Reaching out – otherwise known as just being HONEST when people ask you if you’re okay – is bloody hard. I spent the best part of 6 years telling myself that I was being over-dramatic and that people don’t want to hear what I’m going through.
A huge aspect of social anxiety is caring too much what people think, so being seen as a “Negative Nancy” was probably the main reason I took so long to admit to just how bad things were. Granted, I would tell my friends or my mum every so often that I had had a “bad day”. The extent of just how bad though… I kept that to myself.
See, for me, a bad day would often consist of trouble breathing throughout the day. Tears at lunch time when it was safe to do so away from the office, tears as soon as I shut the front door behind me when I got home from work. Tears, tears, tears. And so much angst! Having to get off the train half-way home because I “couldn’t breathe” without being outside. Paranoia making me look over my shoulder every few minutes.
But to my friends and family, upon being asked how my day was, my reply would often be “yeah it was alright, crap day at work but nothing a can of diet coke won’t sort!”. It was almost as though through playing down what was going on to everyone else, I was kidding myself into thinking that I was, in fact, alright. I wasn’t. Bad days were turning into bad weeks, bad weeks into bad months.
There is, however, only so much you can hide from the people that care about you. I guess in the end I didn’t “seek help”, I was forced to open up by a boyfriend who just couldn’t stand the sight of me crying for no reason anymore. He demanded to know just what was going on and there was no way I could talk myself out of it with a shitty “I’m just tired” excuse anymore.
Here’s what happened when I finally had an honest conversation about my mental health.
The burden and responsibility was now shared.
I didn’t realise just how alone I had felt in all my suffering until I realised how weightless I felt having shared with G the extent of my tears and ill-feeling. When I was in the throes of depression, I exacerbated the symptoms further by adding a tonne of guilt into the mix – guilt for feeling the way I was feeling. There was no reason behind it, no troublesome childhood or traumatic event, no job-loss, breakup, housing difficulties or loss of a loved one. I threw angry self-commentary at myself for feeling so low. As a result of the guilt, I therefore felt a huge amount of responsibility for making sure I got out of this shitty frame of mind – alone. When I opened up to G, it dawned on me that this isn’t now just my responsibility, he’s sharing the burden too. And then further still, when he finally managed to push me to my GP, I realised that the responsibility was lessened still – I was taking medication for the depression and that reduced responsibility even further. The weight of mental illness got lighter and lighter and more easy to carry, the more I opened up to those around me.
It provided clarity.
I won’t lie, the first “real” conversation I had about my mental health was hard. Not just in the respect that I was opening up properly for the first time but because I just didn’t know how to describe it. But through talking it through out loud and explaining it to someone else, I was able to clarify and admit to myself exactly what was going on. I found that the more conversations I had about the tears and the difficulty catching my breath, the more I understood the reasons behind my suffering. Talking with a therapist was especially important in gaining such clarity in identifying my triggers, realising where I’d gone wrong in the past and having guidance and a clarity on how I can, not avoid my triggers, but handle them better.
I gained perspective.
The longer I kept everything to myself, the more overwhelming it all seemed. When you’re having a panic attack, feeling general anxiety, or sobbing into the carpet (yes, that’s a thing too #sorrynotsorry), the pain and fear just feels so raw and so real. Perhaps if I’d articulated that fear into words sooner I would have gained the perspective on the relative lack of threat sooner. Opening up to my boyfriend allowed him to reassure me about some of my fears, and gain an objective view on the other things that troubled me too. Granted, I found it very hard to listen to his reassurances, but slowly and surely his message about the relative lack of threat did seep in.
It’s not easy to open up to someone. Christ, it’s not even easy to open up to yourself (in fact, probably harder). But the benefits of doing so are overwhelming… I can’t stress that enough.
Perhaps some people do heal themselves of their own depression, but I bet it takes them a bloody long time to do so. As I mentioned in point 1, the responsibility and burden you are putting on yourself to heal yourself all alone is probably adding to the stress you’re already feeling.
I urge anyone and everyone who is suffering with their mental health to a) choose wisely who they open up to, and b) just do it. If you need someone to talk to, and it’s easier to talk to a stranger then I am always willing to chat. Pop me a message here.