This type of post isn’t my favourite to write, not because it’s personal, or I’m worried about being judged but because it is so hard to articulate the thoughts and feelings I have surrounding all aspects of my mental health. It’s also hard to admit to certain things, it’s one thing to acknowledge them in your mind, it’s another thing to acknowledge them on paper.
My best friend has depression, she has since we were about 14 and over the years I tried to be there, I tried to understand it, I tried to help, but ultimately there were days when she just pissed me off. I thought, why does she agree to a plan and then cancel, that’s so selfish. Why doesn’t she talk to me or check in with me and ask how my day is going? Why doesn’t she just tough it out, try harder, believe in herself more, stretch herself, aim higher. I know now how idealistic and naïve that was. I was a bad friend. I was selfish, and overbearing, and uncaring.
Depression changes you. Anxiety changes you. More than a broken leg changes you. Try as you might, unless you have experienced it you will not understand quite how deeply it can affect a person. When I was diagnosed with depression, at first I felt such relief; I finally knew I wasn’t crazy: I felt the way I did because I had depression. Instead of wondering and obsessing over why I was acting and feeling the way I was, there was an explanation.
The relief was short lived. Everyday hurt. Getting up hurt. Except you can’t take an ibuprofen. You can’t point to where it hurts. You can’t make it go away. Or worst of all, you get a few hours or a day where it does go away, you feel yourself again, you’re happy and hopeful, but then you crash. Then it all comes back, all the despondency and all the hurt. I used to love acting, and reading, and going out. I became too self-conscious to even make it to an audition, books were just meaningless words, and nothing filled me with more dread than the thought of socialising. I was nowhere near the girl I used to be.
I used to be a go getter, I was motivated, I sought out my own opportunities. When I was 16, I applied for a summer study abroad, I lived alone, I went to classes each day in a country that spoke a completely different language, where I knew no one and I loved it. Now? I’m 20 and paying at the till on my own makes me feel sick and full of dread. I should be going forwards, not backwards. I look at what I was capable of achieving at 16 and I feel so ashamed and lazy, I should’ve achieved so much more than I have in my life so far.
At my lowest point, the thought of showering, of having to get undressed and see myself naked, of having to go through the routine of rubbing my head with shampoo, then conditioner, then rinsing it, was exhausting and would leave me in tears. I avoided mirrors, they would give me panic attacks, I avoided people when I could, I cut my apples with butter knives because I knew in the back of my mind what could happen if I bought myself a sharp knife.
Even though I actively made these choices, I wasn’t aware, I didn’t realise how low I had gotten. I couldn’t reach out for help because I didn’t believe that I was bad enough to need it, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t realise to quite what extent. I have high functioning depression, so I still messaged my friends in the group chat, I still went to lectures, I still rang my parents, I still showered. No matter how long it took to psyche myself up to do these things and no matter how challenging, I still did because that was what was expected of me and I couldn’t let anyone’s expectations drop. I put up such a façade of ‘normality’ I was terrified of admitting I wasn’t okay, to admit I was struggling pretty severely for the fear that no one would believe me, because no one had seen me struggle. Because I didn’t act like a ‘typical’ depressed person, I didn’t tick all the boxes.
I didn’t know how to make it better, and I don’t know if I will ever get 100% better, but I’m working at it. I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m counting my blessings that I have such supportive family and friends and that I know other people who understand what I am going through.
I wish I had understood sooner for my best friend, I wouldn’t have been so demanding and unforgiving. I could’ve realised that actually when it’s taken you 4 hours to just get up and take a shower, it’s exhausting to then have to spend another 4 preparing yourself for a night of socialising, and sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes you have to cancel, and you have to say no. You can’t even ask yourself how your day is going, or check in with yourself, you’re struggling so hard to do the basic things like remembering to feed yourself, that you forget to check in with friends. You wouldn’t ask a friend with a recovering broken leg to go on a hike with you, and then be angry that they said no because their leg was in too much pain that day. You wouldn’t ask why a friend hadn't asked you how your day was, when they had just been in a car crash and were fighting for their life. Just because you can’t see depression, doesn’t mean someone isn’t fighting for their life.
I get it, it can be frustrating to have a friend with depression or anxiety but trust me everything you’re thinking to yourself “Can’t they just toughen up, it’s not that hard, just do it already, think of someone other than yourself for once!” is already going through their mind a million times a day. I’ve been the person thinking that about others, now I’m the person thinking it about myself. I wasn’t a bad friend, I could’ve been better, but the thoughts I had about being selfish and uncaring came at a point when my mind was hyper critical of every single action I made. I listened, I wrote letters, I told her how much she meant to me, I made her a list of all the things I love about her, but ultimately, I still had moments of frustration with her, and if only I’d understood how hard she was trying each day I wouldn’t have been so frustrated, I could’ve been more supportive. I hope she thinks I’m more supportive now. Which is why it is important to try to understand mental health, even if you have never struggled yourself, because without trying you can’t be supportive, however much you want to be.
Even now, I may not judge others in their battles with mental health, but I do compare my journey all the time. Why aren’t I getting ‘better’ as fast as her? Why is he still in such a dark place when I’ve made such progress? Mental health is complex. There is no one size fits all cure, that’s what makes it so hard. Break your leg? Put a cast on it. Depression? Let’s start you on Step 1, if that doesn’t work we’ll try Step 2. Oh regular CBT not helping, let’s try some compassionate theory, nope? Let’s try EMDR. There is so much trial and error, and when one thing after another doesn’t help it makes you feel worse not better. I was extremely lucky, despite waiting a year from my referral letter to starting my Step 4 Psychotherapy, I didn’t have to jump through hoops like others I know. I started at the highest level of therapy, and I connected with my therapist and the treatments she is working with me on. Others are not so lucky.
Everyone should feel comfortable to talk about their mental health, and if someone trusts you and believes in you enough to be the person they have that important conversation with, they’re probably not expecting you to have a magic cure to tell them. For me, I just needed someone to listen, to believe me when I said I was struggling and to tell me “I’m here, I know you’re struggling, but I love you and I want to help.”
There is always someone out there who will listen, who will understand, and who will try their damnedest to help you. Don’t let your head tell you otherwise.