Depression is a tough subject. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a painful illness that affects many of us, but I want to take a moment to talk about recovery and how it can begin to happen without us realising. I didn’t think I would ever recover, but I did. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 here’s an account of how I went from just surviving to thriving.
The small things matter again
I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened for me, but I remember vividly how difficult it was for me to see the point in doing a lot of things. Showering seemed pointless, as did cleaning, wearing nice clothes or taking pride in my home. I didn’t wear make up because I thought, “I just have to take it back off again” so I didn’t bother. This idea of having to do things repeatedly was something that really tore me up inside.
Getting a part-time job was a major factor in helping lift that feeling, because doing the same tasks everyday was essential to doing my work correctly. I started waitressing in a cafe where I’d previously worked as a teenager, so it didn’t take me long to remember how to do everything.
Cleaning down at the end of the night and making sure everything was stocked for the next day was just enough responsibility to make me feel like I could contribute something to society and be helpful to others. Once I saw the positive effect my effort had on other people I felt compelled to continue.
Hobbies are fun again
Although I maintained my passion for fitness during the worst stages of my mental illness, other pastimes didn’t appeal to me any longer. I didn’t enjoy shopping or going out with friends. I used to love going to the cinema but I often found myself unable to concentrate during a movie or would fall asleep half way through.
When I started to take an interest in blogging again, I knew I had won back some of the enthusiasm for life that had been absent for so long. In the past ten months I’ve worked on my blog almost everyday without fail. I still get tired and frustrated with all the hard work but I really enjoy it overall. I get so much satisfaction from being creative and talking about mental illness online that I can’t see myself ever giving it up.
I can spot my obsessive behaviours
Writing about my mental illness means I’ve become even more self-reflective than before. As a result I’ve been able to better judge my behaviour and spot when I’ve been acting irrationally. I used to make family and friends change their plans to make sure I could still go to my scheduled keep-fit classes. I would control which restaurant we went to to ensure I could eat a specific type of food for weight loss, and I would be very anxious if any of those plans changed at the last minute.
I quit dieting about a year ago and since then my whole outlook has changed. I have the freedom to eat what I want and it’s made me feel a lot more laid back about things in general. Now I can see that I was really just using that as a form of control and I’m trying to work in improving that.
I can support others
Having depression makes it extremely hard to be sympathetic to others. I couldn’t talk to other people with depression because I was unable to say any kind words. I felt like I was the only one who felt this bad, and that no one – not even someone with the same illness – would understand.
I spent many months relying on my husband and family to assist me with everything. I needed help getting ready, going to appointments and making basic decisions, so how could I hold my own in a conversation with someone just as vulnerable as me? It wasn’t until I was working with a young girl who had depression that I realised I was strong enough to reach out and offer support to someone else.
Somehow, I’d come far enough to be able to lend a helping hand and acknowledge that someone else was in distress. I don’t know how much I really helped her in the grand scheme of things, but I was always kind and tried to listen to her issues and offer as much advice as possible from my own experience. I didn’t realise I was better until I could actually tell someone else with confidence that they would get better too.
I can ignore negative thoughts
Recently I’ve realised that I’m now able to acknowledge my mental illness and let the symptoms play out without letting them affect me too much. I know the things that make me anxious; busy places, being around drunk people, meeting new people and long journeys on public transport. I’ve figured out that I can still put myself in those situations and not crumble, and it feels amazing!
I plan ahead as much as possible and distract myself when negative feelings arise. I avoid caffeine because it makes my anxiety worse. If I do these three things then I know I can ride out the storm and come out the other end unscathed.
Are you learning to thrive in recovery? I’ve just uploaded my first every vlog, you can check it out an subscribe here!