I’ve never broken a bone in my life. My sister broke her wrist when she was younger and she had a big blue cast, plenty of attention, and an ability to proudly bend her wrist to an unusual position.
I do have a broken mind- a Mental Illness- and I don’t receive any of those things. There is no cast for it, little attention (and it’s not positive) and I am genuinely afraid of my mind at times. I suffer from both Depression and Anxiety; both things that people think you can ‘get over’ if you just ‘pull yourself together’. I’ve had it all my life but for years I genuinely thought I was a crazy freak because my family never talked about it and told me I was just a worrier who got sad.
It was only when my mum was diagnosed with her 4th cancer bout that I got diagnosed too. The doctor wouldn’t give me any medication, just labelled it as I was worried about my mum and it wasn’t too bad. He told me to write down my feelings and so my dad gave me an old (empty) company accounts book that became my journal. It was light blue, which I find faintly amusing, as that seems synonymous with sadness. I had mixed feelings then; relief, so so much relief, that I finally knew why I was feeling this way- I wasn’t insane!- but it didn’t really dent this ocean of sadness inside of me. And it’s quite hard to describe, although I spent most of the pages in my book writing all about it. I feel my chest swollen with pain but it feels like a black abyss that I am walking unsteadily around, millimetres from the edge. You know that feeling when you’re walking too close to the cliff edge and your knees buckle and the ground sways? For me, it’s a little like that:
The days lose their colour; they’re a blur of muted sounds, black and greys and there’s this constant pain and fear. I get this fear because I’m panicking that I will always feel this and I will never escape the abyss and I have this prison sentence forever. I watch friends and family smiling and laughing and it’s like there’s a thick glass wall and I’m watching them at a zoo. I can understand that they’re happy but I have no idea how someone can be happy. It’s like telling someone about chocolate pudding when they’ve only ever eaten Oatmeal all day, every day in their life: how on earth do they begin to comprehend?
I think that people are sure that Depression is contagious. It’s not the common cold; you can’t get it from me. There’s so many well-meaning people that tell me that I’ll get over it and feel better soon and “think of nice things!” and I’m sitting in my mental hell, trying not to wish I would trip up and hit my head and die, or walk into the road and get hit by a car, and counting the seconds until the cloud lifts. I don’t know how to explain it so that someone understands. Sometimes I can; sometimes I tell people it’s a thick grey cloud and you’re lost in the mist and you can hear frightening sounds and shadows but there’s not a single soul for miles. Actually, I’ve never said that one out loud because it’s only just come into my head, but you get the idea, sometimes there’s perfect clarity. Sometimes, I can only shrug and gesture hopelessly. Other sufferers understand; there’s no need to pretend with them, or apologise for ‘feeling down’ or hide away. I like that; I can just sit quietly and listen to something: sometimes just knowing that someone else is struggling helps me to climb out of the abyss, however terrible that sounds.
Having Anxiety combined with Depression is a strange thing. I read someone who summed up Anxiety well and they said that it’s like when you miss the bottom step on the stairs and get that heart-stopping feeling. I think that’s a perfect way to put it. It’s that constant what if that heart stopping dread creeping into your mind, that panic of missing something. There’s a difference between worrying (which I do) and having Anxiety. I can’t turn it off- of course, I want to(!) so telling me not to worry (shockingly) doesn’t actually help. What I find does help is when I tell a trusted friend what I’m stressing about and we go through all the lists of what could go wrong together and we find a solution for every one- that helps calm me down because I’m prepared for something. It doesn’t always work- sometimes I have panic attacks and almost faint, I get so bad. When I found out my mum was dying of cancer, I kept having panic attacks where I would vomit (I never normally vomit when I’m ill) and often I get very panicky in crowded places: it starts off with me feeling warm and anxious and grows until I get this feeling of being about to pass out. Once, I was in Poland and my friends’ father, who is a Paramedic, was very worried and gave me adrenaline. I still haven’t find out why it happens- I think a lack of iron is also contributing- but I have a fear of the doctors, so it’s a slow process.
This is also something that upsets me- people are often scared of going to the dentists and people understand that without an issue. I am scared of going to the doctors and people think that’s strange. I’m sweat-inducingly terrified of sitting in the seat in that closed-door room and talking about my problems. I know I’m doing it now but I love to write and the Internet feels different; I’m just a tiny person shouting into the void; it’s not got the same panicky feel for me. I have medication, which has been adjusted a few times, and the doctors try and help, but due to my fears, I’m not the most co-operative patient, I will admit.
It’s gotten worse since my mum died. She was protective of me, her withdrawn, clingy youngest child, and would march anywhere to help me. When I was trying to get a diagnosis, she was the one who dragged me to the doctors, explained my issues, and demanded they help- so they did. I remember that when I was being bullied in Primary school, she had had her 3rd cancer and it was a rumour in the leg. We lived about 15 minutes walk from that school and she hopped the entire way on crutches and demanded to speak to the Headmaster. I miss her so much, there aren’t words for it.
But when I’m in one – or both- of these states, I refuse to get help. I go into Survival mode and lock down the hatches, as it were. My only reasonably effective way of surviving a Depression attack is to curl up in my bed, listen to music that describes this burning pain (I find Guns N Roses to be a surprising help, especially achingly sad songs like Estranged and also Taylor Swift’s Clean is a lifesaver- there were days when that was the only song I could listen to) and wait for the storm to pass. I admit, I have cut in the past. I do not recommend this in any way- especially since my arms are scarred now and people gawk and ask offensive questions all the time- but cutting and seeing blood soothed my brain because I could see the literal damage I’d done and it reflected the mental damage (I felt) enough to calm me down. I even crashed my car, a month after mum died, with the stupid idea that I’d end up in a coma and wake up happier. I say this, knowing that I got help- I’ve been in Therapy for the last year, but it was a dark time for me, plus I had huge car insurance bills to pay.
I hate the past because everything behind me has a stain on it- I think that’s linked to my depression- and I view the future with anxiety so I have to remember to take each day at a time and find one good thing in each day, even if it’s just that I listened to a song I like, or I stroked a dog. Speaking of which, dogs and cats are an immensely good thing for me. I can’t count the times that I’ve cradled my dog or cats (I have both) and wept on them. They don’t understand why I’m sad but never underestimate the comfort they can bring with their quiet, reassuring presence. I never want to be without an animal; I would go so far as to say it’s dangerous. I lived on my own for 6 months without an animal and I got very depressed- they help ease the burden; a comforting solid guide in the fighting mist, I’d say.
I know it’s been a long ramble but I wanted to write this for anyone who suffers in the same way. I don’t want to trigger anyone or whinge about myself so apologies if I have come off in the wrong way but I do want them to find a peer who can empathise with them; you are not alone- that’s the most important thing to remember. Loneliness is dangerous: surround yourself with friends who refuse to let you isolate yourself; it can save your life.
I hope this helps anyone going through a rough patch- stay stable, and remember that every day you’re here is a victory for you.