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Friday 20 May 2016

Friday Five: Five Things People with Anxiety and Depression Need You To Know

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and, rather ironically, it's coincided with my own rather nasty bout of my old enemy, depression

I've met people who don't believe in depression; they see it as a self-indulgent response to the everyday stresses that life throws at everyone. Well, lucky them.

I've also met many people who have suffered (and I do mean suffered) depression, and made it out again. And I'm one of them. I don't keep it secret as I see nothing in it to be ashamed of. Sometimes I get ill. This will be my third round of treatment in fourteen years, so I am positive that I will make it out this time too. I know how this illness works- and I know how it can be beaten.

Most people know me as an upbeat, optimistic and positive person. There is a reason for this. After the last time, I worked damned hard to protect myself from people and situations that bring me down and drag me dangerously close to the edge of the darkness. I take care of myself; I know my breaking point. I guard my happiness ferociously.

I also know that my depression will never go away- that I'll never be cured, despite the huge gap in years between episodes that require intervention- but I can be vigilant so it doesn't hit me so hard next time. But when it does hit, I know that dealing with it alone is an almost impossible challenge.

So, speaking from a very personal viewpoint, but on behalf of many people, here are five things people with anxiety and depression need you to know.

1. We don't want to worry you.

Please don't be hurt if we don't tell you what's going on, or try to hide it from you. Sometimes we are just trying to deal with it (in the early stages) and need everything to be as normal as possible. Sometimes, we can't bear for you to see us have a meltdown. As bad as it is at the time, the knowledge that someone who loves and cares for you had to watch- helpless- makes the aftermath so much worse. We're trying to spare you.

Sometimes, we don't want to talk about it, or can't because admitting it will make it real. And sometimes, it's because we think no one will believe us. If we let you in on the darkness, it's because we trust and love you absolutely, and trust that you will care for and love us when we are at our most vulnerable. That makes you very special to us.

2. We can't always ask for help.

People going through depressive episodes are a pain in the butt. They can alternate between agitation, hysteria, uncontrollable crying and catatonic states (sometimes all in the same day). They might stop eating. They might stop sleeping. They might look like hell. They know this is upsetting for others. But they can't stop it from happening, and they feel guilty and pathetic about it. "You know where I am if you need me" is a common phrase, but we need to really trust you to be able to ask.

We get through mild bouts of depression by being strong and proactive, and admitting you're not strong enough- especially for someone who prides themselves on being independent- is hard. What is helpful during the bad times are the friends and family who check in every day- a couple of times a day even- to ask how we are at that moment. Sometimes we're fine; sometimes we're not- but we're more likely to feel like we can share with you if you ask us. And if we're having a meltdown and you don't know how to help- ask us what we need.

3. We don't always see it coming.

Like other medical conditions, once someone has been through depression, they can often spot when it's coming again- but not always. For me, the warning signs are losing interest in things I normally enjoy, feeling abnormally tired, becoming withdrawn and anxious about social situations (especially ones where I feel trapped), panic attacks (a massive clue), being oversensitive and emotional, and restlessness. I also get edgy opening mail for some reason- which is probably the most bizarre one!

The first time I had no idea what was happening and it took my Mum shouting at me before I sought help. The second time, I recognised the signs and acted accordingly, getting back on the happy pills in a preemptive move before I reached the meltdown stage. This time... This time, I was so distracted by other things going on in my life that I didn't realise it was happening again until I'd gone so far past meltdown that I didn't know if I was going to get back.

Every year or so, around this time of year in particular, I'd notice when I began feeling and behaving differently and would fight hard to pull myself out of it. It was a regular thing- so I suppose I'd become a little complacent about being able to take care of myself. It's only been in the last week that I've been able to pinpoint how my mood and behaviour had changed over the last couple of months- and how much it had affected others around me. So sometimes we need people to tell us what we can't see for ourselves.

4. We need you to love us extra loud.

Being depressed makes you feel worthless- a burden on others. We know we're hard work and sometimes we can't see why people should even bother with us. That's why the daily check-ins count, the cups of tea, text messages, quick phone calls to ask how our day has been: they show us that we are loved when we can't love ourselves. Listening to us overthink without judging; holding us while we scream and cry from the emotional and physical pain; walking with us as we pace out the agitation; sitting with us in silence while we stare at nothing: that shows us that we don't have to go through it alone.

We know we will get better, that this will pass, but when the fear that we might not has us gripped tight, sometimes the only thing that gets us through is having someone there that loves us.

5. We appreciate everything you do.

We really do. Really, really, really.

Thank you to the friends who text me three or four times a day; thank you to the friends who make me eat; thank you to the friends who let me sit on their sofa and watch TV when I can't be alone; thank you to the friends who distract me with cinema trips and walks; thank you to the friends who let me sleep over when I'm too scared to sleep in my own bed; thank you to the friends who send me silly pictures and messages to make me smile; thank you to the friends who don't get frustrated when I have bad days and do everything they can to get me through the scary times; thank you to the friends who make me feel that I am worthwhile. Just... thank you. For not giving up on me.

Depression sucks. But we will get better: we just need to get the right help and be patient while it works. And, to the ones who sit it out with us, you have our eternal love and gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this post, these 5 points are so vital, your warning signs are so similar to mine, and I hunt my e-mail like every 3 seconds? it's crazy. But I also start grumbling and repeating conversations, this is a big one for me, once I realize what I'm doing, it is emergency time. Depression and anxiety aren't easy but we manage so kudos to all of us, stay strong :)


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