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.