This picture is from a trip to London last year. Pulbrook and Gould is a florist in Mayfair which always has stunning window displays. In relation to the content of this post, I thought there was something apt about this photograph of a heart blooming with beauty, simultaneously exposed and cloaked in shadows.
*Correction, this is a post about my mental health. Although I probably will make sweeping generalisations over the course of the next 1000 words, it is not meant to offend anyone and I don’t purport to speak for anyone but myself.
It is a challenge to speak about mental health without mining the same clichés ad nauseum: the stigma, the shame, feeling like an attention-seeker etc. But these clichés exist because they are true – there is still a stigma around mental health, and talking about it is definitely seen as mildly attention-hungry. I know that I, as someone who was practically born depressed, have definitely rolled my eyes at tweets or comments which have candidly described someone’s struggle with MH. Soz, just being honest.
I do see a move towards openness online, with massive YouTubers discussing their issues and many of my friends and mutuals speaking plainly online about theirs. There’s apparently a continuum of acceptability, with anxiety and depression at the more admissible end. BPD, PTSD, schizophrenia and personality disorders exist further along the spectrum, each one more and more shrouded in shame. I guess they’re a long way from being acceptable topics of conversation; it’s like we can’t stomach them in the same way.
Although I praise anyone who speaks frankly about any MH disorder, of any degree of seriousness, I hate how anxiety has been glamorised by a certain category of internet celebrity. Anxiety is now seen as delicate, pretty, too precious for this world, whereas its slovenly cousin, depression, is lank hair and a sink full of dishes. I am certainly not suggesting that one mental illness is more legitimate than another, but there is undeniably this cutesy anxious girly trope being perpetuated. It would take a more intelligent person than I to unpack the reasons for this, but there is undoubtedly an anxious girl “ideal”.
I don’t know what the official diagnosis on my medical records reads; I have been described as having Generalised Anxiety Disorder and depression. I take Sertraline which helps with the ruthless, intense dread I used to feel about everything and nothing in particular, and it completely wipes out my Sleep Paralysis, which I endured, accepted even, on a nightly basis for only about a decade.
I don’t know if I’m depressed clinically, or if I am just a depressive person, capable of going that bit deeper down than most. I have certainly had depressive episodes that have lasted weeks or months. The last one was in October/November 2014.
I was struggling with uni, didn’t eat, had a massive allergic reaction to antibiotics and so put on a long course of drugs that ended with hospitalisation. After that, I just stopped living. I don’t remember much about it, except that I was paralysed by sadness. Maybe sadness isn’t the right word. Darkness. I was paralysed by darkness. It’s such a blur, I genuinely don’t know how many weeks I spent in (literal and metaphorical) darkness – I just remember saying again and again, I want to disappear, I want to be as invisible as I feel.
I eventually contacted my GP (who was amazing and sympathetic and genuinely cared) and I changed my medication from Citalopram to the one I am on now. I don’t think that was the only thing that triggered my recovery, because Citalopram had worked for me for years. But, I believe it bouyed me psychologically to change medication. It felt proactive.
I’m lucky I had my daughter there to be a reason to fight to feel better. So many people don’t have something so present to get well for. I am fortunate that the darkness didn’t block out her light and I managed, on the whole, to be constant and available to her.
Anyway, right now, I don’t feel like I am at risk. One thing about my experience of depression is that when I’m fine, I can’t imagine feeling that bleak, and when I’m depressed, I can’t remember what it was like to ever feel normal. I never want to come off medication, ever. I am all for taking the advice of medical professionals, but if it was suggested to me that I try living without medication, I would strongly resist. I just don’t see the point in coming off it when it improves my quality of life so much. I would come off it I was pregnant, but that is pretty much the only thing I can imagine would be worth withdrawing for.
So here’s the bit where I offer advice that I am completely unqualified to administer:
If you feel shit, go to your doctor. I hear people saying they’d rather “work through it alone”, but I take the view that working through mental health problems alone is like trying to work through any other illness without advice or treatment.
If you don’t feel like your GP takes you seriously, ask for a second opinion. You have that right. Even if it’s something as simple as not feeling a rapport with your GP, make another appointment and say you want to see a different doctor. You don’t need to explain to the receptionist.
Take the medication if they offer it. Medication will only be offered to you if your doctor thinks it is right for you. I know there is fear surrounding SSRIs due to anecdotal evidence that they lead to dependancy, that withdrawal is hell. Well, every single person on this planet is dependant on serotonin to regulate their mood, sex drive, sleep and appetite. But not everyone produces enough of it naturally. There shouldn’t be shame surrounding this. It’s as common as iron deficiency.
Take the counselling, therapy, CBT etc if they offer it. Lol at me talking like it’s so easy to get these types of MH treatments on the NHS! Yes, MH services are grossly underfunded, and waiting lists are a total gag, but if you are offered a referral to a specialist doctor or department, take it. If it’s really not for you, you don’t have to return, but you are worthy of being looked after in that capacity.
Talk about it. I genuinely do applaud anyone who opens up about their struggles. How good would it be if you could just drop it into conversation and no one would bat an eyelid, as though mentioning you have a cold. I feel really self-indulgent even writing about this, despite knowing that logically I absolutely shouldn’t. There are people out there who know what you’re going through and can relate. Don’t be put off by anyone telling you to snap out of it. Ignore that shit. Those people are lucky they have no frame of reference by which to inform their ignorance.
Tell your story. Tell me your story if you want.
Born this way (probably),