As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to talk a little bit about my own experiences.
The focus for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is stress – which is such a common contributing factor towards poor mental health. All of my episodes of depression & anxiety were due to the stress of trying to cope with bad things happening to my family & I.
I was 17 when the doctor first told me I was depressed. I didn’t even realize!
The start of Year 13 was a strange time for me. I went through a break-up, my family were at the start of a bad-luck streak & I got glandular fever (after fainting in a mosh pit at a festival and thinking “this ain’t right”). Soon after, I was only making it to sixth form 2/3 days a week. Sometimes I would crawl to the loo because I had no energy. I also developed these overwhelming feelings of not wanting to be alive any more … These feelings became normal. That voice in my head telling me to run in front of the bus wasn’t scary. It just felt so normal. What was scary was not knowing that it was depression.
Even though 2011 wasn’t that long ago, it was still quite a taboo thing to talk about. I didn’t realize this at first… I told some teachers I trusted & whilst a few were incredibly supportive, some didn’t know how to react. It left me feeling as though I shouldn’t have opened up. This made me scared of anyone else finding out because they’d think something was “wrong” with me or that I wasn’t a a “whole” person. That is crazy. I told my best friends & my theatre studies class who were amazing about it but the thought about word getting out made me feel sick. I was paranoid that people could read my thoughts. After a few months, I got through it & thought that would be the end of my journey through depression…
The next episode I had was a year or so later. After my broken back healed, I was still left with pain that made me cry most days. I was terrified that the pain would never go away and that I wouldn’t be able to go to Drama school. My family were still in the midst of a bad-luck streak (& plenty of mental illnesses of their own…) & I thought it would never end. I thought “well this is just how life is going to be from now on…” I started having panic attack’s and thinking that my life was over. I knew this wasn’t normal & that my thoughts weren’t rational so I took myself to the doctor who told me I was suffering with anxiety and depression. Double whammy. Great. Having said that, what was a comfort in the cloud was being able to recognize that what I was feeling wasn’t normal – I’d been through it before & by this point, other people were opening up about it which made me feel less alone & more able to fight the illness off.
My third episode was in my first year of Drama school when something pretty awful happened. I was okay at first, but soon after the reality of what did happen became too much. I wasn’t sleeping at all, & the anxiety came back in full force. Unaccompanied by depression this time though as I knew the warning signs & how to crush them. Anxiety though, was my new best friend.
My final episode was in my second year at Drama school. Yet more cr*p decided to grace my family & not being able to be there for them all the time got to me. I was in the hardest year of my training, couldn’t keep up with the tuition fees, was in a show every other evening, had two jobs & an endless list of horrible stuff my family were currently having to deal with. My way of coping was panicking. This was by far the worst my anxiety had been. I had run out of a rehearsal to have a panic attack a few times (I’ve talked about this before but I still owe ALRA, the staff and pupils so much for the support) & had to use my holiday allowance at work so I could try & rest. This time though, talking about my anxiety to my peers & directors was actually pretty easy. I didn’t feel ashamed. I didn’t mind who knew & I was just so grateful for my friends being so open too. Being open was the key to me throwing my anxiety in the bin. One of my tutors bluntly told me “Why are you worrying like this? What will it actually achieve?” & it made perfect sense. All it took was one comment to make the fog disappear. I tried medication & counseling, they both helped. But having people there for me, to listen to me – even if they didn’t understand – was a cure in itself.
Fortunately I’ve been free from anxiety for a few years now. I’ve developed my own way of dealing with stressful situations. I chose not to worry. I chose not to panic … Which I understand is easier said than done for someone with anxiety but it really is achievable… If anyone is interested in how I did it then I’d love to write about it.
What I want to say is that we are in a much more understanding place now. Where talking about our mental health is becoming normal. Some people still think depression and anxiety aren’t “real” but I promise you, if/when they go through it themselves, they’ll change their tune. Trust me.
To those who have already talked about their mental health online – thank you. It’s brave, it’s inspiring & you never know who you might be helping. ❤
Everyone is different & what helps for one person, won’t work for another. That’s okay…
Never ever feel guilty or selfish for putting your mental health first. You don’t have to apologise. Just look after yourself. If you’re battling a mental illness, just know that you are braver than you may think. If someone you know is depressed or anxious then just be there. Just listen to them. Being patient is the greatest gift.