So often people wince at the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’, as if they’re stacked on the same shelf as modern day expletives. But why don’t people react in the same way at the words ‘headache’, or even ‘cancer’?
A study was released earlier this year which announced that 2017 is experiencing the highest peak in depression and anxiety on record. The main attribution to this spike? Social media with it’s highlight reel nature clashing with our natural-born human tendency to compare and self criticise. With my world being so grounded in my digital presence and that of others, I want to discuss my experience of these two separate but often paired mental conditions and help our struggling society nurture them. Let’s turn our constant finger scrolling into something good.
The realisation of my anxiety and depression came around gradually. Now that I look back over my teens and relate back to specific events and emotions I’ve been feeling since I was about thirteen, it all seems so obvious, but it’s only been over the past year and a half that I’ve taken a step back and have actually seen the illness clearly. When it’s an innate part of you, it becomes normal and you accept the attributes of this illness to your natural personality, and this in itself adds to the anxiety of the condition. A feeling that you’re reclusive, awkward, or just a bit different.
Eighteen months ago I battled with a tough work situation. For months I cried most days and went through one of those tough phases of life that most people experience at some point. Nothing about this period of time stood out from what anyone else experiences, and in fact I wasn’t the only person in my office who felt this way. I left this job and began a new role within an agency. Weirdly my anxiety and feeling of depression didn’t let off. I attributed it to being nervous and uneasy in a new role. My job in this agency was tricky – there was little to no structure, I was working sometimes 10-11 hours a day and it was very cliquey. Six months later and again, crying most mornings, I left this job and went freelance. I was chasing happiness and needed something to attribute my depression and anxiety to. It was after being freelance for two weeks and being in control of my own working life and genuinely enjoying what I was doing that I realised this feeling of anxiety and sadness went deeper than the job I had. I realised that one or two days a week, and even when I was happy, the feeling of sadness still lingered. It’s a tricky emotion to explain to somebody who’s never felt it, but in essence my brain knows life is good and I have everything I’ve ever wanted, but what I call the ‘cloud’ of depression and anxiety still lingers. I’ll find myself waking up some mornings with the sun shining, great plans for the day, and feeling like nothing is worth it – a ‘what’s the point’ mentality. It was during these two weeks that I realised this was medical and wasn’t dependent on one seemingly ‘terrible’ element of my life. The bad few months I had in my previous job simply kicked this illness into full swing.
On the anxiety aspect, I’m constantly looking for a worry in which to pin this anxious sensation on. It lingers like a hungry mosquito looking for something to latch onto, and often chooses the most prominent and valued thing it can find such as my boyfriend, a meeting, my money situation. On another level it can make me feel paranoid and self-conscious. I’ll find myself believing that my friends all dislike me and are talking about me, that I have an illness or that my boyfriend was going to leave me. This combined with the conditions common detachment from thought processes and emotions makes for a very confusing time.
I quickly realised that my boyfriend was my escape – the one place I can be myself, feel safe, and the only time these depressive thoughts and anxieties just lift away. But it’s never that simple. This in itself added another dimension to my anxiety. What if he leaves me? He, in essence, had my mental health in his hands. And this wasn’t healthy for either of us. I knew I needed to find a way to feel the comfort and ease that I feel when I’m with my boyfriend in different things, and so I sought therapy and medication to tackle it head on, putting all my efforts into getting better and finding solace in speaking about it openly to others and making it feel ‘normal’. I hadn’t realised quite how much the condition was affecting my life until I acknowledged it.
I still have days where I find it harder to focus, when my paranoia kicks in over the most ridiculous things, or even days where my boyfriend needs to leave me in bed (bringing me chocolate on regular intervals though, of course), but although it’s still a daily presence in my life, I’m happy. As anyone with depression and anxiety will tell you I’m sure, having an understanding and patient support system and learning your own personal coping mechanisms is vital, and is what has pushed me to pursue my successful freelance career, travel to glorious places, hold big ambitions for my blog and lead a social, enjoyable life.
Depression and anxiety affects 1 in 4 UK adults in some way. It doesn’t make sufferers any less of a person or fully functioning social human (as mine and my friends’ local bartender will confirm), it just simply means that where one person might get treated by sciatica, I get treated for a more cognitive ailment.
Let’s talk about it, understand it and remove the stigma. Depression and anxiety – not dirty words.
If anyone else has any feedback, tips or questions on any of the above, please drop me a comment below!