Attempting to get better.

I’ve started to realize that there are some things you can’t change, but many things you can. Yes I can change my outlook on life (however hard it might be it is possible), my attitudes, my willingness to try things, but I can’t change the fact that my brain doesn’t have enough serotonin. Ever since I was diagnosed with depression my boyfriend has seen it as a physical illness, everything is due to an imbalance of chemicals in my brain. However I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as that. I’m not advocating the other extreme either, that it is all ‘in the mind’ and if you sit quietly and think about things eventually you will emerge all better. It’s not something you can ‘just get over’ as some ignorant people appear to believe. It seems to be more a mixture of all three of these positions, at least that’s what I’m finding. Partly it is about getting up off the sofa and actively trying to make myself and my life better. However just that alone is not only extremely challenging, but also doesn’t completely solve the problem. Similarly, just taking antidepressants, which essentially increase serotonin levels in the brain, isn’t enough to help. It is more complex than someone with diabetes injecting themselves with insulin. To recover from a mental illness like depression it requires a physical level of effort, taking medication to improve the production and uptake of serotonin in the brain, it requires effort and willingness to get better and get yourself out of the rut you’re stuck in, and a psychological level of understanding of what is causing the problems and how you can overcome them and think more positively.

So what can I do? Well firstly I can do more than sit here writing about it, although I want to increase awareness I need to help myself too! Of course visiting the doctor. But they tend to palm one off with a course of antidepressants and maybe an offer of a place on a waiting list that is 6 months long for some counseling. And when they don’t work what happens? You get offered a different type of antidepressant and told to come back in three months. So it seems one needs to take it into our own hands, and actively try to help ourselves. Like anything, it helps to start with baby steps. Try just cooking dinner one day, or walking to the shop rather than driving. Then gradually bring they up to saying yes to social events, however much you might not want to. Depression is often a lonely illness. It makes you feel entirely isolated from everyone and everything. It makes you want to crawl under your duvet and never get out. But the trouble is, if you stop doing things with your friends eventually they will stop asking you, and you will feel more lonely. That’s one of the problems with depression, it throws you into a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to break free from. But it is possible to do so. Even if it’s just going out for coffee or a quick walk with the dog, every step matters. This is why I don’t see it solely as a physical illness as my boyfriend does, because there are so many things that I can do to help myself, and yes, I have days where I don’t want to do anything, but on the days where I can manage a short run or a coffee with a friend, it reminds me that I can get better. I can’t help that I don’t have enough serotonin in my brain, but I can choose how I act and what I choose to do to help myself. I’m not saying that it’s anyone’s fault that they get a mental health problem, however much it may feel like it when you’re in the depths of anxiety and depression, but there are ways we can help ourselves. It’s not a ‘just get over it’ response, but a mixture solution, using medication, talking therapies and our own minds, which are more powerful than we might think. And I’m going to be honest, it’s nowhere near as easy as writing this, believe me, but baby steps is the best way forward.

Mental health, what a baffling subject.

It’s a busy time of year at the moment. Everyone has gone back to school, and can’t wait for half term. Those in higher years of education are having deadline after deadline given to them and discovering that getting a job in today’s world is harder than ever before, as companies cut jobs whilst the population continues to grow. Those with families are looking to the Christmas period, dreading the shopping and cooking, getting the house ready to be up to the standard of the in-laws, whilst the younger generations are excited by the approaching party season. So what’s it like for someone with depression at this time of year?

Put bluntly, pretty horrible. Unfortunately those who are suffering from mental illnesses such as depression tend to find themselves with a rather pessimistic outlook on life. In our modern world where everything is documented, seeing others having fun over social media just makes us feel worse, that we should be doing that, that we are wasting our life, etc. So during this season of intense pressure, job and university applications, Christmas budgets and planning, shorter daylight hours and miserable days, the conditions are ideal for depression and anxiety to thrive. They love it when things aren’t bright and sunny for you. Unfortunately, it is difficult to do much to overcome this physically. Autumn and winter do some around every year, and there will always be pressure and budgets. Unsurprisingly, mental illnesses are a mental game. Although there are benefits from some physical activities, such as exercise and socializing, the only way to really tackle a mental illness is to work on your mentality.

Now for those of us who are suffering from mental illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety, if someone tells us to figure it out, or to stop moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves, we can get quite cross. It feels as though there is much more to it than just getting out of bed and turning Jeremy Kyle off. And yes, there is more to it. But for many of us, our own mentality could be one of the biggest factors. Luckily, it is possible to change how we think. (Crazy I know!) As with many physical illnesses, individual needs vary. Those with diabetes will need slightly different amounts of insulin, those with cancer different courses of chemotherapy. For mental illnesses some of us need counseling to aid us to thinking better, some of us medication, and for some both seems to provide the ultimate cure. Even if we need lots of both aspects, and have over a hundred trips to the doctor, for many of us there are other aspects which involve us ourselves to make some effort. You can’t expect a sprained ankle to heal perfectly if you don’t practice the physio you are given. The same with a speech problem, if you don’t practice outside of lessons your progress will be very slow. We can also apply this to mental health problems. If you just go to a counsellor every fortnight and take your tablet every day most likely you will get better. I am in no way saying that these methods can not or do not work. But to see real progress in a reasonable length of time, one must be prepared to put some effort in. This may come in various forms for different people, some may find meditating helpful, for many baking can be therapeutic, while others may take up running. What works for you may take some time to discover. And it may be something completely different to a friend. But hey that’s okay, we’re all unique.

On Monday this week my boyfriend was shocked to hear his lecturer (who teaches in a medical environment, he is studying paramedic science) state that those with depression sit around all day eating pizza and smoking. Of course, Christopher, being my boyfriend, was fully aware that calling this a generalization was an understatement. This is beyond anything I myself have witnessed as someone with a mental illness. If someone in that room was suffering, and according to the statistics that would be about 8 people, hearing that would be worse than all the days they have suffered put together. It is this stigma which is the problem, often even more so than the illness itself. The fact that a professional educating young people, and not just any young people but those who will be at the frontline of our medical services, at a university in Britain, is just absolutely baffling. I am still in shock three days later. Fortunately, the majority of the people in that room will be well educated and aware of mental health problems before this comment, however it is important to understand just how much small remarks such as this can impact our society and ultimately help maintain the stigma so many of us are desperately trying to remove.

So at this time of year, remember to look out for those friends who aren’t attending all the parties, check up on your family’s mental health and maybe even check if that person looking down on the bus wants a chat.

Writing a blog

Hi there,
I blogged a couple of times before but didn’t really get into it. I’m going to give it another try, and thought that today, being World Mental Health Day, would be a good time to start.
I don’t really get blogging, it’s a bit like writing a diary but everyone can see. I’m not sure whether that is just because I am quite a private person, or whether I just don’t think other people care about my life! Most humans are ultimately pretty selfish and engrossed in their own lives so it seems strange that even in our modern world people are still fundamentally nosey and want to know what everyone else is doing.
So to me, the idea of blogging seems rather strange, but for some reason I am determined to give it a go. I’m not really sure why this is (there are many things in my life that I’m not sure of) whether it is because it seems that some other people who also suffer with mental health problems have helped themselves by blogging or because I just fancy a bit of writing, who knows.
So today is World Mental Health Day. In our western culture it is very much stigmatized and the mental health charities present in our society are doing all they can to reduce that. But what is it that has made it be thought of as such a negative thing? If someone tells you that they have diabetes, that doesn’t put you off being friends with them, but if someone said that they had depression or schizophrenia it might. This seems so strange, considering that 1 in 4 of the population of our country are suffering from a mental health problem. That statistic shows that virtually everyone will know someone affected by this, although they may be suffering in silence. So many people don’t feel brave enough to even tell their partner or close family, let alone visit a doctor for a diagnosis or have it openly known in their community that they have a problem. This, quite frankly, is absurd. Why is it okay to break your leg and tell everyone about it, but not okay to have anxiety? What makes obsessive compulsive disorder so different from asthma?
It seems many people (including those suffering!) are scared of mental health problems, but this is often ignorance. There is that stupid saying ‘ignorance is bliss’. Only in reference to your bank balance. It isn’t bliss in terms of mental health. It is only making the situation worse for those of us who are suffering. People need to face mental health problems just as they do physical ones. We all talk about cancer, why not about depression? They both impact one’s whole life and can ultimately kill. It’s time our society sorted itself out and that can only come from those in it. We have to start the conversations, we have to get talking. Make mental health an everyday subject. Make those suffering with a mental illness feel accepted and welcome, just as those with physical illnesses do. Eventually we can make change, we can remove the stigma. But the change has to come from within.

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Anxiety post- mental health awareness week!

So I thought with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK I’d do a post about my experience of anxiety.

When I suffer with bad anxiety it can feel like my head is about to explode. I know this sounds crazy, but I think it’s the best way I can describe what it feels like to be so anxious, so scared and so desperate to feel okay again. This began when I was in year 12, and initially I put it down to exam stress. When the feelings of worry and stress didn’t disappear once the exams were over, I thought maybe it was just how I was made up. As a teenage girl, I thought it best just to keep quiet and hope it was something I would grow out of as I matured and got older.

When I was in my first year of university, having suffered with anxiety since year 12 which then led to depression during year 13, I decided to investigate further. After a bit of googling, and discovering that I’m not as weird as I thought to feel like this (in fact not weird at all but perfectly normal!), I managed to find the courage to take a trip to the doctors. However it is you find the courage to take that step, it is a crucial part of living with and understanding a mental health disorder. Of course, I was fortunate to have a kind, caring and understanding doctor who had experience of dealing with mental health problems. I also have an extremely understanding family and a loving boyfriend.

After making this huge decision to go see the doctor, which, believe me, was really really tough and took a lot of courage and energy, I suddenly realised I wasn’t the only one to be feeling as I was. I discovered an amazing online community for people suffering with mental health problems called Elefriends, which allowed us to support each other through tough times.

The big thing about anxiety is it comes and goes, some days I feel fine. I’m not going to say normal, because there’s no such thing. But some days I feel even, not overly good, not overly bad, just okay. On good days I feel happy, but on bad days I feel down, sad, irritable, tired and anxious. It is difficult for those around me to understand why I’m like this, but the simple answer is I don’t know. Sometimes there are reasons, for example tonight is the evening before an exam, it is ok to feel nervous and anxious. But often I don’t know why I feel anxious, sad, down or whatever. There is usually no specific reason for a bad day, it just happens. But you know what, it’s okay! It’s okay for me to be like this because it’s just part of me, part of my brain that sometimes gets a bit silly and doesn’t quite work right. The best thing is that this is me and it’s just how I am.

First post!

So, hi!

I’m Pippa and this is my blog. I’m new to blogging so bear with (excuse the Miranda reference) if I’m not great to being with!

Depression, well what can I say? It completely engulfs you. It takes over your life. Your life is no longer yours anymore because this big black cloud is constantly hanging over you. Even if you’re out doing something fun that you used to enjoy, it’s there, lurking, waiting to spoil your day. That’s what depression is, a lurker. It hides away at the back of your head, just waiting, waiting until you’re weak, waiting to take you away to that dark place and haunt you. Then it steals you away from your life, the life you used to love, and makes you hate it. Maybe for an hour, sometimes for days.

How do I know this? I’ve been there. I’ve suffered from it. And let me tell you, it’s really not fun. And the worst thing? You feel you have to pretend everything is okay, to the outside world nothing is wrong. You’re not bleeding, you can’t see a broken bone, you don’t look ill. So no one thinks you are. But it is an illness, just one inside your head. It’s taken me an awfully long time to realize and accept this, and only now I have am I able to see what it really is and how little people know about it. So that’s why I’m writing this blog, in an attempt to increase awareness and share my experiences.

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