Surviving or thriving? How I realised I was actually recovering from mental illness

surving to thriving mental health blogger

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.

mental health awareness week 2017

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!

 

How talking on the internet helped me overcome social anxiety disorder

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Did you know that February 2nd is Time to Talk Day? It’s a great opportunity to start conversations about mental health all over the UK, from schools to homes to workplaces.

About Time to Talk Day

Sadly, many people who suffer from mental illness feel ashamed to talk about how they feel and this just simply shouldn’t be the case. It only takes one small step to ask for help, and just a quick chat with someone who understands can have a huge impact.

time to talk

If you know someone who might be suffering, or if you have a mental health issue yourself; I urge you to use today as a chance to open up about the real issues surrounding mental illness and help end the stigma surrounding the subject. With that in mind, I wanted to share my own personal story today.

Many of you already know my history with depression and anxiety, but what you may not know is how social media has helped me overcome social anxiety in the past few months. Don’t get me wrong; it took me years of therapy and medication to get to this place, but every piece of social interaction online added up to help me along the way too.

Snapchat

If you follow me on Snapchat then you’ll know what I’m about to say. I LOVE TO TALK. Not to other human beings of course – that would be way too much interaction – but to myself on my mobile phone.

When I moved away from Glasgow I realised Snapchat stories was a great way to keep my friends updated with what I was up to everyday, as we now live hundreds of miles apart.

Whilst everyone else is pouting whilst using the puppy dog filter (OK, I do my fair share of that too) I’m giving my viewers the low-down on my mental state as it changes. Sometimes I’m laughing about haggis in an American drawl and other times I’m just talking about my low self-esteem.

It’s a great form of talking therapy, and lots of people have told me they find it helpful to see that other people are going through mental health issues too. It’s made me more open to talking about these subjects in social settings and basically owning my mental health problems instead of pretending they don’t exist.

twitter logo mental health blogger UK

Twitter

Tweeting was not something that came naturally to me. I’m not quick-witted enough to construct jokes that fit into the strict character limitations and my spelling has let me down on more than one occasion.

In 2016 I started using it to promote my blog, and before long had been sucked into various communities (mental health, blogging and Birmingham) and was having conversations with total strangers on a daily basis.

I’ve used it to find new friends, decent WordPress training and a local social media seminar that I would otherwise never have known about. It’s made me go out and make real-life connections with people I’m met online, and without that initial meeting online I honestly don’t think it would have been possible.

I’ve also created my own chat on Twitter where we talk all about body positivity. Plucking up the courage to do all of these things has been a total revelation for me after several years of avoiding social outings and talking to new people.

Instagram

I spent a lot of time taking photos of my food before I realised it’s not really the best use of my Instagram account. I have a history of disordered eating and was obsessed with food for about two years whilst I ate a very restricted diet to lose weight.

I still love food and taking pretty pictures of my salads (I’m a blogger, it’s basically compulsory) but I’ve loved using my Instagram as a way to showcase random thoughts and emotions that happen throughout my day. I’ve tried to spread positivity through my account and that’s had a knock on affect on my mood, meaning I’m generally a little happier thanks to the interactions I make online.

I’ve conquered my fear of talking to camera thanks to Instagram stories and I even did a live stream a few weeks ago. This has made me more confident about talking about mental health in public and I genuinely think I could talk to anyone about it now!

social media for anxiety mental health blogger UK

Blogging

The most powerful tool in my quest to shake the shackles of social anxiety has ironically been the thing that I do all on my lonesome. I sit quietly in bed, at my desk or in my local coffee shop and tap away on the keys of my laptop writing for no one but myself.

During this time I feel free to say what I want. I can explain in detail how I feel about the world, how depression has affected me and how painful yet important my journey has been.

I can do all this from the comfort of my own space; without worrying about how I sound to others, stumbling over my words or trying to maintain eye contact whilst I divulge my deepest and darkest thoughts. I can express myself on my own terms and although it may seem like a one-side affair, it’s really not.

I regularly receive comments and private messages from women who understand exactly how I feel. It’s a wonderful, comforting feeling to know that we are all struggling in our own way and that we’re not alone.

The process of exposing myself online has given me the fearlessness to say many of the things I write about on here in real life. I can now introduce myself as a mental health blogger without the fear of ridicule, because I’ve successfully created a community of supportive people online who I know resonate with what I write about.

The chances are that many of the people I meet in real life will also understand so now I can proudly state who I am and what I stand for, and that is a wonderful privilege.

Have you found an unusual way to overcome social anxiety? Head over to Twitter and use Time to Talk Day as a way to share your story with me!

What does depression look like?

depression what does it look like blogger mental health

“She isn’t depressed. She goes to work everyday and I see her out at the weekend”

This is the kind of thing I hear muttered again and again about people with mental health issues. Everyone says they are more ‘aware’ of mental health problems, but when push comes to shove they don’t always want to accommodate people who have real issues. Worse than that, I’ve actually heard the above phrase said by someone who has suffered from depression themselves. I find it strange that a person cannot empathise with someone else who has the same condition, but displays different symptoms. Sure, there are some symptoms that are common in everyone but others that are completely absent.

The truth is that every mental health sufferer looks and acts differently.

When I was trying to define my own mental health problems I remember my GP explaining to me that sadness is a normal human emotion, and obviously something that we all have to deal with in life. Some people will feel ‘depressed’ and although it may feel very intense, it will last a relatively short period of time and the mind can recover from the situation naturally. Other times it will be so intense that the person cannot recover alone, and will require medical attention. He made me realise that my own depression was serious, prolonged and could definitely benefit from medication to help rebalance my brain chemicals.

Identifying depression in people can be incredibly hard. So many people appear to have it ‘together’ when really underneath they’re seriously ill. I didn’t realise this until I lived with depression myself for the past four years. A few weeks after I had been diagnosed with depression I was due to go on holiday to Spain. I decided to go, as I was aware vitamin D could help lift my mood slightly, and lots of people had told me maybe a holiday was ‘just what I needed’.

The picture below, along with many others, was taken whilst we were on holiday for a week. I look pretty pleased with myself! I remember the night before this was taken I had drank too much and had a total breakdown in front of my now husband on the roof of the apartment we were staying in. I confessed how deep my negative feelings were and how I felt I would never get my life back again. My sunglasses helped conceal my puffy eyes from crying all night and having had very little sleep. I managed to drag myself out of the flat late in the afternoon to take a walk down to the beach, and I was pleased I hadn’t completely ruined the day by being a recluse which is what my instinct told me to do. It’s easy to see how people may have thought I was out having the time of my life whilst I was off sick instead of being at work, when really I was battling with a serious mental health problem.

mental health depression blogger UK

Below is a picture of me approximately a year into my depression. I was at a friend’s birthday celebration in a venue I’d never been to, with people I’d never met. I look pretty happy right? I’ve got a cute dress on and my hair looks good, but inside I was terrified. To anyone scrolling through my Facebook feed, I’m sure it would seem like I had it all ‘together’ and certainly had no reason to take two different types of medication, see a therapist weekly and claim benefits for being unable to work. If I can go for a night out on the town surely I can get a job, right?

Well, no. This evening took weeks of preparation. I planned meticulously how I would get to and from the restaurant which required my dad driving the 40 minute journey there and back. I made sure in advance that the people I already knew would sit directly next to me and not let anyone else probe me for too long, as conversation made me anxious. I chose from the menu ahead of time because I had issues with food, and I was going through a particularly bad phase where I was restricting lots of food groups from my diet. All in all I think I was there for about two hours before I went home, mentally exhausted from the build up and execution of the whole situation. Doing things like this normally meant I was out of action for a few days after to recharge my batteries.

what does depression look like

If you’re still struggling to see things from my point of view, this article on people with high-functioning depression explains how sufferers feel and what they wish other people could understand. Just because someone is at work doesn’t mean their feelings of depression aren’t valid. For many people a rest would actually do them good, but they feel unable to take time off because of their busy workload or they’re worried they’ll have no purpose without a job to go to. For some people work is the only distraction that helps them get through the day.

Often, going out with friends is deemed as evidence that someone ‘faking’ depression. Just because someone is smiling and having a few drinks doesn’t mean they’re not mentally ill. A key part of recovery is maintaining good relationships and being sociable now and again, the rare times that we feel up to it. If we make people feel guilty about being seen out in pubic, we encourage anti-social behaviour where vulnerable people will cut off that important contact with the outside world, which can worsen their condition.

I think a key part in improving this difficult situation is to open up the discussion with those close to you. Instead of snooping on someone’s Facebook, or judging their social calendar; why not just talk to them? Ask that person how they’re feeling, what they’re doing and how their recovery is going. Why not get an accurate insight into what’s really going on instead of assuming you know it all from a brief snapshot on the internet?

It’s a step in the right direction.

How to tell your friends you have depression

friends depression mental health telling people help

I told some of my friends that I had depression as soon as I got diagnosed. The reason being; I knew I couldn’t hide it from them any more. My mood was unpredictable, my actions out of character and I was unfit for work. As far as my Facebook friends were concerned however, I was fine and dandy! I didn’t want to tell the whole world about my problems back then, but I knew my best mates had to be kept in the loop. It was hard. I felt embarrassed. Like I’d failed as a human and that I was somehow now using an illness as an excuse for not being able to cope with life. I know now that my inability to cope was merely a horrible symptom, and admitting I needed support was my first step on a long and winding road to getting my happiness back again. From my own personal experience, here’s my advice….

Be prepared for varied responses

A lot of people think that their inner turmoil is clearly visible to people on the outside. The telltale sighs of depression like being reclusive, feeling agitated, loss of appetite and inability to concentrate may feel acute and painfully obvious to you but don’t be surprised if none of your friends have been concerned about your well being. It’s not that they don’t care, but simply that your symptoms haven’t been brought to their attention. They may think you’ve seemed different, but we all go through bad spells that aren’t necessarily linked to mental health concerns. So be prepared for your friends to be kind of surprised that you have some problems of that nature. On the other hand, some friends might be overbearing; they might ask really in-depth questions about your health, thoughts, feelings, medical advice and medication. Some friends want to help ‘cure’ you and will offer you advice that might seem patronising, such as “maybe you just need to let your hair down” and “you should go on holiday”. Try and be appreciative. I know it’s hard. Even if they don’t understand fully what you’re going though it’s good that they want to help. They might find this post helpful.

Give them time to process what you’re saying

If your friends have never dealt with someone who has been diagnosed with depression then they might be really uncomfortable when you start talking about your problems. Try not to be offended if they seem standoffish or act like it’s not a big deal. You know it’s a big deal and you’re trying to get better so that’s all that matters. Give them time to listen to what you have to say. Let them go home and talk to their partner or family about the subject (they don’t necessarily have to mention your name) so that they can make sense of what you’re going through and consider their own actions. Being friends with someone with mental health issues can be kind of scary. They might not know what to say or how to act around you because they are worried about upsetting you or making your condition worse. This is nothing to feel guilty about, just believe that if they are a real friend they’ll do what they can to help comfort you.

how to tell your friends you have depression mental health

Think of one way they can help you 

Before you bring up the subject have a think to yourself about what you want from them. Their instinct will likely be to utter that dreaded phrase, “Let me know if there is anything I can do”. I mean seriously, has anyone ever responded to that comment by actually asking for help? It’s one of those awkward “I want to help” moments where no one quite knows what to say. As you know, depression feels like a tonne of bricks has been laid to rest on top of you, so small tasks might pile up whilst you take time to recover. Try and pinpoint a few things that are looming over you and ask if they would mind helping out. I remember my mum offered to help me clean my house and I was really offended, when really my life would have been a little more comfortable had I just let her help. Looking back, I’m certain it would have given her some purpose too during a difficult  period in our relationship.

Explain that you might act differently

This can be really hard, because maybe you’ve just been diagnosed in which case your symptoms will likely become different over the coming months. You don’t need to go into the specifics about how you’re feeling, but it would be good to explain the things your are finding particularly difficult. It might be shopping for groceries, driving to a doctors appointment or dealing with some unpaid bills. My problem for a long time was being out with big groups of people who weren’t my very close friends and family. I became very reclusive and lost all self-confidence so social gatherings were my number one fear. Over time I managed to express this to my friends and they still accommodate me to this day. If I don’t want to go clubbing, drinking or into a crowded venue they don’t expect me to. They know drinking alcohol makes my condition worse so they don’t pressure me to have a drink when they are having one. Knowing that these things weren’t expected of me took a huge weight off my shoulders, and when I was at my worst all of my best friends made an effort to see me in an environment where I was at ease.

Have these tips given you the confidence to talk openly to your friends about depression?