As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Catherine talks about her experience in living with depression and anxiety.
I’m Catherine and I’m 22 years old. I study business management at Plymouth University although I’m currently on placement at my wonderful student union.
I’ll start by giving the reality of depression:
Depression makes you feel worthless. Not worthy of your own company, your friends company, anyone’s time. It makes everything a chore: from making a cup of tea to showering. For years, I found myself struggling to get out of bed and to do anything that took even the smallest part of energy. I found the only thing that kept me alive was being distracted from my own mental battles in social situations. I couldn’t be alone as I scared myself so much. I knew what I was capable of and ended up in hospital when I found everything too much. I would be there for countless other people’s problems and would bend over backwards to ensure everyone else’s happiness was in priority over my own, because in my head, I saw happiness for me as something completely unachievable and I wanted no one else to even suffer a glimpse of what went on in my head. I had been back and forth to doctors, to clinics, been offered pills,therapy, you name it and I refused all of it because mentally I saw it as giving in, as being a failure and as another thing to add to the long list of reasons not to be alive.
The internet is probably my biggest help source when dealing with my depression and anxiety. I felt for so long like it was just me and my doctor who knew what I was dealing with but once I started to accept that I couldn’t just keep pushing these issues away, I discovered a whole new world of people sharing their experiences of mental health. I would search hashtags on twitter and read blogging websites where a simple four line poem would make more sense to me than anything I’d ever read.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues from a young age, so I guess I went into university thinking I’d push past it, just like I did with every other educational aspect. I could get good grades for some work while managing to scrape a pass in others due to my inability to function 90% of the time. Although still convinced I wouldn’t be alive when I was 24, I still wanted to fight.
I think the worst part for me has been understanding how I could feel so low even when I knew there were no major problems in my life. I had friends, I had family, I went to a good school etc. I think those moments when you are sat there wanting to kill yourself, yet you’re sat in the sun in your garden laughing with your friends made me so confused about who I really was. I could be two people at once and I was convinced I knew which one would win eventually. My relationships with people could be perfect and I still felt uncomfortable and dissatisfied to the point where I have been in bed with someone I love and actually been known to literally run a mile away (they were quite fast and managed to keep up luckily).
Being exhausted is normality and the coping mechanisms I’d used when I was 12 were the only way I knew how to behave when I left home at 18. I struggled being away from the people I loved massively, I would only leave the house to get drunk (or for pizza but only pizza). I either found myself numb, hurting everyone or caring too much and then making myself distraught when I felt it wasn’t reciprocated. A Levels, being a teenager, friends, boys, a difficult home life and my own brain telling me what I felt was normal meant I never sat back to examine myself . I just ran at everything at 100mph until I realised when I got to Plymouth that this wasn’t possible unless I wanted to lose my dreams that I did genuinely care about.
University made me realise how important is was for me to put my mental health before anything else. Due to the pressure of exams and deadlines, I found myself reaching breaking point more often than I had previously, which led me to realise that I couldn’t just scrape through like when I was younger. I struggle with any relationship; if it’s romantic, I will constantly imagine them abandoning me. Thoughts such as “they don’t really like you they are just using you” are constantly at the forefront. With friendships I find that as soon as I feel comfortable to be more outspoken, people retract. I push people away, push them to their limit and it’s almost like I think you can’t hurt me more than I’ve hurt myself.
The relationship that saved me was actually my tutor. I emailed him asking him to see him and I found myself opening up about almost everything to him. He made it clear to me how important it was I saw someone or I would lose everything I was aiming for. I’m great at convincing myself I’m fine and ten minutes later I’ll have had an awful breakdown. I’m still like it now but taking his advice and trying what works for me, has meant I’ve become more self-aware and able to stop my brain before spiralling too far down a trail of despair. I can’t always get out of it, I’m still learning to notice when I do it, or to calm my nerves and focus on what’s in front of me than the tiny slip up I just made that no one else noticed but my brain has decided that from now on everyone who noticed hates me and will no longer talk to me (I’d be lying if I said I still don’t do this daily, but just not as much).
It sounds crazily selfish to me still, but I realised that if I was to achieve what I thought I could, I had to give myself a break and be selfish. To know when I needed space, to listen to myself and to put myself at the forefront of everything I did. I was constantly trying to make others happy because the last thing I wanted was for anyone to feel as horrendous as I did.
Choosing to tell my tutor and my current employer means I know that if I need space, am having a bad day or I end up in a bad state, I have the support there if I choose to use it (and it is a big decision still). I get embarrassed, I feel silly and I feel like someone is opening up a deep wound when I call for help but I actually found more people understood and could help than I realised.
There is no answer to fixing your mental health and there is no timing on the recovery, but the more open we are about it then hopefully it will encourage others to share their experiences and get the help they need to achieve what they know deep down they are capable of. I’m nowhere near where I need to be to feel the clear head I do occasionally and I can make cups of tea on autopilot, but I feel like now it is within reach.
I now look upon my experiences as that maybe I wasn’t mentally strong enough to deal with them then, but they have taught me how to be strong. I didn’t give up, and now I wake up feeling like I have energy and ways to channel it into improving things and becoming ever more productive.
Catherine uses websites such as http://medium.com and http://thoughtcatalog.com for online support as well as other self-care methods such as writing a thought down per day. If you suffer from depression and anxiety or know someone who does, the following websites can provide useful information and resources:
Speaking to your GP can also help provide support in terms of diagnosis and treatment.