22 October 2013

Defeating Depression

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If you have ever experienced depression - however serious and to whatever extent - you will know what a cripplingly painful and indescribably lonely illness it is. There is a difference between feeling down in the dumps and having depression. If it lasts a long time, and you feel like you can't cope, then none of these expressions should be tolerated:

"Just snap out of it."
"Everyone gets sad." 
"Cheer up." 
"It's not the end of the world." 
"Other people have it much worse than you." 

All of these display ignorance, and it needs to stop. A lot of people mistake mental illnesses to mean that the person in question is a "psycho" or "crazy" and, due to the negative connotations of these words, they steer well clear of people who have been diagnosed with depression because of the stigma attached - purely because of our ignorance and fear of the complex and varied illness that has been avoided for too long.

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In our society we are not very well educated on the subject matter, despite it affecting 1 in 4 of us. Rates of depression are increasing in the UK, and although there are a number of reasons to suggest why, it is important that those who are lucky enough never to experience it first hand understand and educate themselves if they ever have to support someone who does go through a mental illness.

"I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I'd cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full."
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.

Depression and anxiety are words that have become desensitised in recent years. People say they are depressed if they aren't having a good day, if it's raining, they've spent their pay cheque already, and sometimes it's difficult for us to differentiate between what is real depression and what is just having a bad day.

It is also important to remember that there are physical aspects to suffering with depression, too: 

  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Digestive problems including queasiness, nausea, diarrhea and chronic constipation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Change in appetite or weight* 

Having been a part of an online community since the age of twelve, I have noticed an increasing trend in how 'cool' it is to have a mental illness. Perhaps, if there were more emphasis on the physical aspects of depression in the media, then it would reflect a more accurate picture of what it is like to have a mental illness.

Unlike in Twilight: New Moon, we don't all have an immortal vampire for a boyfriend who is the cause and cure for our issues. I can't deny that I absolutely love the soundtrack in this film, though.
A film that inspired me to write this post was Girl, Interrupted. Although it portrays mental illness in a rather extreme light, the protagonist, Susanna is actually, seemingly relatively normal. A frightening concept for the viewer, especially when we learn that she swallowed a bottle of aspirin to "try and make the shit stop." The film explores how everyone is human, and we are all capable and vulnerable of experiencing mental illness. I have come to realise that we all weigh somewhere on the spectrum, and it is constantly changing. We may be in one place for a long time and then suddenly move up or down, depending on where we are in our lives and what we are going through.

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"Crazy isn't being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It's you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever."
- Girl, Interrupted.

We shouldn't be afraid of other people, when we could, so easily, be going through what they are, too. We are all of the same species. We are all unique, but at the same time, we are all vulnerable to the same afflictions. It could so easily be you, your friend, your sister, your mum, or dad, who suffers with depression.

Before I experienced it myself, my idea of the terror, fear, loneliness and darkness that is depression was so far off the mark that I felt I had to write this post to stress how serious it is to those who are as naive as I was. I would not wish the racing thoughts, guilt, panic attacks and constant worrying on anyone, but I want to urge people to learn more about it. It gets worse before it gets better, but when you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel it is the most glorious greeting of happiness that you just want to shout to the whole world about it.

If you are suffering from a mental illness, you shouldn't feel embarrassed or afraid to talk about it. It shouldn't be something people are put off by. It shouldn't set you apart from other "normal" people. It shouldn't put you in the box of "psycho" or "freak." Those boxes do not exist. While mental illnesses have names, they do not define you as a person. You will always be you, not whatever you have been diagnosed with. But this way of thinking needs to be affirmed by everyone.

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Depression is not a bad mood that you can just snap out of. It does not always have an obvious cause, or root. It does not mean you are going to be depressed forever, or that you are going "crazy." Sometimes, it happens due to stressful events, breakdown in relationships or major changes in one's life, and sometimes it happens for seemingly no reason at all.

What it does mean is that you are human, and that you are alive. You are never alone, no matter how isolated you feel, trapped by the evil thoughts in your head.

Here are a few things I have found that help allay some of the distress in depression and anxiety:

  • It always helps to talk. 
  • Run a bath, relax, focus on your breathing.
  • Meditate.
  • Pray.
  • Write it down.
  • Exercise - go for a walk. Get out of the house. A change of scenery will help, too.
  • Diet - oily fish, brazil nuts, dark chocolate and plenty of fruit and vegetables always help boost my mood.
  • Spend time with friends and family. No matter how much you want to stay inside, on your own, it is so important to carry on with the things you enjoy.  

And, if you need medication to help you get back on track with your life, mentally, then there is nothing wrong with that either. Depression has very real, physical side effects which need to be addressed. Taking medication for your mental illness is as normal and important as it is when taking medication for an upset stomach, throat infection - or any other physical problems.

Just remember, however lonely you feel, you are never alone.

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*Source: 9 Physical Symptoms of Depression
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2 comments

  1. This was a very brave post for you to write, I'm sorry you've struggled with this horrible illness but I do hope that things have improved for you. I hope more people see this post as it's very informative on the issue. There is so mch ignorance surrounding mental illness and the whole 'sadness is beautiful and poetic' that a lot of the young people of today seem to think is just ridiculous. It's not something you want. x

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    1. Thank you, Sophie. I spent a long time debating whether or not to post it but when I did I was glad as it felt like a huge weight has been lifted - I felt like it needed to be done so that I could say my bit about the illness and everything that it brings with it.
      Things have definitely gotten better since I left where I was living for uni, ended certain relationships and met new people, and especially since I established a more secure plan for the future.
      N xo

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