Tag Archives: mental health

Depression = Guilt

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The worst thing about depression – when it has you by the balls / boobs and is holding your head underneath the pillow, when it’s at its most debilitating and downright exhausting – is the guilt. There is guilt about the fact that this might all be your fault. The guilt that you lack normal amounts of energy because you’ve been worrying too much. The guilt about feeling like a big fat lazy sloth whilst everyone else is whistling along cheerily to the sound of their 7am alarm. The guilt that your brain isn’t working properly and it might be your fault because of that time you got absolutely shit-faced on ecstasy and didn’t sleep for two days. That your life choice and your lifestyle may have some how had an adverse effect on your brain and therefore this depression is most definitely YOUR fault. There is also the very unhelpful thought chewing away at the back of your mind that you might be making this all up and that you’re actually OK because you managed to laugh at Deliciously Stella’s Instagram earlier so you can’t be that sad. Therefore you feel very, very guilty about it all.

 

Deliciously Stella being unashamedly brilliant.

 

Then there is the guilt experienced by those closest to you. Your Mum, your Dad, your Dad’s Dad, your best friend, your dog, your spider plant. In my experience, they too feel guilty. They think that perhaps they could have done something differently, and they should have tried to program your brain not to feel anxious about speaking in meetings or cripplingly worried about the fact that you have to do a speech at your best friends wedding and you are festering at the thought of fucking it all up. Maybe it was something they said to you when you were three that made you feel like you should be worried about life. This might absolutely be the case for some, but from my experience and from listening to lots of other people, it isn’t always. I would like to say now that even though there are certain behavioural patterns learnt from our parents and those around us in our early years, depression is not necessarily any bodies fault. The worst feeling I have felt when opening up about my anxiety and depression to my parents has been the reaction that they are worried they did something wrong and it made me like this. For me to experience my parents hurting because of me is incredibly painful, and, you guessed it, makes me feel VERY VERY GUILTY. So I would like to expel the idea from everybody’s minds and let them know that none of this is any ones fault.

The thing that makes the guilt extra horrible, is the idea that we can’t be open to people in our daily lives about what we are going through for fear of not getting that promotion, or not being trusted in our decisions or appearing weak. It breeds a feeling of shame, that there is something to hide. I can wholeheartedly say, that this lack of discussion and understanding about depression is stiflingly unhealthy to everyone, and actually if people felt comfortable to discuss the fact that they are having a bad time mentally as freely as they feel discussing their head cold, then things would be much easier for everyone.

Recently I spent 5 weeks off sick from work after suffering from a nervous breakdown (my therapist doesn’t like this phrase but I’m going with it.) Prior to this, I had developed a shiny exterior of lovely bubbliness in the office. I was positively bouyant around all of my colleagues and I undertook my work with gusto. This meant that because I was pretending that I was doing brilliantly, my brain was trapped in a pressure cooker and I would cry in the mornings at the sight of a very small needy pooch on the tube, or be overly empathatic to anyone expressing any kind of emotion. Basically, I packed my emotions into a tiny tiny box for work, and I wouldn’t let them out all day. Of course the emotions eventually out grew the box and the box would be forced open, resulting in me crying in meetings or having to vacate my desk to sob in the park (there are many small needy dogs there so you can imagine my state.) I’m telling you this because I feel that if I had allowed myself to be more honest with my colleagues about my mental health, then I might not have ended up in such a ball of pickle.

During this period of ‘sick leave,’ I made the decision to be honest with everyone and I sent an email to my colleagues explaining what had happened to me. I told them frankly that I had been suffering with anxiety for a long time which had resulted in a nervous breakdown, and that I missed them very much. I had to tell them that last bit because I felt guilty (that old chestnut) about not being able to do my job and for leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. After I sent that email, a steady stream of messages began trickling into my inbox from colleagues offering genuine support and incredibly kind words. They too had each been through their own mental pickles, and it was clear that they valued my openness.

I know of course, that this is a very sensitive and personal subject to discuss in public, and I know it isn’t practical for everyone to be this open. But what I’m saying is that if one person opens up, then five others might feel better about doing so too, and by discussing what it is like to experience depression will no doubt enable others to understand and therefore help break a taboo that is exceptionally unhelpful and therefore help to dispel THE GUILT.

So, I stick to my decision to go forth boldly, and when someone asks me where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to, I’ll tell them. Unashamedly, just like Deliciously Stella does about how she’s just eaten 10 donuts in a row. I can already tell you that this has not been as painful or awkward as you might imagine. Instead it has been an empowering exercise, and I haven’t felt guilty or ashamed once.

Annie x

From Under the Duvet Tent

I had been sent home from work in a ball of tears and I had made myself a duvet tent. Duvet tents are great, they are warm and nobody can see you. But I knew I couldn’t stay under my delicious duvet tent forever, my flatmates would be home soon and I had a chicken kiev in the fridge that needed eating. I also knew that I had missed the (very small) booking window for a doctors appointment that day. Though I needed to speak to somebody professional, so I called Mind. 

What happened next was a conversation with a very straightforward, no-nonsense lady. That conversation might have saved my life. I blubbed and I blubbed, she didn’t falter because this was OK. It was good to cry and it was brave of me to call. I had made the first step, she said.

Months later it was through Mind that I learned the art of Mindfulness. I count this as a crucial moment in my recovery.

My stomach churned and hands sweated as I waited in the reception of Hackney & City Mind for the first session. I was very close to running out of the door as my all too familiar fight or flight instinct kicked in. ‘I don’t have to put myself through any more embarrassment, I can leave’ I thought. I just couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in a room full of strangers, discussing my mental health. I really needed the comfortable solitary confinement of my duvet tent.

But as the first session wore on and I got to know my classmates, I felt a lifting sense of relief, and my crushing loneliness began to dissipate. Although I felt exposed and still a little nervous, I actually felt normal for the first time in ages. The notion that there were other people in the same room dealing with anxiety or other mental health conditions whilst holding down jobs, families, and busy lives in London was the comfort that I needed.

Over the next 8 weeks, as a small group, we learned to be mindful together. Gwen Williams, our teacher, was calm and self-assured and she would take a silent moment to ‘gather her thoughts’ when she needed. I had never seen anyone do this before, to literally stop, close their eyes and compose themselves in front of people. This left a lasting impression on me and gave way  to my own ‘moments to gather’ which I use whenever I feel jumbled or overwhelmed by pressure. This is about self-worth, the permission to take a pause, even if people are waiting on you.

Gwen taught me to breathe. The biggest anchor us humans have in connecting with ourselves and with the present moment. I was (and still am) a terror for running away with my thoughts, my mind on an endless stream of vivid imaginings of painful experiences, or situations going terribly wrong. But Gwen taught me to catch myself, to wake up, and to look at my thoughts objectively – like passing clouds – instead of getting bogged down in what I call one of my ‘epic thought films of despair.’

You are not your thoughts, thoughts are passing guests in your guest house. This notion works for me. If I could get away with having it tattooed on my forehead I would.

Mindfulness has given me permission to enjoy life thoroughly. It is OK to stop, to sit quietly and to breathe. In fact, for me it is essential.

Have you ever sat down to your dinner mindfully? Focusing completely on the aroma,  the texture, the multitude of flavours, the way they dance on your tongue? I dare you – it is mind blowing.

Thanks to Gwen, and to Mind who made this free class possible, and for teaching such a brilliant life-saving skill.

Annie x

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The Taming of the Dog

They say you need to be settled down to own a dog. You need to have bags of time and money, a home with no sharp edges and a garden where it can poo. I was given my dog when I had none of these things.

I dreaded Maths on a Monday, I worried I wouldn’t make friends at Brownies, I worried about my Mum having a car crash on the way home from Sainsbury’s, and about making conversation with my teacher as she drove me to school. I was gnawingly anxious that underneath my gingham school dress I was wearing a Country Companions vest while my friends were all in training bras. On bad days, I worried that my entire family would die and I would be homeless. You might have called me ’a bit of a worrier,’ and you might think It’s all a little bit dramatic. But this is all very real for someone who has what I like to call an ’apocalyptic view of the world.’
My dog was tiny at first, and sort of manageable. I got used to having it around, it had been there since my mum dropped me off at the creche. But as I grew, it grew too. As I became an adult It became so big that people couldn’t see me anymore. It sapped my energy with its demands for attention – and there was absolutely no room for anything or anyone else in my life. When I was 23 it left me hopelessly looking for a way out in a messy heap on the kitchen floor, staring at the bubbling brown plastic lino.
The peculiar thing about my dog though, is that it isn’t always big and suffocating. Yes, I have days when it’s alarmingly larger than the day before, it makes me dizzy and my words get jumbled. But more often than not it is small and discreet and we can exist quite happily together. In fact, I need the dog sometimes. We all need some anxiety, some worrying thoughts and some stresses to stayed switched on to life and to physically go forward. So through a lot of trial, error and therapy, I have learnt a pack of survival techniques to keep this over-anxious dog at a manageable puppy size, and snoozing in the corner.
My biggest lifeline during my darkest moments has been writing. Under my bed I have notebook upon notebook of anxious scribblings, mythical stories about magic, diary extracts and silly poems. I’ve written about all sorts to stop my mind ruminating or running on a never ending chain of unhelpful thoughts. None of these notes have seen the light of day. But during the recovery of my most recent depressive episode spurred on by months of writhing anxiety in my abdomen and broken sleep, I decided to create something positive out of a big fat negative. I decided to get my writing out into the open and I decided to create this blog.
It is going to be simple. I am going to write openly and honestly about this condition, and I am going to record the things in my life that help keep the dog in the corner. I might write a comedy sketch about a conversation, or about an uplifting song, an experience, a recipe, a particularly helpful meditation practice or a place. I want to join the conversation about mental well being, a conversation that is thankfully getting louder. I am one of over 8 million anxiety sufferers in the UK, that’s an enormous number of anxious dogs. That makes this conversation a conversation worth having.

Anxious Annie.

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