36 Lessons about Depression & Anxiety

I will be thirty six next month. So in honour of reaching that age I thought I would note down 36 lessons I have learned in my years about mental health, depression and anxiety: 

  1. It will come – and it will go – however much your mind makes you think otherwise
  2. The sun will always help
  3. Certain careers are just not meant for you and you need to let them go. You could have been a great teacher but the stress of presenting yourself every single day and being graded between outstanding and inadequate will never be something your anxiety will overcome.
  4. Talking and writing about it will help you – and could help others.
  5. There is no shame in taking medication
  6. Children, a man, money, a job, a cash prize will not ‘cure’ it
  7. Moving away will not cure it – you can’t move away from your mind.
  8. Some partners will get it – some won’t. Find one who does.
  9. Some Doctors won’t get it – some will – find one who does.
  10. Exercise always helps.
  11. There will be days when you can go out and days you can’t – don’t beat yourself up
  12. There will be days when you can do everything and days you can do nothing – be easy on yourself
  13. Some employers will get it and understand, probably because they’ve been there
  14. Some employers will avoid eye contact
  15. This too shall pass
  16. follow people on social media who make you feel better – following the woman from Made in Chelsea who spends most of her time in The Maldives isn’t the best thing for your brain
  17. Take a break from social media if you feel it getting to you
  18. Say no to some opportunities if you feel panic rising – this includes work and even nights out
  19. Sometimes forcing yourself to do something you’re terrified of will pay off (or getting someone else to force you) for example a mum’s night out, a day trip or a run in the park
  20. Don’t weigh yourself. Don’t assume numbers on the scale will ever make your depression or anxiety magically disappear
  21. They might tell you sensitivity is a bad trait – but there is power hidden in sensitivity you might miss
  22. Accept yourself in every way. Yes – my mind is complicated and sometimes riddled with mental disease – but I wouldn’t be me without it – and I am unique.
  23. Argue with the guilt troll that dwells in your mind. Extinguish guilt for what you eat, what you say no to, what you are unable to do.
  24. Being next to the sea will always help.
  25. You’re a beautifully wonderful Mother – even on the days you can’t see it – THEY can. THEY see you – and you are all there is to them.
  26. Find your outlet and do more of it – write, run, read, swim.
  27. Be kinder to yourself every day
  28. Believe the people who say lovely things about you – they’re not lying. Your mind is one Hell of a liar though.
  29. Take your earphones out and listen to the birds – have a walk somewhere where it’s green and beautiful.
  30. Breathe more.
  31. Cry more.
  32. Sleep more.
  33. Take your meds.
  34. Have a cup of tea
  35. Have a shower
  36. Let go of being perfect. No one is.

Happy Birthday to me – and good mental health for the next 36!

 

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Escalating Anxiety

My first and last ever panic attack was at the top of a set of escalators, and I have had a fear of them ever since – never going up you must understand, just the descent.

I was in Singapore at the time on a small break between traveling back from Australia. Quite a glamorous location for me. I was traveling back to the UK after another failed romance about to face the friends and family I had told about moving there – gearing myself up to tell them I had failed. Back to my mummy again. We knew it wouldn’t work out – silly dreamer.

In case you haven’t had a panic attack – it isn’t the feeling of panic you get when you wake up after a drunken night and can’t find your phone, or the panic I had experienced for years as a teacher during an inspection. It’s nothing like the panic you know. It’s a feeling of “I know you’ve pretended to be a functioning human for twenty something years but now the game is up – you’ve been found out. You no longer have any control over your limbs, brain or heart rate. Oh – and you’re going to die.”

I watched the steps in their constant momentum going down and down over and over and went to take my step. Something I had done probably a million times before. Then I realised my feet wouldn’t move even though my brain was telling them to. Do you know how confusing that is? Suddenly your body turning around to your brain and saying “umm, no – not today. I’m done doing as I’m told.”

So I stood there – a queue forming behind me, looking down, watching the steps of doom going over and over and over and then I burst out crying.

A kind lady grabbed me and asked if I was ok before I ran off to a toilet and breathed heavily for God knows how long. The escalator carried on, the normal people got on and off and I was left wondering what on earth was going on.

I still have a moment of panic on escalators. If there is ever a woman in front of you who looks like they’re going to step but then doesn’t and gets on the next step instead, delaying your journey by about two seconds – it’s probably me.

I always think escalators are such a great metaphor for anxiety. Everything is continuing in a constant motion and you know your time is next – and it’s up to you to keep moving, take that leap and carry on. If you mess this up – you mess it up for everybody. Do you know how many people are looking at you? Just be normal – it’s easy. Everyone else is doing it. It’s fight or flight time brain – don’t over think it. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

 

Mummy’s Depressed Darling

depression

Depression is a change in perspective.

Nothing can be different in reality from this week to the next but the perception of that reality is completely altered. To bring this point home – I can actually take a photograph of myself and keep that photo on my phone. Nothing in that photo has changed, nothing has been edited. But I can look at that photo on a Monday and completely loathe what I see. I can look at the same photo, the exact same photo on a Tuesday and be so astounded at how attractive and slim I look I will post it to Facebook.

Nothing has changed – except on Monday I was depressed and on Tuesday the cloud had lifted. My perspective of my reality had changed.

Part of getting older is slowly learning to accept yourself.

I have depression and anxiety.

I have always had these things. While I used to be afraid of these aspects of myself – I am no longer scared. I am also honestly no longer ashamed of it. I have always ‘suffered’ from this and I say suffered because it really isn’t nice.

I used to blame teaching – I used to spend days asking ‘why?’ Why do I feel this way? My upbringing? My choice of career? Hormones? Something not quite right in my brain? The weather? Then at some point I stopped asking why and just accepted it. I accept these two things as a part of my personality.

A personality by the way that includes being extremely funny, creative, generous, impulsive, and a desperate need to be accepted and/or perfect.

When I have been depressed in the past I have looked around me to see what was causing it.

It must be the man I’m with – I’ll get rid.

It must be my hair colour – I’ll change it. I’ll change it and I’ll be cured.

It must be the job I’m in, my weight, my friends, my lack of success.

And I’ve learned it really isn’t anything external and there’s really not much I can do to change other than wait it out.

It was a surprise that pregnancy didn’t cure my depression and anxiety – it only heightened it. And it was a surprise that having children wasn’t a magical cure either. I don’t know why it should be a surprise – after all, I can’t escape myself can I?

Whether I’m single and free in Rome elbow deep in gnocchi and red wine, or I’m in my house for the seventh consecutive day cleaning and looking after two children not having time to shower or eat a decent meal – I’m still me.

And I have depression and anxiety.

On a bad day things can seem hopeless but after living with these aspects of my personality for thirty three years I am lucky enough to understand that this feeling, though entirely real to me, isn’t permanent and will eventually lift.

On a good day I am overjoyed with the beauty and luck of my life.

So children, mummy might be depressed but there’s nothing to worry about, she knows all about it, she’s been living with it for a very long time and

it’s got absolutely nothing to do with you.

It also means she’s adequately adept at understanding and helping you with any feelings you may have in the future.

If you’re the mummy who just like me last week is sat today crying in your pyjamas, unable to get dressed, the house going to pot around you, just getting through the day feeling utterly hopeless and like you’re failing – it’s really ok. I know how that feels. I know how it feels to feel completely exhausted, done, to feel like you can’t be mummy – that you don’t want to be mummy anymore.

Try not to trust your perspective of the situation right now and know that you won’t always feel like this. Tell someone, you’re not alone.

 

 

To the kids being bullied – One Day

stephanie siviter

To the kids being bullied,

I know that today the bullies matter. I know that right now you can’t see anything else. I know that you think that all you are is a kid being bullied and all they are – are bullies.

One day your life won’t be about school. One day you’ll venture so much further than the school gates. One day you’ll travel. Because you can! You can do whatever you want.

I want you to imagine you’re up in a plane one day. You take off and start to pass cloud after cloud. You look down and see people. They get smaller and smaller and smaller until you can barely see them. It strikes you that they look a bit like ants. As you pass over the tiny houses and the land it will dawn on you how huge the world is and how tiny people are in contrast.

You will work, you will holiday, you will laugh, you will dance, you will eat delicious meals and listen to beautiful music. You might meet a partner. You will love. You will be loved. You will be confided in.

One day your partner might tell you they were bullied when they were young and you’ll say “me too! I know how you feel.” You will show empathy to each other and shrug your shoulders at the knowledge that sometimes really crappy things happen to really good people.

One day you might even have a family of your own. They might come home from school one day and say they’re being bullied. You will tell them you understand and it happened to you.

You will explain that they are purely tiny ants in the grand scheme of things and the world is so much bigger than they know. You will explain that one day they won’t matter. You will explain that one day things will be so much better for them. You know because you went through it. You survived. You thrived.

And where are they? The bullies? It doesn’t matter. Your life is so much bigger than they ever were.

One day. One day…. hold on in there.

 

The Slow Clap

 

Yesterday evening, thirteen hours into my day with my two young sons, I sat, slumped on the closed toilet lid watching them in the bath together. The three year old, long and slender, pale, the water only covering his bent knees; The ten month old sitting stoutly, portly and stocky, his two lone teeth shining in a goofy grin, the water rippling around his Buddha stomach. The baby smacked the surface of the water with his sausage like paws a few times and looked shocked at the water hitting his face – and repeat. The eldest talked his younger brother through the bath process – showed him the sponge, talked about the temperature of the water etc.

I sat half coma-like, half in panic attack alertness to ensure that both of their heads were kept above water – the same state I spend most days of motherhood.

It’s been pretty bleak lately in our household. Depression and anxiety has drawn in and I’ve not really been treasuring too many moments of being a mummy. To be perfectly honest I have been fantasising about working, about being away from home; home which lately feels so far from the word. My house feels like a prison, a trap. Four walls with me trapped inside for twenty four hours just trying to keep plodding along, keeping the boys alive, clean, changed, fed. And again. And again. And again.

In my dirty tracksuit, my hair undone, no make up, looking utterly shocking I ran the bath, carried through the motions: “keep them clean, keep them fed, keep them happy.” I slumped on the toilet seat and thought about what next. How many hours till the next thing?

Suddenly my baby boy stood upright on the bath mat, he let go of the side of the bath, looked me square in the face and very surely but slowly clapped his hands together. He had never clapped before.

I let out a shocked squeak alerting me I was there. “That’s it! Well done!” I laughed. This spurred him on and he continued with more excitement. I clapped back to show him he was doing it correctly. The eldest stood upright too, trying to get in on the action. “Look mummy!” he shouted as he clapped maniacally at me. “Yes darling, wow! Well done!” I said back, playing along, mustn’t play favourites – even though he’s been able to clap for a fair few years now.

So there my two sons stood, upright, bare, in all their glory, staring at me with dancing joyous eyes, clapping enthusiastically, and there I sat clapping back at them, grinning, beaming, us all laughing goofily. We laughed harder and harder and clapped longer and I felt a little sun crack through the clouds.

In a stage of life where there are no appraisals, no promotions, no one there to reassure me I’m doing a good job – I’ll take my sons’ slow clap. A bit of me felt it was my youngest telling me he really loved having a bath with his big brother. I’ll take their praise of me – at the end of the day, all that matters is their approval; their slow clap.