As I sit here typing this I can still taste the salty tears that have been running down my cheeks.
The release of bottled up emotion.
I get a whiff of someone’s strong perfume as they walk past me on the tube; along with the aroma of sweat from other commuters. Business men are chatting about an important presentation opposite me as I sit and ponder the title of this article I’m writing ‘Mental Health Awareness week: My Personal Story.’ What the heck is my story? Where do I start!? My name is Liz. I am 24 years old, engaged to be ‘Mrs Edge’; lover of food and big fan of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory – “Bazinga.”
Right now, when fellow commuters look at me they see a brightly coloured scarf (worn in all weather conditions), long eyelashes like those off a TV advert and a smile that has been said can ‘light up a room’. What they don’t see is the anxiety medication in my bright green handbag, the knots in my stomach and the psychological battle that is currently going on in my mind. A battle that takes place every day; some more prominent than others. I can’t identify the first time I experienced depression. There wasn’t a switch that went off and nor did I catch the illness from a fellow human. The same with anxiety. To me, both experiences were just normal; emotions, thoughts and sometimes numbness that everyone faced. However it felt like they could cope with it much better than me. I was first officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety in my mid teens but I was quick to dismiss it as surely there can be no illnesses that aren’t physical to see? (A big fat lie, by the way). In the last 10(ish) years I have been told all sorts by family, friends and GPs, including: “Just smile, everyone feels better when they smile.” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Life is hard sometimes but we all face struggles.” “Some people were born with brown hair, some with blonde hair, you were born with depression and that’s the way it is.” And to conclude with one of my personal favourites – “Get over it.” Because mental illness is just something you get over, obviously…. A lot of these comments I now understand, even though they did hurt at the time, come from a place of misunderstanding, misjudgement and some from pure ignorance. It is important to remember that I trust none were said in a malicious or spiteful way. Something that I have to keep remembering even today in a culture that is successfully starting to break down the ugly stigma that mental illness has attached to it.
One analogy that I use is “Depression is like a mosquito, it sucks the life out of you, leaving one irritated, exhausted and lifeless person.” My story doesn’t stop here. It was only when I realised that this numbness I felt and the misery that plagued me must not be what living is all about that I decided to help myself; to dismiss the unhelpful comments that had been said and the short term support that has been received (because once you smile, then life is all better….) and go to the doctors again. I was unwell, unable to function properly. As I switch from the tube to the train I sigh as I remember over the years I’ve been on different sorts of medication and seen a variety of counsellors and changed my mind a thousand times on what I thought of mental illness. 12 months ago I was on a high dose of anti-depressants, having counselling 2 times a week and only working for 5 hours a week. The rest of my time I was either having nightmares, crying or finding the idea of going to the local shop to buy milk too much of a challenge.
12 months on and I’m showered most days, get out of the house at least once a day (including my days off!) and making a conscious effort to view every day as a new day where I am loved, worthy and valuable. I am still on medication and I see a mentor on a regular basis. I still cry for no reason and wake up feeling numb and irritable. But I also laugh and dance around singing Taylor Swift lyrics. I see a future that I didn’t think existed. The life of Liz is by no means perfect, but it is a life worth living – a phrase I truly believe and remind myself of in the darker times. I encourage those that are in the midst of the storm – like I was 12 months ago – to keep going, you’re life is worth living. Grab this living experience with both hands and don’t let it go; stopping anyone that tries to take it from you. Feel the sun on your skin and remember you are alive. To those where depression and anxiety seem a lifelong battle, like me, perhaps put small things in your day that make you happy; even if you don’t ‘feel’ happy. Run a bath, put some comedy on Netflix or take a walk listening to your favourite artist. As the train pulls into my station I draw this article to a close and end on these quotes, encouraging anyone to write them down in a place you’ll see every day (perhaps a mirror?):
“I am loved, therefore I am lovable.”
“Those who have only seen that side of me, might only be able to define me by my depression. But those who know me, will not find it possible to see it as all that I am.”
“You were never created to live depressed, defeated, guilty, condemned, ashamed or unworthy. You were created to be victorious.”
This article was apart of the #Mentalhealthawarenessweek featured at selfharmUK in May 2015.