This is a much more personal post than usual. And I was honestly really debating whether to post it here or not, because this stuff is very personal. But it is currently Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May), and although this is a book blog, I think that the only way to really make people aware of metal health is to spread it everywhere, and be open and personal about it. Because depression is not a statistic, but a real thing happening to real individuals. And talking about our individual experiences with mental illness is essential to getting people to start viewing it that way.
I’m writing this on a low day. But, a low day amongst good days. Let me explain…
I really began to notice feeling regular low mood, and bouts of anxiety, around October/November 2014. I think they were feelings I had been experiencing for a while, but this was when they really began to become noticeable to me. More importantly, this was when it came to a point that it was affecting my day-to-day life.
I don’t like the ‘talking and getting help thing’. I’m quite happy to go about things on my own. But when my low moods were beginning to stop me from doing the normal things I wanted, I decided I should probably go to the doctors, because that is what we’re told to do, right? This was probably around December 2014 time. Unfortunately, I had a pretty unhelpful doctor. She told me that she had patients who had experienced low moods much longer than me, and that the time I had spent feeling depressed was so little. She asked me what I expected her to do about it. Did I just want the drugs? (Not really the best accusations to throw at someone already anxious and depressed!) In the end I was put into ‘Youth Counselling’ (a little patronising for an almost 18 year old, who was dealing with becoming an adult, and moving away from the label of ‘youth’). I missed my first counselling session, and eventually cancelled them all. Counselling just wasn’t for me, I told myself. I could counsel myself just fine. I understood what I was going through, and I could still work it though rationally, and I would get through it.
But it just got worse. Leaving the house began to fill me with dread. The walk to school made me feel sick. I would try to find any excuse in my head that might let me stay at home and stay in bed. I would spend hours staring at walls not feeling a thing, and not really noticing that time had gone by. I would cry myself to sleep most nights. I completely withdrew into myself and didn’t speak to people very often, didn’t go out to social events, and eventually stopped going to some of my sixth form classes. Basically, I reached the point where rational thinking was suspended. I couldn’t feel that it would be okay. I couldn’t feel rational. I couldn’t feel much at all. And I didn’t feel I could speak to anyone. Not even my friends. Besides my parents and sister, I told nobody what I was going through. Partly because I didn’t really know how to, and partly because I felt that people didn’t understand. That doctor trip completely knocked me down, making me think that because I hadn’t been in that state for years and years, my mood wasn’t anything significant. And I was in a sixth form school where I did not feel supported. When my parents eventually told me they would have to email the school about how I was feeling, not a single teacher ever asked how I was. When I attempted to explain it to one teacher, she just passed it off as me misunderstanding things. Yep…really helpful!
I felt stupid for feeling how I did, and I felt insignificant – that my problems were not worth talking about. I remember the doctor also asking if I wanted to commit suicide and no, I wasn’t planning to commit suicide. And again, it felt like another reminder of the insignificance of my condition. And although I hadn’t gotten to a point where I was planning to die, I thought about death an awful lot. I would think about how much easier it would be to not be alive. Or how if it were the end, it would be okay.
And so I withdrew further and further. As a Christian, I struggled with my faith; going to Church but not feeling any of the excitement and passion and spirit that I had usually felt. I couldn’t pray with any conviction. It wasn’t that I did not believe in God, it was that I could not live for God – I couldn’t feel, and therefore couldn’t grow in my faith. I spent my time doubting and blaming God. It got to the point where I really had to debate what I believed.
I struggled with periods of insomnia too. I remember that during my final exams, I could barely sleep at all. I think all of my exams were in the span of about a week and a half, and in that week and a half, I probably had no more than 10 hours sleep put together. Some of my exams I went into without any sleep at all.
By exam time, I was an utter mess. I was finishing school for good – it was supposed to be a happy time, or at least a momentous occasion, and I remember walking home after that final exam and feeling (other than an overwhelming relief that I did not have to set foot in that school again) so hollow and empty.
I want to make a point though, before this gets too depressing to read: things get better.
That summer after I had left sixth form, I went through a time of personal healing. By getting out of an unhealthy environment for me, I was able to begin seeing things more rationally. I made myself do something each week. I got on a bus to the city centre by myself (which sounds silly now but was a HUGE deal given my anxiety at simply walking to school every morning). I met with friends (who may be reading this and not even know that this was how I felt at that time). And I was slowly able to feel again. Feel happy about things. Feel excited about starting university. Feel capable of doing things that had previously paralysed me with fear. I cried less. I stopped crying myself to sleep every night. I could pray again. I began to be able to theologically reason again. I felt passion again. I started this blog (and my bookstagram account) and got back into reading again. People prayed for me at my church. And slowly, piece by piece, I was able to heal and get back to a place where I could cope again. Not just cope, but live feeling fulfilled and joyful and loved.
I’m not saying I’m healed and cured and completely well. As I said, I’m writing this on a low day. A day that I have spent most of crying, a day where I had a panic attack at the thought of leaving my room to go to get dinner. But the difference is that I can work through it in my head. I can cope. I’m still pretty rubbish at the talking to people about it part, but I feel in an environment where I have people that would help and let me talk, if I needed.
Mental illnesses are an ongoing battle. They force you to feel completely alone and unnecessary and unneeded. If you feel like I did, then go to a doctor or a counsellor. If they are as unhelpful as mine, go to another. I was lucky to have a very supportive close family, and very understanding parents who knew/experienced mental illnesses too, but if you don’t have that, speaking to a teacher, doctor, school counsellor, hotline number etc is so important. Don’t feel insignificant. You are not. It’s a lie that mental illnesses force you to tell yourself. And healing is about a constant, daily battle to force such negative thoughts back. And while you may not become a fully cured person who never relapses again, you find stronger and better ways to cope, until dealing with such thoughts becomes much easier and manageable again. Until you can go weeks, months, maybe even years feeling freer and happier than you thought possible.
Some of the biggest things that I believe helped me were prayer and church. Even when I was really thinking through what I believed, I came back to Jesus, and prayer, and the comfort, peace, love and hope that came with that belief, and through reading and researching, God became the logical answer for me (which is a whole other story in itself, and I won’t go into it all here, but I wanted to at least mention it, because my faith was essential to getting better). Being around other people coping with mental illnesses helped too, and made me realise that I’m not alone. And also reading. Reading, keeping this blog, reviewing books, getting to use my passion for writing, and my knowledge and love of books and publishing has helped so much. Some of the books that really helped me at low points were:
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
– Which really restored my faith and passion for God – I honestly think everyone should read this book! It is so thought-provoking and theologically interesting, whether you are doubting or even secure in what you believe.
- The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski
– I remember going to buy The Winner’s Curse on a very low day, and I had to get dropped off in the city centre and walk to Waterstones and pick it up on my own and it was so difficult on such a low day, and I felt so panicky. But then I spent the whole day and night reading these books and feeling so emotional – actually feeling! – whilst reading them, and every time I look at them on my shelf I remember that time.
- Just One Day by Gayle Forman
– I actually didn’t even know what this book was about before I read it – I thought it was a Summer chick-lit kind of book. But it ended up being about a girl starting College/Uni and struggling for a lot of the book with depression. (So basically the perfect book for me at that time!) It was such an unexpected but emotional read for me, and I cried so much while reading it – in a good way!)
This was a very personal topic for me to discuss, and a very long post (it’s over 2000 words – that’s longer than some of my uni assignments!), but something I felt that, on a day where I have been feeling particularly anxious and low, and in a week of the year dedicated to making people aware about mental health, it was important to write about. Partly for me to get my head around those feelings myself and to remind myself that I’m not alone, but also to let anyone else experiencing depression or anxiety know that you are not alone either. And mostly, to make sure that mental health is not something we think about one week of the year, but rather, every day of the year. I don’t think I have even been able to get down everything I could about this topic, and about how it has really affected my life. But I hope that I have at least scratched the surface, and I hope that anyone reading this and going through a really awful time, will feel some comfort in reading this, and knowing you are never alone, and that things get better.