Today is going to be a pretty (very) long and brutally honest post on my experience with mental health. The smiling, happy face you see on this blog belongs to a girl who last year was diagnosed with major depression and severe anxiety. Now that I am very much on the path to being completely settled in my mind I am ready to share my story.
When I began university in March last year I had just lost my Grandfather, my family was scattered across two sides of the globe, I was in and out of hospital getting tested for breast cancer (all clear), I was in a new flat with little to no support and I was messing around with my ex-boyfriend with whom I stirred up a whole lot of drama. I pushed away a very close friend as she couldn’t cope with my erratic and destructive behaviour. I met some new people who only encouraged my dark thoughts. I kept adding and adding pain and to my heart intentionally because I wasn’t coping with my grief.
I kept myself exceptionally busy so I would have no time alone with my thoughts. I would work at university all day and night and during the weekends. This did mean that I was doing an exceptional job with my studies, but I was hardly at home, except to briefly sleep. My flat became horrible to live in. There was a lot of bickering going on between my housemates that eventually led to full blown screaming matches. Things were bad.
Partway through the year I decided I needed to alter the toxic environment that I was living in. I moved out of my flat and into a much calmer one. I reached out and healed the relationships I had broken with my friend and my ex. I cut out any hurtful or stressful people. My lovely boss noticed I was having a bit of a hard time coping with my usual busy day so swapped me to a quieter one. My life went from being a big, toxic mess to finally being a happy, calm place.
And then along came a boy. Typical.
I don’t believe that a boy completely screwed me over, but I think my head was already in a terrible place when he entered my life. On the surface my life had become better, but beneath the happy facade I was still in turmoil. He was great, until he stopped caring about me, stopped showing me affection and openly flirted with people in front of me. When he broke up with me he told me he didn’t feel committed to me. I was therefore entirely convinced that he had cheated on me and something was obviously deeply wrong with me. I broke down. I don’t think I have ever experienced the kind of pain that I felt the couple of weeks after our relationship ended. I wasn’t in love with him, but I think it was just that final load of heartbreak that broke me. I cried all the time. One of my most horrible memories of that period was when I fell to the floor in physical pain, tears streaming down my face. I screamed out at the universe, “Why did you do this to me?! How could this happen to me when I was FINALLY happy?! What did I do wrong?!”
Eventually my mind couldn’t cope with all of the pain that I had loaded it up with and all of a sudden I felt completely numb. I can’t remember that much about the end of last year because I was emotionless. I didn’t care about anyone or anything and I definitely did not care about myself. I was exhausted all the time. I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I physically struggled to get out of bed. I battled to even shower myself. I would stand at the doorway waiting for the motivation to leave the house and often it wouldn’t come. I would just stand there staring at the door. It was weird. I stopped seeing my friends. I couldn’t have a proper conversation with anyone, I felt like I was acting because I didn’t care about what anyone had to say. I stopped laughing. I spent a lot of time watching TV in bed. Life began to lose its shine.
I am exceptionally lucky that my friend Jackie noticed my mood shift and forced me to go to the doctor. By force, I do mean force. I explained my exhaustion. I got blood tests. When they came back normal I took a mood questionnaire and that was the moment that I got diagnosed with severe anxiety and major depression caused by anxiety issues. I didn’t really have a reaction, I just took the medical certificate and used it to get some extensions at uni. It wasn’t until I Skyped my Mum in tears about it that I realised that I was not coping. She jumped on a plane home the next week. With my Mum back and help from some close friends and my doctor, I managed to get through the last few weeks of university and on the path to recovery.
In terms of coping with anxiety, I went to some therapy sessions that really just helped me to learn how to breathe again and how to think positively. Apparently last year I was hyperventilating the whole time due to my anxiety. No wonder I was exhausted and my body and brain hated me! So, I breathe deeply and calmly now (in for 6, out for 6). Learn how to breathe guys, it changed my life! No joke! Slow. Down.
I now recognise that my thoughts are not a direct influence of what happens around me because I alter them negatively. I am very self-aware and analytical of what is going on in my head at the moment. So, yes, people tell me I probably think too much, but it’s for my own good. I plan everything out and I need to know exactly what is going on. Surprises and winging it are not great friends with me at the moment, but hopefully one day they will be again. I am strangely calm a lot of the time even amidst the chaos. I’ve never been calm before, but I have just developed this peaceful serenity. Probs the breathing. Seriously. Breathe.
The depression diagnosis was a little weirder for me to cope with, because I wouldn’t say I had felt depressed. I was more numb than sad. But really, that is what depression feels like for most people. A numbness rather than a state of melancholy. I was told by my therapist to read about it to fully understand what was going on. I researched and learnt that depression is just a weird chemical imbalance in your brain that can’t be fixed by you alone. It isn’t your fault! You can’t do anything about it, sometimes your brain just has a bit of a spaz, particularly after periods of stress and anxiety, and stops helping you out with sweet, sweet serotonin. What a dick, brain.
After doing some research I decided that I wanted to take anti-depressants. And yes, this is why I haven’t been drinking you nosey people. Not pregnant. Gosh. I was really against taking drugs initially because I thought they would alter my personality. But after thinking about it for a long time I realised I wasn’t myself anyway. I wasn’t social, I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t kind or caring; all things that I am at my very core. I wanted to feel myself again, and so I made a very calculated decision to go to the doctor for some happy drugs for my imbalanced brain and I am so, so thankful that I did.
About a month after taking the pills I woke up and I was me again. I hung out with someone and I laughed. A proper, belly laugh that wasn’t acted out. The next day I woke up and I was me still. Then I had a week of solid joy. I noticed the sun in the sky and actually tasted my food. I was awake and had energy. I went to bed and I actually slept. I smiled at people, a proper, non-awkward smile. I stopped freaking out about every little thing ever. I was me, and I was happy.
I am still me and I am still happy and it has been months now. Yay!
I am exceptionally grateful that I have such a wonderful support network of family and close friends. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as me. Thank you for all the hugs and brownies and words of loveliness! I’m also pretty lucky that most people didn’t notice me going through a majorly hard time and so treated me exactly the same. I think pity or people tiptoeing around me would have made life so much more difficult. Thank you all for still teasing me and making me laugh and being dicks. It’s nice to feel normal when you’ve been told you’re not normal medically. Screw you medical world. I’m fine.
Man. That was so hard for me to write, I cried a bit here and there. Yep. But hey, circle of trust guys, circle of trust.
One last thing, always remember to be silly and always remember to smile!
PS If you’ve just read this and I hadn’t told you last year, please don’t be mad. I only told a very small group of very close people. I am great, better than great. I made it through last year and I am stronger, happier and better than ever. I still love you all. Don’t worry.