In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, I figured it was the perfect time to share my experience with depression. I’ll also be sharing some helpful tips on how to cope, so be sure to read to the end!
There’s a difference between having a bad day or feeling sad and having depression. People often have it misconstrued. In fact, so many people are quick to say, “I’m so depressed”, without having any real understanding of what that actually means. The ignorance of using the words ‘depressed’ or ‘depression’ in vain is quite frustrating and inconsiderate! Depression is a tree with various branches and leaves. It also has many forms and can affect people in diverse, unimaginable ways. Going through depression is like a rollercoaster of emotions with no one there to turn it off when you yell “STOP!”
Depression affected my ability to sleep, work and socialise. It even affected my eating habits and ability to complete typical daily tasks, such as house chores. This may sound shocking to some, but that was truly my reality. People often neglect the fact that although depression is a mental illness, it also has an immense impact on one’s physical health and capabilities. It is battling with extreme low mood whilst sometimes feeling numb and disengaged.
So… Now that I’ve given you a brief visual of what I endured, I hope you’ll bear with me as I endeavour to take you on a journey through my tumultuous experience.
Definition of Depression:‘A mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep.’
It all started after my 5 and a half year relationship came to an unexpected end. (I’ll write about this one day in more depth in another blog post). It felt like my whole future exploded right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to salvage it. I believed in the depths of my heart that life was going to turn out a certain way. After all, we were already leading up to the next natural stage. No one ever really talks about the process of grieving after the loss of a relationship or friendship, or just how detrimental it can be to lose your partner and best friend at the same time – along with the family you bonded with. It caused me to believe for a very long time that no joyous future could exist on the other side of the pain I was feeling. I felt like a failure and guilty whilst trying to conjure up ridiculous and invalid reasons for why everything fell apart. However, blaming myself implied that I deserved to be treated the way I was, when I most certainly did not! In fact, I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone – not even the one that indicted it…
After dealing with such a traumatic experience, my contract at work ended abruptly, which was followed by my two close family members being diagnosed with cancer in the space of a month! I felt like my whole world was falling apart once again, but after taking some time to process it all and support my family, I was forced to come to terms with my reality of an extremely uncertain future.
Then just as I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, a few months later I discovered (via social media) that my ex had a traditional wedding and he didn’t have an ounce of decency to warn or inform me – even though we were still in contact occasionally. This almost tipped me over the edge and brought me to the brink of insanity. I definitely thought there was no recovering from this!
I suffered with insomnia due to the constant overthinking. Then to make matters worse, once I finally managed to drift off to sleep (in the early or late hours of the morning), I’d only end up sleeping for a little while. This happened day in and day out for about 8 consecutive months, then sporadically for nearly a year. It was from one extreme to another. I could go for days on end with hardly any sleep, to days on end of staying in bed. Some days entailed waking up in the mornings and eventually going back to sleep again – even when the sun was piercing through my window, as it was my way of tuning out my thoughts, feelings and the whole world (or so I thought). There were never many prolonged hours of sleep. During this vicious cycle, I was exhausted from being exhausted – feeling tired of everything and everyone. Even though I was at home a lot of the time, I found it near enough impossible to actually rest!
There were times when I had no energy to carry on and I was battling with whether or not to just put an end to my (seemingly) never-ending misery and turmoil. I felt worthless and I struggled to see a way forward. However, in the moments of my mum praying for me whilst I couldn’t even pray for myself, certain friends staying on the phone with me whilst I cried uncontrollably; my best friends coming round to chill with me or taking me out (even though I wasn’t the best company to be around), or even just simply asking if I needed anything that made me feel like my life mattered to them. It also helped when they still approached me for advice as they usually would; showing they still valued my opinion despite my own struggles, rather than treating me like I was incompetent. Although this was my reality, I often still felt alone, so I can empathise with those whose experience may not have been this way.
I thought being distracted with work and expanding my wardrobe with the heaps of clothes I’d purchased online would help (despite not really having anywhere to go to wear them, as I withdrew myself from socialising 95% of the time). Whilst at home, for a while I never wanted to hear anything that wasn’t fitting to my state of mind. I would have songs like Solange’s ‘Crane’s in The Sky’ and Sipprell’s ‘Journey’ stuck on repeat most days (when I had the energy to listen to music). Then whenever I did leave the house, I was terrified of either breaking down in public when someone genuinely asked if I was okay, or feeling ready to explode with frustration if someone said one wrong thing that would trigger me.
The first step towards seeking help came after one of my close friends came round to check in on me and expressed her concerns. I remember being extremely tearful yet relieved that even without me explicitly saying “I’m depressed”, she knew I wasn’t myself and hadn’t been for a while. She advised me to go to my doctor and get help. Ironically, I was studying for my certificate in counselling, so I was fully aware of the process and importance of seeking help. However, for too long I felt I was strong enough to deal with everything on my own. This probably overwhelmed me even more – until I reached my breaking point. It is not weak to ask for help. In fact, it takes a lot more strength and bravery to admit that you need it.
I’m grateful for the small circle of friends and family that have supported me and encouraged me in the best ways they knew how. I’ll never forget the messages, picture quotes, positive affirmations, prayers, series of voice notes or even the phone calls (despite me not always answering or responding). My mum most certainly deserves an award for having the patience of a saint during my depression. She unfortunately bore the brunt of my awful mood swings and my being anti-social! I truly appreciate that. Collectively, they all enabled me to eventually see that despite the pain, life is still worth living! It took me a while, but I have realised that as long as I learn and grow from every situation, no struggle is ever in vain.
They gave me strength to keep going!
Below are some tips that worked for me:
1) Seek professional help! It’s always helpful to get support from trained professionals who are qualified to support you with your mental illness. You can refer yourself to your local talking therapies service, or you can go private if you prefer and can afford it.
2) Talk to a friend or family member. If you have at least one person you can trust, turn to them for additional support, rather than internalising everything. They can also be your accountability partner if you decide you want to work on certain things, and check in with you now and then to see how you’re getting on.
3) Spend time alone in nature. It’s rather therapeutic to go for walks in a fairly quiet park/open space and to be surrounded by trees, grass, water. Calm and solitude are crucial to peace of mind.
4) Delete social media apps that trigger your low mood. Try this for as long as it takes, until you feel able to connect online again.
5) Write thoughts and feelings down. Find a creative outlet – be it art, music, poetry or even designing clothes; whatever you are passionate about can turn into a way of coping. Although I’ve always enjoyed writing, this blog was birthed out of my struggle with depression. I turned my pain and passion into purpose and so can you!
6) Have some form of routine. It doesn’t have to be completely rigid, but especially if you’re off work, it helps to have some structure to keep you sane.
7) Listen to soothing and uplifting music. For me it was a mixture of Gospel, Jazz instrumentals, Neo-soul, Soca and Afrobeats (yes, very diverse, contrasting genres, but they emitted good vibes for me in different ways). Here’s a link to my ‘Songs to Encourage You’ playlist on YouTube. Listening to these songs each morning eventually helped shift my mood and my mindset.
8) Be honest with friends and family about how you’re feeling. Don’t put on a facade, as pretending is far more draining in the long run.
9) Exercise and stay active whenever you can. You don’t have to workout excessively or vigorously, you can simply go at your own pace with whatever activity that helps your physical and mental wellbeing.
10) Practice Self-care. Whenever you can, take time to rest, relax and recuperate. Go to the spa (if you can afford to); there are lots of deals on wowcher, groupon and lastminute.com. If you can’t do that, you can have longer soaks in the bath with salts, essential oils and even candles. Getting your hair and nails done when you can is also another way to make yourself look and feel good.
11) Try to avoid excessive comfort/binge-eating. I have often struggled with this myself. It’s not always easy to eat healthy, especially when you crave comfort in foods that only give temporary pleasure, yet wreaks havoc on your health later on. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself now and then; everything in moderation.
12) Try to avoid prolonged periods of isolation. Maintain some form of interaction/communication. I know it may be the complete opposite of what you feel to do – and the mere thought can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to involve being in large crowds. Spending time with people who are aware of your struggles (yet won’t pity you), who are fun and warm to be around can actually uplift you, even if it’s just for a moment. You may not want to socialise externally, but having some friends round just to chill is less pressure and more relaxed. Moreover, if you don’t want face to face interaction, at least keep in contact with close friends, so you’re not completely isolated.
I hope you found these helpful!
Never be afraid to share your experiences. You are stronger than you think!
Depression is not an easy journey and it is mostly an uphill battle, but I’m here to encourage you. Even when it feels like you can’t go on, don’t give up the fight! I am a living testimony that you can and you will see brighter days eventually. That doesn’t mean that you’ll never have low seasons ever again, it just means that you’ll be more resilient than you were before. I find that nature often has parallels with seasons of life. After every storm, the sun eventually shines again. Keep stepping forward, one day at a time. Your sunshine will come!
If you, or anyone you know is suffering with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue – please click here for more advice and a list of UK services that offer support. For any international readers, you can search for local mental health support or counselling services on google to find suitable support in your area.