Tag Archives: mental illness

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.

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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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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