To Those Who Are Struggling,
When someone asks me to describe depression it’s easier to use a metaphor. To Stephen Fry, depression is a black dog which follows him from room to room. To me, it’s a dark, storm cloud looming overhead, just waiting to strike. It hails, it pours, it thunders and will do anything to blow you down. Anyone who has been plagued by depression – or anxiety for that matter – knows how inconsolable, how alone and empty you can become.
But you’re not alone. As I am writing this I’m going through one of the worst stages of my life. It’s ridiculous that the stigma and stereotype of my illness has forced me to become incredibly self conscious, embarrassed even, to say that I suffer from depression. There I said it. I suffer from depression. To add, I also have severe social anxiety. In fact, for the full blown confession, I am housebound. I don’t leave the house apart from the odd GP appointment or shopping trip. For someone who used to work in the media, for someone who was lively, confident and outgoing, it feels like I’ve been replaced by my polar opposite. This illness has taken chunks out of me, it’s taken parts of my personality that I’m so desperate to reclaim.
Its like I’m a prisoner of my own mind (does that even make sense?) Everyday I’m battling through, trying to keep my head above water. Yes, I do sound like a lost cause, but every day I’m getting there. I’m slowly getting better. I just want you to know that, if you’re struggling too, this is not it for you. This is just a rocky time, a blip, a hiccup, whatever you want to call it – but you will get through it, I promise.
To those struggling. To those who are lonely or sad. I want to share how I’ve dealt with things, experiences and tactics I’ve faced, and developed, to pull myself through.
Mornings for me is like facing the obstacle course finale on The Gladiators. I don’t mean that I get rugby tackled by some muscular Lycra clad opponent every time I need the toilet (that would be physically draining!) but more that I’m physically drained by an obstacle course full of troubling thoughts and emotions. It sounds ridiculous – but getting out of bed leaves me mentally exhausted. Facing another day seems unbearable. Having to paint on that artificial smile and drag myself through the same mundane routine. It just leaves me thinking, what’s the point?
But there is a point.
What I’ve learnt to do is Break. It. Down. Give yourself a purpose to get up. It doesn’t have to be a huge purpose, it can be simple and small. A cup of tea. A cuddle with your cat. Maybe a hot shower. Start with small things and take it from there. If you have a daunting day (a job interview, a hard day at work/college) promise something nice at the end of it all. Dot little treats or breaks along the way. And remember, you’ve got this. You have. You’ve got this.
The hardest challenge I’ve faced is letting my nearest and dearest friends know exactly what I was going through. Why I quit my job. Why I didn’t go out anymore. Why I had given up on myself. Why every time they did see me, I was donning old leggings and a baggy top, bare faced with unstyled hair. It was incredibly hard explaining myself, but at the same time I’m glad I did. I confided in my closest friends, people who I could trust. It’s strange, but being so brutally open and honest has actually made me closer to them. Previously when I fought with my depression I hid away, or I’d put on such a winning performance that even I convinced myself I was OK. But it’s OK not to be OK. I finally allowed my friends to see that. They have now seen me in all my entirety – my light and my dark – and that’s how you’ll discover who your true friends are. Those who truly love you won’t hesitate to shower you with the love, support and understanding you deserve in your time of need.
Unfortunately, there were friends who disappeared. There were friends who snapped ‘put things into perspective’ who told me I’ve been ill ‘for far too long’ and asked why didn’t I just ‘try harder’.
Opinions like this hurt. It hurt like hell. My whole life I’ve prided myself on being a kind, caring friend who has been sensitive to others. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t howl in my bed over such careless comments. I became angry with those friends. Then I became angry with myself. It did take me a while but I finally accepted that, in life, there will be people who just don’t think. They speak with cutting words and have little regard for the consequences. If you’re in a vulnerable place please be guarded from such behaviour from other people. To those who approach your illness with such insensitivity, well, the issue resides with them, not you. Just keep the focus on the people who care for you as much as you care for them.
Something I have found hard to deal with was the abundance of positive news which has stemmed continuously from my friends lives since being ill. Every week I hear from a friend who’s got engaged, who’s just bagged a new house/job, or booked another holiday. It’s not that I resented them, or that I don’t want them to be happy, far from it. It just made me compare myself, as I realised how little I have and how much I had lost. My advice is try not to be envious. It’s hard I know. Pride yourself on being proud of your friends and their achievements, because one day it will be your turn to bask in the sun, and they’ll be happy for you.
Social media can be a wonderful tool, it can connect, inform and inspire. However, when you’re in a sensitive disposition exposing yourself to an eternal glossy stream of fabulous lifestyles can mentally take its toil. Remember, it’s only the reality people want you to see. Everyone edits and tweaks their online persona. Including myself. So don’t let yourself get lost in a digital labyrinth of self promotion. If you find it is having a negative effect on your mental health turn it off. Here is where I turn into a hippy. Try to venture outside, breathe in some fresh air and look up to the heavens above. I truly believe nature can help clear a trouble mind, just look up to the skies and try and let all those sad feelings fly away.
I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is be kind to yourself. Depression and anxiety can turn you into your own worst enemy. I tend to use self deprecating humour and I’ve discovered, through therapy, I use this as a defence mechanism. I’ll tear myself apart before anyone can do it to me. There’s a beautiful moment in Channel 4’s My Mad Fat Diary between Rae Earl and Hestor (if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend you do!) where psychiatrist Hestor asks Rae what she’d say to her ten year old self. Would you tell that sweet, little childhood version of you that you are worthless? No. You’d tell that little child they are strong. Believe it or not, that little child grew up to be even stronger. That child grew up to be you. So please, just be kind to yourself. If this is (excuse the expletive) a shitty time for you then the worse thing you can do is be cruel to yourself. Look after you. Ask yourself what you need to make you happy. I’m very fortunate to be able to fall back on one of my passions, drawing. It was an old pastime which I’ve now recovered, and I’m so glad I have. Sketching is therapeutic to me. I’d urge everyone out there to find and chase their little source of happiness.
I’d also urge anyone who has been struggling for a while to seek some professional support. I’m currently on the antidepressant Sertaline. Of course it’s not a magic pill that makes everything better but it certainly has helped me. You can also request for therapy support on the NHS or go private. I’ve found talking about what happened to me incredibly therapeutic, it has made me feel at peace with matters which previously made me incredibly stressed.
Sometimes I find myself experiencing moments where the ‘old’ Claire has returned. She resurfaces when I’m spinning a story of one of my silly escapades in University to my friends, or when I’m laughing like a maniac with my sister because we’ve driven round the roundabout for the fifth time. I’ll sometime see glimpses of my old self when I ogle over a new line of dresses (New Look gets me every time) and I find myself daring to dream of the day I’ll walk out of the house in one of their floral numbers, with my self belief and self worth fully restored, ready to face the world. It’s a dream that fizzles out every-time I feel myself ‘going under’ but I try and cling on to it for dear life because I’ve got everything to fight for, and so have you.
Claire is an illustrator and creator of the brand Aloha Lola Cards. Aloha Lola Cards creates uplifting caricatures and greeting cards for all special occasions.