It’s mental health week! And, since I am very well acquainted with all the ups and downs associated with mental health, I’ve decided to write something about it. Which is amusing, because I haven’t written anything in over a month because of how terrible my mental health has been. Thanks, brain!
I have severe clinical depression, for which I take antidepressants. Unfortunately, this particular antidepressant also makes me prone to panic attacks, and so I’m on another medication to combat this side-effect. I was diagnosed with depression in March 2017, and I began taking this particular type of antidepressant in December 2017. It’s actually the 3rd antidepressant I’ve been on, and so far it’s been the most effective.
In the first few months of being on this antidepressant, I experienced extremely bad panic attacks, and I decreased my dose in February. That made a huge difference, and while I still get panic attacks from time to time, they aren’t anywhere near as bad as they used to be.
I actually wrote a post after a really bad panic attack, which you can read here if you’re curious. Long story short – it was a fucking fiasco, and I have decided that while depression is a nuisance and generally makes my life miserable, panic attacks terrify me and I salute the people who deal with anxiety on a daily basis. I don’t know how y’all do it, honestly.
I don’t get panic attacks anywhere near as often or as badly as I used to, but the possibility will be lurking there for as long as I am on this type of antidepressant. And while that’s a real pain, I do prefer the occasional panic attack over literally being as useful as a literal rock for months at a time.
I’m pretty relaxed about the fact that I have depression. It’s not the sort of thing I bring up on a first date, but it’s not something I try to actively hide. I’m not bothered taking medication in front of people, and I’ve stopped feeling bad about cancelling plans when a depressive episode hits.
The biggest issue I have with the fact that I have depression is that I don’t like taking time off work for it. I know it’s a real thing, and I know that there are days where I just really shouldn’t be working, but I can’t help but worry that people think I’m making things up to get a day off.
Which is pretty reasonable, except I work from home and the most contact I have with my boss is through email. If I wanted to, I could just be like “yo I’m feeling pretty terrible today, I’m taking the day off” and all would be well. No need to elaborate, and if I chicken out I can just say I have a migraine. But nope, I’m a complete dumbass, and so I often find myself trying to work through depressive episodes. And let me tell you, during a bad episode I am almost completely useless. It’s like my brain is just like “yeah sorry focus machine broke” and not only do I have to try and fight my lack of will to exist, I also have to force myself to concentrate, which doesn’t help.
The thing is, unless you know what you’re looking for, it can be really hard to tell when someone is having a bad mental health day. It’s easy for people to look at someone and think “huh, Joe has been weird all week, they really need to get some more sleep” or “damn, Betty needs to get their shit together and stop procrastinating”. When really, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, none of which anyone else can see.
I have a much greater appreciation of the importance of looking after your mental health now that my continued existence literally rides on me looking after my own. If I don’t look after myself, I can’t work. If I can’t work, I can’t buy food or pay rent. If I can’t buy food or pay rent, I’m going to end up living under a bridge huddled under a cardboard box. And let’s be real, I’d probably end up getting bitten by a rat and dying of the plague 2.0.
I didn’t realise how much of a role my brain actually played in my life until suddenly it didn’t work properly anymore. Which sounds kind of ridiculous, but I never realised just how difficult basic things like showering more than once a week or remembering to eat at least once a day become when your brain is just a depressed mush.
As such, I think it’s important that people who are having these sorts of issues seek help, and that those who don’t suffer from them have a better idea of how they can support those around them who do. Having a week where we can focus on mental health and being open about it is a good way to reach people who otherwise might not have paid much thought to it.
As someone who spent years living with severe clinical depression, and not having the slightest clue that something was wrong, I think it’s important that we can talk openly about the fact that it’s okay not to be okay. I laughed when it was first suggested to me that I might have depression. I thought there was no way that I could just have this life-changing illness and be none the wiser. I had no idea that you could have depression and still be functioning relatively well. I had no idea that you could have depression when your life didn’t seem all that bad. I had no idea that depression could be so different from person to person, and that no 2 people experienced it exactly the same way.
If someone had realised that I was showing symptoms of depression when I was 15, I’d like to think that I would have been able to get a handle on things before they got as bad as they did. It took me 4 years of what I just assumed to be teen angst for someone to say, “constantly wanting to die and having no hope for the future isn’t actually normal”. It’s taken me nearly a year to find a medication that worked for me, and even then it still isn’t perfect. It took me a few more months after that to learn to catch myself before I fell into bad episodes, and how to deal with them when they came. I still have days where I wake up and just go “yep, I’m not getting out of bed today”. I’m getting there. I don’t know exactly where “there” is, or how far away it is, but I’ll get there.
Looking after your mental health is so important, and I don’t really think we take it seriously enough. We need to be able to talk about mental health and mental illness, without being afraid that people are going to think we’re pathetic or attention seeking. I used to be so afraid to admit that I had a mental illness, but now it’s as much a part of me as my bad shoulder is. It’s not great, but it’s there and it’s not something that I can just get rid of. It’s just something I have to learn to manage.
I know I did this, or at least something very similar to this, a while ago. But in the spirit of promoting safe and healthy coping mechanisms for mental health week, here we go again. This is a list of things, in no particular order, that I do when I wake up and know I’m going to have a bad day.
- If you’re on any medication, make sure you’ve taken what you need for the day.
- Establish whether you need company. Ideally, you should probably hit someone up and tell them that you’re struggling, but more often than not I need my own space to deal with things.
- Have a shower/bath/wash your face. Hot water is nice and relaxing, and being gross and crusty for long periods of time isn’t fun.
- Put on some clean clothing. It doesn’t matter if you’re just putting on clean pyjamas, putting on clean clothing will make you feel remarkably more human.
- Put on some good music. Sometimes I want some relaxing instrumental music, and sometimes I just want to destroy my eardrums and the neighbours’ respect for me. Whatever it is, it’s nice to have something to focus on.
- Eat something relatively healthy. If you haven’t eaten anything other than chocolate and coffee for the past 3 days, eat a vegetable. Or a pasta. Or a fruit. Just eat something with some nutritional value.
- Make yourself laugh. I’ve got a list of movies and tv shows that never fail to make me laugh until I cry. Having a good laugh at something, even if it’s just for a second, always makes me feel a little less miserable.
- BLANKETS. I don’t care what time of year it is, I don’t care how hot my house is, if I am miserable I am wrapping myself in every blanket I own. There’s nothing like being wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and safety.
- Go to bed at a decent hour. Getting a decent amount of sleep makes life so much easier to deal with. There’s no point in being depressed and tired and cranky.
- Relax. Recognise that the best thing for you is to look after yourself. There’s no point forcing yourself to be doing other things when you just need some time to relax and sort yourself out.
To wrap things up, mental illness can be the worst. It’s invisible to almost everyone who is having issues with it, and it makes every aspect of life 1,000 times harder than it needs to be. If you don’t already do so, start taking note of the things that make you feel better, and help you relax. It’s good to have on hand when everything else feels like it’s falling apart.
Please note that my brain is currently depressed mush. I apologise if anything doesn’t make sense. Thank you for reading!
Featured photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash.