It gets better

Life can be painfully hard. I’ve written before about my struggles with mental illness and ADHD, losing people I love, bullying,  sickness, alopecia and autoimmune disorder, obesity and my physical health. I’ve even at times mentioned these concurrently, each overlapping and coinciding with one (or several) others. At my lowest point I was chin-deep in undiagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, I was morbidly obese and unhealthy, my hair was falling out and I was being bullied at work. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I think we can all agree that at some point in their lives everyone will hit rock bottom.

What I want to talk about is how happy I am.

I don’t often go out of my way to discuss how wonderful my life is these days, not least because it’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of day-to-day living. I also don’t want to brag. Every day people go through struggles I can’t comprehend; talking about how fortunate I am for the things I have seems tacky somehow.

But here’s the real deal: I’m happy. I love my life. It is full of wonderful people and amazing experience. Yes, sometimes stuff sucks. Sometimes stuff is hard. Sometimes I cry. But I am happy. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

The point I am trying to make is that dejection, loneliness, misery, heartache… These things aren’t permanent. They’re transient. They come and go like waves on the ocean and, like my life now, can co-exist with happiness, prosperity, pride and success. I still have alopecia and ADHD. I still have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I. Still. Get. Sad. But there is light and hope and this is what I allow to define me.

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If you feel like you are in the dark, that there is nowhere to turn, that things will never improve then please speak to someone. A doctor, a friend, a family member, a compassionate stranger on the internet, Lifeline. Please ask for help. Asking for help is so hard it seems impossible but I promise you it is easier than carrying on alone. And it’s worth it. Always.

If you know someone who needs help please send this on. Ask them if they’re okay. Talk to them about Lifeline or seeking help. Listen to them. The suicide statistics in New Zealand are horrifying, especially among young people. If this post, or someone who reads this post, can help even one person then I have achieved everything I could hope for.

It will get better. It won’t always be this way. Kia kaha.



Blogging Collab: Nobody is alone

Today, we have a guest post from the wonderful Dee of The Restless Empire. Dee and I have been working together to bring some much-needed attention to the normality and prevalence of mental health issues. Below is Dee’s piece on her own struggles. You will also find a list of questions to get you thinking about your own journeys. We encourage everyone to have a read and share their stories in the comments or on their own pages using the hashtags below.

If anyone feels they are struggling and can’t cope you can call Lifeline 24/7 on 0800 543 354. Help is always at hand.

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The first time the term depression related directly to me I was a 17-year-old high school student. I didn’t want to go to school, this was more than any normal high school student, I was panicked at the thought of going to school. The corridors felt vast and uncaring, I felt watched and alone. I was probably paranoid. I definitely felt like I wasn’t good enough.

I don’t know what happened to my self-confidence. It up and left well before I was 17. Nobody noticed but for a large portion of high school, whether or not it was cold, I wore my school jersey. My horrid itchy maroon school jumper was like a security blanket.

Impression depression” was all it said on my doctor’s notes and prescription. There wasn’t much decision but it was a difficult conversation nonetheless. In a jovially singsong tone he told me that he was prescribing Prozac “but don’t worry it’s totally safe, you could take the whole box and you won’t overdose… you’ll just feel really unwell”.

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I stuck with my medication for several years, and then decided by myself that I was fine and didn’t need to take it. I bumbled along for years without fluoxetine and moments with it. Between my first prescription when I was 17 and latest prescription at aged 30 I’d flitted between using fluoxetine and not, largely convincing myself that everything was fine.

Driving to work last year, in tears and eating my way through a packet of chocolate biscuits I realised things most definitely weren’t great. I was frightened and panicked about work, I was tired, I was worried and I had worked myself up into a state. I was going to need to have that conversation again; I was going to need to ask for help.

Asking for help, as an adult was much easier, yet at the same time more frightening. I felt I had more to lose if people knew but realised I had more to gain. My doctor was extremely understanding and so were my near and dear. Later when things slid from bad to worse, it was my GP who ordered me to take leave and look after myself. It was my GP who suggested I take stock and look at what’s important and it was my GP who organised for me to see a psychologist and it was my GP who has worked with me to get me to a better place.

Asking for help wasn’t easy.
Living each day nervous, worried, confused and tired also wasn’t easy.
Getting up each morning knowing I was only going to get more panicked wasn’t easy.
In the end asking for help was the easiest solution.

 

Age: 31
Location: Auckland

Day Job: Retail Marketing

Diagnoses: Depression & Anxiety, dialogised age 17.

Game plan: When I feel things are getting the better of me… I try to manage sleep, exercise and surround myself with good friends. 

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Dee
xoxo

 

Dee writes regularly on mental health and all other aspects of life at TheRestlessEmpire.com, a magazine-style blog, encouraging others to write too.



“But have you tried being happy?” Mental illness and social assumptions.

Fuck depression and fuck mental illness. No, really. Excuse my language but that shit is not okay.

I know at least 6 people who are currently struggling with mental illnesses, all involving elements of depression. Some are so bad they’re housebound. Some, like me, carry on like they’re a normal human. Because they are. When you look at the stats it’s hard to see that as anything but the truth: 1 in 5 Kiwi women, and 1 in 8 Kiwi men, will have at least one major depressive episode in their lives (depression.org.nz). When, on average, 17% of the population will struggle with depression alone during their lives it ceases to be an unusual or uncommon disease (Note: these stats do not include bipolar disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and schizophrenia – all illnesses that bring depression-like symptoms – or any other mental illness).

There are many theories on why mental illness is so prevalent in modern society. Some have suggested it’s a product of our high-stress lives. Others have suggested that the only thing that’s changed in modern times is our understanding of it; that mental illness has always been a pervasive issue but was infrequently diagnosed or understood (papers such as this discussing the common problems faced with identification and diagnoses show this clearly). No matter the reasoning, it’s evident that diagnosis of mental illness has, to some, become worryingly common.

As I write this I wrestle with my own demons. I feel like the colour has gone from my world and the sound has been turned down. Thankfully, I know this is only temporary. I have patches like this but they don’t usually last more than a few days. I have been on SSRIs for anxiety, and the depression it brings, for two years. Prior to taking them my illness, which came on suddenly in my early 20s, was crippling. A coworker once found me locked in my office at work having a full-blown panic attack: I was sitting on the floor, hyperventilating and in floods of tears. And I couldn’t tell them why. My fears weren’t real or founded; the doctors told me my mind had created anxieties to fill the void left by completing my university studies. They said I was so accustomed to living in a high stress state that my body was trying to recreate it.

Those were dark times and I am glad I have moved on from them, not only thanks to medication and professional care but thanks to significant changes in my lifestyle aimed at supporting a healthy mental state. Asking for help wasn’t easy but I am glad I did it. Now, I am someone who can manage my mind through exercise, good food, and meditation and mindfulness. It’s allowing me, with my doctor’s help, to finally begin weaning myself off my medication. I know this makes me fortunate.

With the clarity of mind the last two years have brought my concerns have evolved:  These days I worry not about my mental state but the way society perceives it. We look on physical illnesses with a reverence and gravity that many struggle to attribute to sicknesses of the mind. In my life I have seen people be repeatedly allowed time off for colds, flus and various diseases without fear this will make them seem less capable of doing their jobs. But there is still a hesitancy to speak up about needing time off or care for one’s mental health. There is still a persistent fear that you will either be a) judged a slacker or b) judged weak and unstable. I am not saying this from research but from the experiences of myself and my friends. I feel this about the admissions in this article even as I write them.

From an incredibly young age we are brought up to understand that sick people are limited in their capacities for day-to-day life. But, unless we or someone close to us suffers it, we are not brought up with the same awareness of mental health. You only have to think about some of the questionable advice that’s handed out to those suffering to know this is true. When was the last time someone suggested you just try *not* having a cold? Or a kidney stone? Or cancer? Did they tell you it’s all in your body as if that somehow invalidated it and proved you had the power to overcome it with a quick self-slap? If it doesn’t work for chemical and biological problems of the torso, arms and legs then why would it work for the brain? And yet this is the “advice” many hand out when confronted with the uncomfortable realities of mental illness.

It’s time society started to understand the costs and far-reaching consequences of depression and mental health issues. “[A] new report estimates the global cost of mental illness at nearly $2.5T (two-thirds in indirect costs) in 2010, with a projected increase to over $6T by 2030.” (NIMH) What does that actually mean? Most low-socioeconomic countries have a GDP of less than 1 trillion dollars. That means the total worldwide cost of mental illness by 2030 will be *six times* what the poorest countries currently generate in gross domestic product in a year, comparable and almost equal to cancer care. And most of these costs are not direct medical care; they’re lost income and time, social support expenses and ongoing disability costs.

Take a moment to absorb that information. Cancer, a disease with worldwide recognition as one of the most serious health problems humans face, costs approximately the same long-term as mental illness. And people are still asking those suffering depression to “just be happy”.

It’s time for changes. Education and awareness is probably our best bet. And honesty. I’m done pretending I’m always okay. If admitting that sometimes I’m sick makes me weak then that’s a burden I will have to bear. I can only get better when I acknowledge that I am unwell.

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Please be aware the statements and statistics in this article are strictly informational and are not intended to offer advice or replace instructions provided by your healthcare professional.

If you feel you or anyone you love is suffering from undiagnosed or poorly managed mental illness please seek professional help from your GP or encourage them to see theirs. If at any time you feel you can’t cope you can call Lifeline, or one of their sister organisations, on 0800 543 354.

You are not alone.