It was interesting to see that the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week, 10th – 16th May, this year is Nature. Now, I’m not going to put it out there that nature fixes our mental health. It doesn’t.A good health service, access to mental health facilities and services, medication, diagnosis, experts, voting for parties that will increase mental health services and access to the assistance we need, and much more will help our mental health more, but nature does have its place in preserving our emotional and mental health.
There is a lot of scientific and medical evidence that shows that nature improves our mental health and wellbeing. Nature can offer a calming and soothing effect that lowers our stress levels and anxieties. Being outside and bathing in light, sunlight, or just daylight, can improve our production of serotonin and Vitamin D. Exercise increases endorphins, and just walking in woodland, alongside birdsong, or along a beach, listening to waves crashing, can significantly help your general mental health.
As someone who suffers from extreme anxiety and has been crippled by bouts of depression, I know nature is not a cure – it would be patronising to claim it is – but it does enrich my emotional state, and is part of my coping strategy.
It’s been proven that just looking at images of nature can lift moods, and can offer a boost of serotonin. So, to offer support and a moment of lightness I’m going to share some moments of nature that have helped me. I use nature, and pretty things, to keep my anxieties and panic at bay, maybe they can help you.
Please remember we can be there for each other, not just for walks in parks, but for the serious stuff, the times when darkness invades and our mental health is at the bottom of the pit.
Ask for help, seek out counselling (it helps, but believe me I know how long you have to wait for it!), find people who’ll listen and support you, accept help, and accept medication if that’s what you need. Watch out for each other, be kind, offer help when it’s needed, and for goodness sake, vote for the parties that want to help, the ones who want to increase mental health provisions and access to all. That’s how we change things, and that’s how we help. Nature is great, and it’s there for us all, but remember there’s more to fixing mental health than looking at pretty things.
Life is not easy, and even with all the support and love in the world sometimes you need extra help. Counselling can be a great place to start, and this is my journey.
I was a shy child, but the word shy was a misnomer for severe anxiety, panic, trauma, and low self-confidence. By fourteen, I also had an eating disorder and was self-harming. At eighteen, undergoing a breakdown, I finally asked for help, approaching the first female GP I’d had and sharing historic information which my mother hadn’t been able to cope with. My doctor was compassionate and sent me to a psychiatrist. He failed to ask or listen to anything, prescribed the antidepressant, Fluvoxamine, and sent me to a group counselling program.
Group counselling for an eighteen-year-old with huge social anxiety was a bad move. I sat among drug addicts and people with serious mental illnesses and made myself as small as I could. I did not say a word and didn’t return after two sessions. Nine months of antidepressants numbed me through the breakdown. I limped through my twenties, married and raised children, had a bout of post-natal depression, and pushed through with little recognition and without any attempt to ask for help.
I was thirty-three (2004) when I was sexually assaulted and the earlier undealtwithassault resurfaced. During this breakdown my husband, desperate to help, intervened and I saw another psychiatrist, but this one was a family friend and he listened. I took Escitalopram, and was referred to a private sexual health and abuse counsellor. She was amazing and took me back through my childhood and relationships. Through talking we worked through the assaults and I began to see myself differently, and to take back control of my life and who I was. She showed me that I was more than the sum of what had happened to me, that I deserved more, and that I was safe. I began to learn my own worth and how to overcome my demons. She helped me to conquer them by turning the perpetrators into sad pathetic creatures. After six months of counselling I felt much more in control and much happier. I wish I’d been able to find counselling on the NHS but it had taken private counselling and financial aid through my church to help.
Life moved easily with the heaviness lifted for several years then overwhelm and anxiety kicked in again, and in 2010 and 2011 I took six month courses of antidepressants, Cipralex and Citalopram, and in 2014, Amitriptyline, which was to combat anxiety and panic rather than depression, and I was sent on an Anxiety/Depression CBT course by my GP, who told me I’d need to do that before any one-to-one counselling could be offered on the NHS.
It turned out to be a group course, six or eight sessions, watching two hours of slides teaching about depression and anxiety. The two mental health nurses lecturing were lovely, and I can’t fault the information, but for me, someone who’d intensively researched both subjects, it was information I was already fully aware of. I used it as a reminder and tried to put it into action, but without one-to-one mentoring let’s say, I found it difficult. I knew all about anxiety and depression but was unable to put basics into action on my own. It was over ten years since my successful counselling and I now struggled to be able to put ideas and theories into action without dealing again with core issues and triggers.
In 2016, after a lovely day but a brutal year, I found myself at 2am standing on a local bridge wanting to finish everything. I’d been battling suicidal ideation for years and years, along with self-harm, panic, and anxiety. I was prescribed Sertraline, yet another antidepressant, by my GP and put on a counselling waiting list.
I was full of tears, panic, and overwhelm, unable to vocalise or help myself. I paid and saw a private counsellor (through my church) who listened to what I’d been going through over many years. She showed a desire to help and validated the pain and overwhelm that I felt. I’d tried asking my church for financial aid to get counselling, but been turned down, however the attempt on my life changed that, and we got financial aid to see another private counsellor closer to home through church social services.
Seeing a counsellor whilst on antidepressants is always weird for me. It feels difficult to be authentic because medication balances and numbs, so I was worried she wouldn’t see the real me through the deception of meds. I felt I would look too normal, undeserving of counselling, and she wouldn’t see my inner turmoil. However, I felt really comfortable with her, she made me feel understood and validated, and it felt like spending time with a friend. I looked forward to my weekly sessions.
We talked about my trauma, family, the difficulties life threw at us, and I learned ways to ground myself, to cope with my sensory issues, and ways to try and deal with my self-harm. I talked a lot about my family and how deeply my emotions were interwoven with their needs, more so than my own. We looked at anxiety and how to deal with it, we used mindfulness, meditation, ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and she helped me talk about my fears, concerns, and anxieties. After six months I felt much more secure within myself and we stopped counselling, but have become friends.
This period had been positive and taught me a lot. I used grounding and sensorytools to help cope with anxiety and had an ACT textbook which I could work through. This began a much happier time in my life.
I was offered counselling through the NHS whilst receiving private counselling, but I had to turn it down due to a conflict of interest, it would be unethical to see two therapists at the same time, and I felt I was doing well with my counsellor.
Two years later, and due to a resurfacing of trauma, I was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and intrusive thoughts again. My doctor prescribed Duloxetine, trying a SNRI antidepressant rather than the usual SRRI, as I wanted to avoid feeling like a zombie. Duloxetine wasn’t for me after I’d spent two days vomiting. I tried Propranolol, a beta-blocker, to deal with anxiety attacks, which worked in the moment. I turned down antidepressants, this time I didn’t want to stop feeling, I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted counselling, something concrete, something to continue to teach me how to deal with my anxiety and issues. I wanted to learn rather than just cope or mask. I was offered another self-referral to my local NHS counselling service.
As I tried to cope with huge anxieties and panic, overwhelm and sensory issues, my daughter who was on the ASD waiting list (She was later diagnosed with ASD) asked whether I thought I might have Autism too. Another visit to my GP and he placed me on the assessment waiting list after agreeing that it was a likely possibility.
Whilst waiting for referrals I began going to a local pottery class for carers and those with mental and emotional health problems. Art therapy offered relief that inspired, calmed me, and spoke to my inner creative. It was a huge release each week, somewhere I could go and not be disturbed, and lose myself in creativity.
Finally, after nine months of numerous panic attacks and anxiety, at the end of 2018, I got six weeks of counselling through the NHS. My counsellor was nice, quiet, calm, relaxed, and friendly, but the weekly sessions held in a hospital room were clinical and one way. I talked and shared, but the counsellor didn’t respond much. It was ambiguous. She asked about me, what I’d done in the week, and how I felt, but didn’t offer much in the way of advice – or counsel. I felt very frustrated that again the answers were things I already knew, but didn’t know how to initiate in my life. I left feeling more frustrated than before counselling.
I got more help from friends online who shared their experiences with me, and I learned that I was catastrophising, and their encouragement pushed me to ask for further help. I knew from my counsellor that I needed to reprogram my brain, to create new neural pathways, but I had no idea how to do it, and she wasn’t forthcoming.
I asked my GP to refer me for CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, because I had no idea how to change my problems with sensory issues, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and catastrophising. Three months later I saw a Primary Mental Health Care Worker/Assessor who listened intently and agreed that CBT might be a good fit for me. She referred me on.
October, four months later, I had an assessment at Psychological Integrated Therapies Services and saw a Mental Health Provider. He listened but kept correcting me, telling me I wasn’t having realpanic attacks, I was only having anxiety attacks, and downplayed my intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation saying it was perfectly normal… a part of life for the average person. He told me I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, something I’d been painfully aware of for about thirty years. I felt embarrassed and small after the assessment, but none of that measured how bad I felt when one week later I got a letter informing me Psychological Therapies couldn’t offer me anything because I did not have a diagnosed mental health illness. It felt like a kick in the teeth from somewhere that I’d felt was my last port of call. I actually phoned the department and they apologised, but told me I’d be fine, and that they had no funding to treat anyone without a mental health diagnosis. I wondered if depression, generalised anxiety disorder, self-harm, etc were just not counted as mental health disorders? I felt invalidated and despairing.
At the tail end of 2019 I wept with my doctor and she agreed to refer me again for counselling after seeing if there were options beyond the NHS six week sessions. I waited. Then in 2020Covid19 hit us and we all went into lockdown. It was October, almost a year after referral, that I got an assessment for New Pathways, a charity run counselling service, via the NHS, and they offered me three options: one-to-one counselling, a support worker, or group therapy. I chose one-to-one counselling and asked for it to include help dealing with sexual assault, anxiety, and methods to cope. Two weeks later I began counselling via Zoom.
I began this new course with trepidation caused mainly by having to use Zoom, but my new counsellor was proactive and friendly, beginning by getting to know me and finding out what my worries were. I was agitated, tearful, nervous, shaky, and scared to be myself, but I was also keen to make the most of whatever I was offered. You don’t wait for years and years and then sit back and expect counselling to work without putting in the effort.
It was emotionally overwhelming to talk about my feelings of trauma, responsibility, feeling neglected and consequently overcompensating with my own family. We discussed my avoidance tactic, something I’d never recognised before, and I realised that when she asked me pointed questions I always deflected. I suddenly started to see myself differently as my counsellor gently coaxed me into talking about myself and not everyone but myself. It was uncomfortable to talk about me, and slowly I opened up. It was a symptom of putting myself last for almost my entire life while I checked that everyone else was okay.
This was emotional and frightening. Pushing myself forward was something I wasn’t used to and talking about what I felt was overwhelming. Instead of talking about how I thought everyone else felt, I talked about how I felt. Then we dug into my past. I’d dealt with these issues way back when I was thirty-three and I thought I’d put them in a box and sealed it up, now at forty-nine these demons had risen again. We worked with art and word association, talked about grounding and techniques for my anxiety toolbox.
We concentrated more on my overcompensating with my children, and how feeling that my needs hadn’t been met as a child meant I felt an urge to fulfil every need and whim to an unhealthy extent. We also talked about how mine and my children’s emotional and mental health needs had been let down by the health service and schools, and how that had framed my anxiety and panic responses. I realised that the trauma and neglect had become an anchor to me, a metaphor I understood and was able to work with. I felt constantly burdened with responsibility to take care of everyone’s emotional state and an inability to let go, care for myself, and do my own thing. My counsellor asked me to go away and make a piece of art representing the anchor, to be as free as I wanted with the idea and see what happened.
Art is my thing and I don’t go into it lightly… It had been a difficult week and I shut myself away with my watercolours. I sketched and used masking fluid (experimenting for the first time) and allowed myself to disappear into the ocean, creating a wash of sea blue, and pooling and flicking blues, indigo, green, pink, and purple across the wet paper. The next day after it dried, I rubbed off the masking fluid and painted the anchor and its chain. I coated it with peridot algae and flicked white bubbles.
Using art is a way to break through barriers and walls, and it showed me much about myself. I’ve been anchored in trauma and anxiety and the weight is heavy, and that weight has held me back. I have a tendency toward the aesthetic and beauty, even if it’s painful to bear, maybe that’s a martyr response? I’ve tried to lift the anchor in the painting to give a sense of movement, which could be a positive step, but the chains are still heavy and oversized for the anchor they carry. I called it Let It Go, and I hope I can.
I emailed the painting to my counsellor and I think she was surprised at the piece, the work that had gone into it, the new technique I’d used when I hate change, and the free flow and movement, and the colours that echoed hope and positivity. I shared it online with my friends and got a mass of interpretations, all of which were insightful and emotional to me. Art is very therapeutic and can translate what you feel so well, allowing you not only a catharsis but a way to try and analyse your feelings.
I concentrated hard on trying to channel what I’d learned in therapy, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the very resources I’d waited so long to use. New Pathways relies on charity and government grants. I’d waited a year for my twelve sessions and I was going to do damn near everything I could to appreciate and respect the time and words shared with me by my counsellor, and to transfer what I learned to my life.
My counsellor noticed the change in me as we met each week, and my family have too. My confidence and happiness have grown. My understanding of myself, my trauma, and my life became clearer to me, and my desire to change and embrace it got stronger every week. After a two week break at Christmas I worried I felt reliant on my sessions, but I quickly realised that changes I hadn’t noticed in myself, had actually happened. I knew that I could finally give myself permission to be myself. The blog posts I’ve written in the past show the importance I place on being yourself, being authentically you, but giving myself permission to practise what I preached had never been easy. It will still be a work in progress, but it’s one I’m now actively living.
I have a healthier outlook, more coping strategies and tools, I am overcoming my insecurities and learned behaviours to be able to see my own worth. I am leaving the unconscious behind and moving forward with conscious decisions for the future.
My message is this. Keep on. Don’t give up. Sometimes you won’t be offered what you need, and you’ll plough through help that doesn’t help, but sometimes you’ll find what you need and it can change your life. I have had three amazing counsellors in my life, who have been there when I needed them and they’ve each helped me change my life for the better.
I am under no illusion, I know I will continue to suffer anxiety and many issues, but I am better equipped to deal with it now, and for that I am grateful to my family (who learn with me) and to every professional counsellor who has given me their valuable time and expertise.
“I was awake until about 1am reading this one. I could have put it down anytime, just didn’t want to.
This story leans heavily to the subject of depression. There are many of those on the kindle, few quite as believable, even less as credible. The family with a single child are wonderfully developed as they are deeply troubled. A father who goes to work and his involvement limited in their troubled life, a mother slowly slipping away from all of them, and a young girl with too much weight on her shoulders left to clean up the mess.
…the oak tree becomes symbolic of the escape from harsh reality for both mother and child when there are so many issues that should be confronted, so many secrets that should be out in the open.
This is the kind of book I recommend people read regardless of what kind of genre you prefer. It’s one for everybody. Just read it.” —Mr D. on Amazon
Beneath the Old Oak is the second book in the Surviving Hope novels, following Beneath the Rainbow already available, and once you’ve been charmed by Beneath the Old Oak you’ll be excited to read Beneath the Distant Star which releases on 11th December – and my publisher has offered a number of ARC copies of Beneath the Distant Star through LibraryThing. In exchange for an honest review you can read a prepublication copy of Beneath the Distant Star. Pop over, scroll down and request your copy now.
Everyone suffers stress to some level. Some people deal with stress easily, some relish it and work better under pressure, some struggle hugely and then it can affect their mental health adversely. We’re all different and no reaction is the right or wrong one.
I don’t deal well with stress as it exacerbates and intensifies my anxiety and panic disorder. It will affect my IBS and cause nausea, stomach aches, upsets, and pain. People can suffer other physical symptoms too such as headaches, tiredness, insomnia, chest pain, sweat, clenched jaw, and a higher risk of colds and infections. Symptoms that affect your mental health can include irritability, panic, depression, exhaustion, self-harm, and anxiety.
If stress is affecting your life then take whatever steps you can to reduce it by removing the cause if you can. This isn’t always possible, in which case you need as much support and understanding as you can get, but if it is at all possible then take action.
Stress often induces the Fight, Flight or Freeze reaction, and these are physical responses. When you know your response you can learn to deal with your reaction. My instinct is always flight. Stress causes anxiety which leads to panic and finally a panic attack. A panic attack will either lead to flight or self-harm with me.
Just the other day I was at the Dr’s surgery and had to wait, after my GP visit, to see the nurse. I was there early and the waiting room was almost empty, but as I waited for an hour the number of patients grew and the room filled up. The noise level rose, babies, children, coughing, crackling chests, and lots of people. I don’t deal well with crowds, and finally people sat either side of me and I tried to ignore everything. I was prepared with a book, and I kept my head down reading, but it got to the point when my anxiety swelled, panic began to bubble beneath the surface, tingling in my veins. The receptionist assured me I’d be seen within five minutes, and she was lovely, but it was too late. I had no control over the panic attack that had brewed. I sat back down, trying to convince myself that five minutes was nothing, I could make that, but as tears welled there was no stopping the onslaught of full blown panic attack and I ran. With the help of CalmHarm, an app I’ve been using on my phone, I calmed down within a few minutes, enough to return and get called into the nurse. Once with her I dissolved and she talked me through the panic attack.
There are many ways to deal with stress and you have to learn what works for you:
Stay positive, do all you can to keep positivity in your life.
Try meditation, breathing exercises (CalmHarm has helped me greatly with using breathing to stop a self-harm urge or panic attack), relaxation techniques, mindfulness and many other CBT cognitive behavioural therapies.
Ecotherapy (that’s a new name for nature!) go on walks and spend time in nature.
Keep a Mood Diary see what triggers or causes your stress.
Develop a strong support network, family and friends can be there for you when you need them.
Be honest, especially with your employer, teachers, friends, and family. In general people will want to help and support you.
Good sleep and exercise can be very beneficial. If stress is causing insomnia see your GP for help.
Accept there are some things you won’t be able to change, but help might still be available. (At the Dr’s surgery I had to wait my turn to see the nurse, but she explained that I could in future ask to wait in a quiet room if I’m feeling too anxious.)
Eat well and stay healthy.
Know your limits. Sometimes you need to say ‘No’.
Try not to rely on drugs if you can, but also know what drugs do work for you. (I am currently taking Propranolol and it’s working wonders for me. I am waiting for counselling, but while I’m not coping drugs are the right thing for me.) Anxiety medication or antidepressants, or sleeping aids can work and help reduce stress.
Life is full of stress – that’s not something we can change, but how we deal with it will define us and help us to cope. Learning coping skills and ways to deal with stress will enhance our lives. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help alleviate stress is to help those around us to feel support and love, and if we are in a position of authority – as an employer for instance – then compassion and understanding will help improve relationships. Respect, compassion, and support will work wonders.
How do you cope with stress?
Focus on ‘small wins’ don’t chase big achievements.
Do the little things and use it as a springboard
whatever you can do be proud of it! – Mind
November 18th is International Survivors of Suicide Day, a day when we should celebrate life and talk about mental health. September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, but why isn’t this something we talk about every day? (* Trigger Warning – Suicide is discussed frankly.)
The Mental Health Foundation reports that 1 person in 15 have made a suicide attempt at some point in their life. This is sobering and worrying. It’s hard to find official statistics for survivors of suicide, but I believe many people would be shocked to discover they probably know someone who has attempted to take their own life. I know several people.
Survivors of suicide are not just those who attempted to take their lives – they are those who have lost someone to this disease, those who can still hug someone who attempted suicide but lived, and those who tried to kill themselves and survived.
Please watch the film below about Kevin Hines who survived a leap from The Golden Gate Bridge: ‘I ran forward and using my two hands I catapulted myself into freefall. What I’m about to say is the exact same thing that nineteen Golden Gate Bridge jump survivors have also said – the millisecond my hands left the rail it was an instant regret and I remember thinking “No one’s going to know that I didn’t want to die.”’
Please check out – Suicide: The Ripple Effect and its accompanying video for more information about Kevin and his work increasing the awareness of suicide attempts.
If, in the UK, 1 in 15 have thought about, planned, and attempted suicide, but survived (including those who did die), the first question people often ask themselves is why and what did I miss?
‘Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.’ – International Association for Suicide Prevention.
You may never know what drove someone to suicide or an attempt, due to its complexity.
I wrote a post on UnderstandingDepression a month ago, and explained that even though life can be good, mental health problems can overcome every good intention and persuade the sufferer that they are not worth saving. Mental Health services are getting better and more accessible, but it’s slow, and though the stigma is fading, it still needs more awareness and compassion.
Guilt often accompanies a suicide attempt, both from the person who tries to take their own life and their family who wonders why. Answers are hard, and sometimes impossible, for both parties, and support is vital to recover and move forward.
Kevin Hines says: ‘Suicide, mental illness, and addiction are the only diseases that we blame the person for, perpetually, but people die from suicide just like they die from any other organ disease.’
He also talks about surviving, recovery, and creating a network of support.
We have to change the narrative, mental health has to be something we talk about, something we try to understand, something we care about. How we do that has to be across the board, from government, to schools, to parents, teachers, leaders, and all of us need to take responsibility for caring and understanding. Kevin Hines sits on the boards of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the Bridge Rail Foundation (BRF) the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Consumer Survivors Committee, and tells his story wherever he can. He has touched lives and continues to do so.
I wish I could talk about my experiences with suicide (I touch on my own in the article I mentioned above), and with those I love who have experienced or attempted it, but that’s not my place.
Just two days ago it was World Kindness Day… Kindness, compassion, love, understanding, and caring go a long way to help those who live precariously amid mental health conditions. You may know someone with suicidal tendencies, someone who self-harms, someone who can’t see through the fog of depression, someone who doesn’t know that anyone cares.
Be the one that does. Live with kindness and love.
If you are suffering, please find help. I did, and it saved my life. See your GP, find a counsellor, phone The Samaritanson UK 116 123, anytime, anywhere. If you can’t do any of these, please talk to a friend, partner, parent, or someone close to you.
Words cut deep, words wound, but mix words with blades and you have the perfect weapon.
They say Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me – they’re wrong.
It wasn’t even what others said, lost amid my world, inside my own head, is what brought me down.
There were words, plenty of them, but they were mine. No one else uttered them; no one else spoke them, but me. Words simmered below the surface, whispering and murmuring, digging and muttering, piercing and cutting. They moved through my bloodstream, through my veins, seizing and taking hold inside my brain – until they cut like knives, like blades determined to bury themselves deep within.
Nothing could dislodge them and their commitment to destroy was flawless, and they worked into my wounds like burrowing wasps brandishing scalpels. No parry was enough to deflect and I was soon forced to choose my own weapon.
Photograph: Andy Bate
I would dig them out, thrust and plunge, and drive my own blades deep. And I did.
I gouged and lanced and met those words until they flowed like red silk, until they ran and poured like rivers of crimson, until they gushed in cascades of scarlet ribbons, and I could hold them no more.
He waxes and wanes like the moon – bursting with passion and brim-full with deep satisfaction, and then lost in absence and lonely apathy.
I ride the waves of his storm.
The minute his lips touch mine I sink into his depths, drowning in tides of desire and climbing to heights I’ve never known. He and his touch spark fireworks and constellations shimmer through my universe. My night sky lights up with the fullness of an October Hunter’s moon and I relish every moment he stays. He is my sun and my moon and every star in my cosmos.
My heart aches when he leaves, when he shifts from my orbit. He remains, connected with my physical world, but lost to me as the moon is absent to your touch within a puddle. I know it’s not his love that wanes, but his island inhabits a remoteness that even I cannot reach. I cannot sail its waters and I cannot rescue him from his solitary soul.
When he is only a reflection of himself I keep him safe wrapped within the cocoon of my heart. When his light fades I keep a burning coal in my belly. When he weeps and collapses, like a neutron star, I remain at his side to fuel his escape from the black hole, and keep him tethered to life.
Then, as I wait, his dark moon catches a spark, a shooting star, and its tail threads back through our course. And, in time, he returns, hungry and starved and eager. And I greet him with love and shelter, and allow him time to regain his glow.
Our eternal round will never fail, my harbour will encircle, and my heart will embrace, through the good and the bad, the high and the low, the waxing and waning. It will always go on, because that’s what you do when you love someone encased within bipolar extremes.
Depression does not discriminate. Depression is not a choice.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are becoming
much better understood, but we still need to be clearer.
Depressioncan hit anyone – it does not discriminate. Depression ignores your gender, race, age, and any other excuse people can throw at it. It doesn’t matter your financial situation, or your degree of education, or your place in this world. It doesn’t care if you’re fulfilled, or happy, or desperate and suicidal. It does not discriminate.
The NHS website explains that ‘There’s no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers.’ Depression can be caused by circumstance, events, or medical conditions, or family history, or through chemical imbalances.
Situational depression is perhaps the easiest (a misnomer if there ever was one, no depression is easy) to deal with as its root cause trauma, trigger, or event, can often be located and treated or understood, the same could be said for depression triggered by grief. A trauma or loss often brings on acute sadness and depression, which may need treating medically or psychologically, but is a condition that can be worked through and hopefully overcome with time.
Other types of depression are harder and maybe impossible to ‘cure’.
Yet, there are still people who claim you can change your life, become more positive, appreciate your blessings, and then you can beat your depression. Maybe, who knows, for some people with situational depression, maybe they can overcome and ride out the bad times, maybe they can ‘pull themselves together’ (I hate that term), maybe they can recognise and make changes in their life and beat depression. Maybe, but also, maybe not.
I’ll add a caveat here: depression (and mental illness as a whole) is not ‘one size fits all’. My experience will be different from yours, and where some people may find depression a blip in their lives, something to overcome, many don’t and will fight it their entire lives.
We must be non-judgmental, compassionate, and understanding in our dealings with those who live with depression.
Depression is treated in many ways. Mild depression can be treated with a ‘wait and see’ approach, exercise helps ease depression – and I can bear witness to that – as can diet, psychotherapy, CBT(Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and counselling. More serious depression needs a stronger approach. All of the above can help, talking and counselling can be a godsend, but medication can also be necessary. Antidepressantswork by increasing neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, if these chemicals are out of balance they can affect many aspects of your body and mind, including mood. There are several types of antidepressants, and the most popular of these SSRIs(Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) increase the levels of the chemical messenger in the brain – serotonin. Serotonin is an amino acid that is found in food, and it helps run much of your body, and deficiency can cause depression.
I have written about Antidepressants and my history, and about Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants, but I still get people telling me that I ought to be more positive, or count my blessings, or that I’m lucky to have everything I do, or that others would be happy with a tiny bit of what I have in my life…
There are a multitude of posts and lists out there online that list the things no one should ever say – and what they should say – to someone living with depression – but people still say them! Get over it, they say, choose to be happy, count your blessings, there’s always someone worse off than you, don’t be selfish, it’s all in your mind (actually, yes, it is – but it’s physiological and psychological, not made-up), try to be happy… If it was as easy as that we wouldn’t be suffering with depression.
Depression is not a choice. Being sad can be a choice, making changes that help you get over problems in your life is a choice, being positive is a choice, but being depressed is not a choice.
I am a happy person, I’m a positive person, but I also have clinical depression and have had it since I was fourteen-years-old. I was diagnosed at eighteen, and have lived with it ever since. I have taken courses of antidepressants, had counselling, had psychiatric help, seen a psychologist, seen a therapist, used exercise, and I still live with depression.
Thirteen months ago I stood on a bridge at 2am. Life seemed too much. I was overwhelmed. Depression drowned me. I got help and have had counselling and antidepressants since. None of that, or of my history of depression, panic, and anxiety, changes the fact that my life is fulfilling, I adore my husband and children, I love who I am. I have self-harmed since I was twelve-years-old (when I didn’t even know what self-harm was), but that doesn’t change that I know I’m blessed, that I’m happy with my talents, and I love my life.
I know that depression will haunt me throughout my life, but I will manage it. Antidepressants will ‘fix me’ short term, until the chemicals in my brain misalign once more. I will make use of the services available to me, which are getting better.
But the point of this post is to help understanding and appreciation of what depression truly means.
Depression is not a choice, and it does not discriminate.
It is a condition that those who live with will manage to the best of their ability.
We deserve support and compassion, be the person who seeks to understand.
Why is it still difficult to remove the stigma of medication
for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles,
while so many are experiencing these disorders?
When we talk about eradicating stigma we’re trying to normalise or accept something that has been deemed a sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable. In general, society is becoming much more compassionate and educated about mental health, and the stigma is relaxing. However, we still have a long way to go and even those of us fighting to remove the labels can have trouble accepting.
I’ve lived with clinical depression, anxiety, and panic for most of my life, and dealt with it in many ways. I’ve had successovercoming it using natural ways, and I’ve had many times when I’ve neededmedication. Accepting medications has always been difficult. Nobody likes to admit they’re not in control of their own bodies, let alone their own minds.
I know many people on antidepressants, and many who refuse meds, so how do you know if medication will help you?
I didn’t want to be on antidepressants for the long term and I believed meds would only offer the placebo effect after so long. I chose to take six month courses, weaning myself off by nine months, believing the serotonin, the meds, and my biological body would work together to rebalance.
The last few years have been tough, culminating in a psychotic episode almost exactly ten months ago last week. An episode I wasn’t sure I’d return home from. It scared me and my family. The following week got worse, and eventually my GP prescribed Setraline and got me on a waiting list to see a counsellor.
I was scared of where I was and with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendancies I sought out private counselling. This helped greatly with learning coping skills and discovering how to deal with my demons. However, medication does a funny thing. I saw an initial counsellor who saw me in a terrible state, tears, panic, and reflections of the psychosis, and she referred me to a therapist closer to home. By the time I saw my new counsellor, I was a couple of weeks into my antidepressants and despite the side effects they were working. I was calm, relaxed, intelligent, and totally understanding of my mental health state. We worked hard together for seven months – and I felt fine.
You know you often hear about people stopping their meds because they’re okay now? Yes, that. You truly believe you’re fine, and sometimes completely forget that medication is what’s at work.
Granted, I had many more tools in my mental health coping strategy tool belt, but I didn’t realise how well the antidepressants were working. I spent my seven months on them and (disliking the side effects) decided to lower my dose(with my GP’s say so). I halved my intake and within days I noticed the difference. My proposed weaning off from seven months didn’t go to plan. I became erratic, anxious, and paranoid. And when I experienced my second psychosis, my GP insisted I upped the dose once again.
I am now in what I call ‘no-man’s land’. I haven’t ever been here before and I don’t like it. I feel reliant on medication and I don’t want to be. I feel like I failed. Why didn’t my mind/body stick to my usual plan, the six month – nine month course that always worked before? I don’t want to be dependent on medication and I am stigmatising my own mental health.
Here I am, championing mental health awareness and trying to eradicate the stigma, yet I’m scorning my own need. There’s truth that mental health conditions mess you up – it’s what they do. And accepting that you’re not in control is incredibly hard. I’m a control freak, so there’s that too. I know that I need to be on medication to stabilise, and I don’t know how long it will take for my brain and my biology to do that. I can’t treat it like a broken arm. I can’t time it, or give myself expectations, and I can’t hurry it up.
So, instead, I work on myself, I work on acceptance. I work on loving myself and giving myself time. That’s all we can ask for. For ourselves and those around us also living with what seem like insurmountable health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have mental health issues, cancer, a broken limb, or any other health condition, nothing should stigmatise what we’re each coping with. Compassion, education, understanding, and love should flow. More so, when governments are assessing and stigmatising conditions and people who need help.
I have no idea how long I will be on medication for, and that’s okay. While I’m on it, I’m fairly stable, and I’m mostly me, and that’s what matters.
Many health conditions are tough to deal with
when all we want are bodies that work the way they’re supposed to.
How do you deal with your health problems when they don’t go to plan?
If I’d been a fairy-tale princess, I’d have been Rapunzel – not because of my hair –
but because I keep myself locked away in an impenetrable tower…
Have you lived behind walls – a self-imposed fortress?
Is there really a way to break down those barriers?
Living with anxiety, panic, depression, and low self-esteem lead me to seclusion. I only had a few really close childhood friends. I was open and friendly, but also detached. I was very hurt when in one of my school reports my class tutor wrote that I was aloof. I was about fifteen and though not shy, I was reserved and quiet, and the thought that anyone believed I was unapproachable or lofty was painful. If you truly knew me, I opened up, and was as fun and as giggly as the next teen, but you had to fight and get past my demons before you were allowed into my space.
As clinical depression hit in my late teens, I withdrew. My husband soon became all that I needed, especially after I cut the proverbial apron strings. I brought up three children in my twenties and hit a major crisis in my thirties. Except for my husband I had no one to fall back on, and I felt increasingly lonely. This loneliness lead me to build walls, and when friends I made generally moved away, I stopped making close friendships. My family became my life and my sole focus, even to the detriment of knowing myself.
An assault took me to medication and therapy, and finally I began to take time for myself. My psychiatrist once told me that women in their thirties made the best psychiatric patients as they truly work hard to know themselves, and can make changes in their lives. My children, then teens, also encouraged me to know who I was and to venture from my tower.
Midlife can be the best time to work on you – to truly learn who you are and what you can become.
Brené Brown put it like this:
”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.
Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”
Over the past fifteen years I’ve started shedding my armour and discovered how to breakdown my walls.
I’d spent so long hiding that emerging was tough. It still is. But there are so many reasons to open up and become who you should be. Just watch spring blossom, or a rose, bloom – it’s worth every painful moment of development.
We grow all the time, inside us – ideas, passions, talents, confidence, courage, all these things are slowly rising ready to develop wings to lift us over our walls, bursting forth preparing to shatter our armour. We only have to acknowledge and embrace who we are.
How?I hear you say, weighed down with cares, emotions, and an introvert’s anchor plunged deep into your ocean bed…
It’s all about belief – self-belief. That armour that served you so well, keeping you safe, will eventually crush you, it will weigh you down more than your anchor, and will crush your spirit. Instead of hiding behind your walls, let those wings open like a phoenix and lift you over your fears and everything that overwhelms you. Soar like a dragon, set fire to your inner demons and
Know that you are perfect just as you are.
Know that you don’t need permission from anyone else to be great.
Know that you are exactly who you are meant to be.