https://beccadoeslifethings.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/mental-illness-tag/ wrote a comment on my last post and suggested I try to answer 10 questions that she had posted (and answered) on her own blog. So here goes:
- What mental illness do you have? I suffer from depression and anxiety – generalised and social. It has been suggested that I may also (instead?) suffer from BPD but that hasn’t been diagnosed.
- When were you diagnosed? I was first diagnosed with depression in 2009. The anxiety has never been formally diagnosed by a doctor but has been by several psychologists
- Who knows about it? Only a few close friends. No one in my family knows. My boss at my last job knew and was very understanding but no one at my new job has any idea. I have struggled very much with a personal feeling of shame and this has prevented me from opening up. To be honest, with some people, I wish I hadn’t opened up so much because I have lost friends or now have much more limited contact with people I was once close to.
- Do you receive treatment for it? Not at the moment. I have tried medication but gave up quite quickly (too quickly I think). Likewise, I haven’t had any luck with therapy. I have a big problem with the idea of being patronised or treated like a child and so have found therapy difficult to engage with. I tried CBT but it didn’t work for me and I must be the only person in the world who finds meditation stressful.
- Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything? So many things. I have lost so many opportunities due to being ill. I find decision-making almost impossible when I am really in the depths so have missed out on job opportunities as well as social and travel ones. I isolate myself and suffer social anxiety so rarely go out anymore. I feel intensely lonely but can’t join clubs or meet ups or a gym because I could no sooner walk into a room of people I don’t know than I could grow an extra limb.
- Is there anything in particular that helps you? Through trial and error, I have discovered that listening to audiobooks at night helps me to sleep; listening to podcasts or the radio while walking/travelling is better than music because it provides more of a distraction; keeping busy whenever possible helps (during very low periods, I can’t do much); and not drinking alone makes a big difference. My illness is unpredictable but I have learnt to read some of the signs and have become better at responding to those signs in a useful way. Talking to people helps but I have to be careful not to open up too much these days for fear of losing them. Because of this, I started writing – this blog, a diary and stories – and this has helped so much.
- Can you describe what it feels like to have your mental illness? It’s difficult to sum it up in one phrase but I can now say with some confidence and even more regret that I completely understand the expression “to have lost your mind”. At my worst, I am filled with an obsessive wish to have never existed. My thoughts are random and uncontrolled, leaping from one topic to another, rushing around, impossible to focus; the definition of losing one’s mind. At other times, I am suddenly filled with a heaviness that spreads up from my chest making my arms leaden, my movements sluggish and forces tears out for hours. I am paranoid and lonely. And of course there are moments of hope, there are happy moments and normal moments. But if I had to pick the most common feeling, it would be that of heavy emptiness. Of simply existing with no purpose and no pleasure.
- What is a common misconception about your illness? That depression is just sadness. Sadness is a fairly minor emotion on a daily basis. The fact that I can get out of bed and go to work, that I can hide my illness so well that most people I know would be amazed to find out that I have attempted suicide and wished I was dead over and over again, that I can laugh and joke does not necessarily mean that I am OK or that I am better. Depressed people can, and regularly do, appear completely “normal”. Finally, the suggestion that “happiness is a choice”. I find this demeaning and ill-informed at best. I would be happy if I could be. Simple.
- What do you find most difficult to deal with? There are two things: the loneliness and the loss of the person I used to be. I was by no means flawless but I was me and now I feel like someone else. I don’t like the new me.
- Do you have anything else you would like to say? I wish there was some way I could share with friends without feeling guilty and without going overboard and losing them. If you are friends with or a family member of someone with depression, regular contact and reassurance is important; you don’t always have to ask how the person is and you don’t have to always talk about their illness but it is an illness, it’s not a choice and they need you. I have lost friends due to my illness and now I meticulously weigh up anything I say before I say it for fear of losing others. Be patient but be honest – and most of all, be there. It will be more appreciated than you will ever know.