I’m writing this on the day of the London Marathon, but it will be published the day after. This day is significant, in a way, because of the media that has surrounded it recently. The media I’m talking about is the programme Mind Over Marathon and the input of the royals into the discussion of mental health.
Prince Harry came forward last week and opened up about his experiences with mental health, counselling, and the loss of his mother. It was a small but significant gesture in the world of mental health. I haven’t read too much into it purely because I struggle to read about other’s experiences with mental health. My own experiences are small, and my expression of it will not be so widely read and it won’t have an impact on anyone, but I feel it is important to talk about.
I have been diagnosed with – and treated for – anxiety and depression. I’m still being treated for it. And although I have made everyone in my life aware of it now – through an explosion of tense moments – I still don’t talk about it very much. Although people know, they cannot really understand.
The anxiety is easy to talk about – not from an emotional point of view, but from a practical one. My anxiety has actively affected my life and behaviour in tangible ways that are easier for others to understand. It began with panic attacks as a teenager that I couldn’t really explain or understand myself, let alone help others to understand. But as I’ve grown older and understood myself, I’ve learnt to recognise my anxiety and the moments it affected my life. For example:
- At the weekend I left a night out with my dad early and got anxious that I upset him.
- I ask my fiancé at least once a week if he’s “grumpy with me” – he isn’t and he’s done nothing to make me feel that way, but I just need to know.
- The longer I leave communication with someone, the harder it can be for me to open up those lines again. I really struggle to connect with people and rely on people to reach out to me, for fear I’m annoying them or am unwanted there.
- When someone asks me if I’ve “got two minutes” I instantly think I’m about to be fired, yelled at, or told heartbreaking news. It heightens my fear of communicating and it makes me cry at everything.
- I once had an emotional breakdown because I had to try and fit making dinner, visiting my dad and my nan all in one evening and I just couldn’t comprehend how it would work.
- I sometimes have a bit of a split personality. My rational self is constantly reminding me that “it’s not a big deal”, “it’s going to be okay”, “no one’s upset with you” but my stomach growls and screams and tells me “it’s all awful!”
- There are days I’m too scared to leave the house or pick up my phone. Days I’m scared to talk to people for fear of saying anything wrong, days I’m scared to keep to plans in case my depressive self is no fun to be around and I ruin the night for everyone. If there is ever a chance that things might go south, I just keep away. It has put tensions with family in the past because I’m so scared of upsetting them that I just keep my distance and they, not knowing what’s going on inside my head, think I’ve just abandoned them.
- As I write this, my stomach is growling with nerves and telling me “none of this is indicative of anxiety, everyone experiences this, you’re just over-reacting and no one cares.” Thanks, Abbii.
So it’s easy to explain the anxiety, to give real world examples of how it works. But the depression? That’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I suppose I should start by saying that I am a happy person. I physically jump for joy at things, I live for Christmas and the sunshine makes my heart swell. I’m bubbly, I tell awful jokes, I love to laugh, and I do so often. There is a trend of saying “I’m so depressed” and when I admit my depression to people they tell me “I know how you feel, sometimes I get depressed too!”
No, you don’t.
Sometimes, you get sad. Heartbreakingly low and you feel like you cannot go on and it’s awful and it’s a true, valid emotion. But it isn’t depression. Or rather, it isn’t my depression.
My depression is a sort of fog in my brain that stops me from being able to connect my thoughts. My depression is a baffling apathy that just doesn’t make sense because I love you and I care about you, but I don’t feel like getting out of bed today or talking to you today because it reminds me I am connected to the real world and I have to live. And today, living just isn’t an option.
My depression is a fog that disconnects me from the people I’m in the same room as. We are laughing, we are joking, we are happy, but I am so trapped inside my own mind, berating myself, or just drowning in fog, that really the words you’re saying aren’t coming into my head.
My depression is a forgetfulness about things I love and are important to me because I’m so disconnected from the world that real life experiences don’t always hold a weight in my mind. I haven’t forgotten your birthday because I don’t love you, and I haven’t forgotten this meeting because it doesn’t matter to me, I’ve forgotten those things because no matter how hard I try to commit things to memory, life just passes me by and I can’t focus.
My depression is akin to standing in the streets in the midst of an earthquake with buildings falling around me and feeling perfectly calm and still because I either barely notice it or my mind is too slow to really react to the world crashing down around me.
There are moments of deep sadness, moments when it doesn’t feel worth getting up because what’s the point? But those moments are few and far between. I’m not sure if it’s the medication I’m on that helps with that, or if it’s just not my brand of depression, but sadness is rarely a huge tributing factor and when it is, it’s inexplicable. There’s no key event that I can chalk it down to. It just happens and I push through it.
I am a happy person but there is a cloud hovering somewhere behind me. My depression is vast black nothingness of despair, it’s a cloud that is difficult to see through, difficult to connect through, and, all in all, it’s not very exciting and it wouldn’t make a good movie. It’s not a defining factor of my personality, but it is a part of me that exists and to embrace me is to embrace my ill mental health.
There are those who think I shouldn’t share this, that’s not The Done Thing to be open about these things in public spaces, but it’s important to put it out there, to do my bit for my peers who are in the same boat and are just looking for someone to articulate how they feel.