Spotting the Signs

Depression can turn days, weeks, and even months into a blur as it races by. It can meddle with thoughts, increase anxiety, and trivialise the most complex of feelings. When this is the case, how are we to tell when things have got worse? How am I meant to clearly sense a drop in mood and an increase in depression? After a while, there are some individual signs you can learn to look out for, but at times even these can be hard to sense and pick up on.

One key sign can be times or places, or even particular events that can be catalysts for a drop in mood. Once you become aware of these, it means you can sense them coming, and even plan to combat them. Around these times you can implement more of your personal self-care activities and make sure you are taking care of yourself. More common now are self-care plans, and it can be a very good idea to set up individual plans for these events, times, and places. Know what the issues are, and then know the steps you can take to help to lessen the effects.

These events and times can also change as you get older and life moves on. Throughout University, I actually felt that summer was an incredibly tough time for me, as I used to struggle with suddenly not having too much to do. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m someone that likes to be incredibly productive and work on various projects, so in those summers where I had nothing to do, it was quite common for me to feel quite lost; I needed something to work on. In the winter when things got tough, projects and University was a great way for me to keep busy and self-care.

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Generation Anxiety

Everything’s our fault, right? Whether it’s the fact we’re too lazy, too liberal, too promiscuous, or like one article I saw, not all of us youths have seen a cow, we’re constantly at fault it seems. I don’t like the idea of such distinct groups e.g. Millennials, Y, Z – so I’ll band us together for this one piece. Those between let’s say, 16 and 35, seem to bear the brunt of the bad news, and it’s no surprise that cases of mental health illnesses, including anxiety, are on the rise.

Is Anxiety new? Of course not. So why does it feel new? Why is it that anxiety is only now being recognised as a serious illness and divided into the subsets that it deserves? Like other mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders, anxiety is simply now more talked about, more open, and in times of such turmoil and stress, it’s arguably more severe. 21% of people rate their levels of anxiety at 6 or above, and the consensus is that anywhere between 10-30% of adults suffer, or are likely to suffer from anxiety at some point.

I’m not as open with anxiety in the same way as I am with my depression, and I suppose that’s because of the anxiety itself in a way. Many of us experience anxious feelings in some way, whether it’s simply difficulty concentrating or a full-blown panic attack, and it’s most definitely on the rise amongst young people. Rachael Dove highlights this, saying that 57% of female university students experienced episodes of overwhelming anxiety, and it reflects the issues many young people have in what is essentially the most important periods of their lives.

We know what older people will say, “Oh it’s technology, social media, they need to get off their phones”. Is it really that simple? There’s evidence for and against that statement. As highlighted here, four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have a positive effect on young people. Why is that?

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Throwing Myself Out There

I’ve written before, many times, about my depression and anxiety, and how it affects all aspects of my day-to-day life. One of the biggest challenges for me is its effect on the simple tasks, the things most take for granted, like socialising. I’ve always typically found it hard to socialise and meet new people anyway, but my poor mental health over the past few years has made it even tougher.

Depression and anxiety hugely affect both relationships and friendships. Months pass by in a blur, and suddenly you find yourself having lived in a new city for almost a year and not really taken advantage of your new surroundings. Living alone is great, but it can be lonely at times, but it’s not easy to change that. There’s also the fear of rejection, of not being good enough, of things somehow just getting worse. People often think they have all the answers for you; the most frustrating being “you just need to put yourself out there”, but let’s face it if you have a job, family, and friends, you are already “out there”.

At University, the challenges were different. I was on a course with people who had similar interests, living with people in similar situations to myself, but this is a different story. I’m practically the youngest at work and those around are in different stages of their lives, I live alone (which I do love), and working full time leaves very little time for other activities anyway. I see so many people making it look so easy, both online and offline, balancing hectic lives with being able to socialise, meet new people, and put themselves out there. I can’t seem to do that.

Being an introvert means it takes up stacks of energy to put myself out there and to be social. But living with depression and anxiety zaps that all away. It’s hard to make plans not knowing how you’re going to feel that day, worried you’re going to let someone down by cancelling those plans. As I’ve written before, I do worry about the huge effect these problems have on my life, not only right now, but going forward too. I worry it might hinder my ability to progress up the ladder at work, to meet new people, stop me finding someone, stop me having the future I desperately want.

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Finding My Way

Last November I moved to a new city, Southampton, for work, and moved into a new flat, living on my own for the first time. I love living in Southampton, and I absolutely love having my own place. No one to make messes, no one to be noisy, and no one to constantly annoy me. But it has brought about some whole new challenges for me to encounter.

Moving into a new city for University was extremely different. I was moving into a flat with people my age, and starting a new course with people my age, who also shared similar interests. This time the situation has changed. At work, I’m pretty much the youngest, and most people are 5, 10, 15 years older. So, socialising, already a tricky concept for me, has become more complex. Colleagues already have their own lives; marriages, kids etc, and a small percentage are in similar situations to me.

As I said, I enjoy living on my own, but the lack of company can sometimes become unsettling, lonely. Add to all that the other troubles I have to deal with in other areas of my life: the depression, the anxiety, and it’s quite common for it all to merge together into one whole mess.

I’ve always found it difficult to socialise, get out there, meet people, and my situation now has only amplified that. Living with depression and anxiety has only made all that tougher. When some days getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do, socialising isn’t high on the agenda. I’ve also never understood how people can make it look so damn easy. Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, people seem to socialise and meet others with absolute ease, and I’ve never been able to do that.

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Depression and Me

Depression first snuck up on me roughly 5 years ago, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with every day since, and likely will for the rest of my life. It’s odd, I do struggle to remember myself and how I predominantly felt before it hit. But that’s what this illness does, it removes the positive feelings, and everything just becomes a blur.

For many, depression is a slow build. It slowly chips away at most, until one day it’s fully enveloped you, and you can’t see a way out. For me, it was instant. It was a high-speed crash into a brick wall. In the space of a few weeks I went from the old bubbly me, to an absolute mess. I couldn’t function properly, and I hadn’t yet learnt to hide it. My change was rather obvious at the beginning, the smiles had vanished, my head was often in my hands, and people picked up on this quickly. It wasn’t long before people were worrying about me.

I’ve often talked, in most cases ranted, about what depression is, and how it’s misunderstood. Too many times I’ve seen people use the term “depressed” when their favourite show isn’t on, or if they’re spending the evening indoors rather than out drinking, and it annoys me. It’s not depression, and it’s insulting to those who actually do suffer with it. When many think of depression, they subconsciously envision sadness and tears, and while that’s partly the case, it’s mostly a nothingness. It’s the feeling of days, weeks, months passing by in a blur, but not in a ‘wow that flew by’ way. It’s slow, it’s dreary, and it feels like I’ve been battling this illness for a lot longer than 5 years.

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Don’t say that to me please!

I’ve often talked about my depression on this blog, and what it’s like for me to live my life engulfed with this devastating illness. But I’ve never really focused on the people around me, and the interactions between us. Most of the people I encounter that know of my mental health issues do try to help, but often say or do something that does the complete opposite.

What a lot of people still don’t realise is that depression is a constant in the life of a depressive. We have our blips and struggles, and we also have our triumphs and successes. But when we’re having our successes and we’re feeling better, we still suffer with depression, and it can creep up on us again at any single moment without warning. Depression is something I will most likely have to battle for the rest of my life, and don’t assume that because someone has been doing better for a while, they’re not ‘fixed’.

Another thing you shouldn’t do is start comparing my feelings and actions with what you may have gone through, or what someone you know has gone through. It seems a really insensitive thing to do, and people’s experiences with mental health are unique, and no two cases can really be compared. One common example is how one action or method may have helped one person to gain control of their mental health, and some may assume it would do the same for someone else. That’s not the case, and most often, it doesn’t help.

Now this next annoyance isn’t something I’ve personally had to deal with, but a common phrase that is bounded around is ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s all in your head’. Now no-one would ever say ‘just get over it’ to someone with a physical illness, so why should a mental illness be any different? Something that I have had plenty experience of is being told that I am grumpy, moody, and often get the ‘grow up’ phrase slung at me. Firstly, I suffer with a mental illness, I am not grumpy. I don’t particularly want to feel and act in the way that I do. Secondly, mental health conditions aren’t a sign of immaturity, anyone of any age can suffer with depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc., and me suffering with them doesn’t make me childish.

Maybe the reason this happens is because there is a lot of generalisation right now. And it’s something that annoys me a lot. And most other depressives I’d imagine. Too many people, especially young people I will add, confuse depression with simply being annoyed or upset. You are not depressed because your favourite show isn’t on tonight, and you are not depressed because your favourite celebrity has abandoned a particular haircut. Maybe this is where the immaturity stigma arose.

It’s important that those around depressives and people who suffer with other mental health conditions remember a lot of the time we’re not in control. We’ll push people away and say things we don’t really mean. It’s nothing against you (mostly). Just don’t try to say any of the crap from before, and it’s probably best if in conversations you take a lead from the person with the mental health condition. They can generally lead you to the right discussions. Trust them. Be there for them.

Reasons to Stay Alive

My first post is about my most recent read which was ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by the very talented author Matt Haig. I purchased this book because for a few years now I have suffered with deep depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts so I thought that this book may resonate with me, and maybe help with some of my struggles.

I know from experience that depression is a very hard concept to describe, especially to those who have never suffered with the illness. This book, for the most part, captures what living with depression is like perfectly, and explains it in such a brilliant way. A lot of the stories, emotions and self help tips matched my experiences with depression and this was an insightful, brilliant and easy read. One thing I really did enjoy within the book was the variety of chapters, and the different writing styles used. If every chapter was explaining depression it may have become boring but having chapters that gave reasons to stay alive, self help tips and inner dialogue kept the read refreshing throughout.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone suffering with depression, anyone who has a friend or family member suffering, or even if you just want to know more about the illness, and I’d have to give it a 9/10.