Self-belief

Sometimes I wonder what happened to my self happened to my self confidence. Where did it go? I used to believe in my abilities. I used to have goals for my career. I used to believe that I could do whatever I set my mind to. Depression has crushed that. Just like the bowling ball that knocks down the pins. My self-esteem is shattered.

Over the past few months I have felt a failure at every aspect of my life. I could spend whole days analysing my uselessness. I could beat myself up about it. Failure as a wife. Failure as a mum. Failure as a daughter. Failure as a teacher.

When you spend every minute of every day doing this in your head your self-confidence disappears. Quickly it plummets. Suddenly it seems like it is lost forever. Like the best hiding in the game hide and seek. It is might never be found.

This is one way how depression is different to just being sad. Sadness is a natural, normal, healthy emotion. Depression is none of the above. It eats you alive from the inside out. It takes away your very essence. It makes you wonder who you are.

Slowly over the last few weeks a little bit of self-confidence has returned. Getting back in front of a class of teenagers again nearly broke me but doing it has made me realise there is still something there. I can teach. I can inspire.
I can develop good relationships with students. With it now the summer holidays I am scared this will start to disappear again. But I'm trying to remember the past, he good times, the successful memories.

A lack of self-belief has affected my whole life not just my career. I have constantly try to push my husband away because I don't believe I am good enough for him. Over and over I have asked him whether he loves me, whether he is going to leave me. This is me. This is my belief that I am useless. This is me thinking he must be fed up of me.

A lack of self-belief has made me feel like the worst mother in the world. It has made me think that I am a failure. When I put tv on instead of instigating a fun game. When I snap or shout. When I lose patience easily. I must be a rubbish mum as well.

My self-esteem is coming back slowly. There are times where my mind overtakes me. The depression kicks in. Doubt returns. But there are also moments like the one below where my heart melts and I think perhaps I am not a complete failure. My boys love each other and I love them (including the big one my husband).

Depression: Recovery is a Rollercoaster.

If only people understood that it doesn’t work like a light switch. You can’t suddenly turn depression off. You can’t suddenly be well again one day. It isn’t as simple as wearing a cast to mend a broken bone. It isn’t like using insulin to treat diabetes. The path of recovery out of depression is a much more complicated and fickle one.

Anti-depressants aren’t wonder drugs for everyone. I have struggled to explain this. People think you are taking a tablet for your illness. You must be better now. Unfortunately it isn’t that straight forward. Firstly it can take 4-6 weeks for anti-depressants to work in the first place. It isn’t a quick fix. But that’s if it they even work.

In the last 6 months I have tried 4 different types of anti-depressants. One made me more anxious. One seemed to be working but then I kept having suicidal thoughts; so clearly not. The next brought me out in hives and swelled my lips. Finally I seemed to be having some success with the fourth but I am only 4 weeks in! Sometimes it takes months to find the right one. Other times it is never found.

Recovery is like a rollercoaster. People with depression can have good days. A friend once shared that someone how shocked she was that someone she had known committed suicide a few days after she had enjoyed a wonderful family day. For me I got this. Even at my worst I have had good moments or good days in between the darkness. I have managed to enjoy family days out. I have managed to play with my two boys and feel pure joy at the sound of their laughter. The next day or sometimes even the next hour I have been hit by a wave of low.

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Healing truly does come in waves. During the last Easter holidays I felt like I was beginning my recovery. I felt like I was beginning to conquer the demon. I had been ill since the November before. I had been off work for 10 weeks. Finally I was starting to get well. I was enjoying spending time with my husband and my two boys. I was loving being together as a family. I was starting to feel stable. I was grabbing all the glimmers of light that I could find. I was trying to push the negative away and hold onto the positives. Recovery was starting.

Then out of nowhere. I don’t even know what happened really. I took a crash. This was when the suicidal thoughts intensified. This is when I started to feel so unwell again. The depression was back. I was gutted. When I thought I was getting better instead I got worse. I seemed to have taken one step forwards and two steps back. The blackness consumed me all over again. The numbness returned.

Since then I have had many twists and turns on the rollercoaster. Many times I have felt like I have been getting better only for it to plummet again. It is so hard. Each time it feels like another part of you is taken away. It feels like you are broken just a little bit more. It is hard not to feel like a complete failure. My mind tells me that I should be better by now. My mind blames me for the twists and turns on the journey of recovery.

What I have learnt is that recovery from depression is not linear. It does not work in a straight line. There will be many ups and downs, twists and turns on the journey to feeling better. Each one will make you feel like a failure but in reality they are just another lesson that you need to learn.

Don’t lose heart. You don’t ever go back to the beginning. You don’t ever go back to the start like I first thought. Each dip and dive is like you are learning something new. It is important to take all these paths in order for a complete recovery.

Don’t give up. When you feel like you have fallen back into the depths of despair it is not the end. There is another path waiting for you. There is help around the corner. There is a new avenue being formed. Have faith it will get better. You will recover.

 

Depression: What not to say to me!

So my last post shared  “The Top 10 ways to help someone with depression.” Therefore it only seems natural for this post to share some of those awful experiences I have had. I want you to know, if this has ever been you saying these things to me or someone else, don’t worry. Perhaps you didn’t understand depression fully. Perhaps you were just nervous of what to say. Perhaps you were just trying to help.

To reassure you my husband has regularly put his foot in it! I know his love for me is so complete, yet he still says the wrong thing sometimes. We are human. We make mistakes. But 1 in 4 people will have suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime. You will all definitely encounter someone as either a loved one, friend or colleague. We owe it to these people to help them and not hinder them.

When I have felt low and ill a poorly timed, misinformed comment has pushed me further into my depths of despair. This is why the message of how to help and what not to say must be spread. Let’s help more people avoid the stigma surrounding mental health and ensure they are supported not pushed further away.

friends5Previous posts have shared the importance of talking (It’s Good to Share how you feel). But there are times that people’s responses have been so upsetting that I wish I had not opened my mouth at all. One of the biggest problems is people not listening properly to what you are telling them. When people are depressed it can take an awful lot of energy, anxiety and emotion to open up to someone and talk to them. It is so hard to do this because it is like opening up your soul to the world and suddenly you are very fragile and insecure because you have laid yourself bare. If you dismiss what they are saying, refuse to listen, belittle their suffering or ignore their words and expect them to just cope with this you are not helping their recovery; you are actually putting it back.

The problem is I know I can look and sound fine as I am saying it. I appear well. I appear in control. I appear stable. Unfortunately this is often not the case. I have had friends texting me am I back at work without asking how I am. This has made me feel like they are checking up on me and don’t believe I am unwell. I have had friends completely blank me or refuse to acknowledge it when I have said I have been feeling suicidal. Sometimes I am left questioning myself. Did I not explain it properly? Did I not truly share how I am? Did they just look at me and not really listen to any of the words coming out of my mouth?

This failure to listen effectively has had such a big impact. It has made me feel like a disappointment because I shouldn’t be unwell. It has left me questioning my illness and whether it is real. It has made me feel like people think I am making it all up. I have been put off opening up again. I certainly feel like there are certain people I will never be honest with again because I can’t bear to be hurt by their reactions.

So please don’t use these: “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together” or “get busy and you will feel better soon.” One of the trials people with depression have to face is this type of reaction. The person who claims to know what it feels like and says one of the above. If this is you, please stop! If you are saying or thinking these things you really do have no idea what depression is like. People cannot just pull themselves together or get busy to get over it. This is not like feeling low or down for a few days or weeks. This is like being swallowed up by an abyss with no way of escape. What is depression really like?

Another point that people should avoid doing is making judgements. The best advice I can give here is you don’t know what it feels like. Even I as a sufferer of depression do not fully understand what it is like for a fellow sufferer. I may be able to understand certain parts, or empathise with some feelings but I don’t know fully what they are going through. Therefore I try to never make any judgements about them. When you have depression you are probably your own worse judge. You certainly don’t need any other individuals making any judgements about you.

Don’t try and problem solve depression. In my time I have come across a lot of people who have tried to help by listing all the things I should be doing to get well. These people are usually completely well meaning, lovely and helpful people. They believe that the best way to help someone with depression is to suggest things for them to try. There needs to be a balance here. I wouldn’t say it is wrong to sometimes listen and offer advice but when this turns into a list of things to do to solve it, as if it is a problem, it will not help the person. The list can become too much to handle and they may feel judged if they don’t complete the tick list given.

Don’t think that they are just looking for attention. In fact the opposite they are usually the people who cower away from any attention. They avoid it at all costs. Someone with depression does not want to be the centre of attention, they do not want anyone to be looking at them or thinking about them. No one would ever make up depression, it is horrible and life ridding.

Don’t give a depressed person orders. Phrases like “you should do this” or “you must do this” will not help. In fact they can spark anger and frustration within the illness. I can remember when I was first ill with depression I had one person who started giving me instructions like orders that I should follow in order to get better. Instead of following them the opposite happened. I became majorly resistant to doing anything they commanded me.

Finally I want to say I’ve had some bad experiences at the hand of the stigma of mental health but in the whole I have been lucky. I have had some amazing people surround me with their love and care. A colleague of my husbands read this blog the other day and said “I almost feel it is a bit wrong for me to be reading it. Reading it is like knowing the ins and outs of your wife’s brain.” I’m glad becafriends10use that is what I am intending. I’m sharing the innermost thoughts to help others understand and shatter the stigma surrounding mental health. And I will keep doing it!

The Top 10 ways to help someone with depression.

Judgement. Stigma. Misunderstanding. Misconceptions. Suffering from depression is hard enough, dealing with these at the same time makes it impossible. I have had my fair share of these experiences. However, overwhelmingly I have been lucky enough to have had the most amazing support from friends and family. So what can you say? What can you do? What is the best approach to take?

My biggest advice is do something. I used to have a close friend, who sadly died from cancer last year. She was old enough to be my Mum, she had children the same age as me. I learnt from her wisdom. We often joked about some of the awful things well meaning friends and family had unintentionally said about her cancer. I listened to some of them and was honest with her that the naïve, young me could have said them.

Her response I will always remember. But it is better to be there and say the wrong thing than to not be there at all. Essentially the same is true for someone with depression. The greatest gift you can give is to be there. To try and understand. To do your best to help. You probably wont always say the right thing. But that doesn’t matter. Your intention to love and care will outshine any error.

My top 10 to help someone with depression.

  1. Research the illness. A great number of people want to help. A great number of people want to be there for their friends or family. A great number of people are scared of saying the wrong thing. Recently a good friend, an experienced professional, in her sixties, spoke to me openly about this. She shared her lack of knowledge about depression. I had written a book about my experiences in order to aid my recovery. She was so keen to read it. She said reading it was like reading my soul. She said I am starting to get this illness now. I am starting to see how it affects you. Developing this understanding of mental health is key. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a little while. Walking on their path. Find out what you can. Find out what its like. It will help you understand.
  2. Listen. Truly listen. Take in what the person is saying, study the implications and be with them in their sharing. To listen effectively there is a real process that needs to occur. To begin with let the person talk. Don’t interrupt them, don’t add in your own personal experiences or share your own stories. Not to start with-just listen. Actively listen. Engage them with your eyes, reassure them with your smile, and use your facial expressions to respond to what they are saying. Show compassion, empathy and understanding. For the person suffering with depression there is something very special about being truly listened to. It can make you feel like someone believes you. It can make you feel like someone really understands that you are unwell. It helps you feel like what you are saying is worthwhile. It gives you hope that not everyone in the world thinks you are crazy. It is so powerful.friends9.JPG
  3. Give up your time. It is the greatest gift. It is a common belief that the British have a ‘stiff upper lip’- remaining resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. It is so unnatural for us British to feel comfortable with situations where people share their souls. Firstly it is alien for us to communicate our feelings and emotions. To those of you who feel uncomfortable with these discussions my advice is I know it could be awkward but just being there, being prepared to give up your time is very beneficial.
  4. Believing them. Remember how much effort it has taken for an individual to share. Try to realise how scary it is for them to communicate their inner feelings. When they do so, the key job you have is to believe them. They are not exaggerating or making things up, they are trying to get help and be well again and they need to know you believe them. How do you show them you believe? Don’t doubt them. Don’t be judgemental. Don’t try to trivialise something so big. Instead ask them open ended questions. How does it feel? What is helping you to get better? How can I be of help? They may not know the answers to all these questions but your openness shows you believe them.
  5. Personal experiences. I find it very reassuring to know that I am not the only one to feel like this. I like the fact that others have suffered and found a way through the darkness and are now highly functioning again.
  6. Offer suggestions/guidance.  If you are someone the person trusts then it may be helpful to offer some practical advice to certain issues. Do not expect to solve everything. Do not expect to take their illness away or improve how they are feeling completely but the person may be encountering some situations that you can help with.
  7. friends3.JPGBe there for them. Keep in touch. They may want to isolate themselves and shrivel up into their own little ball but it is amazing to know that even when you push people away they will still be there for you. It doesn’t have to be scary to support your friend when they are going through a mental health problem. It can be really simple just text, call or reach out to them in anyway. I have a friend who since I have been unwell has text me every day. Just a “hi, how are you today?” has made me feel constantly cared for.
  8. Be patient. Someone suffering from depression can change their mind every 30 seconds. My mind goes round and round in circles constantly. When they change their mind every other minute, when they don’t know whether they are coming or going with their lives or any decisions they have to make, try not to rush them. Remember they are not intentionally trying to be difficult or even wind you up with their changes of minds, they can’t help it, as it is part of their illness. In the same way when they snap at you, when they are so low or down they don’t want to do anything, be patient.
  9. Remind them it will pass. Keep reassuring them. It will end. It will be over. There will be a new journey to take. They may be resistant to this. They may disagree. They may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tell them they will get well again. Even when I have shrugged this off. Even when I have refused to take this on board. There is a part of me that held onto these words. They swirl around in my head and pop up occasionally.
  10. Take time to share things you love about the person. Many friends have spent time telling me how important I am, what a good Mum I am, how the students I teach love me, how colleagues learn from me and respect me. They have shared that in their opinion I am a lovely, kind, caring person who is fun to be with. Although I certainly don’t feel any of these things at the time, it still helps. These words certainly resonate in the back of my mind and stay with me.

So when you encounter someone with depression. Don’t shy away from the person. Don’t ignore them. Don’t avoid them. Be there for them. Listen to them. Believe them.

Depressed Teacher 2- I am trying!

I have been back at work for nearly 6 weeks. It hasn’t completely gone to plan. I went back unwell. I’ve been trying so hard. I hope people can see it. I hope people know that I am not quite myself. I hope people know that I am trying to do my job whilst still feeling quite ill.

There have been some positives about returning. I certainly have more purpose back in my life. My self-confidence is certainly improving. I don’t feel like a complete failure all the time (just some of the time). I have actually enjoyed interacting with people a little more. I have actually rediscovered my passion for the job.

Teaching requires so much passion these days. It is not a job for the feint hearted. The hours can be long. The pressure immense. The expectations from others burdensome. The behaviour of the students a challenge. It is relentless. Planning, teaching, marking, preparing, assessing to name just a few of the roles I undertake on a daily basis. You have to love it to be committed to stay.

Teachers work so hard. I remember when I was younger my Dad used to wind up my elder cousins who were teachers by saying they only worked 9-3pm, they had long holidays and an easy life. I lived at home for 3 years after university whilst I working as a year 2 teacher. My Mum said your Dad quickly changed his mind about teachers when he saw how much work you did, especially in the evenings and the holidays. It wasn’t quite the easy profession he had believed.

So what has gone well at work in the last 5 weeks? What am I happy with?

  • I rediscovered my love of teaching. At its basics I like children/teenagers. I have always enjoyed interacting with them. Trying to understand them. Challenging them. Teaching them something new still gives me a buzz.
  • I have a fantastic group of close colleagues who I work with every day who I really get on with. They have been amazing since I have got back. They have reassured me. Listened to me. Understood me. Been there for me.
  • Planning lessons is actually something I am good at. The RE curriculum might have changed. The ethical stance may have become less. The content may not appeal to the students as it used to. But I can still do it. I can still turn something that appears “boring” to a teenager into “wow Miss I actually get that”.
  • I like being busy with work. I am on a phased return and at times found the classroom daunting, scary and the students intimidating. But there are other parts I have thrived getting involved in. I love the complexities of the timetable. I love resourcing new schemes of work. I love organising groupings for next year. I was right not to give up the HOD role. So much of it inspires me!

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I am trying to hold onto these glimmers of light. Much of work still feels very uncomfortable. I certainly don’t feel at home with it again yet. I am certainly putting on a mask most days. I am certainly pretending to be ok when I am not. So what am I finding difficult.

  • As with any job you return and everyone expects you to be back to normal. The other factor is do people know why you have been off? Do people know you are phasing back slowly? Today in a very stressful and anxiety induced situation for me somebody made me feel 100 times worse. Their words and comments hurt. They are still there hours on. It wasn’t that persons fault they probably have no idea what they did. They were only doing their job. And in their eyes I should have been doing mine more effectively but right now I can’t. I felt like running after that. Leaving there and then but my rational brain kicked in luckily.
  • Teaching is hard. Teenagers don’t give you much room for mistakes. Today I had two groups that challenged me with their behaviour. Me on top form would have sorted them out. Me, currently far from top form didn’t deal with it effectively. I rather utilised the support in the room with me (kindly provided by my employer) to help. Being honest the lessons were fine. The students were just a bit chatty that’s all but the depressed me now over plays this. The anxious me now translates this into worry for the next lesson.
  • The depression and the anxiety mean that I am not in control of my emotions. This means I don’t react very well to small changes or things that I am unhappy with. I become enraged (all internally) and tend to make rash judgements. I tend to rush decisions and jump in feet first. The calm wait and see, take one step at a time type person is absent from class right now.

So overall it’s going ok. I was meant to be up to my full timetable of three days a week by now but I’m not there. I have beaten myself up a lot about this. I have questioned this. I have thought I am going to get sacked over and over again. My brain is still very poorly. It is just about coping with what has been thrown at it.

It was a huge thing to go back so unwell. I have just about made a success of it I think. I am hoping and praying I can survive a few more lessons now, a couple more days and then it is the six week holidays. I am seeing that as a chance for the medication to start working. I am seeing that as a chance to spend quality time (the best time) with my husband and children. I am seeing September as the time I will be fully well and back to being the teacher I wish to be.

And still my friends say stop. Take one step at a time. Don’t rush your recovery. You will be well in your own time. Don’t put a time limit on it. It’s hard to accept but I think they are right.IMG_3874

Shatter the stigma : the real reasons behind why I self-harm.

I’m not a teenager. I’m not cutting my wrists and arms. I’m not self-harming for attention. Instead I’m a 33 year old mother of two very young boys. I self-harm every day by picking my breasts to pieces. I am ashamed of it. I would like to be invisible. I’m certainly not shouting it from the roof tops.

Mind’s website is great for information and support about self-harm.  

This is very uncomfortable. It feels very hard to share this so openly and honestly. But it is needed. One of the greatest stigma’s I have ever experienced was about my self-harm. When I was first ill with depression I would self harm by scratching my arm with scissors. I was 26, a teacher, and although I lived alone I was very concerned about hiding it from my friends, family and colleagues.

In the midst of self-harm one comment broke me. It has lived with me. It has haunted me for 7 years. They believed I was a risk to others. I was so hurt. Shocked. Angry. Nevertheless I was very unwell and not in a position to raise my concern. To articulate and highlight their misconception. Perhaps not everyone would get it that wrong. But honestly do you really understand self-harm? Do you know why I do it? Do you think it is attention seeking?

Ok complete honesty. I’m writing this now because 5 minutes ago I was self-harming and I couldn’t stop myself. This time around I’ve tried every strategy going (from flicking an elastic band at my wrist instead to trying to be aware of the triggers) to try and stop it. Currently I’m yet to have any success. So what do I do? For the last few years (yes even before I came really unwell in October 2016) I have picked at my breasts. I mean finding a little blackhead, spot, imperfection and squeezing or scratching at it. In the run up to giving birth to both of my boys I managed to curtail it because I wanted to breast feed them. Something I didn’t manage to do with either.

So what now? Well since I have been really unwell this time it has spiralled out of control. I can pick them throughout the day. Usually when I am on the toilet, in the shower or changing clothes. I’ve done it at home, at work and friends houses. It has left my breasts being filled by large scabs and scarred.

It upsets me to look at them. It tears me apart to think about it. My husband obviously knows. He is great. He has learnt that telling me to stop or physically pulling my hands away (when he has seen me do it) doesn’t actually help. It tends to enrage me and make me more determined. Instead he will regularly reassure me now. Of course he wants me to stop. He tries to be a positive and reassuring presence rather than a dictatorial one. I don’t respond well to being told what to do.

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So why do I do it? What pushes someone so far that they turn to self-harm?

  1. I have found that self-harm offers some form of temporary release of feelings. It silenced the chaos in my head. .It is a changing of emotional pain into physical pain. When I self-harm I am solely focused on that moment. All the tension, stress, low feelings are released into the act of cutting or picking (in my case). I am able to feel a sense of relief. Although this only lasts a couple of minutes, at most, it is such a freedom from feeling so poorly.
  2. Punishing myself. My depression continually makes me feel like a failure. By self-harming, I am making myself hurt for my failings. I feel like I should be made to suffer for my inadequacies. I believe I am letting everyone down and therefore self-harm is the retribution for being such a rubbish, wife, mum and employee. I deserve to be in pain, it is only right that just as other people are being forced to cope with me being ill, I should too be punished.
  3. It legitimizes how I am feeling. I always feel like I have to prove how unwell I am. I find that the spoken word is inadequate for this. The marks of self-harm reassure me. Inside I can think yes it really is this bad. I really am ill. It is funny how I feel like people will understand something physical far better than just being depressed. I feel like the self-harm almost justifies me being off work and my feelings.
  4. It is a way to feel less numb. Often with depression I have become completely consumed with it. There is no time or space left to think about anything. I live in a complete a haze or fog. In that moment of self-harm the pain in the case of scratching with the scissors or the blood when I pick an old scab on my breasts reconnects me with the world. It brings me out of this other world.

Right now I’m not sure I can write about recovery. I’m sorry to let you down here. It will come. But at the moment it seems a little far away. I could spout to you the advice I have been given or quote from the Mind website but that doesn’t feel like my blogging. I’m keeping it real. Real to my experience.

Instead I would like to offer some advice to those of you who have never self-harmed. To those of you who know someone who is/has self-harmed whether it is a family member, friend, work colleague, employee or me. I know you may not get it. I know you may think it is strange. Just know this I hate myself so much. It is at times a bit of escapism from the hell of depression.

So what can you do:

  • Don’t judge
  • Encourage them to get support
  • Be honest about your concerns and worries
  • Remind them of their good qualities
  • Don’t make them feel like a failure
  • Don’t tell them to stop (it’s not that easy)
  • Don’t be angry or cross with them
  • Show them compassion, concern and love.

I am so lucky.  I have a few friends who know about the recent self-harm. They have been amazing. They have never made me feel silly or ridiculous. They have immediately understood. They have merely shown concern, compassion and encouraged me to get help. I hope other people may have these experiences too.

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Depression is not a choice

“How are you?” What a common everyday question. You really don’t want the real answer. You really don’t want to know the ins and outs. You really don’t want to know that stopping the anti-depressants suddenly (under doctors orders) because of the allergic reaction, meant that Friday-Sunday I was very poorly. It felt like an alien was possessing my body. Honestly where had Becky gone? Or perhaps you would like me to be honest. But truth be told is there really a good time for me to share these things? Do I really want to come across as the most self-centred person in the world?

Yes it feels at times like I am consumed with how I am feeling. I’m sick of it. So that means other people must be too. Do they really want to hear how poorly I still am? They are probably tutting under their breath, why she is still unwell. They are probably thinking for crying out loud just pull yourself together, be happy.

Well I’m sorry. I don’t want to feel like this. But I am not in control of it either. I wish I could wave a magic wand and it would all be over. I have tried so hard to overcome it. I’m exhausted. This is not something I choose. Unfortunately there are still those that don’t understand this. This week a friend shared with me how I should hold on to the things I do have and stop complaining about the rest. I wish it was that simple.

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Yes my friend is right. Mainly my life is amazing and I don’t have much to be sad about but this is not depression. Depression is not sadness. It is not a natural reaction to a traumatic event, or a bad turn of circumstances. It is not like the grief we experience when people die. Depression is better understood by the word emptiness. Numbness. Oblivion. I have entered a black hole and there is no way out. I once read it is like the dementors from Harry Potter have sucked my life out of me.

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For me Robin Williams is a classic example. I always loved his films. I grew up with Mrs Doubtfire. I thought he was amazing in Patch Adams. His stand-up comedian routines had people in fits of laughter. Behind this public persona was a man that we didn’t see. His wife Susan Schneider described the Lewy body dementia that the autopsy showed he had as “the terrorist inside my husband’s brain.” We can never really know what is behind a person’s smile.

I don’t expect you to understand. But I do expect you to believe me. Believe that every day I am grateful for my family, my friends, my job, my home. Believe that I don’t want to feel like this. Believe that I am fighting this illness everyday. I don’t want to be like this.

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Another time I will blog about suicidal thoughts and plans. I need to get up the courage up for that. But know this. Depression has been so bad I would do anything for it to end. I live with the most negative person in the world. And I can never escape him as he is in my head. You are useless. You are worthless. You are a failure. Everyone hates you. No one wants to know you.

I know you have no way of seeing this. I know it is hard to believe that it is so bad. I know that you may think suicide is a cowards way. I have a new vocation. I want to let people in to my mind for a little while. I hope you will start to understand it better.

So what do I want you to do? What can you do to help?
1. Believe me.
2. Don’t judge me.
3. Try to understand.
4. Listen to me.
5. Be there for me.

Sometimes when I say “I’m fine” or “I’m ok” know that perhaps it is just easier to say that. Give me a smile. Give me a hug. Like my husband has learnt just look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say “I know you are not. But it will get better.”

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What is anxiety?

Just like depression, anxiety can be majorly misunderstood. Many struggle with anxiety without the burden of depression and vice versa. However, for me when depression has been at its worst anxiety has been there holding its hand.

So what is anxiety like? How does it affect me day to day? Essentially it turns quite a normally shy, but internally confident me, into a shaking wreck. Yes anxiety actually brings physical symptoms too.

My chest tightened, my breathing became fast and shallow, I felt extremely faint and dizzy, I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I was having my first panic attack. Luckily I have only experienced two of these and both times the same amazing colleague and friend has managed to come to my rescue. Panic attacks are devastating. A close family member suffers from these regularly. Ambulances have been called. Is it a heart attack? Is he going to live? What is happening? No just a severe panic attack.

But anxiety isn’t just a panic attack. Anxiety has affected me physically in the following ways:
-A tight chest. Sometimes I have been teaching classes and not been able to catch my breath. It is like a breathlessness that I experienced when climbing stairs whilst pregnant. Pain and spasms across my chest have led me to worry even more. Am I seriously ill? Is this the start of a heart attack?
– Pain in my back and shoulders. At their worst these appear as a dull ache and make sure that with everything I do I’m reminded of being unwell. Rolling my shoulders is constant. I try in vain to relieve the pain.
– Ok yes I’m going there. It seriously affects my water works and digestive system. Needing to urinate regularly when you cant just run to the toilet because you are teaching 30 teenagers is tough. Diarrhoea. Constipation. An endless cycle.
-Muscle and jaw ache. Muscle aches in my legs at the end of the day are a common place. They make it even more difficult to sleep as the constant dull pain plays on my mind. My jaw is constantly tense. At one point it ached and even caused tooth pain. I started to worry that I needed to go to the dentist and then I realised that my anxiety had been translating its way to my jaw as well as everywhere else.
Loss of appetite Most people will be aware of the analogy butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety means that my stomach feels like it is so full of those butterflies, that their flying around inside it is making me nauseous. Sometimes I have actually been sick.

One of the worst parts of my anxiety has been adrenaline overload. Now adrenaline is a powerful “fight or flight” chemical that is so helpful in the right situation. However, any situation where we feel stressed, threatened, insulted or guilty can signal our body to raise the level of adrenaline. It can be helpful in the right amounts, however when there is an overload it can hijack your thought process. When these parts of our brain have been shut down it can lead to us making risky decisions or judgements.

The physical and mental symptoms of this adrenaline have been really extreme for me. Almost like a panic attack I have had a pounding head, a heart that seems to be beating out of my chest, I get sweaty and hot, tense, and have shortness of breath. My thoughts seem to become all jumbled together, I can’t seem to take anything new on board and I can’t seem to speak clearly. I often talk very fast and appear quite frantic.

The adrenaline leads me to come draw rash conclusions. It makes me feel like the whole world is against me. I develop a stutter and struggle to articulate myself. After the adrenaline overload I am usually so mentally drained that it leaves me physically exhausted. I have to sleep to overcome how ill it makes me feel.

As well as depression anxiety has seriously affected my ability to function. The often irrational and continual worry has infected my every thought and moment. Anxiety is a barrier to you being able to do your job, be happy in yourself or enjoy your friends and your family. Your mind, is consumed with fear. It loses perspective on everything else.

At its worst all of these symptoms appear in the run up to teaching a class. Amazingly I have always managed to overcome this anxiety when in front of the class. It is like I walk through the classroom door and a switch is flicked which turns off the anxiety and turns on the teacher. However the after effects of putting myself through this are horrendous.

Unbelievable tiredness. After any anxiety causing situations I’m wiped out. Physically it is like I have just run a marathon. Mentally it is like I have just been grilled on mastermind. This is why I sleep so much. I have to. Also the anxiety is a major cause of being unable to rest effectively. I have sometimes tried to relax, by turning on the TV. I haven’t even been able to focus even on this and have spent hours flicking back and forth through the channels almost in a comatose state.

And I haven’t even started on anxiety at night. It is so bad I struggle to switch off at all. It is at night I have been the most suicidal. When I eventually drop off I’m usually awake an hour later with my heart racing and head pounding as a dream/nightmare has been so real I feel so anxious. And then the overthinking starts again. This isn’t one night. This is every night!

Depression with anxiety is so difficult to face.

What is depression really like?

Lists of the symptoms of depression are easy to access http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. They may help a doctor diagnose the patient. They may validate that the illness is real for those who are struggling. But they don’t really explain what it is like for those on the outside. How on earth are family, friends or employers meant to help when they don’t really get it? How can they put the right support in place?

We need to help them walk in our shoes for a little while. Explain what it is really like so we can shatter the stigma. It is so hard to share. I will keep trying.
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1. How my head feels.
I just wish someone would cut it off at times. It is so full. Messy. It weighs me down. My son loves the TV programme Ben and Holly. In this a fairy called Nanny Plum often has accidents with a spell to make jelly and it ends up pouring out of her magic basket and all over the kingdom. For me my head sometimes feels like it is full of sticky, wobbly jelly. What I mean is it feels heavy and full but there is nothing of any worth inside. I would love someone to get a spoon and clear my head of the jelly which is sticking to everything in my brain so that I could function again.

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Other images are a jewellery box full of tangled necklaces. Every decision that has to be made is almost impossible because my head is a scrambled pile of connections. Another is a tonne weight. It feels such a burden to have my head on my shoulders. I am so tired of it. So exhausted by how heavy it is. So shattered by carrying it around everyday without it providing me any help, but instead causing me trouble

2. Being so tired.
Why do I choose to go to bed for a couple of hours in the day? Why do I crave this sleep so badly? For me it provides a rest from my head and the feelings in it. When I am asleep I can finally let go of that burden if only for a short while. I find that this leaves me almost in a cycle of bad sleep and feeling tired. The day time sleep means I am not tired at night time and completely mucks up my cycle. At the moment I feel the need to set a goal for next week to have less sleep in the day but I know that if I feel as I do now I can guarantee that sleep at least gives me a rest from the thoughts in my head.

3. Apathy
No amount of sleep can overcome this feeling. I have lost all enthusiasm for activities. I have lost all motivation to complete any tasks. For many it could appear to be laziness. In fact if I am honest that is how I sometimes see it when I am being particularly judgemental and critical. But it is far from being lazy. It is linked to the head I was describing earlier. It is as if the connections to complete a task cannot be made. A symptom of depression is to lack any form of motivation for any form of task. Reasons preventing task completion can vary from a lack of concentration, to anxiety and worry that a possible task will increase feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.

4. Not being able to concentrate
Firstly when you have depression the ability to have any action or power disappears. Your lack of confidence in yourself is so severe that you feel like you don’t have power over anything. You feel like actions are impossible to take. Whenever I try to settle down to any task, whatever it may be, my mind is full of so many thoughts that I cannot seem to focus on any particular one.

5. Overthinking.
For me this is the biggest curse. I can spend hours rethinking one look or comment. This results in being unable to function as there is no time in my head for anything, all I have is these thoughts going round and round in circles. They refuse to leave me, they follow me like a shadow and they infect every part of my being. They involve me questioning myself and my beliefs and my actions. They make me half the person I am as they make me a shrivelling wreck; they are a major cause of my anxiety. All this overthinking causes time to lose all its meaning. Time seems to pass by without even realising it. Wait was that a minute or a whole day that I have just spent thinking?
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6. Overbearing emotions
Sometimes depression means I don’t even recognise who I am. Depression brings out the worst in me. Boiling anger. Lack of patience. Irrational behaviour. Crippling guilt and worry. Feeling like a failure and a burden to everyone. Being lonely and isolated. These emotions mean I am hypersensitive. I can twist or turn any remark into a criticism.

7. Being Distant
I often seem so consumed with myself, all the questioning and overthinking that I do means I push other people away. For me, this distance looks like someone who is physically there but in reality not there. My mind is far from in the present, it is too busy thinking back over situations or worrying about the future.

8. Lack of self-esteem.
With the development of depression often comes a decrease in a person’s self-esteem. All confidence and belief in one’s own value and worth can be completely lost when suffering from this illness. Even when well I don’t have a particularly high level of self-esteem, I can be found doubting myself regularly. But with the illness I lose all perspective of my value within my family, my job and my friendship circle. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to build me up by praising me or reassuring me of my importance, qualities or abilities I can no longer see this. It is almost as if in my head there is a wall that prevents their words from entering.
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#Iwantyoutoknow

Recently @timetochange have launched a campaign to help shatter the stigma surrounding mental health. Asking people to use the hash tag #iwantyoutoknow to share with others what is like to have a mental health condition and provide a source of comfort for those who need help. So with this as an inspiration I have been thinking what would I like you to know about depression and anxiety. I want you to know:

1.Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone at anytime. Age, race, religion, family circumstances, nothing means you are immune. I have a wonderful husband. Two amazing boys. A lovely home. I had a great upbringing. A job I love. Despite all of this I suffer from depression. I believe I will now fight it everyday of my life. It doesn’t help me when you say “but you have a great life”, “you haven’t got anything to worry about” or “nothing bad has ever happened to you”. Firstly how would you know? Secondly so what? None of it matters. Depression isn’t my fault.

2.I may look ok on the outside but it doesn’t mean I am on the inside. Mostly I appear happy, easy going, friendly, full of life. Most people would never think that I am ill. Sometimes it is such an act to appear happy in public. It involves so much effort . I can’t always hold back the depression for long and I often go home and nap because I am so tired or cry because that is how I truly feel. “The happiest people on the outside maybe dying inside.” Mental illness is as debilitating as physical.


3. That just because I’m back at work doesn’t mean I’m well.
Mental health is so invisible. It is so difficult for anyone to really know how anyone else is feeling. You never really know what is going on behind someone’s smile. Just because I’m not in hospital, or confined to my bed it doesn’t mean I am suddenly better. Although I have had many days where things have got so tough bed has been my sanctuary. It is the place where I can escape the torment of my mind for just a short while. I have what is called high functioning depression which means most of the time I can go on as normal. No one would necessarily suspect anything was wrong. Some days I wish I could hold a placard saying today I feel awful just be kind. I wish it was normal for me to let you know, how I truly am. “I’m fine” is much easier to say.

4. Depression doesn’t make me any less capable. I can still be a success. In the past well meaning people have often made me feel like my illness means I can’t do something. A promotion at work or a new challenge have been made to feel like they are out of my reach. There are some that think depression means I don’t have the potential to achieve new goals and challenges. My illness is just a small part of me. I have so much more to give. In fact I would argue it actually makes me stronger than others. It means I have more to offer. It has also meant that I have developed more empathy and understanding for others. Perhaps one day when I am leading others I will have the chance to shatter this stigma.

5. It is important to educate yourself about self-harm.Self-harm is not isolated to teenagers. There are many different ways people self-harm so don’t presume it is only cutting parts of your body. The worst stigma I ever experienced was the belief that self-harm meant I was a danger to others. I self-harm to release my overwhelming feelings. To make the mental physical. To punish myself. In no way am I a danger to the wellbeing of others. Self-harm is about me.

6. Anxiety makes me seem anti-social, but I’m not being rude . Sometimes I will cancel. Sometimes I will hide away in the corner. Sometimes I leave early because I can’t put a brave face on anymore. I can’t explain what is going on in my head. I know it maybe a gathering of people who love and care for me. Sometimes anything other than being on my own is too much.

7. There is no shame in asking for help Please speak to someone. A friend, family member, doctor. Don’t live with this illness on your own. Talking and sharing how you are is the start of recovery. You are not weak. You are not mad. You are amazing. You are special. You are loved.

8.It would mean so much to me if you would text or contact me. Over the past few months I have been surprisingly touched by these things. Flowers from colleagues, friends and my employer have actually managed to brighten a whole day and sometimes even longer. People going to the effort to write me a card has been so special. A friendly text has meant the world. Without these I would have completely fallen apart. In fact this illness has opened my eyes to how kind people can be.

Depression and anxiety effects everyone differently. I don’t have all the answers. I just want a few more people to understand it. Just remember just getting up in a morning is a challenge for me. So if you see me out of bed and dressed I am already winning that day. Be proud of me for that at least.