Tag Archives: depression

Dear Facebook User

Dear Facebook User,

It has recently come to my attention that Facebook is mainly comprised of delightful documentations of people’s lives. Eating delicious food and photos of incredible travels are what social media is made for, all glossy and edited with Instagram filters that make everyone look younger and happier than they really are.

If you are anything like me, a real human being with feelings, problems and a mostly unremarkable daily life, this flood of happiness, fun and realizations can make you feel inadequate, boring and unhappy at times. In a perfect world we would all feel happy enough in ourselves not to consider Facebook a battle of “Who is having a better time?” that often makes young people feel lonely.

This feeling of battle is what leads us to always be searching for the best, most incredible thing to be doing on a Saturday night. We always need to find the better thing to do, the thing that will bring us most joy and with social media and technology surely that event is just within our reach. We have become flaky human beings, always looking for the best night out, the best event, the thing that will make us happiest (or make us appear the happiest). If we were purely doing this for ourselves, it may be acceptable but I often feel like there are times that I look for the best angle, the best view just so I can share it on social media. This can lead to a type of unhappiness that is based on comparisons which I personally don’t think is healthy. Here is a common list of things you might think while you are scrolling down your feed.

– I could have gone to that party, it seemed to be better than the one I actually went to.
– Wow, Janet always travels to such incredible places. I wish I could do that.
– I can’t believe Johnny is moving to New York City, that sounds really cool and a lot better than where I am right now.
– Oh, Lucy got a new job and it’s better paying than what I got right now. Ugh.
– How the hell can Janet afford to travel so much? Why can’t afford to do that?
– Why does everyone else seem to be having a better life than I am?
– Aw, Jenna and Julien just moved in together. Too bad my last relationship came crashing down like a thousand waves.
– Ugh, Julie looks so much prettier than I do in this photo

Technology is incredible and I’ve made and kept a lot of friends through it. But the psychological effects of being on Facebook are real: we always think other people are happier, prettier and more fulfilled than we are. It’s a heightened version of “The grass is always greener on the other side” because we can see much more than the grass. We can see the food, the travelling, the embraces, the kisses and the smiles.

The absolute worst is when we can see other people moving forward and we feel like nothing is happening in our lives or we feel like we’ve gone back a few steps. It sucks, because sometimes there isn’t anything we can do to make our life move forward, we just have to wait until our next move is a possibility. So we sit there, in our modern-day anxiety, unhappy and bored, scrolling down through our friends’ accomplishments.

Because of technology we are unable to live in the present, we are unable to understand that what we have right now will not last forever and that we can be content with it for the time being, even if we feel like we are stuck or unhappy. Sitting with your pain or your boredom or your unfullfilment is necessary so you can one day move forward. Comparing yourself to your Facebook friends’ can make you want to rush through the phase you’re in which can be become destructive in the future.

Facebook User, I am writing this to you in the hope that you start realizing that we all have pain and that we all go through phases where we wished we could just give up. I am writing this to you so that you understand that the photos your friends put up on Facebook are selected, edited and tailored to make them look a certain way. You can be sure that behind the photo of that couple that just moved in there is hard work put into a relationship. You can be certain that behind your friends’ travels there were hours of work and planning and even home-sickness. Everyone has a thing, no one’s life is perfect and we all move at different speeds to achieve what we want.

Late night thoughts on Birdman and mental illness

After watching Birdman, I have come to the conclusion that my mental illness is not Hollywood material. My depression, my anxiety and my panic attacks are not caused by any kind of artistic existential crisis. Rather, my mental illness simply exists and it does not need a reason to be.

Unlike the Hollywoodian type of mental illness, my inner voice makes me lethargic and uninspired. I do not ponder about my reason of being nor do I feel the need to prove myself to the world. In fact, I think about not being at all, ceasing to exist in the most discrete and painless way possible.

It is scary to think that numbness can strike out of nowhere, for no particular reason. In movies, there are always actions and reactions: character A is depressed because of X. That’s the easiest way to understand another human being suffering from mental illness. But what if there is no particular reason for mental illness? What if something starts to go bad inside you and you cannot point to a cause?

Before committing suicide, Robin Williams gave an interview to The Guardian where he talked about him mental state. I always think back on this interview because I resent the ‘tortured artist’ trope: Robin Williams did not kill himself because he was a disturbed artist with too many ideas. Robin Williams killed himself because he was sick and he was in pain, and thousands of people across the world who are not artists or actors go through that every day.

What stood out for me was the following, when he is asked if his alcoholism and drug dependence are about his friend Christopher Reeves’s death.

“No,” he says quietly, “it’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”

Of course the interviewer had to ask what he is afraid of, but this kind of fear is not palpable or definable. I do not know what I am afraid of or why my chest hurts or why I want to sit at home by myself for a few days when I am depressed. It has never been as simple as a career crossroads like Birdman’s Riggan.

Obviously, when someone kills themselves you want to ask: Why? – the possibility of someone taking their own life because of an illness is way beyond our grasp. Why? Was he disappointed with his career? Was he disturbed by one of his parts in his recent movie? Why? How could he? He was so talented! The idea that the crushing pain of mental illness comes without reason is disturbing. The idea that this pain can override everything we have achieved in our lives, everything that we are, is scary. I get that.

I enjoyed watching Birdman: it was interestingly done, the acting was incredible and I wasn’t bored. But as a sufferer of mental illness who has lived with a separate voice from my own in my head, I resent that Riggan’s issues were glamourized in the usual ‘tortured artist’ format. It felt like the subject of mental illness was avoided when it was in plain sight and isn’t that how we already treat it in everyday life?

I would like society to reach a place where depression is understood as an illness, not as a kind of crisis that can be fixed with picking the right path or impressing the right people. It is uncomfortable to stop searching for a reason why our idols or friends or family harm themselves in such a way but I am sick of the tortured artist trope. It’s repetitive and I doubt it has done much to help people who suffer from these illnesses. It means we are constantly searching for what is making us hurt, as opposed to getting treatment for something that is completely curable or in the least manageable.

On happiness after depression

[Trigger Warning: mental illness, suicide]

rock in rio

If you read my blog regularly you will know I have struggled with depression and anxiety for about two years now.  This blog only has a few really personal posts and this is one of them. I don’t like posting personal blogs because I am supposed to be a ‘serious journalist’ who works on reports and opinion articles and ‘grown up’ things. But I guess I can be that and a blogger with feelings.

In the last eight months of my life I have seen a steady improvement in my mental health. I always hesitate when saying ‘now I am happy’ though because it implies I wasn’t happy for most of these two years which just isn’t true. It is hard to talk about happiness after depression because the default antonym of ‘happiness’ is ‘sadness’ and that’s not exactly what depression is.

Depression is pain and walking through a hazy life. It’s trying to see through a fog that seems impossible to dissolve.  What I’ve come to learn is that in the hardest parts of life, happiness is certain moments where you feel better. Looking back to the last two years I can remember many lovely moments that I would define as ‘happy’. I treasure them dearly because they contrasted so vividly with my daily numbness.

But in the last eight months the numbness has been fading, and I’ve been happy (or at least not numb) most of the time. I am looking forward to the next few months, as good things are coming up in my professional and personal lives. But it’s not just that the future looks bright.

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Although I give credit and thanks to all my family, friends and boyfriend who were my incredible support system during this illness, I am proud of myself.

I picked myself up from the ground when all I really wanted to do was dig deeper and bury myself alive.

Dusting off the dirt after you get up can be hard in itself: I had to learn how to walk again. Professionally, I had to start from nothing and build myself up as a freelance journalist because of the lack of jobs in my city. Personally, I had to relearn how to be a whole person because my personality and psyche were broken into little pieces. I stumbled through and I cried a lot. Sometimes I walked straight, others I just sat down and waited to feel better.

This week I lowered the dosage of my antidepressants. In two months I will lower it again, as it’s a slow process to go off really powerful medication like the one I am taking.

I feel happy. I feel fulfilled. I feel proud.

And after a year and a half of not feeling, of crying, of feeling intense pain in my chest I value a smile, a laugh so much more than I used to. Happiness is often taken for granted – when we are sad, we are conscious of it while happiness seems to be just a given.

Happiness after depression feels stronger because I no longer take it for granted. I am submersed in it and I often remind myself of harder times.

I hate saying ‘it gets better’ because to many people it doesn’t. Many people suffer depression for years and even decades, I don’t want to be dismissive of that. I’ve been really lucky in my recovery and although I know that’s not the case for a lot of people I hope this blog gives you a bit of hope. Even if your depression doesn’t get better, maybe you can notice the little moments of happiness I used to feel and grab onto them.

Who wore it better?

Who wore it better?

 

Lessons from mental illness

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Depression and anxiety are hidden wounds many of us have to live with. I have written about my struggles with mental illness before, but I had never thought about what these obstacles have taught me. For almost two years now I have been trying – and thankfully succeeding – to get better, which means the long road is full of lessons. So here is a list of the things I have learned.

1)      If you feel lonely when you’re alone you are not in good company.

This is not an absolute truth – of course we all need human contact – but if you can’t stand being by yourself for a day or two you probably don’t like yourself. The thing about depression is that you hate yourself whether you are with a group of people or alone. In all situations you are boring, uninteresting and numb.

Learning how to be on your own and giving yourself value is probably one of the most important things in life. As we grow older and get lives, jobs, etc there will be less people to hang out with. Now I can spend long periods of time on my own without driving myself crazy. Of course I go out with friends and such but liking myself has helped me do that.

2)      The difference between being sad and numb

When my condition was very serious I was either numb or in pain, those were the only two states of emotion my body and mind could process. There was nothing else, though I cried and I cried. But I wasn’t sad, I was numb. I knew I liked my life so in paper I should be happy but the numbness wouldn’t let me feel good things. And that’s what caused the pain.

Today I can tell that crying and sadness shouldn’t consume you. Sadness isn’t a constant state, and neither is happiness. In a way my perception of feelings and emotions has changed for the better.

3)      Dogs keep you sane

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you probably know that I have a lovely Golden Retriever called Luna (pictured above). She is my sister and we look out for each other daily. Dogs can be emotionally soothing not to mention distracting.

Luna can tell if someone is in distress and if I felt really, really crummy I could count on her being there, if only to be stroked. She doesn’t talk – but the thing is that she doesn’t have to. Sometimes all I needed was company and not a conversation about my feelings.

4)      Sleep is poison, water and food are antidotes

I sleep a lot. I hate it, but I am really bad at getting out of bed. But when I was at the height of depression it was much, much worse – I wouldn’t get out of bed for days. I just couldn’t, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t have the strength to go to university, or to feed myself, or to even talk to my friends so I felt it was better just to sleep.

I was also never hungry or thirsty. But since then I have been sleeping a lot less, drinking a lot more water and eating a lot more food (I even gained a few kilos which, you know what, is great because I used to be underweight). I try to always have a glass of water near me, it’s comforting to know that water cleanses your body.

5)      It’s the little exchanges

It’s not that I used to be rude but being socially anxious resulted in a lack of social decorum for me. If I was pressed to say hello, I probably would but averting my eyes, looking down, feeling a bit trapped. But today I try – and I try really, really hard – to always say “Hello”, “Good morning/afternoon/ evening”, “How are you?”, etc etc.

It seems silly but small talk like this is important to practice. Even if I feel awkward I try to do it because most of the time the next encounter won’t be so odd. Also I find that most awkwardness is in my head due to social anxiety.

6)    Jealousy isn’t necessarily bad

I am jealous of people who can deal with social situations with ease. I am also jealous of people who have jobs I would like or who live in the same country as their significant others. And I used to think that was a bad thing because it feels so rotten and mean to want what some one else has.

But jealousy can be flipped into a positive instrument. It can be converted into motivation. It is only genuinely bad if you sit crying all day feeling sorry for yourself and not doing anything about getting what you want, just moping what other people have. So seeing people act ‘normally’ in social settings helped me try harder. So jealousy isn’t necessarily bad – and maybe other bad feelings like it can be flipped around.

How about you? Has your mental illness taught you anything?

Read my piece about depression here.
Read my piece about anxiety here.

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Anxiety.

There is a pounding in my chest. Everything else is drowned by the talking in my head. I can’t focus on what people are saying. People are laughing and I try to laugh as well, but I don’t know if this is the appropriate social response. I have the shakes. Thoughts in my head, compulsive, obsessive thoughts are so strong and so present that I am feeling head pressure. It’s not a headache; it’s a kind of pressure, as if something is pushing to get out. Sometimes, I feel it in my eye sockets.

The pressure is so great that sometimes I feel lightheaded and weak, nauseous. There are times where the discomfort isn’t in my head, but in my chest, and in this case, it hurts for real. It feels like there’s a knife lodged in there, crushing my heart with insecurity and panic.

I have anxiety disorder, and I have panic attacks almost every day.

Disorders like mine are the most common mental illness in the USA; it affects around 18% of the population of adults (18 or older). That’s 40 million people that feel the same symptoms as me, and have to cope with it every day. In the UK, mixed depression and anxiety is the most common mental disorder. I felt alone, but I wasn’t alone at all.

Anxiety can lead to depression. That’s what happened to me. Since then, I feel much better by taking the proper medication, going to therapy and working really, really hard to take control of my thoughts. Or simply ignoring them, which takes almost as much effort.

It can also lead to panic attacks. These attacks can last minutes or hours, with peaks every ten minutes. When I started having panic attacks I used to have them every hour of every day, except when I was sleeping.

Panic attacks and anxiety are, as unbelievable as it sounds, defense mechanisms that snap into action when danger or hurt seem to be imminent. My compulsive thoughts are a result of this; my brain is desperately trying to find a way out of anything that might not work out for me. My brain (I treat it as something separate from myself) seems to think I am constantly in peril.

Mental illness can come about for many reasons; life events, genetics, brain chemistry, personality. For me, a few life events left me falling into an abyss of the unknown, and I felt the loss of many things I had counted on before. So I started being scared, all the time, and my brain searched for a way out. One of the paths I constantly thought about was death.

Anxiety starts with fear of something, dreadful anticipation. This anxious feeling searches for some kind of protection that will leave you unharmed at the end of the situation you find yourself in. A way of doing this (and this is undoubtedly what anxiety is) is anticipating all possible outcomes, good or bad, and finding an escape. When escape is impossible, the panic attacks kick off – and they feed on fear.

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I am extremely lucky in that I have many people who supported me and helped me get better. But what about those who don’t? There were moments I thought I was going insane. When I started taking my medication, it was as if a wall between me and the real world was destroyed and I could actually interact socially again. I cannot imagine my life now if I hadn’t had that moment of clarity, I would continue to think that I was going insane. And eventually I would become crazy. It’s too much.

What people don’t understand is that anxiety disorders aren’t about feeling a little nervous when you go outside, or when you talk to people. Anxiety is a seriously debilitating disease, with real physical symptoms. There are times it hurts so much I can’t talk, and others I have to force myself to pay attention to the world, otherwise I am just living inside my head. The head pressures are the worse, because it’s not quite pain but it does make me lightheaded and clouds my judgment. It’s one of the lesser known symptoms of anxiety.

If you’re suffering from anxiety, I made a list of a few things that have worked for me.

– Pushing out unwanted thoughts: Try really hard. Push them out, concentrate on it, and don’t give up. Try to separate your thoughts from the defense mechanism that’s bringing you down. Remember, anxiety lies.

– Have a mantra: Just one sentence to repeat over and over again, when you’re being taken by a panic attack. Say it until you calm down. If you don’t, keep doing it. (I owe this one to Make Me a Sammich)

– Watch TV, but also do something with your hands: Don’t just sit there and will yourself to be distracted. Do something. Doodle, knit, write, play Candy Crush. All of your brain has to be occupied at once.

– Exercise: I didn’t believe this until two weeks ago when I started running. It made me feel a lot better about myself and the endorphins kicked out my bad thoughts. It only lasts for a few hours, but they’re a blissful few hours

– Stay on medication if you’re on it: Don’t stop taking your pills. I have and the result was a complete relapse. I repeat, don’t stop your medication.

– A little help from my friends: Rather, your friends. Go out (or stay in) with people who you are comfortable around. Big groups usually scare me, but that’s up to you.

– Don’t push yourself: I know people are always saying that to get better you have to push yourself. But don’t, unless you feel you are ready to do so. I can’t even tell you how many times I tried doing that, because people pushed me, only to come back home in tears, or shaking, or panicking. I wasn’t ready! Do things at your own pace, if YOU feel that you can push yourself you should. But only you can tell.

– Get into debates: if you feel like you need a distraction, try to get into debates with your friends. I do that very often and it gets me out of my little anxiety shell.

This is one of the most personal posts I have ever written, and I hope that with my honesty you get help, or help some one you know that is afflicted by anxiety. I have also written about depression before, and you can read that here.

UK mental illness helpline

Silver Linings Playbook – Review

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Before agreeing to shoot Silver Linings Playbook, Robert De Niro asked to meet director David O. Russell’s son. The script had impressed him, but he needed to be face to face with the person that would directly affect Russell’s direction. The movie is about mental health, and Russell’s son has bipolar disorder.

After meeting with him, De Niro told his agent to make it happen.

Surprisingly, Silver Linings Playbook has impressed other people too – it snatched up eight Oscar nominations without any grandiose special effects (Why, hello, Life of Pi) and overwhelming patriotic appeal that somehow softens American hearts. (I’m looking at you, Lincoln). The adapted story from the original novel by Matthew Quick has a simple and straightforward plot, where the ending is entirely predictable.

What makes it a really good movie is how goddamn human it is. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and just came out of an 8 months stint in a mental institution after almost killing his wife’s middle aged lover. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a depressed widow who used sex as a way to cope with her grief. They are both lost not only in the real world (both of them live with their parents and have no job as a consequence of their mental illnesses) but also in their minds.

Mental illness is not something that is talked about routinely. A bitter example of this is the dinner scene where Pat and Tiffany meet for the first time and bond over which medications they have been taking and how it feels to be on them. The rest of the people on the table fall silent, awkwardly and uncomfortably trying to change the subject. If mental illness was considered as normal and acceptable as physical illnesses, the meds would be easier to talk about.

But Tiffany, who has been dealing with her depression for a little bit longer than Pat has been struggling with his bipolar disorder, has absolutely no shame in her disease and the things she did because of it. Sleeping with everyone in her office resulted in her being fired, but still she likes every bit of herself, even the bad bits. It comes down to the fact that she became a tough woman, she got stronger and found a passion in dancing because of her disease. And despite her chronic bad attitude towards everyone, she loves herself . Can Pat say the same of himself? Can anyone who ever had a mental illness say that?

The illusion that lies within us all is the idea that we have control over all of our feelings and actions. If one feels sad, they should be able to just snap out of it, get over it. Our brains can be controlled and shaped by us, our thoughts can be sheltered from the obsessive, if only we are strong enough to do it. If only we try hard enough.

That’s not real. Tiffany is constantly judged for her nymphomaniac behaviour, but the truth is she was trying to feel okay and less lonely. She had no real control over her emotions and actions. And neither did Pat when he accidentally elbowed his mother in the face in an explosion where he was imagining his wedding song playing over and over again inside his head.

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Judgement even happens between Tiffany and Pat. Who is craziest? Who did more awful things? Who ruined their own life the most?

It doesn’t matter because at that moment their minds and actions were uncontrollable. And they can hate themselves for it, like Pat does, or simply admit to their mistake and learn from them, like Tiffany.

The medication they are both on is a bonding point because they say it makes them feel out of focus, foggy, weird. I have heard this being said in many instances where the mentally ill person is in some kind of police interrogation. Though this sounds like a ridiculous excuse to not treat yourself when you are sick, it must not be forgotten that the very part of us that makes decisions is what is being afflicted by the disease. Medication for mental illness can indeed make one feel odd, different – and this can be scary for someone who is already out of control. Not taking the meds is something in the outside world they can control. Though eventually Pat gives in (at the end of the day, medication is the answer for him) it’s a difficult step for him – and I imagine most people who struggle with their minds feel the same.

De Niro’s part as Pat’s father is revealing for those who have people close to them afflicted by mental illness. He tries his best to bond with Pat, to give him some of his old life’s routine, but Pat is still in his head trying to find a silver lining in the wrong places. When eventually his father gets through to him, it’s evident that Pat was completely aloof to all his efforts but not on purpose, he simply could not process all that was being done for him. And once Tiffany was able to reach him as one of the only people who seem to understand what he is going through, it was easier for him to get out of his head and finally enter the real world.

Silver Linings Playbook is an honest and sometimes even funny discourse about mental illness, and how overcoming it is a difficult but beautiful journey. Not only that, it is a story about overcoming other people’s flaws as well as your own, reserving judgement when it comes to other people’s problems and moving on from heartbreak.

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Photo found at The Louisville Cardinal, courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Depression.

In late February, during a psychiatrical Skype call, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had been crying in bed for days and I had no idea why; the months preceding this were a mixture of social anxiety, panic attacks and lack of motivation that culminated in two crisis where tears would stream down my face and I had a wrenching pain in my chest for absolutely no reason.

My bed was both the best and the worst part of my day. I couldn’t get out of it in the morning so I would stay the whole day, except for when friends or family would beg me to go outside and do something else. These ventures to the outside world were my worst nightmare, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye and every social interaction seemed forced, awkward and insincere.

The Skype call in February resulted in my medication, which I have to take religiously everyday with my breakfast. Many people were against this, and I can see why. It is addictive and I start shaking if I don’t take it in the appropriate times, which is scary in itself but the pills have also given me a step out the door and massive pain relief that I could not have given myself, no matter what coping mechanism I was clinging on to.

The most accurate account of how I was feeling was written by comedian Rob Delaney, who struggled with depression for a long time. Even though my case wasn’t as severe as his, and I desperately sought help, I understood his afflictions and it helped me understand more about what was happening in my head. I suppose this is why I am writing this post.

My social life has gone down the drain, I have disappeared from most social circles I used to count on and I don’t quite know how I feel about that just yet. Only in the last couple of days have I started to get a grip on myself, on who I am and what I want out of life. My family, close friends and boyfriend have been the best support I could have hoped for, even when I was adamantly pushing everyone away from me because my mind kept telling me I’d be better off alone and that I was incapable of loving or socializing.

In the deepest levels of my crisis stage, I had two modes: hysterical crying and painful numbness. I wouldn’t be surprised if some one told me I cried my whole body weight, because at times I felt so weak and dehydrated I could barely walk without pain.

Last week, I felt like I was going to have another crisis. I felt pain in my chest again and then a constant feeling of desperation and nervousness that was threatening to force me to stay in bed again, day after day. But for some reason, the crisis didn’t happen – although it still might – and today I feel better than I’ve felt in months. I’ve been meaning to write about this episode in my life for a while, but my lack of motivation and constant negativity took a toll on my writing skills and I delayed it as much as possible. Oh, and also posting that you were crying in bed for days on the internet requires either courage or extreme stupidity, I’m not sure which of these I’ve got at the moment but to be honest I don’t care one bit.

This post, as cheesy as it sounds, is to reassure those afflicted by mental illness that you are not alone, and there are people who feel the same; as soon as I said the word depression to my friends they understood how I felt and some of them had even battled with the disease themselves. It is also to say that depression makes you do things you wish you had never done and that your mind tells you these are the things you must do to escape the pain. Trust me, they are not.

Even with so much trouble in my mind, I have to count my blessings. During this time I thought I was incapable I got an job interview at the Daily Mail, I got one of the best Uni marks I’ve ever gotten in my life and I have done a lot of amazing writing that maybe wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been given this illness to mature from. I thrived, even though I felt like I was dying.

And I must say I took up on many hobbies that I absolutely love and had forgotten about since I came to University. I can knit now and I have been scrapbooking again. I have also avidly made time for reading for pleasure which helps in so many ways – escaping your own mind might seem like a cliché but it is what books are for.

I hope this clear things up for friends and family who were far away from me during these past few months. My battle isn’t over, but alas, I have an essay to write. Let’s hope I thrive again.

Edit: As a journalist, I believe no one should suffer in silence. When people tell me their pain during an interview, it is inevitable that I will use it in my writing, so I feel like it would be hypocritical not to expose my own troubles.

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