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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Depression and Anxiety

Have written about these topics previously; re-visiting them a bit. Gonna be a long post where I delve a bit more into the symptoms of a depressed person and why these illnesses are becoming so prevalent.
The main thing about depression or any kind of mental illness - at least for me - is that when you're in it, it feels normal. Other people will start treating you differently - they'll be weary or worrisome around you. Yet the way you feel seems fine, which is why for many they don't realise they have a problem or are in denial about it. I never realised I had anxiety (and I have it quite badly) until I started getting severe panic attacks. I've always had hiperhidrosis which is a condition where one sweats constantly, but I never put two-and-two together.

With depression, people don't always feel 'sad' or 'tearful.' A lot of the times you get this feeling of emptiness or apathy. It feels like there's a blank dead space in your chest; whereby you should feel something, you feel nothing. You can have a wonderful day and do great things, but inside you'll return to the feeling of deadness. Simple things like getting out of bed or going to the shop or making food can seem horribly daunting. I often semi-joke to myself that I wish I could just lie in bed all day and never leave. In my school days the most horrible thing was having to leave the warm comforts of my bed. No teenager likes getting out of bed, but for me there was an element of fear; having to get up and face the world and put on a brave face and act ok.

People who are depressed or holding in repressed anger may appear sarcastic or passive-aggressive, or dismissive of major events. For example, when the Manchester Attacks last year happened I felt really empty, like I didn't care. I think it was my body's way of shutting down rather than being horrified or miserable at how awful the world is. Because I'm hyper-sensitive I get deeply affected by things, so when it comes to major things that are so difficult to comprehend at times I act like they're no big deal or shrug them off. I was bullied all throughout my primary school years and still try to act like it was nothing, like yeah I was bullied, so what, people go through way worse things. It's easier to 'not care' than it is to care, because caring shows vulnerability and admittance and can often lead to extreme hopelessness or spouts of crying.

Irritability is another symptom of this. Because admitting our feelings is so hard; people want to appear strong not weak, it's easier to ignore sadness and instead become 'snappy' or irritated. I've always been the type of person to get pissed off or irritated easily; I can't think of one person I know or have met who hasn't annoyed me at one point, even for something as ridiculous as 'they're too cheerful.' (Which I think is just me being jealous of 'happier' people). I do actually have anger problems, or a form of 'intermittent explosive disorder' which is the clinical term. I haven't had a major destructive angry episode since being on medication and working on AA recovery, but sometimes the irritation can come and go. For this reason I find myself avoiding social situations or being around people at times without realising.

Then there are physical symptoms. I guess the biggest one for me was in sixth form I had IBS and chronic constipation that wouldn't go away. I put enormous pressure on myself to do well - combined with an addictive personality - and was horribly stressed; applying for Cambridge when I didn't even care about it much, I just wanted to 'appear' a certain way, and throwing myself into my A levels when I could have been developing my fiction and songwriting which is what I actually do care about. It was all part of thinking that if I got xxx grades I'd be this awesome special person and it would somehow validate my existence.

Shortly before I went on medication I got these awful aches and pains which I would wake up with in the morning or feel at night. I think that was the final 'straw' that after years of wondering made me truly realise I had depression. The doctor said it was very clear that I was not stable. I guess I'd managed to keep it in for so long and get on with life that I just didn't see it as that bad. Again, it's the people around you that notice. They'll notice the snappiness, the quiet emptiness in your face and body language, or how you may seem 'out of it' or 'barely there' or 'stand-offish.'

Another symptom which my mum has picked up on is that I do 'binge eat' a bit on junk food. Not to excess (or maybe that's just me trying to justify it?) but I like eating cakes, crisps, chocolate and the like. I need to have something sugary at least once a day, even if it's just a hot chocolate. Again, this may be me justifying it but I do have fruit and water and herbal tea as well and floss my teeth; I'm not a full-on 'junkie.' If I don't have sweet food for a few days I can start dreaming about cakes and cookies and donuts.

Then, the final symptom I will mention which has been a major one throughout my life are sleep problems. I had chronic fatigue in sixth form - may have been a symptom of my IBS - and have suffered on and off with insomnia since I was small. It can take me hours to fall asleep sometimes, or there's been episodes where I'd wake up in the night, or sleep late and wake up early, or sleep and get enough sleep but wake up still feeling tired. Depressed people struggle badly with sleep. Medication does help a lot with this; in the past year and a bit that I've been on meds my sleeping has been the best its been. Recent few weeks over the Xmas period I've been struggling with late nights, but hopefully that will pass.

Depression is horrible, but it's severely common. I think one of the reasons is Western society - certainly Britain - is very isolating and cold; not just weather-wise but people-wise. Everyone closes their doors and can have no idea who is living next door or down the road from them. Psychologists aren't sure as to whether or not mental illness is becoming more common, or if it's just getting de-stigmatised and just being easier to diagnose but was there all that time. There's still some stigma though; plenty may think 'what do you have to be depressed about' or 'can't you just stop it and make yourself happy'?

I used to punish myself a lot and make myself feel guilty - for gods' sake Zarina, you have everything, stop being a pathetic selfish bitch. Snap out of this self-centered bullshit. Needless to say, talking unkindly to yourself won't help at all, and while it is a self-centered illness, it's an illness. You can't just 'stop' it, you have to take action through therapy, medication, exercise, meditation or join support groups. It's not uncommon for depression to come along with other illnesses like addiction, ADHD, schizophrenia, personality disorders and the like.

Be kind to yourself. Don't self-indulge and do the whole 'I feel sorry for myself' thing as it will reinforce your negative thinking patterns. But also don't punish yourself and put yourself down. It's hard enough to go through something like this without making yourself feel bad for it at the same time. Others around you may make you feel bad about yourself. Parents may not understand or may be in denial because they want their kids to be happy; if they see their kid is in pain they can blame it on themselves. My dad always said stuff like 'go kill yourself then, we'll bury you.' Obviously he wasn't being serious; it was his way of trying to flippantly come to terms with something he didn't understand. No parent wants their child to be unhappy, so may simply ignore or deny it or try to downplay it. It's the same thing we can do with ourselves; no one wants to be unhappy, so we try to pretend we're ok or say we don't have a problem or 'normalize' our feelings.

Do things you enjoy. Pause and breathe. If you struggle to meditate, simply sit quietly and focus on your breathing and the space around you. Don't listen to the awful clutter that goes on in your head. Our minds can lie to us and tell us no one cares for us or likes us. (I think this all the time). But it's rubbish. I know for a fact there are people in this world who love me/like me. The whole world doesn't need to like you. If you're a people-pleaser like I used to be, you'll always want to please others and be on everyone's good side. This ties in with codependency which can lead to repressed anger and resentments. Trying to make everyone like you all the time and having weak boundaries is very bad for your mental health and people skills. It's more important to have a few people you know you can love and trust, then to try and get the whole world to be on your side.

Humans can be horrible. I almost think the film Coraline is a metaphor for this; people will smile at you and act kind, but the minute you don't go along with what they want they'll get mad or turn into monsters. Again, that could be depression/pessimism talking. I think as long as you have a few people you can trust, you don't need the world. Focus on loving yourself and discovering what you want out of life. Explore your passions. Try and get the basics; regular sleep, balanced diet and exercise, as these will maintain physical and mental health which can prevent tunneling down a black hole. Remember it's not your fault. No one 'decides' to be ill. You can control what happens to you, but you can control how you deal with it. There are ways around it.

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