Today is World Mental Health Day, a day where we open our mental health presents – I got a big bag of self loathing AGAIN this year. Seriously, it’s like socks at Christmas. Then cook the mental health turkey but probably won’t have the appetite to eat it and get drunk on the mental health wine- which we all know isn’t a good idea but for a few hours at least allows some of us to block out that nagging black dog.
People are talking a lot about mental health these days, it is slowly but surely creeping into general conversation and we are becoming more aware of just how widespread it is. Of course the age old myths still persist- depressives are always sad, schizophrenics are dangerous, anorexics just need a cheese burger- and it is going to be a long time before they finally go away. But right now, we are talking about it more, and people are being open and “out” about their mental health issues, shouting loudly that they are normal, they are just ill. It is easy to find blogs now talking about the ins and outs of mental health, for people to talk candidly about how depression impacts their life. And as a depressive this blog will be focusing on that angle.
The thing is, and it’s a difficult thing, is that depression is very different for different people. There are scales along a spectrum of depression ranging from mildly depressed to severe- whatever these words actually mean. But there are also odd little things that crop up in people like me with mental health issues. Depression can feature a multitude of secondary symptoms ranging from anger to anxiety and from fear to complete emotional numbness. But there are other elements that may not be so obvious, here are just a few:
Quite simply, phones are bastards. If wasps ever developed the ability to transform in to other objects they would be phones. I hate phones. My landline is constantly unplugged, my mobile set to silent or off. Speaking on the phone might seem the simplest thing to do- you pick it up, hold it to your ear and talk. But that’s not so simple for people like me. I have a genuine difficulty speaking on the phone, if you ring me there is a very good chance I will not answer it. Not because I hate you (I might) but because I just can’t bear the thought of speaking on the phone. I get the urge to hide away, under the covers and throw the phone into the corner of the room as it continues to ring- shouting at me angrily that I MUST PICK IT UP NOW!!11111!!!!1
I can’t though. I hate having to make phone calls, I prefer to send emails or texts. I once had to phone in work sick and it took nearly an hour for me to work up the strength to do it, I paced the streets for that time back and forth unable to do something so simple. And in the end, it was simple, I phoned, I said I was ill, they said take care. But whilst on the phone I had an attack- anxiety, panic, I don’t really know- and I was shaking, scared, breathing erratically whilst talking to a co-worker. I took the day off and was fine for the following days at work. But the phone call was difficult.
Now, I text whenever I can as I still can’t face the phone. It is difficult to truly explain just why it is a challenge, it simply is. I have a real fear, I can’t do it. I need a phone, but I much prefer texting and emails or Facebook messages. Something where I can spend time composing the comment, making sure it is clear and on point. But even then, I say it is easier to do those things- to text, to email etc but being easier does not mean it is easy because…
Any type of communication can be a challenge
Sometimes, someone emails me and its just to confirm something. Maybe it’s to confirm they will meet me at a station to pick me up for a show, but it doesn’t matter because even though it would take seconds to respond to I can’t do it there and then. It takes time. I need time. It’s like I need to process this new thing I have to do. This is not something I planned to do, responding with “Sure, see you then. A” is not something I had planned on writing that day, so I’m not going to respond immediately. I need to step away, distract myself and then come back to it. If it is anything out of the normal routine it throws me completely. I get anxious, I get worried. I just can’t face it. And the more official the e-mail, the longer it will take to respond. It doesn’t matter if the email is “Pay this bill now or we’re sending in Storm Troopers” I am not going to be able to respond until the Storm Troopers are aiming their blaster directly at me and still missing their shot.
Communicating, for someone with mental health issues, can be like climbing Everest. You can’t just decide to walk up Everest. You need to take time, make sure you have the right tools, make sure you have the right health balance.
Even texts can take a while to respond to, even if its just a simple acknowledgement. It means I have to interact with people and sometimes I just can’t. Sometimes my housemate will come into my room for a short chat, nothing major, just “Have you seen this article” and I wont be able to respond coherently. Communicating with others no matter what the medium is hugely draining and takes so much mental energy that after a particularly long email or message it is not uncommon for me to totally shut everything out for several hours and disappear in to my own world.
Writing something like this is different, this is a stream of thought, it’s very much me talking to me and though you might be reading it, this isn’t two way communication. I’m not having to think of responses, I am not unaware of the direction of the discussion. It’s just a rambling stream of consciousness that you happen to have an invite to. But if you wanted to discuss this in detail, or turn it into a conversation I am likely to shut down. And when I shut down I will go in to hiding, this might just be lying in bed which is my personal “safe space” or maybe lounging on the sofa watching Doctor Who which might seem like a dream day for some people- doing nothing sounds great, but here’s the odd thing about that.
Doing nothing is exhausting.
The whole point of relaxing is to try and alleviate stress and anxiety, to spend time doing something simple and just letting the hours pass by. Lying on the sofa watching a movie might seem fairly easy, but it might not be. In these moments you have no real distraction, its just something playing in the background you might not even pay attention to. What’s really happening is I am dwelling on everything. Looking over every conversation and interaction and deciding they must be entirely negative and that I absolutely have pissed someone off and I’m a horrible person for that.
Doing nothing means my brain is over working. It means that I have time to analyse every little thing. I have spent hours lying in bed feeling guilty over a conversation I have had years ago with someone who probably doesn’t even remember I exist let alone the conversation itself.
I remember an incident from about 6 years ago where I was in a costume for work and I remember some random guy saying “nice costume”. I assumed he said it sarcastically and so snapped back at this rude bully. But actually, he probably just meant nice costume! And even though he probably wouldn’t remember the incident if you tortured his entire family, I still do and I feel guilty and remorseful about it.
And that plays on my mind, in those quiet moments when I am hiding away for my own health. Even now, writing about it I am fighting the urge to dive under the duvet and cower away. The fact that I can’t face doing anything at all sometimes, means I am left to my own mental devices which in turn makes everything so much worse. Quite simply, being by myself and “relaxing” means that every incident in my life is replayed, and given a new negative spin, when in fact most of the people I am spending time stressing and worrying over probably haven’t given me a second thought in years, and some may even have forgot I existed in the first place.
My other pastime is cowering under the duvet looking through “hilarious” images online. I once got to the end of The Endless Pic Dump. This is a distraction, nothing more. It isn’t productive and even if well I probably wouldn’t find these funny pictures that funny, but it is something that does allow me to disappear and provides some sort of distraction. I am hiding, I am occupying myself, and I am alone. Surely this is the best thing to help me? To relax? Being by myself is something II have said is my go to way of dealing with my depression, but…
There’s a cruel mix of wanting to be alone and with people simultaneously
Here’s an odd one. I know it my seem like I just want to be left alone- I have basically spent the entire post so far saying STAY AWAY FROM ME. But that isn’t really what I’m saying, I’m saying these situations can cause me stress and anxiety, it does not mean I want to cut off all human contact. I am quite active on Facebook, it is easier to communicate in Social Media form, and I blog quite a bit. If someone invites me to a party I will always tick “maybe” going, because I want to but then I don’t know how I will feel when it comes to it. And actually, I DO want to spend time with friends, I DO want to go out and socialise and though there have been times I’ve had to leave a party early due to health reasons, most of the time I’m the one staying till the bitter end. How can I do that and still be ill?
Well simply, I want to be around people but I can’t always deal with being around people.
How is that for some serious contradiction? I don’t know quite how to explain it, when my housemate is out and I am alone in the flat I get lonely. Even if she only spends her time in her room and I in mine, if we do not interact in anyway for a day it still feels better than the flat being empty. Having someone around that is comforting, that is helpful. And I quite like being around friends, if I am on a night out I might well spend much of the time sitting quietly by myself just acting as an outside observer, but able to interject if needed. Most of my friends know about my health so will know if I sit silently for a while it is nothing personal. Being out and around people can be therapeutic and it is always good to see a friend. But I might not be able to interact that much and to someone who doesn’t know me or my health I could seem quite rude. Which is why I feel a bit of anxiety if I only know a handful of people in the group.
This isn’t to say I see my friends simply as some way to distract my own health, that’s not it. I do enjoy being around people, but I might not always show it.
And I do enjoy going out- it is a real challenge to get to that point, the entire routine that has to go into it including shower, dressing, getting a bus, meeting people etc all of this is seriously draining and many times I have stumbled at the first hurdle and had to bow out of a night whilst its still day.
The thing with depression is it is a big old pile of contradictions, this could be why it is so hard to treat for some of us, and you might in the same moment feel a variety of ambivalent emotions leading to a shut down because you just don’t know how to interpret them. So on World Mental Health Day, lets take a moment to look at all the ways in which depression and other mental health issues can impact someone and in doing so realise that there is no one size fits all and that at times you may get frustrated with your depressed friend because they are unable to explain how they are feeling even to themselves. And being frustrated is fine, they likely are too, but try not to show that frustration if you can help it. You can be frustrated and still be understanding and sympathetic. Depression is such a myriad of emotions and lack of emotion that it is entirely self contradictory and near impossible to explain clearly. Especially when this entire post relates to me and another depressive may disagree with everything I have said. When you have met one person with depression then you have met one person with depression.