Connections and Conversations

Connections and Conversations – the End of the Week

Thank you to everyone who tuned in for our Connections and Conversations week!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Over the course of the week I’ve tried to give you a snippet of things to come.  Pills and Blades is very much a shallow overview of the darkest moments of my journey while Aspects of Choice and Positivity start to open the door to supporting a depressed or anxious person.  There is much more on the way!

The Founder’s Favourite

Looking back at the week, I think my favourite part of the week was having the privilege of interviewing Jeremy.  Such an open and honest testimony of his daily struggles and how he copes.  I’ll be honest, I was a little blown away by his openness.  It was a great conversation to have.

If you liked reading Jeremy’s interview and want to hear the original, I will be releasing the recorded interview on my Patreon site as a podcast for you to listen to.  Check out the page for more details!

Future Content and Conversations

Over the coming months I shall be delving into different approaches to supporting people going through depression and anxiety – listening to them, talking to them and some of the things to say so that you can help them along.  I shall also be unpacking the taboo topic of self-harm, bringing you a greater understanding of why people turn to those sorts of coping mechanisms.  Stay tuned for more!

Please Support Us

With so many people struggling with depression and anxiety and so many others trying to help them, we really want to shine a light as far as possible to support these people.  Unfortunately we are only a couple of people and we need your help to do it.  There are a number of ways you can do so, take a look…

Sharing our content is one of the most important ways for us.  Whether it’s over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email, please share our posts far and wide.  If you know someone who is struggling, take a little light to them and give them access to our content so that they might find encouragement or assistance.

Our forums are now up and running so please also join those. Connect with others walking similar roads, share experiences and help us form a community that can support each other through even the darkest, blackest of nights.

If you would like to support us in a monetary way, check out our Patreon and PayPal links to view the benefits of doing so. We would really value your support as it would enable us to keep this site running so that people can be helped.

Those are just a couple of different ways that you can support us.  Both Cheryl and I and the others who are connecting through this site really appreciate your support in whatever form you can take to help us.

Take care, everyone!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Jeremy – The Interview

Jeremy – The Interview

Can you remember the first time that we met?

First time we met would have been September the 9th 2005, I was your youth pastor at the International Church of Prague.  I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 22-year-old – actually, I was turning 23 that day – and I had just arrived in Europe to do two years of mission work and youth-pastoring at the International Church.

You live with depression, is that correct?  Do you have any other conditions?

That’s correct.  No, it’s mostly depression…I mean there are certain accompanying factors that I have, my depression can manifest itself in different ways.  It can lead to anxiety as well but mainly depression.

How long have you lived with it?

I’ve lived with it since I was 14 years old, so 20 almost 21 years and I’ve been undergoing treatment for it since I was 28, so for almost six years now.

In general, what does a good day look like for you?

On a good day…it really looks like it would for most other people.  I’m full of energy, I’m relatively full of confidence, I’m able to get up and function without any real great difficulty.  I’m able to interact with other people in a way that’s confident and I feel like I’m able to approach people from a position of equal footing.

What about a typical bad day, how does that differ?

A bad day would be when I get stuck in a repeated loop of negative thinking.  My energy level and my motivation to do things – things as simple as getting out of bed, taking a shower or putting on deodorant – completely crash.  I’m not able to break myself out of that cycle of negative thinking so just a lot of negative internal self-talk which manifests itself externally.  So no ability in my ability to interact with other people, no confidence; no real…I have no real sense of my own self-worth or my own dignity as a human being so, if I was to sum it up, I feel like I approach others from a position of being somehow lesser or inferior.

On a daily basis, do you find you have more good days than bad days or are they fairly even?

I do, I actually take copious amounts, sometimes even jaw-dropping amounts, of anti-depressant medication.  I have shocked medical professionals with my dosages – of course, all under a doctor’s recommendation.  I take Effexor and I started off on the standard 10-25mg dosage five years ago and they have gradually increased that until I reached a point where I was having a majority of good days.  Now that’s 225mg per day.  

Back when it started, how did that affect you?  Were there any particular struggles?

It would have been the summer after my grade nine year in high school – so I would have been 13-14 years old, somewhere in that neighbourhood – and really I just remember this incredible feeling that my world was collapsing around me for no apparent reason.  I remember that my friendships suddenly felt as though I was no longer valuable, no longer wanted and I didn’t understand why.  Really the big challenge that I didn’t learn how to overcome for years, that plagued me especially in those early years, was just this feeling of being absolutely worthless and unwanted.  That was really the first sign of depression that I noticed, the first major roadblock, was relationships.

Were there any coping mechanisms that you might have turned to?

Well, I think that – in terms of healthy coping mechanisms – in my university years, so really 4-5 years after it actually started, the best coping mechanism that I found – not even really realising that I had a diagnosable mental health disorder; this was the early 2000’s so mental health and especially depression in men was not something that was really talked about as, in a very sexist sense, depression was a woman’s problem – I coped very well with supportive friendships.  That would have been a coping mechanism.  Sort of on the more negative side, I have delved too deeply into things like video gaming to the point where my social life could disappear.  Lots of sitting in front of a television or computer screen or video games console.  Also sleep: I am one of those depressed people who can, if I allow myself, spend hours or even days at a time in bed.

What about some of the worst moments, what were some of the coping mechanisms for the darker moments?

There was one moment where, when I was – well there have been a couple that I remember that I think of as absolute low points – one of them would have been probably in my grade 10 or grade 11 year.  Things were getting progressively worse and I remember sitting on the edge of my bed thinking I could end it right there.  I was a young man so I had a number of knives around my room and I knew that my parents had gone to sleep so I had a period of some 8 hours or more before anyone would even think about coming in to check on me and I could just end my life.  I was prevented, at that time, by…I called it the Hope Without a Voice, just this feeling that somehow, somewhere along the line things would get better, that it wouldn’t always be like this and I carried on.

Another really dark moment – and one of the big triggers I’ve found for my depression throughout the years – is loneliness so, at times when I had a good social circle and a good circle of friends, I was able to cope fairly well.  On the opposite, when that was lacking, I was experiencing my primary depressive trigger every single day.  I spent a period of 11 months living out on the west coast of my country as opposed to the east coast which, in Canada, makes a significant difference as they’re about 5000km apart – I’m actually closer, right now, to you in London than I am to Vancouver on the other side of my country.  So I spent 11 months out on the west coast of Canada and I had almost no friends.  I was part of a programme, initially, that was a good social contact but that programme ended at the end of the summer that I moved out for so I was essentially on my own in a new place.  I remember one very dark night thinking that if I didn’t have a job that I could just disappear and nobody would even care, no one would think to look for me because my family at home didn’t expect to see me because I was 5000km away and there was nobody in my immediate vicinity who even cared enough to wonder where I’d gone if I disappeared.  That was…yeah, those were a couple of really dark moments that really spring to mind.

If there was one thing you could say to someone going through depression, whether it’s encouragement or a word of advice, what would it be?

I would say hold on.  You are not what you feel that you are.  Depression is a terrible, terrible liar and, by that, I mean it’s a liar that tells you terrible things – it’s actually a very good liar in the respect that it makes you believe them.  You are more loved than you could ever hope for.  I have never met a person in my travels – I’ve been a youth pastor, I’ve been a youth worker, I’ve done a whole lot of different things and I’ve met a whole lot of different people – and I have never met somebody that wasn’t wonderful and capable and deserving of love in their own way and a lot of them struggle with seeing that.  You just hold on.  The biggest struggle that you have as a depressed person – at least from my perspective – is keep reaching out to people.  That’s the hardest thing in the world when you’re in the middle of a dark place but you just keep reaching out to people and when you find someone you can trust, you let them know you need help, you let them know you need support because someone will help you.  

On the flip-side, if you were going to talk to somebody who has no experience of it but they’re trying to support someone going through it…if you knew then what you know now, what would you say to someone trying to support, what would your key piece of advice be?

I would say that your persistence can save a life.  Just because a person with depression may hesitate when you offer them your support or  your friendship or your time doesn’t mean they don’t want it, doesn’t mean they don’t need it.  So if you’re trying to connect with somebody who is depressed, if they don’t seem responsive, don’t give up on them just because they don’t seem originally interested because I can guarantee you they are.  They’re going through a process of trying to figure out if you really are somebody they can depend on.  A person with depression has often faced so much disappointment with inconsistency that it’s much easier to reject offers of friendship than it is to accept them because there’s always that fear that that person is eventually going to walk away.  So you keep trying and you keep reaching out to that person.  Don’t give up on them because they do need you.

If you wanted to talk to Jeremy about his condition or ask him any questions, he has given me permission to link you with his Facebook account.  You can contact him here.

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Pills and Blades

Last week I told you the beginnings of my journey and how my walk with depression, anxiety and insomnia started.  I also launched the first part of the Inside My Head series, so please check that out as well to see how my condition affects me.

Today, I’d like to take you for a little walk down another couple of roads I travelled.  This post does touch on the topic of self-harm so be aware that there is a potential trigger involved.  As for the post, it’s nothing too fancy, just the overview.  Let’s walk.

Pills

Very early on in my journey, not long after I eventually went to see the doctor, I was medicated for my condition.  It’s one of the treatments for depression, usually coupled with some form of therapy, whether that’s psychotherapy or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).  If you ask around, I’m sure you’ll find that quite a few of the people you know take medication to manage their condition.

So as I said, I’m medicated for it.  It’s been a rocky and arduous journey, my walk with the medication, because it’s a constant struggle of trial and error.  Even as I write this to you now, ten months or so down the line, my medication is being changed because it’s not as effective as it could be.

In truth: there is no one size fits all.

From what the doctors have told me, medication is a way of stabilising the condition.  Whether it’s a chemical imbalance, environmental factors or other stressors that are causing the depression, medication is the quick fix designed to put you in a better place, better able to cope with life.  There are many different forms of this medication and there is not one that is better than the others.  Because everyone is so different, it can take a while for you to find the right medication for you.  As I said: I’m still trying.

Despite some of the stigma attached to medication, however, there is nothing wrong with it.  I admit unashamedly that I need the medication to cope.  As I am being stepped off the old one ready for the new one, I am struggling.  I do need it.  Some people take it for life.  You might not, I might not, but some have to.  There is nothing wrong with it.  Nothing at all.

Blades

As far as some of the problems depressed people can end up in, alcoholism, substance abuse and self-harm are becoming more common.  Thankfully I never experienced the first two but self-harm did become a problem quite early on in my journey.  Now, I’m not going to say too much about it in this post because I intend to do a series on self-harm later on, so stay tuned for the full untapping of that later.  However, I shall give you the overview.

Self-harm, for me, came down to three things:

  1. Self-hatred
  2. A way of feeling
  3. A distraction technique

To clarify: everyone’s situation is different, so other people might have other reasons but these were the three main ones for me.  Let me expand upon them a little for you.

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Self-hatred – I guess this is possibly the easiest for you to get your head round.  When I was falling into that black spiral, I would look at how I had become and hate it.  I was constantly berating myself for not being able to cope as I had always been able to cope before.  Part of that is where you don’t always think of depression as a mental illness, you simply expect yourself to be able to cope.  So, naturally, that constant mental berating turned into self-harm, a physical way of punishing myself for what I was going through.

A Way of Feeling – OK, this one is a little trickier.  Some of you might have experienced this but bear with me.  When I am caught in a depressive spiral where my mood is dropping like a stone, thoughts getting blacker by the minute, I find myself in a void.  There is no emotion, there is no light and there is no feeling at all.  It’s like a total numbness that envelopes me.  So you try the comedy films, you try the thrillers or whatever else in an attempt to feel because you want to feel.  Trapped in that numb void, you become desperate.  Self-harm breaks that void.  Inflicting pain is a 100% tried and tested, successful way of making yourself feel.  So it helped me feel.

A Distraction Technique – this one relates more to the anxiety side of my condition.  See, when I was having anxiety attacks on a regular basis, I needed something to break me out of the cycle that I could focus on.  Video games, films, music, all of those were tried but didn’t do quite enough to break the cycle.  Inflicting pain, however, did.  Imagine for a moment you have a blinding headache that won’t go away.  As you’re walking, you stub your toe hard.  Suddenly your headache is forgotten as you nurse your toe.  A quick fix but effective.

As I said, these are three reasons that attached themselves to my condition, they may be different for others.  I shall be unpacking them more in my series on Self-Harm, so stay tuned for that.

Pills and Blades

So there you have it, two of the main factors embedded within my depression.  The medication is still an ongoing process to find the one that works for me but I’m confident I will find it someday.  As for self-harm, it’s dormant for now.  The thoughts come whenever I spiral but I’m in a position now where I can push them aside and use other, better, less harmful techniques.  It’s an ongoing journey, however.

But I shall continue to walk it.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Inside My Head – Part 2 – Trapped

Welcome to the second part of the Inside My Head series!  Last week we looked at worry and doubt and how that affects me daily.  Today, I’m going to talk to you a little about feeling trapped, which is often how I feel.  If you want a bit more information, you can always check out my journey as well.

Trapped Inside My Head

“Look closely.  No, not at my face.  That’s the mask.  No, look at the eyes.  That’s it.  Don’t just look at them, though: look deeper.  Past the tiredness, there’s almost another shield.  That’s it, look deeper.  Can you see him?  The man trapped behind the cold steel of the mask.  He is there, screaming for help.  But you can’t hear him, can you?  You can’t really see him either.  He’s hidden behind the mask.  He’s real though.  Very real.  And he’s trapped inside my head.”

I wrote that quote back in September 2016 while trying to journal how I was feeling.  Back then I thought it was the best way to describe how I felt and, looking at it today, I think I agree.  It sums it up well.

I’ve already told you about masks and how they can become a big part of someone’s life.  Well, behind every mask there is the person going through whatever life is throwing at them and, like me, they’re not always coping as well as their face might suggest.

Inside my head, behind the pristine and polished mask, is a very overactive brain.  Thoughts, both good and bad, assail me on a daily basis and make it almost impossible for me to switch off.  It’s part of the cause of my insomnia, as I find it hard to turn off for the night.  Those thoughts cascade through my head, constantly clamouring for attention, slowly crushing me.  The negative ones, particularly, have a strong impact on my mind, almost always trying to push me down.  It’s hard to shut them out, particularly when you’re trapped in the middle of them.  They are loud, large and always there.  Always.

Imagine…

“Imagine for a moment that you’re in a room.  It’s quite a large room with many things to look at: paintings, photos, articles, statues and other objects of interest.  Perhaps it is like a museum of some kind, with everything there part of a display about someone’s life.  A picture of a house.  A statue of a childhood friend.  A model of their first bike or guitar.  A family portrait.  Everything tells that person’s story.  

Now put a person into that room.  And another.  And another.  Keep going.  Continue adding people until the room is full.  They fill the room, jostling for space and you soon find yourself pressed into the crowd with no room to yourself.  You shout for them to quieten down but no one can hear you.  You scream for them to go away, to leave you to examine the exhibit in peace but they don’t move.  It’s overcrowded.  It’s noisy.  And it’s chaos.”

Another extract from my attempts to journal how I was feeling.  In my mind there are thousands of objects, things we would call memories.  The people I talk about are the thoughts that assail me.  Whatever I’m thinking of, thoughts spark off it and get louder and louder and more and more crowded.  It’s difficult to quieten them, which can prove problematic.  Pressed into the crowd of thoughts as I am, it often makes it hard for me to get out of my head and enjoy what I’m doing at the time.

Am I Alone in This?

From chatting with others who go through similar experiences, it seems to be a recurring problem.  So overwhelmed by thoughts, it’s hard to find enjoyment in things because you’re constantly worrying or doubting or fearful.  Those thoughts sap that enjoyment and, consequently, leech the desire to do anything.  It plays a big part in why I ended up isolating myself, working hand-in-hand with the choices I mention in Aspects of Choice.

On the whole, I frequently feel trapped in my own head.

Self-Worth

That concludes this part of Inside My Head.  In part 3, I take my first look at self-worth.  Really, you shouldn’t be surprised by now that I’ve struggled with that, but if you are then you may want to take a look.  I did, however, feel it was too big a topic to cover in one post, therefore I’ve split it into two parts: part 3 of Inside My Head and part 4.  Why not check them out?

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Aspects of Choice

Choice

Choice as a whole can be a tricky subject for people to tackle.  One of the common early beliefs surrounding depression was the mistaken idea that someone could “just snap out of it” – something we know is not true.  It gave depression a certain element of choice to it, implying that people could choose not to be depressed.  Let me say one definitive statement about this:

This is not the case.

If it was as easy as simply choosing to snap out of it, I’m sure the vast majority of depressed people would do just that.  Unfortunately for us, there is no way to shrug it off and go about living as though we are not depressed.  It takes a lot of work.  That, however, is a topic for another day.  Let’s focus on the different aspects of choice that depressed people have and see where that takes us, shall we?

Shutting Yourself Away

I think, for me, this was one of the big ones that people would use to try and emphasise a modicum of choice onto me.  When my depression first hit, it hit really hard.  My appetite declined to the point of almost not eating, my sleep was heavily disrupted, averaging 2-3 hours a night and I got to a stage where I stopped going out except for work.  Social gatherings, meeting friends, usual events or my usual haunts became things of the past and it was hard for me to motivate myself to get to them.

One of the first things some of my friends started telling me was that I was choosing to shut myself away.  As you can imagine, my first reaction was to disagree with them wholeheartedly.  After some consideration, however, my views changed.

Yes, I was choosing.

But not the way they thought.

Living alone and independently as I do, I knew I had to continue going to work.  Even when I felt lethargic with barely enough motivation to get myself out of bed in the morning, work had to be my main priority.  To work is to earn, to earn is to afford and to afford is to live.  Makes sense, right?  Yeah, it did to me too.  So, with a restricted and rather finite amount of energy to put into my daily living, I started prioritising what I was going to put my energy into.  No surprise, work came out on top.

Committing eight hours a day, five days a week to something is a serious commitment.  Understandably it takes a considerable amount of energy to motivate yourself to attend an obligation of that magnitude, especially on your bad days.  Suffice it to say, I had little energy leftover to channel into other things such as those social gatherings or one-to-one meetings.

In short, yes I was choosing.  I was consciously choosing what took priority.  Some might argue that work is a necessity and therefore you have little choice in the matter but still, I chose to put work first.  That meant other interests dropped off very rapidly.

But I was still choosing.

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You Are In Control

Control.  Sometimes I feel like it’s an illusion; a shadow on the wall.  It’s unfortunately the one thing that people seem to come back to.  Whether it’s alcoholism, substance abuse or self-harm that you might get into, the one underlying principle that people always come back to is that you are in control.

But are you?

During my journey, as you shall see, I went to some very dark, very low places.  Self-harm was one of those places, again as you shall find out.  I won’t go too far into this as I plan on doing a series on self-harm a little later on (so stay tuned for that) but, in a nutshell, there was very little control over it.

One thing people always say was: “It was your hand that picked up the blade, you’re in control, you’re responsible.”  Well, yes…I was responsible.  There is marked difference, however, between responsibility and control.  For someone going through that situation – and everyone’s situation is different – it can feel as though the control is stripped away.  For some it’s an addiction, for some it’s desperation.  For me, in the place that I was in, it was a last resort mechanism that actually proved to be an effective quick fix.  Not a good quick fix, admittedly, but it worked.

But I was choosing.

Yes, I freely admit that I was choosing.  See, in such a dark, black void there were two prominent thoughts going through my head: self-harm and suicide.  Underpinning both of them was the strong desire to simply make it stop.  In my mind I knew suicide wasn’t a good option, so I turned to the other one, the self-harm.

Let me say that again: I made a conscious choice to turn to self-harm instead of suicide.

Yes, I was responsible.

No, I had little control over it.

Yes, I chose to self-harm.

But wouldn’t you say it was far better than the alternative?

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Positivity

The Power of Positivity

It’s something we hear a lot about, don’t we?  The power of positivity and all the wonders it can do for us.  Are you having a bad day?  Don’t worry, just be positive!  Change your outlook on life and it can lead to great things.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Many of my therapists have said that positivity is just one of the stepping stones for a full or partial recovery.  Speaking as a depressed person, I’d like to tell you that this is a lot harder said than done!  With a brain full of negativity, being positive takes considerable energy and willpower that you just might not have.  Moreover, it takes time to change your outlook, particularly if you’re stuck in a negative cycle.  Time and energy, energy that you don’t always have.

In my own journey, I find it very hard to be positive.  There are plenty of days when I feel that the darkness will never end.  The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off.  Whether it’s the depression talking or a part of my genetic makeup, being positive is just something I don’t seem wired to do.

Being positive is just so hard

Through Grey-Tinted Glasses

Imagine for a moment you’re looking at a beautiful countryside scene.  Brilliant blue skies, a few fluffy white clouds, the lush green leaves of the trees swaying in the breeze, the yellow sun in the sky and a field of red flowers reaching towards the sun.  Sounds lovely and picturesque, doesn’t it?

Now take all the colour out.

That’s right, imagine that you’re colourblind.  You’re looking at exactly the same view but everything is different shades of grey.  No pretty colours, just grey.

In my head, this is what it’s like for a depressed person to try and be positive.  Beside you are people telling you about the wonderful myriad of colours swirling around them but you can’t see it.  It’s as if you have grey-tinted glasses draining all the colour out of the world, leaving it that bleak, dark place that lacks any form of positivity.  That is the challenge that I and so many others face daily.  The positives are there, we just can’t see them.

Now, I’ve got nothing against colourblind people, don’t get me wrong, it’s just the best example I can think of to describe how I feel.  It really is as if someone has fixed those grey-tinted glasses to your face and you can’t get them off no matter how hard you try.  I mention this because someone was once telling me to be positive and, when I said that I try but positive thoughts just slide off, that person told me that I wasn’t letting them in.  It was as though I had a choice in the matter.  The way I see it, it’s part of my wiring.

The Better of Two Negatives

Paraphrasing the lesser of two evils a little bit, I think the better of two negatives is the best way to describe my outlook on life.  Stuck with my obscured view of the world, the one without those positives around me, I often feel as though I’m going through the motions in life and my motivation comes from the lesser of two negatives.  I know some might argue that that, in itself, is a form of positivity but they really do feel like negatives to me.

I know that seems bleak but sometimes I think it’s the only way I’ve made it through.  I try and be positive – I really do – but sometimes it takes all my energy just to hold on.  My friends keep telling me that I will get there, that I’ll make it, that I’ll come out of the darkness.  Sometimes I believe them.

Isn’t that positivity?

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Inside My Head – Part 1 – Worry and Doubt

Welcome to the first instalment of my Inside My Head series!  In this series, I will take you into my mind so you can see how depression, anxiety and insomnia affect me on a daily basis.  

Worry

Worry and I are old friends.  He would tell you that he is my favourite visitor, as he frequently pops in to see how I’m doing.  It doesn’t matter what kind of situation I’m thinking of or what kind of day I’m on, worry can turn it from a molehill into a mountain.  He also likes to drag people he knows are important to me and start spouting worst-case scenarios concerning them.  It doesn’t matter who they are, what they do or anything, I can find worries.

How many different things can you think of that you might worry about?  Money?  Family?  Your job?  All quite big things, right?  Now try and think of some of the little things.  Do you find you worry about them much?  Unfortunately it’s a strong trait of my anxiety that I can worry about the little things just as much as I worry about the big things.  I reckon it’s part of who I am.

Everyone worries.  Everyone.  Worry is a normal part of life.  When that worry starts to control you, though, that’s when it becomes a problem.  Over the past ten months, I’ve lost count of how many situations I’ve deliberately avoided out of worry.  It eats away at you, picking away at the bedrock until you start to doubt.

And that brings me nicely to the flipside of this couple.

Doubt

No matter what Worry might tell you, Doubt is actually my favourite of the duo.  She’s always there, hiding in the shadows, whispering in my ear, telling me that she is the only voice that speaks any truth.  Whatever good thoughts or positivity goes through my mind, she can take it and turn it into something nasty and venomous.  It’s almost as if she goes through my mind with a fine-toothed comb looking for things she can torment me with.

Out of all the things that tumble through my head, doubt is also the hardest for me to shut out.  For every word that someone says, she will be trying to convince me that they don’t mean it, that they’re not really interested or whatever else she can use.  Occasionally I do have moments of clarity surrounding her – more so nowadays than before – and I realise that what she’s saying isn’t true.  Most days, however, I find it hard to resist her subtle whispering.

In truth, I think doubt is one of the reasons I put so much time and stock into my mask.  Thanks to doubt clawing at me, I have a tendency to shut people out, keeping them at arm’s length so I can make sure they don’t prove to be false.  It doesn’t always work, believe me, and untangling it all can almost prove to be too much work.

Thanks to Doubt, though, I always find actions speak louder than words.  As clichéd as the comment might be, you can’t really go wrong with actions.  Words can get picked apart in the corner of my mind until there is nothing left of them.  Actions, however, stick.  I remember them.  I’m more inclined to remember what you’ve done to/for me than what you have said to me.

As an example, I was having a really dark dip and one of my friends decided she was going to drive from the other side of the city near the middle of the night to come and bring me a McDonalds because she knew I hadn’t eaten that day.  Things like that tend to stick in my mind.  Instead of simply telling me she was there for me, she took time out to come and do something nice for me to help me.

Hopefully doubt will become more manageable over time.  Even now, I still struggle with it.  Perhaps it’s always there.  Who knows?

Stay Tuned

In the next instalment of this series, I take you further into my head with a look at how I can feel trapped inside my own head.  It’s not pleasant, but sometimes it’s what’s got to be said.  So why not check it out?  Alternatively, check out some of our other series to see what else we get up to!  You never know, there may be something you like, so give it a go!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Masks and Masquerades

Masks

Everyone wears a mask.  Did you know that?  Think of ten people you know and I guarantee you will have seen every one of them wear a mask at some stage.

I’m not talking about masks that you use for dressing up.  No, these masks look like their real faces but with a twist: they hide what’s inside.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  It’s the “I’m fine” in response to the “how are you?” and the general appearance of wellness given off.  Everyone does it.  It’s a trap that we all fall into.

Think back for a moment at some of the encounters you’ve had today.  How many times have you put a front on, no matter how small?  Perhaps you brushed off the “how are you” with the “I’m fine” or maybe you forced a smile when all you wanted to do was cry.  There are hundreds and thousands of other possibilities for other types of masks that you might have put on but I can guarantee you’ll have put at least one on today.  Possibly more.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with putting on a mask.  As I’ve said, we all do it.  Some do it better than others.  Many of us are experts.  A select few of us are even masters at it.

I like to think I’m in the last category.

My Mask

Those who know me would describe me as cheerful, bubbly, always ready to tell a joke.  Admittedly the jokes are awful – think dad jokes but worse – but I can be funny sometimes.  I’m frequently described as a positive person and I’ve been told I’m always smiling.

What if I told you it was a mask?

Inside, I rarely feel any of those things.  I don’t often find things funny, I’m almost always thinking negatively and I often find I’m nowhere near bubbly.  It’s all part of the front that I put on for other people to see.  What they associate with me is what they see when they see me or talk to me.

Over the years I have perfected my mask.  Caring for it, crafting it slowly, I’ve done my best to ensure it is flawless.  The persona that people know as me, the front they are greeted with, is put up so people don’t know how I’m truly feeling.  I have to be honest: it works really really well.  In the past I have walked into places with my full mask on, a really black day going through my head, and not a single person has noticed that anything is amiss.  One person has told me I am an incredible actor because I can give that appearance of complete wellness and cheerfulness while completely breaking inside.  Oddly, I pride myself on it.

Masks and Depression

If you know someone with depression, you may have noticed they put a mask on.  They don’t talk about what’s inside, shutting people out with that all-too-simple “I’m fine”.  It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re their spouse, their family or their friends, they might still give you the mask.  But why?  Surely it just leads to upset?  I’ve heard a few stories that suggest masks do cause upset but let me explain them to you.  Hopefully you will understand why we put them on.  I shall start with a question…

How do you explain to someone what is going on when you don’t even understand it yourself?

Explaining depression, especially to someone who does not have it, is difficult.  If you’re in a particularly dark period of depression it becomes even harder.  Putting on that mask, quite simply, makes it easier.  You can hide behind the mask and people won’t ask you if you’re ok.  You don’t have to worry about not being able to find the words to explain it or the fear that they just won’t get it.  Behind your mask, you can seem alright.  Your mask is a shield.

Another reason people often use masks is as a coping strategy.  At least, that’s how I use it.  In my eyes, if I can convince you that I’m ok, that I’m not secretly breaking inside then perhaps I can convince myself.  Really it’s all smoke and mirrors, a little trick of the mind but it’s effective.  In situations where I think I have no choice but to be ok, I am more often than not ok.  Not great, admittedly, but ok.  Often it works.  Not always.

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The Beginning

Black Hole

Officially it started in August.  Before that…I don’t know.  I’ve felt parts of it for years and secretly I’ve struggled.  I guess you try and trick yourself into believing everything is ok so you can cope, right?  I think I did.

So, back in August I knew something was wrong.  Those subtle parts I’d been feeling for years had all suddenly come together and were starting to overwhelm me.  I knew something was wrong but I could not have explained it properly to anyone.  How do you explain the feeling of having a black hole inside of you, sucking all the emotion and energy and enthusiasm out of you?  Words only go so far.  Either way, I knew something was wrong.  Very wrong.  Knowing, however, and doing something about it are two very different things…

I vividly remember pacing up and down the hallway, trying to put my feelings into words.  My stomach was churning, my chest was tight and I was very breathless.  At first I thought I was having a panic attack but I’d never had one before, as far as I knew.  I paced and paced, mobile in my hand, and eventually called the one person I knew could help me.

My Dad.

My Dad is brilliant.  One of my strongest supports.  I know that I can turn to him when I’m stuck and he will patiently sit there and help me work it out.  Whether it’s IT support, a soundboard or someone who will help me put puzzle pieces together, he does what he can to help me.  One of his biggest plus points is his ability to make it look like he’s not worried.  I can tell him anything and meet that calmness that says he’ll try and fix it no matter what.  I don’t know whether he realises this.  That said, I phoned him.

The explanation was hard.  As I said: how do you explain a black hole inside of you.  I start by saying I feel down.  Not the sort of down where you’re having a bad day but one that’s deeper.  Thoughts tumble through my head like an avalanche and I’m not sleeping well.  I’m finding I hate myself.  Other feelings, hard to describe, clouding my mind and adding to the cacophony.  Too many.

Dad’s advice was simple: visit the doctor.  Stupidly, I didn’t.

A few days later, someone else noticed something was wrong.  I don’t know how but she did.  My mask had slipped and someone had seen the darkness behind it.  Unflinching, she looked for a moment and asked if I was ok.  Admittedly, the answer I gave wasn’t completely honest.  Still, it prompted me to book in with the doctor and I got the confirmation of my suspicions.

I have depression, anxiety and insomnia.

At that point I didn’t know much about it.  I’d heard the words and I have a few friends who have those labels with them but I didn’t know much.  As the doctor gave me that diagnosis, pieces started to click into place and with those pieces came understanding.  Unfortunately that understanding also brought a plethora of questions to mind that, some of which I still don’t have answers to.  I remember feeling scared, realising what my mind was and still is capable of.  Sometimes I remember that feeling and still go cold all over.

It’s been a long journey.  Read along, feel free to contact me on Twitter, Facebook or email me.  See where it takes you.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.