Living with a mental illness
Do I look like I suffer with depression and anxiety? Or do I look like a happy 23 year old with the world at my feet? This highlights my very first point; mental illnesses do not have a face. Sometimes, it isn’t recognisable. 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives. 1 in 4.
This week’s blog is written by me, Kat. After recording this week’s podcast with Sam, and focusing a lot of it on my experience of depression and anxiety, we decided it would be a good idea to write a blog about it. Especially seeing as it was World Mental Health Day on Wednesday (October 10th).
I would like to start by saying; by no means am I an expert. Yes I’ve got the ‘experience’ and I can tell you all about my struggles and coping mechanisms but at the end of the day – everyone is different. Our circumstances play a huge part in our mental health and how we react to it.
This blog will cover: a brief background into my story (apologies if you’ve already heard this week’s podcast, this might be a bit repetitive); how and when I decided to seek help; my experience on medication; how it affects my day-to-day life and, most importantly, the things I do to make myself feel better.
I started suffering from panic attacks at around 16 years old. I had had a turbulent few years as a teenager with numerous family deaths, a Mum with a history of depression and a Father who underwent a serious mental breakdown. By the time it got to the end of my first year at college, my Mum was also diagnosed with bowel cancer.
What. A. Shit. Show.
Therefore, I think it comes to no surprise that I became prone to panic attacks. My heart rate would sky rocket, I’d feel hot and overwhelmed and generally just want to vom everywhere. This marks the first time I was put on some sort of medication to help. This drug was called ‘Propranolol’ and is used to treat a variety of illnesses, mine being anxiety.
I stayed on this drug up until university where I decided I was ready to turn over a new leaf. My Mum had received the all-clear and I was young, free n wild. AKA eating stir frys most nights, suffering from the world’s worst hangovers and keeping my miserable self under the safe confines of my duvet around 20 hours per day.
My already fragile existence came crashing down when my Mum was given less than 2 years to live in February 2014. Holy shit. It’s crazy how you think your parents are indestructible. Suddenly, my time with my Mum was given a deadline. Needless to say, my mental health plummeted.
I was definitely at my worst after she died in November 2015. I couldn’t envisage a future without her guidance, care and love. We had only just started to become friends, rather than just mother and daughter. I felt as if a carpet had been pulled from under my feet and I was in a never-ending free fall to misery. Grief is a bitch. But grief mixed with a history of mental illness… chaos.
How and when I decided to seek help
I had never been afraid to ask for help before. When I was suffering from panic attacks at college it wasn’t difficult for me to go and speak to the student counsellor. When I felt like my future was being ripped away from me after my Mum was diagnosed I wasn’t afraid to seek help from university.
But telling someone that I didn’t want to live anymore?
That took ovaries.
I remember going to the doctors, sitting on the chair, and them asking me the simple question ‘so what’s wrong?’. How do you respond by saying ‘I feel like I want to die’? Because that’s what I wanted to say. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t think I had anything to live for anymore. I wanted to say that I was never going to be happy ever again. I wanted to tell him that my life sucked and nothing and no one could help. But how did I know that he would take me seriously?
Instead, I said that I felt ‘low’ and that I was having trouble sleeping yet also having trouble getting out of bed. I had no enthusiasm to do anything anymore.
He recommended I see a counsellor at university and prescribed me my first set of antidepressants.
I have been on antidepressants now for nearly 3 years; with a short break somewhere in the middle. I think the most common question people ask me is: do you think they really help?
All I know is that I’m still here. That might be because of the tablets, and it might not. Either way I’m pretty bloody grateful.
When I was first prescribed Citalopram I was nervous to tell anyone. In particular, my family. I felt too young to be on drugs like this and also thought that they might just think I was over-exaggerating or it was simply just the grief. Some of them definitely thought, and still think, that my being on them is a bad thing and I’m simply just a young person struggling with the loss of their mother.
To be honest, I can’t blame them. Because it wasn’t until this week that I have been quite so publicly honest about my suicidal thoughts and struggle with depression. To them I was probably just down in the dumps.
Are anti-depressants addictive?
I have absolutely no bloody clue. However, I do know that I am absolutely terrified to come off them. I’m scared of not being able to cope if something bad happens and spiralling further into the depressive state I was in before. I’m afraid of having those intrusive thoughts in my head again telling me that I’m not good enough and I shouldn’t be around.
I do want to come off them. And I think I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m looking after myself better and could handle it. Are they addictive? Maybe. But the fear of feeling that way again is more terrifying than anything.
My life and my illness
For now, I’m doing okay. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when all I want to do is stay in my bed all day and cry. Or stay awake all night and cry that’s something I’m pretty good at too.
Unfortunately, I’m no longer an absolute bum and I have to get up for work every day. And I won’t lie – sometimes it’s bloody hard.
My life with depression and anxiety has made me particularly paranoid and in the work place this can be a nightmare. I’m constantly worrying that my work isn’t good enough and that the people around me don’t like me or don’t want me there. But when I sit and think about it, I remind myself that this is just my mind and it’s a load of shit.
I’ve progressed further than I thought I could in my current job throughout the last ten months and I’ve met some of the funniest, caring and most incredible people working there. Unfortunately, my mind likes to think otherwise. This also means that I’m consistently seeking gratitude and compliments about my work – sorry guys!
The same worries also appear within my social life. I’ve spent the last 6+ years of my life feeling like I have to get absolutely plastered to feel comfortable in a room full of people in a bid to make myself feel less self conscious. Why do I think people are talking about me? I swear, no one actually cares that much.
The next section will discuss ways in which I cope in these situations further.
How I’ve made my mental illness my bitch
It’s a long, hard road. And our current modern lives do not help us in any way, shape, or form. We’re constantly on social media looking at everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives whilst we’re sat on the bog wondering where we went wrong to not be a size 4 in a Chanel bikini on a boat in Monaco.
We aren’t kind enough to ourselves. And we don’t give ourselves the break we need to re-group and think clearly. We’re constantly distracted and never happy to sit in our skin anymore.
These are the things I do to make myself feel better:
Boy do I LOVE a good book. It’s the perfect opportunity to put down your phone, sit in a quiet room and immerse yourself in something worthwhile. Whether you’re into fiction or non-fiction, reading seriously helps broaden the mind. Yes, I sound cringey. But this has helped me no end. A book that I read recently by Matt Haig ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ gave me a serious insight into the detrimental affects our environment is having on our mental health. It’s totally worth a read. 10/10 would recommend to a friend.
I avoid most social situations:
Okay, this sounds TOTALLY dull. And don’t get me wrong – I see my friends and go to the odd party. But these events aren’t prominent occasions in my life anymore. I don’t feel like I need to got to them to keep in trend or to avoid missing out and losing my friendships.
As I said before, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life thus far drinking far too much booze in a bid to feel comfortable in my own skin. This results in far too many regretful decisions, the world’s worst hangovers and serious regret and embarrassment the next day. Therefore resulting in even more alcohol being drunk at the next opportunity to try and avoid feeling so embarrassed about last week’s events. Basically a vicious circle.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE a G&T (basic bitch) or a nice cold beer but now I drink it for enjoyment. And only when I want to. Peer pressure has been and gone my friends. My mental health is a priority. Plus, alcohol is a serious depressant. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
I prioritise my time to make sure it’s with people who I love and appreciate the most – and who give it back to me. Life is a very short thing and I don’t want to spend it with people who don’t make me happy. My friends and family are the most important people in my life and my time with them is never wasted.
However, it also means that you won’t find me making small talk with people I don’t care about. I find situations like that horrendously exhausting and I’d rather be laughing in a corner with people I feel comfortable with. Keep them close.
Exercise and food
Here comes the stuff no one wants to hear. Exercise and food both play a HUGE part in our mental health. Visit my friend Sam’s website for alllll the information you could want on the benefits of good nutrition and exercise. He’s seriously intelligent and experienced when it comes to stuff like that.
This year I’ve made exercise and food a priority. Sam has helped me incorporate 3-4 training sessions per week into my routine and I’m also eating the best I ever have. I also order dominos. And eat whole tubs of Ben and Jerry’s. And eat the most out of all my friends when we go out for dinner.
But 90% of the time I’m careful with what I’m putting into my body and aware of the affect it will have.
I’m feeling happier than I have in a long time this year and I’m under no doubt that my new exercise and nutrition routine has had a huge impact in that.
I also love to go out on walks (please see picture at the top of this page for reference).
Remember, everyone’s experience is different. But keep yourself as a priority and only do the things that make you happy. Don’t live your life through other people’s rules.
If you’re struggling with mental illness or from the grief of losing someone close to you, visit our Resources page. Alternatively, reach out to your friends, family, or local GP. I promise you won’t regret it. There’s always someone to listen. You can even message me – I’ll walk with you up a mountain then force feed you some ice cream.