Mental Health Taboo
Mental Health is an emotive and complex topic to write about. As a society we have made huge steps forward in recognising the importance of good mental health which is great, but I don’t think we fully accept what poor mental health can look like. I still feel a mix of negative emotions – shame, embarrassment, guilt – for struggling with my depression and anxiety. I think this is partly because of my own insecurities for viewing myself as being weak and a failure due to these ‘invisible’ struggles. I also think it is due to off-the-cuff, unhelpful remarks and prejudices concerning mental health – for example – “people who have depression are lazy and can snap out of it”. I hope writing about my personal relationship with mental health in this blog will help break the stigma a teeny bit more.
During this COVID-19 Lockdown I have had many hours (in all honesty, days!) to reflect on the past few months and come to terms with my own depression, anxiety and the lovely ADHD label. I want to share my reflections and thoughts because writing things down helps me process stuff. Plus, I’m a bit of an over-sharer and I like to think that my words may help others feel less alone, if they are having a bit of a shitter too. You are not alone, however much it feels like you are. I promise!
So, here goes…
Since October last year, I have had my phone switched off, not checked any social media, stopped all forms of exercise, had minimal contact with friends and have even struggled interacting with my own family… It’s been a bit rough to put it mildly.
I think it’s fair to say I got overwhelmed with life and had a little (well, pretty flipping huge) breakdown. I resorted to ‘Netflix and Chill’ and eating copious amounts of chocolate. Bingeing series online let me hide from the hideous thoughts swirling round my brain and the chocolate gave me a mini sugar-rush. My room was a safe place and my anxiety was so crippling that leaving the house to even go for a walk was exhausting. This went on pretty much until March this year.
Eventually, by mid-March, a teeny little spark of hope appeared and a change of environment meant the fog started to lift and I had put the black dog back on it’s lead. In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you what triggered the flick of the switch in my brain to start living again, but I’m so happy it did. What I do know is that the unconditional love and support from the friends who forced themselves on me, even though I had made it impossible for anyone to contact me, helped hugely in the kick-start to my recovery. And now I feel I am in a position to reflect and learn from this situation, so I can deal with things in a healthier way when I next feel anxious or overwhelmed.
I was catching up with a friend on the phone the other day and she explained depression to me in a pretty cool way: depression is like going downstairs to the basement of your brain and shutting the door from the world because life has become too much. This is exactly what I did towards the end of last year. And even though I can openly chat about how I handled things now and joke about having watched every programme on Netflix, it was very difficult to make that first step; accepting my current situation and moving on from there, with baby-steps forward.
No Quick Fix
There is no quick fix or magic wand. This black dog is going to be by my side for the rest of my existence. So it’s a good job I love dogs, hey?!.. In all seriousness, this is the most important thing I learnt during the past six months of darkness: I’m not going to be magically cured after crawling out of one of my dips. Keeping my mental health in check is a full time job, 24/7. And learning not to feel weak or a failure because of this is one of the biggest challenges I think I face.
I think I have recognised some of my triggers that lead to an episode of depression. This is a really big step in learning to understand myself more so I can handle situations better to help prevent future episodes. My triggers tend to be when I return from a big adventure (after travelling), there is job uncertainty and I feel like I have no purpose in life. I have also noticed the huge impact that food and sleep have on me! I need to make sure I eat at regular times and I recognise that evenings tends to be when I feel most vulnerable. Armed with this insight, I will hopefully be able to spot future triggers and reach out for support if I feel overwhelmed (and also not feel ashamed to do so!).
Being diagnosed with ADHD has helped me understand why I behave in certain ways. I have realised I don’t need to ‘act up’ to the label or broadcast it to everyone I meet, like “Hi I’m Lauren and I have ADHD!!!”. It’s just something I am aware of and have learnt a lot about how my brain processes stimuli. This means I am better equipped to deal with my hyperactive tendencies and managing my energy levels in a sustainable way.
Also, since returning from Australia in 2017, I had sub-consciously created three versions of myself;
- The “University” Lauren – the competitive, organised, successful (and slightly obsessed) triathlete who had her shit together Lauren. (Even though at the time I didn’t think I was successful in any way, plus I definitely did not have my shit together… brains are strange things, people!)
- The “hyper” Lauren – the post Australia hippie who said YES to everything and resented the rigidness of “University” Lauren.
- The “depressed” Lauren – the Lauren who turns into everything I hate… who is too anxious to socialise, unable to be in a swimming costume or any sporty clothes, who is overwhelmed by simple tasks, who ends up spiralling and unable to function.
I’m currently having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) where I’m learning to counteract these negative, unhelpful personas and embrace who I am as a whole. I am trying not to dwell on past mistakes or set myself unrelenting high standards. Instead, I want to accept all of me (the good the bad and the ugly) and be best person I can, for myself and for others. Plus, it’s all about working on my low self-esteem and to be comfortable in my own skin. I want to be proud of who I am, rather than cringe at myself and obsess over all the mistakes I have made in the past.
I will forever be indebted to the Wonderful Wild Women Community, my beautiful, kind friends and my family for the support over the past few months. I know it’s not easy to be friends with someone who has these struggles, or to live with them (sorry mum and dad for the past few months!). But they have stood by me and it fills my heart with happiness, as well as baffling me, that they still wanted to be around even when I was at my worst. Hence, why I love this Rupi Kaur poem:
When the world comes crashing at your feet
It’s okay to let others
Help pick up the pieces
If we’re present to take part in your happiness
When your circumstances are great
We are more than capable
Of sharing your pain.
Community – Rupi Kaur
I have written down three main things I have learnt through this low episode in hope that it might be useful for someone else:
- Surround yourself with those who support you through the rough times as well as being there for the good times.
- Be kind to yourself. Be Less judgemental. Let go of comparisons.
- Life is a journey… and I’m 25. I have learnt a lot about myself and my values, but (hopefully) will have many more years to get my shit together, although I’m pretty sure we never feel that we ever get to that point.
Finally, if you can, try to make the best of this unsettling Lockdown situation. It has given me chance to reflect and let go of feelings of guilt and shame for not doing the things I ‘should’ be doing (like working full-time) and has allowed me to be a bit creative. I hope you can shine some light in what might be a grey or unsettling time for you right now.
5 thoughts on “In it for the long haul.”
This is a very moving blog Lauren. It’s lovely to hear you are now able to communicate again. It will make a big difference to those who are currently suffering in silence and they will realise that there is hope xx
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Thank you very much for the kind words Caroline! xx
Just read this and not that many people will actually understand because unless you have been there with that black dog you will never ever know. I had a nervous breakdown 20 years ago, the dog is still there, you teach yourself to pat it on tne way past instead…. CBT did nothing for me personally it made it worse but thats the cruelty because everyone is different. Put your leg in a plaster cast and everyone says ooohh hope you get better soon… unfortunately you can’t wrap your mind. Take care and if you ever need to talk I’m here I know your mum and dad hopefully they will vouch for me but smile because you are not alone …
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Thanks so much for your kind and insightful words!
I am sorry that CBT wasn’t the right fit for you, I hope you found another technique to help you. I agree – the sad truth is we can’t wrap our minds! We can only try and be kinder to it and ourselves!