When I was 15 (17 years ago now) depression finally took hold of me and knocked me into a breakdown. This is my story...
I was in the final year of secondary school and I had been struggling with a mixture of family issues, social anxieties and exam stress. By the time I realised that I wasn't coping it was already too late, everything had simply caught up with me and I broke. I couldn't go out and couldn't talk, the only thing that I seemed capable of doing was crying, the sadness was unbearable. The word that always sticks out in my mind from those days is 'overwhelming' - overwhelming emotions, overwhelming sadness, overwhelming darkness and an overwhelming inability to function as a person which left me feeling like a complete failure. My school was incredible, they arranged a home tutor and even made it possible for me to sit my exams at home. Without this I would've been left with no qualifications and my future wouldn't have looked so bright.
In my opinion there is a big difference between feeling down and feeling depressed. I've heard many people say "we all get down sometimes, just deal with it" and I suppose I can see why they would think like that because, unless you've been to that place, it's difficult to understand. I sometimes feel that the word 'depression' is thrown around far too easily and I guess this is why people are sceptical. To be honest I would probably be the same if I hadn't experienced it first-hand.
Thankfully I haven't crossed over to the dark side since my teens, I still have worries and the odd down day but I'm able to manage them thanks to a fantastic councillor I saw all those years ago, her words have stayed with me throughout my life and I'd love to thank her for that. Something that I've used many times is the classic 'good side of me, bad side of me', she taught me to listen to each side and then make a decision about which side I wanted to give credence to. It's amazing how taking a minute to stop and think about both sides can clear your mind and make you see things in a better light! Even starting this blog caused the bad side of me to step out and tell me not to bother because nobody will be interested in what I have to say, that I'll sound stupid and people will laugh at me. Obviously I refused to listen to that side, once again the good side won because I did start this blog and I'm absolutely loving it!
|Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
I'm by no means an expert but these are a few of the strategies that have helped me manage myself and my feelings over the years:
- Talk to yourself - yes I know this might sound a bit crazy and I've only done it out loud when I've been alone, but it really works! Talk yourself through whatever your good side and bad side are telling you, sometimes saying it out loud helps put things into perspective. Sometimes you just need to ask yourself "what's the worst that could happen?" and often you'll find the answer is that actually, nothing really bad or life-threatening is going to happen. This always led me to wonder why I had let it affect me so much.
- Allow yourself to have down days - it's completely OK and normal to feel down sometimes. I used to really beat myself up about feeling down, I would tell myself that I was a useless person for feeling that way but that just created a cycle of negative thoughts which pulled me further towards depression. You have to let yourself experience some bad feelings and not try to cover them up, it might take minutes or it might take days to ease off but if you let those emotions have their moment and don't blame yourself for them you can then move on more easily when it's over.
- Do something you love - this can be a tricky one if you're feeling particularly down because then doing anything at all can be a struggle. However, doing something that will make you smile, even if it's just sitting down to read a book, is a great step towards bringing yourself up again. I strongly believe that my husband and children have been major factors in my depression-free days because when they're around I just can't help but smile, they truly are my happy place!
- Take small steps - I was told quite a few times to "snap out of it" but it really isn't that easy. Every small success is a step forward in my book and even if you take a step back straight afterwards it doesn't matter, the important thing is that you're still trying. Count up every step and eventually they'll turn into big (confident) steps but remember there's no rush, you need to go at your own pace.
This has been a difficult post for me to write because I rarely talk about my breakdown, I prefer people not to know about it because I don't want what happened back then to define me now. I'm sharing my story because I want anyone who is going through the darkness right now to know that it can, and will, get better. Just keep fighting, please don't let the darkness keep you because the light at the end of the tunnel is so worth it!