Who I Am

Who Am I ?

At one time or another, everyone faces this question. Sometimes we follow it up with who do I want to be or where do I see my self in 5 years, but the starting point is always, who am I? It’s sometimes that big philosophical moment, that moment of addressing the human condition or even a self-inspection of our own souls. Yet it is the bedrock of who we are. That core of what makes who up who I am. So who am I?

Now I could list the things I am.  A mum, a daughter, a partner, a call centre worker. I am depressed. Is that me?

No.

Who I am is so much more, even if I don’t see it myself a lot of the time.

Getting To The Crux

So what’s got me thinking about all this? Well, to do that I’ve got to tell you a little story. Someone in my life who I love very much has hurt me, repeatedly in the last few months, someone who I would never have thought would. Called me unforgivable things. Rejected me and Alex when we’ve tried to reach out to them. Ignored us for weeks on end. This person has promised over and over that they’ll change, that they’re sorry and that they won’t do it again, to then repeat the whole process, again and again. It’s been agonising for both of us.  Believe me, there is a lot of anger both in me and Alex about this.

Then this morning, a call came. This person needed help. Nothing huge, but they needed a lift and they called me. So what did I do?

Now you could ( quite rightly) argue that I told this person to swing their hook. They’ve hurt me and those who I love, over and over. Why should I help them?

Because at the crux of me, that is who I am. Who I am is the person that if someone calls and says they need help, I help. No matter how much they’ve hurt me. I am the person who will answer that call, go out in the dark to take a friend food when they haven’t eaten, lend money when I don’t really have it to give. Buy someone a gift they can’t afford for themselves because I know it will help lift them out of the darkness.

It’s who I am.

I know, it’s annoying as anything. Because more often than not I will end up getting hurt again. But does that mean I won’t help? No. Does it mean I have forgotten or forgiven those actions? Definitely a NO. Believe me, you have no idea of the anger I felt this morning when this call came. It would have been very easy to leave them stranded.

But as I say, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It certainly doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven their actions. (they may have had quite an earful about it on the car ride) It’s just, this is me. It’s conflicting and annoying and it can contribute to my mental health issues in a terrible way sometimes. The impact of having people you care about you use and abuse you can be huge. I am learning to build up walls to that, but it’s slow.  And it goes for everyone in my life.

Now I know that I’ve mentioned the movie ‘Moana’ before, but one of the lines from my favourite songs in the movie looks at the issue of who you are.

“Who am I? I am the girl who loves my island, and the girl who loves the sea. It calls me…………..I am everything I’ve learned and more”

For the character loving her island and the sea is conflicting and even against the wishes of her parents. They are angry and fearful that she will be hurt because of her fathers own experiences. I get that. I see why Alex is so angry with the people who hurt me, it reminds him too much of his own hurts. But does it mean I should change one of the core things of who I am? One of the things that he loves about me?

I truly hope not.

Like I said, I have not forgiven or forgotten. I am learning. But this part of me, no I won’t change it. It’s who I am.

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The Face of Depression

An Impassive Face

One technique that I use to cope when I’m around people, particularly people I know, is that I try and keep an impassive face.  I try and make sure there is no feeling out there, no outward emotion, nothing.  It wards off any unwanted questions.  You know the sort I’m talking about.

A person behind a mask.Previously, I’ve told you about my mask and how I use things like humour to keep people from seeing what’s really inside.  It’s something I do a lot and this impassiveness is a part of it as well, though one i don’t talk about as much.  You may have noticed it, you may not.  Anyway, I’m not going to talk much about my mask because I’ve written enough about that.

This is different.

This is about the face of depression.

The Assumed Face

You might be thinking I’ve lost the plot slightly but hear me out on this one.  You see, I hear it a lot on our social media accounts that people are under the illusion that they can detect a depressed person.  Call it similar to gaydar, where people think they can detect a gay person.  Personally, I think gaydar is a load of rubbish no matter what people tell me, although I will acknowledge that some people make it a little easy to work out!  Anyway, that’s beside the point.

My point is that people think depression has a face.

I remember having a conversation with one of my managers at my old job to tell him that I was struggling.  I clearly remember him looking surprised and saying, “I wouldn’t have guessed!  If you had been put in a line-up with nine other people and I’d been told that one person of those ten was depressed, you’d have been the last person I’d have picked!”

What does that even mean?  How can someone look depressed?  I suppose people will imagine someone looking like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, that gloomy, anhedonic character with the glum, flat voice.  They believe that that is the face of depression, that everyone who suffers is a lot like that.  Is that your experience as well?  Do people expect you to be like this?

That perception couldn’t be further from the truth.

The True Face of Depression

The true face of depression is a hard one.  Why?  Because really, there isn’t one.  Some people will look like Eeyore, it is possible.  They won’t go out, they won’t smile, they won’t show much interest or pleasure in anything.  Others, however, will look very different.  Like the picture on the right.  Most of you will recognise my face there.  I’m smiling.  I seem happy.  Yet, I am depressed.  I am medicated.  A lot of the time, I really struggle.

Where is the face of depression?

What about this image?  Cheryl, dressed up as a mermaid for a Halloween party.  She’s smiling, isn’t she.  If anything, you’d say she looks happy.  Surrounded by family – her daughter and son are just off camera in this photo – she looks as though she’s having a great day.  The reality?  She has depression.  She has anxiety.  Like me, she is also medicated and she struggles.  Perhaps far more than either of us care to admit, we struggle.

Where is the face of depression?

You see, the sad truth is that there is no “face of depression”.  It’s a myth, cultivated by the media and society to make them feel better about mental illness.  Realistically, as I mentioned earlier, it is about as real as this “gaydar” that people talk about.  Yeah, some people give off vibes that practically scream “I’m gay” but there are still plenty of people out there we surprise us when we find out they’re gay.  And it’s the same as depression.

So next time someone admits to you that they’re depressed, don’t ask them what they have to be depressed about.  Don’t tell them they don’t look depressed.  Moreover, don’t assume that we’re fine just because we look happy.

After all: all it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul.  They will never notice how broken you really are.

Depression has no face.  So don’t assume.

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High-Functioning Depression – A Myth?

High-Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression is something that’s not talked about a lot.  Whenever I’m on social media, looking through some of the hashtags or talking to the different people on there, I find very few mentions of it.  It’s something I feel needs talking about.  So I’d like to tell you a bit about my depression and how I am a high-functioning depressed person.

When talking about depression, for those who haven’t experienced it personally, people often picture someone like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh: someone who is gloomy, pessimistic and anhedonic.  If you think of the stereotype, it’s often someone who might look a bit like this:

Does that look familiar?  Your stereotypical, socially-perceived depressed person.  Well, what people don’t always realise is that there are two types of depression.

This one is known as low-functioning depression.  It’s what society commonly perceives to be “depression” and it’s where stigma creates one of the biggest problems for people who are depressed, because it’s “the way we should be”, even though that’s not the case.

The Reality of High-Functioning Depression

As you may have guessed, high-functioning depression is the complete opposite of low-functioning depression.  We don’t get stuck in the funk where we cannot do anything, we don’t spend hours upon hours trapped in our beds, we function more than that.  If anything, we appear to be normal members of society.  That does not, however, mean that we aren’t struggling.  Check out this article by amysboarderlineworld, which sums up what I’m trying to say quite nicely.

You see, we might appear to be normal, functioning members of society but that is an illusion, a myth we have created for others to see.  We struggle, perhaps just as much as someone with low-functioning depression.  We just continue along our lives as though nothing is wrong which, in turn, makes us seem like nothing is wrong.

That is the reality.  The struggle.  People see that we are “normal, functioning members of society” and assume that we are not depressed or anxious (as that’s the thing, it isn’t limited to depression).  Unfortunately, it’s the way it works, for people seem to think we are, for want of a better word, “normal”.

But we’re not.

I’m a High-Functioning Depressed Person

In reality, you won’t see me struggling.  I’m good at hiding it.  Very good at hiding it.  Look for it and you might miss it, because we get on with what we need to do.  I certainly do.  Even on the bad days, I’m frequently plodding along with whatever I need to do.  At work, back when I worked at the bank, I was often on a bad day yet no one knew.  Out of 100 employees who worked in the same office as me, only one person ever frequently picked up on my bad days.  In some cases, I’ve been on self-destructive bad days with blood leaking from self-harm wounds.  It’s not been pretty.

So high-functioning depression and anxiety is something we need more awareness of.  We need to get those discussions going!  In that vein, check out the post from The Mighty below, which will round off my point nicely.

We Cannot Continue to Overlook ‘High-Functioning’ Depression

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Wake Up!

Time To Wake Up!

Wake up people!  To all the friends and family members reading this, to the general public who think they know no one with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, wake up!

We live in a world that is broken.  People struggle every single day in a myriad of different ways.  Financial stresses, housing problems, health problems that are both physical and mental and so much more.  I guarantee you right here, right now that as you’re reading this, someone you know is struggling with something.

But what do we do about it?

The time has come for us to wake up.  We need to get up, get active and start making a difference in this world!  After all, who else is going to do it?

The World of Mental Health

In our world, mental health is still highly stigmatised.  Around the world, people live with crippling mental health conditions that they keep hidden, fearing that others will treat them differently because of it.  People die from suicide every single day!  The average age for people starting to struggle with mental health issues like depression and anxiety is steadily going down, rapidly approaching pre-school ages!  Some even suggest it can affect preschoolers.  So at which point do we make the change?

To you, friends and family, we need to get behind people who are struggling.  We need to let them know they’re not alone and that they can rely on us for support.  Moreover, we need to recognise that it’s a long-term issue, one that won’t be fixed overnight.  We need to wake up to this!  Wake up!  Ostracising your family member or persecuting your friend for having depression won’t make them any better.  Refusing to acknowledge the problem won’t help them.  Only by offering your support will they get better.

To you, the people who believe you know no one who struggles with mental health, I call you out on that.  In the UK alone, 1 in 4 people struggle with mental health issues.  That guarantees that you know someone who is struggling.  Whether you want to admit it or not, you know someone.  Wake up!  Do you hear me?  Wake up and realise that you know someone who has depression or anxiety or some other mental illness.

Wake Up and Make the Change

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the onus is on us!  We need to get up and make the change because no one will do it for us.  We need to wake up and realise that the only people who can make a difference, the only people whose job it actually is, is you and me.

That’s right: you and me.

No one else is going to do it.  And you know what?  It isn’t a job for anyone else.  Friends, family members, employers, support workers, government employees, whatever your walk in life, it is up to YOU to do it.  You need to campaign for better mental health services, you need to realise that it is a serious issue, you need to start making the change now.

Not tomorrow.

Not next year.

Today.

Today!

You never know…someone’s life might depend on it.

So wake up!

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A Tweet, A Trigger and A Minefield

*This post contains images of self-harm, which may trigger people.*

A Trigger

Triggers are something that I hear a lot about, both on and off the internet.  Therapists will ask if we know what triggers our depression or anxiety, we will then be told to look at identifying our triggers so we can look at coping with them.  Is this sounding familiar?  Theoretically, if you can identify a trigger, you can start employing your coping mechanisms to ensure that you get through whatever situation it is that might set you off.

Recently on Twitter, I advertised our Understanding Self-Harm page to promote awareness for self-harm.  It contained the image below:

Understanding Self-Harm scars.

What do you think?  Do you think the image is particularly triggering?  Or is it more that the image is a bit shocking and uncomfortable to look at?  Here are some of the responses I’ve had to it:


Do you agree with these?  What do you think?

Talking Triggers

First off, I feel I need to say that I do believe in mental health triggers.  Honestly, I do.  There are things I know that can set me off on a depressive spiral or a panic attack, no matter what I try to do.  Admittedly, I’m not very good at identifying those triggers, nor am I particularly good at avoiding them or dealing with them, but I know they are there.

My question, however, is this: at what point do triggers hamper mental health progress?

One thing that society teaches us on a regular basis is to keep our mental health struggles hidden.  Have depression?  Smile.  Have anxiety?  Breathe.  We are taught, very much like Elsa in Frozen (yes, I have a 3-year-old who loves Frozen) to keep it in: don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be.  If we avoid talking about subjects containing potential triggers or avoid using images like the one above because they “may trigger someone”, how are we doing ourselves any good?  I’ve been told the image above has shocked people into reading the content because they find it disturbing enough that they want to know more.  Would you not say that’s a good thing?

It’s raised awareness for self-harm.  It’s raised mental health awareness.  Someone else has walked away with an understanding of a struggle that plagues a lot of us.

I’d say that’s a good thing.

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My Experiences

Two comments – one of which has since been removed because the user decided to block me – went along these lines:

I feel, at this point, I need to direct people to reading my journey, particularly posts like Pills and Blades, that discuss my own personal struggle with self-harm.  I have loads of scars covering my legs, even now after I’ve been “clean” for a few months.  It’s something that I’ve battled with relentlessly.  Below are just a couple of instances of when that happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sharing these lightly.  I’ve made sure that my scars are hidden so that people won’t see them and start judging me or commenting, etc.  Sharing them with you all is something I’m doing to continue raising that awareness and take the first step in my stand.

I believe that this subject needs to be talked about.  I believe people need to see these images so that they might understand just how serious mental health is.  Outside, in public, we put on smiles, we fake feeling as though we’re part of the community and we try and appear normal.  Behind closed doors, however, we end up turning to coping mechanisms like the one in the pictures above.  It’s something that’s not talked about, something that we avoid showing others, but we do it.

And people need to realise this.

People need to see the damage we do.

Shying away from it is not going to work anymore.

We need to be more vocal about this!

A Minefield

Realistically, what can I do regarding the images that will potentially trigger others?  It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand you have the people who need to see the image, who need to be shocked into reading and become aware.  On the other hand, you have all those who would claim to be triggered by the image (whether that’s genuinely triggered or, as so many people will do, jumping on the bandwagon to have a moan).  In the middle, you have me and the people like me who are all trying to raise the awareness.

As far as triggers go, though, it’s a minefield.  Everyone is different, everyone has different triggers.  Asking anyone to find something that won’t trigger anybody is virtually impossible.  So why should we hide what we feel, why should we avoid any potentially triggering images when there is no image that exists that might not trigger someone?

We need to stand up.  We need to take ownership.  This is real, this is happening.  People struggle with this on a daily basis.  To make a change, we need to shock people and we need to make them uncomfortable, because people will never change if they are comfortable.

Ultimately, I’m not going to apologise for these images.  People need to see this.  Realistically, the minefield is such that I won’t be able to find images that won’t offend someone, somewhere, so I will use the images I feel best fit what I’m trying to accomplish.  What I will say is that understanding of self-harm needs to be raised.  We need to do this.  We need to take that stand.  So stand with me.  Help me fight this stigma.

I hope you understand.

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 5

Day 5 – Family Fandangos

Click to Access the Podcast!Access the Pushing Back the Shadows Podcast here for the latest episode!

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Episode 9 – A Look Back

Join Alex as he takes a look back at how Pushing Back the Shadows came about.  From his original blog to public speaking to podcasts, he looks a little at his journey.  Dive in!

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What Helps Me on the Bad Days

Having a Bad Day?

Are you having a bad day with your depression or anxiety? To quote one of my daughters favourite cartoons, “It happens. It happens a lot”. Depression and anxiety can make it seem like there is nothing but bad days sometimes. It can strike out of the blue, be there from the second you open your eyes or build up and progressively deteriorate over the course of time. But no matter what, bad days are going to happen. It’s part and parcel of living with mental health issues. And it can really suck.

For this week’s pick of the week, I wanted to share with you the things that help me, both from the blog and practical tips that I employ. Like anything else, these are things that help me, some might suit you, some might not. They’re suggestions from my own experience.

Coping with Anxiety

It’s only recently come to light that hand in hand with my depression, I have a nice side order of anxiety. It’s probably always been there, but because I didn’t see it as full blown panic attacks, I kind of ignored the signs which often led to me spiraling.  Now I know it’s there, I’m having to learn how to cope with it in a more productive way. Here are just a few of the things I know have helped myself and others.

  • The podcast episode 6 meditation. Just taking a little time to focus your breathing and learning to relax can be hugely helpful.
  • Fidget Spinners-Not something I’ve used myself, but I’ve seen how beneficial they are for friends and family who suffer when in environments that are difficult.
  • Yoga breathing-helps lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure and help you find a sense of calm.
  • Grounding technique– I’ve both used this to help someone in the middle of an anxiety attack, and had a friend walk me through it when I was taken badly. Building yourself a grounding kit is a really good idea.

These are just a few of the things helping me with the anxiety side of things. For more ideas and help check out our Patreon supported post, Anxiety-Managing the attacks. It’s something I’ve been using almost as my cheat sheet lately and I can’t stress enough how helpful it’s been.

Black Dog Days

As I’ve said, I’m also battling depression and there have been some incredibly difficult days. Now I’m not going to give you a list of therapies and treatments, I’m not touting magical cures. Think of this as more about self care when it’s a black dog day.

  • A little affirmation– basically take the time to remind yourself of your worth, your things to hold on to. I’d definitely check out what you’re worth, you have a purpose and something to hold on to if you’re struggling.
  • Treat yourself-give yourself a little indulgence. Be it some chocolate, a bubble bath, retail therapy (budget constraints pertaining of course).
  • Exercise-I’m no gym bunny, but the benefits of exercise in the alleviation of depression are well documented. Yes I know motivation is an issue, but even a little movement is better than none.
  • Let in support– basically this boils down to letting those who love and care for you be there for you. From personal experience I can say that when you are struggling all the medication in the world won’t be as effective as the love and support of your nearest and dearest. A hug won’t cure depression, but it can really be a wonderful balm.
A Few Little Thoughts

So, OK not a comprehensive list, but as someone who is going through this journey I know how easy it is to put aside or dismiss the tools and people that can support you. I also want to make one point, for those of you who have doubted Alex and the work he does here, apart from the wonderful responses we’ve received from Twitter from people he’s helped, I want to say that without his support and help, I may not be here. So thank you.

The blog is full of great information, support and guidance so I encourage you all to look through. You may stumble across something that will really help either yourself or someone you care about. It could save a life.

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