life back on track and in to a regular routine again.
Trust me, it’s a bloody big list to take on. It’s timely, it’s complex, it’s sometimes fun, it can be hard graft but most importantly it’s helping.
Although I’m no-longer depressed, I do still have my demons who haunt me from time-to-time and I’m very aware that I have to keep on top of my list to not slip back in to that dark place. My biggest demon is my low self-esteem (which causes anxiety) that I wrestle with on a daily basis.
It’s a pain in the arse and makes me my own worst enemy. But, I at least recognise my triggers now and do what I can (following professional advice) in relation to the things I have control over and might react to things in a way I wouldn’t have previously.
For example, over the last few months I’ve had a number of wobbles – probably down to a number of factors that I didn’t have control over including: uncertainty around my old job (redundancy situation) and then waiting to start a new job. I was also balancing my normal daily low self-esteem issues, keeping on top of looking after myself and then in the middle of it all there was Christmas (a time of year that I have a massive love/hate relationship with as do so many people). I also managed to end up in A&E following a spectacularly twisted ankle (due to my hypermobility, not the three glasses of wine I'd had) and had to stay off my feet for a while.
Yes, I’m aware that all those things are just part of what many people encounter in life, but we all respond to things in different ways; I’ve learnt I don’t respond well to not having routine and definitely benefit from human interaction.
When people heard that I was unemployed for a few months whilst I waited to start a new job, people naturally said: ‘oh how lovely, all that time to do what you want!’ - I couldn’t have agreed more, however, after about two weeks of enjoying my freedom the reality of how boring it might be had set in. Most other people I knew were in work and it meant I was regularly alone with nothing but my thoughts, Netflix and a deaf cat for company. It was mundane, boring and shockingly Brian isn't an ideal candidate for stimulating conversation!
Don’t get me wrong, it was awesome having all that free time to do as I pleased, but I realised I was starting to feel familiar negative feelings creeping in, I couldn't help but think about the negative things in my life and my anxieties started to show their ugly heads. I was craving routine and the normality of going to work, interacting with people and using my brain. I knew the end was near and it would all pass but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t help that negativity seeping through. Once I started my new job I felt so much better for it and those emotions gradually evaporated.
The last few years have been somewhat heavy-going for me. Admitting to having depression or anxiety (or any other mental health condition) is a major triumph but steps you take in the following days, months and years are just as important.
I’ve written previously how some of my coping mechanisms are a lifestyle choice rather than an overnight fix. I can’t express how true that is and I seriously hope that people take that onboard when they’re reading these blogs and they recognise it isn’t a simple process but something that takes an individual (and their support system) a lot of time and effort to stay healthy.
I don’t have anything to hide (any more) so I hope that by others reading these snippets of info it will help them to see that yes it’s hard work but it does work and you will be ok.
Never in a million years did I think that the thing that would help me the most would be writing things down. And never in a million, trillion years did I think that my words about my own issues would have helped so many others at the same time.
I’ve lost count of how many friends, family members, colleagues and people I genuinely don’t know, have expressed that reading my little blog has either helped them understand me/themselves/others. Some have said it’s just given them a clearer understanding of the complexities of how the mind can sometimes work.
(It’s at this point that I’d like to remind you that I am not a mental health professional, so please talk to an expert for some proper advice, but feel free to use my ramblings as I continue to post them if it helps you in any way).
It’s been amazing to hear that some people have identified with my words and how they’ve ultimately helped them see they’re not the only person who feels a particular way (it also reminds me that I’m not the only person too, so thank you, thank you, thank you for telling me!).
Some people have admitted that they’ve been scared by how familiar our experiences (thoughts) are. And then some just can’t get over how they had no idea I’ve been juggling everything and say things like “you’ve gone through a lot”.
It’s true, I have gone through a lot. But I’m not unique. So many others have gone through and continue to go through a lot, I just happen to have spoken out in a public arena about my crappage and hopefully it'll do some good.
We are all just living out chapters in our stories. I guess I’ll be calling this chapter ‘Depression: been there, done that, got the t-shirt’.