I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write about for this blog today but this topic seems appropriate. I’m not taking advantage of it. Far from it. I just want to use it as a way of getting a message across that is important to me.
Ever since I lost my sister 15 years ago I’ve suffered from depression. The thing is that I didn’t realise it. Everyone around me looked at me and only ever saw the happy, jolly Ash. I’d get the occasional “you’re being a bit grumpy Ash” or “you look a bit down mate, you okay?”.
You see, when my sister died, I made a mistake. I was the one who organised everything, made the calls arranged the repatriation, sorted out the funeral. I even ensured my parents talked to people, professionals to help them through their grief.
But, I was tough. I didn’t need to talk to anyone. It wouldn’t do to appear weak and besides, I had friends. That’s what friends are for. To talk to when you need them.
In fact, I was the one reaching out to other people. Checking they were okay, offering an ear if they needed when stuff happened in their lives.
I was tough.
I think that even when I had moments when I knew things weren’t that “right”, that my thoughts were overwhelming me, that I couldn’t shake off the melancholy I’d have, even when the sun was shining, I’d just hide it with a forced façade of humour.
I’d “act as if” everything was okay in my little world and just got on with it.
I remember going to the doctors in 2013. The business I had then was failing, Josie was in Cornwall and I was lonely. I remember not sleeping and having really a really tight chest. I’d struggle to walk upstairs and would be shattered but still be awake until the small hours, desperately trying ways to fall asleep.
I explained what was going on and he looked at me silently for a several seconds before saying “you’re suffering from depression”.
I looked behind me to see who he was talking to before remembering we were the only two people in the room.
“You’ve three choices – take pills, have therapy or do nothing”.
Drugs like that scare me and doing nothing wasn’t an option. So that left therapy.
You know, It’s amazing, just talking. Yes, there was a structure to it but just sharing how I was feeling. Just opening up and not holding everything inside me. Just letting go and not being the tough one for a change.
It’s still there. Sometimes I can feel it sneaking up on me but I can (usually) recognise the signs and I can (usually) head off a slump before it becomes a crash.
Maybe I’ll heal permanently, maybe it’ll always be part of me. That’s okay because one of the things I’ve learned is that I like me and that accepting that I’m not perfect, that I have flaws is part of the process.
What I’ve also found is that being open about it has made me realise how many other people out there struggle with similar issues. It doesn’t matter how it represents itself, it’s made easier by sharing. It’s also made easier by understanding.
People with mental health issues aren’t freaks. They’re not going to attack you with an axe or shout obscenities at you when you talk to them.
They’re just people and like all people, they want to talk and be talked to, not shunned or ignored because it’s easier.
You may have a friend who you know isn’t quite themselves. Pick up the phone, say hello and just listen.
There are a few things that I know have made a huge difference for me through this process as well as talking.
Exercise. I can’t tell you how good it is for you. It doesn’t matter what it is. You don’t have to play sport but just get sweaty, raise your heart rate and do it regularly. Me, I train. I throw iron around and it makes me feel really good.
Get outside. We need fresh air. Get outside every day, go for a walk or just stand in the rain. In the winter it’s especially important. Feel the wind on your skin, be in some natural light and experience all the sights, sounds and smells that surround us all the time that we don’t notice because we’re cooped up inside.
Have some you time. This might coincide with one or both of the above but just stop for 10 minutes. Put your phone away, find some quiet space and just be. There’s no need to sit cross-legged on the top of a mountain with your fingertips touching on your knees. Just take a moment and breathe.
Be grateful. The easiest way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. Just jot down each day what you’re grateful for, what good stuff is going on even if it seems inconsequential. They add up. It’s so easy to look for crap stuff in your life when you feel crap so you can justify it. Force yourself to look for the good stuff instead.
Laugh. You don’t need to me to explain this one. Just do it, even if you don’t feel like it. Pretend you’re rehearsing for a really bad play or something but just laugh out loud.
Have a good day and remember that whilst today is World Mental Health Day it’s a struggle for someone every day. Don’t be afraid to be a friend.