If you suffer from depression, I can imagine that for a lot of the time you struggle to see a light at the end of the tunnel; you have been trapped in this existence for so long you don’t remember what ‘normality’ feels like. I know because I was there. For so long there was no silver lining in sight; no light at the end of the tunnel or any light inside of myself. That had been extinguished a long time ago. In Britain, one in four adults exist like this; with a mixture of depression and anxiety being the most common type of mental illness. Unfortunately, mental illnesses do not discriminate when it comes to age as it is also estimated one in ten children and young adults also suffer. * The pressures children and young adults are under in the twenty-first century are overwhelming. From school, to the pressures of exams, relationships, homework, finding jobs, bullying, body image, university and the prospect of the future as an ‘adult’, the list is endless. Children are growing up faster than ever before and I find that the pressure, particularly on young girls, to look a certain way is causing an increase in self-loathing and body shaming. No wonder many cannot cope and become victims to mental illness.
I personally began to suffer from depression when I was nineteen and it continued until I was twenty two. My battle was with both depression and anxiety; illnesses which made my life intolerable. Depression took away my joy, happiness, and desires for the future and left me to rot alone in my bed; anxiety added excruciating chest pains, constant frustration and anger and panic attacks, just in case my suffering wasn’t already enough.
Throughout my time at University I met lots of incredible people and through being open about my struggles I discovered other young people going through a very similar battle. Some were brave enough to speak to me about their experiences:
Chloe: For me, depression is the feeling of being trapped within your own mind and self-loathing with no escape whilst everyone around you are going about their lives seemingly carefree, oblivious to your internal and endless misery.
Kristina: The second you know someone is bad for your mentality, remove yourself from them. Any-way, any shape and any-how, get away from them and then you can start your journey to recovery.
Jonathan: Depression started when I was badly bullied for most of my childhood and left me having no self-confidence, no self-esteem and most of all, no self-worth.
Brianna: Every day is a battle where you have to force yourself to get out of bed, to motivate yourself enough just to do the dishes. I come home after running errands for two hours and feel absolutely exhausted and drained. But when night falls, I’m awake for hours with my mind ticking away and not being able to sleep. At the minute, my boyfriend and my mom are my rocks. I know I can lean on them both and I’ll never fall. But depression is a battle you have to win with yourself.
Sarah: My depression hit me full force at 15 and for a few years I kept it to myself and eventually began to self-harm. When I was 18 I told my mum the truth, we cried together and then she came with me to the doctors. I managed my depression with the help of my family and also I had a very supportive group of housemates once I got to university, as well as counselling, the activities my counsellor set me and anti-depressants.
Helen: I suffered from mild depression when I had a bad relationship break up and lost my pet who was my best friend. It doesn’t sound like much, but to lose the love of your life and best friend within a month turned my world upside down. Luckily I was at university, so I had access to free counselling which was such a massive help. The greatest help to me were my housemates who were a constant foundation of support and never left my side unless I asked them to. Surrounding myself with good friends who had a positive attitude was the key to my recovery and I’ll always be eternally grateful to them.
After three years I have emerged from the other side and found my light wasn’t truly extinguished. I managed to bring that light back to life and while doing so defeated my depression demons and put chains on my anxiety. It was finally my illness in a cage, not me. I often get asked how I did it; how did I ever escape the hell of mental illness? I’m no therapist just yet but here are some of the ways you can manage and control depression and anxiety.
The first step to your recovery is acknowledgment and acceptance of your illness. I was in denial for months before I finally admitted to myself I was ill. I think I didn’t want to accept it; I thought it was only for weak people to have poorly minds. Now I realise I was just strong for too long. I started by speaking directly to my depression; it had become its own entity inside my mind so it seemed only right to speak straight to it.
“Depression, I know you are there. This is not my weakness, just an illness. You may be strong but I am stronger and you will not keep me prisoner. I don’t care how long it takes I will beat you”.
Seek out support
It was definitely one of the hardest things to tell my family I was suffering from depression. However, it is necessary in order for people to understand why you are behaving differently. I have had quite a few people message me to say they cannot speak to their parents as they do not understand. Try showing them a video like these and let that explain to them rather than you. The Black Dog is an incredible tool for explaining depression.
You need to create an army of support. It may be friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, a teacher, a work colleague, anyone! You need as much support as you can get. The next support you need is from a doctor; another horrible prospect for someone suffering from depression or anxiety but you need to tell yourself that without it, your illness has a stronger chance of winning. Your doctor will be full of support (If not, you need to ask if you can see a different doctor. I did this as the first doctor I saw had no understanding of mental illness. “But you are beautiful, what do you have to be sad about?” Sigh!) They will ask you questions to assess the severity of your illness and you may fill out a questionnaire which will give your doctor/GP all the information they need to find suitable treatment.
There are a variety of ways to help treat depression but they all require personal strength and willpower alongside. You may be offered anti-depressants. Please do not be scared of them! They are not addictive if taken correctly and are a big help for a lot of people. I took anti-depressants every day for a year and a half, then with help from my doctor came off them completely just a few days ago! HALLELUJAH! Of course as with any tablets, they are not for everyone and may not agree with your body.
Another important part of your recovery is therapy. You may be assigned a counsellor who will talk through your problems and help you deal with your illness. You may have had a trigger, such as bereavement, bullying or breakup. The counsellor will talk through this with you and give you coping strategies and personal activities in order to help you recover. Make sure you chase up therapy. Sometimes these things take time; not very helpful for someone needing the help there and then. Be persistent and contact a helpline in the meantime if things get bad.
Keep a thought journal
Writing down your emotions on a daily basis is such a good way of monitoring your illness. It is also an amazing release to put everything in your head on paper. It can help you see the most common, repetitive thoughts and you can then discuss this with your counsellor. Write in it at any time; when you are at your lowest, when you may be having a good day, when you don’t even know what you are thinking. My journal ranged between long, poem-like sentences to pages full of words.
Another kind of journal you need is a positivity journal. In it you need to write encouraging words which you can read on bad days. Simple messages like, “I am worthy!” “I am beautiful” “Depression is a liar” can really help. Get friends and family to write comments in your journal too! Then when depression is taking hold, read these comments out loud and repeat if necessary. Drill in as much positivity into your brain as you can. You need to be reminded every day how important you are.
I’ve given this a fancy name but to put it simply; write down all the things you believe to be true about yourself and all the things that cause you emotional pain. These may be negative words, things someone has said about you or a person’s name who has caused you pain, to name a few! Write it all down then RIP IT UP. You may want to scribble all over the writing first to add to the therapeutic nature of destroying something! Rip those words up into tiny pieces then throw them away. Throw those horrible lies away.
“I’m not worthy” In the bin!!!
“I want to die” Rip that into a million pieces!!!
The act of physically destroying all the things that your illness may be telling you is very therapeutic and for me, helped me to find moments of peace. Those thoughts don’t deserve to be in your head so throw them away.
Deep breathing and relaxation apps
It is important in this time of anguish and torment that you give yourself moments of rest; emotional rest. Breathing is particularly important for anxiety sufferers and those who have panic attacks. I recommend shutting your eyes and take a deep breath in for five and out for five. Repeat this until you feel your breathing start to regulate. This may take time so don’t panic. Just focus on the air coming into your lungs and leaving your lungs. Maybe put your hands over your heart and feel your chest beating; a reminder that you are living and still have a lot to live for. You must have a future or your heart wouldn’t be beating, remember that!
There are also many apps you can download to your smartphone. A personal favourite is ‘digipill’. You are given a free ‘pill’ for general relaxation and peace but you can purchase more specific ‘pills’ if you find this kind of app useful. Use these apps as often as you like although I would recommend listening to your favourite app at least once a day. Others include, ‘isleep easy’ and ‘Headspace: meditation techniques’.
For temptation of self-harm
Many people who suffer from depression or anxiety feel the need to cause physical pain to their body. This can range from cutting to hitting. I personally went through a long stage of hitting myself. The pain inside my mind became too much and it felt like the only way I could cope would be to repeatedly hit myself. The pain and anger I felt inside myself came spilling out of my fists in a rage. I felt like I deserved the pain. The urge to hurt yourself is so strong but there are some safer alternatives to deal with these feelings.
Wrap a bobble/rubber band around your wrist – whenever you feel the urge to hurt yourself simply pull and let go. This ISN’T a permanent solution but will make the act of hurting yourself safer whilst you are learning how to overcome it.
Draw a butterfly over the area’s you feel the urge to hurt yourself. Seeing the image of a butterfly may make you pause long enough to be able to stop the action completely. Hurting yourself means ‘killing’ the butterfly.
Squeeze an ice-cube. Another action which causes ‘pain’ but without any damage to the body.
A reminder that these are not solutions to the problem but coping mechanisms while you mentally heal.
Find a passion/distraction
While you are ill, I know far too well that you often only have the energy to get out of bed to go to the toilet, never mind leave the house; but having a focus during this time is CRUTIAL! For me, during my worst time I was in my final year at university studying drama. Although the pressure I was under was immense, finishing my degree was the focus I needed to stay alive. Literally. I was also part of a musical theatre group rehearsing for a show. Although I was physically in pain and didn’t have enough energy to join in all the time, just being in that environment surrounded by supportive, positive people really helped me. Find your passion, give yourself a goal, and surround yourself with people. Spending time alone, although it is what you feel you need/want, is the worst thing for you to do. Don’t give your brain the opportunity to overthink. Keep yourself busy. Even if you just listen to your favourite type of music, go for a walk or take a bath. Anything to keep your mind focused on something other than your what your illness is telling you.
Eat around others
People suffering from depression often tend to either over-eat or under-eat. When my depression turned severe, my appetite disappeared and I couldn’t stomach any food for months which lead to huge weight loss and excruciating abdominal pain. Many people over eat to find comfort, which in turn leads to a cycle.
Self-loathing – Comfort eat – Weight Gain – Self-loathing –
I would recommend trying to eat when others around you eat. Even if that means having an energy drink and a few biscuits, eat something. If your issue is over eating, forcing yourself to only eat when your family or friends are eating will hopefully reduce your intake of calories and stop ‘secret eating’ leading to weight gain. If you live alone, make a food plan and only eat the food on your plan. You need a healthy body to help you fight what’s going on in your mind.
Remove negative people
During this time of recovery you have to be selfish. Your mental health is priority. If there is someone around you who is bringing you down and making you feel worse they have to be removed from your life. A lot of people still do not understand mental health and will not know how to deal with the way your illness makes you think and behave. They may shout at you, walk away from you when you need them most, force you into situations that make you anxious and uncomfortable. They are not the kind of people you need in your life. Unfortunately this may mean removing yourself from family or a partner and that isn’t an easy decision to make. Ultimately you have to ask yourself this question,
“Is this person having a positive influence or a negative influence on my depression and my life?”
If the answer is negative then it may be a good idea to give yourself some space from that person while you recover. Maybe write them a letter explaining how you feel. If they care for you, they will either respect your wishes and give you space, or you may find that they will change their behaviour in order to keep the relationship you two have. Respect yourself enough to only surround yourself with people who will support you and love you. If they cannot handle you at your worst, they do not deserve you once you rise.
Remove the guilt
Above all, you must remember one thing, the way you are feeling is not a reflection on you. This is an illness; a flaw in chemistry not character. You may feel guilty for the impact your illness is having on those around you but please try not to. If you had a broken leg, they would support you. If you had the flu, they would nurse you better. Depression is no different.
Some of these tips may work for you, others not so much. You are unique and so your treatment will also be unique. The most important thing is that you fight. You may not believe you have the strength but trust me; you are more than strong enough to beat this. Do not allow the lies you are being fed to determine your future. Every single day, whether you believe it or not, tell yourself you are beautiful. Tell yourself you are worthy, that you have a future, that you are strong and that you are important.
The more positivity you feed your brain, the better. Be a beacon of positivity and one day you will find your light again.
*Facts sourced from nhsconfed.org