From Depression to Light: Life Lessons

For those who are new readers or don’t really know, I have been journalling for a long time- maybe since the age of 14 on and off. I have always sought to write and get my feelings down on paper. I was looking through some boxes the other day and came across the following ‘Future letter to myself’ from September 2010. I was 22 and reflecting on life and the journey I had been on from being diagnosed bipolar at 16, to falling in love and having my heart broken and travelling around the world. I had also been struggling with anxiety for a long time.

This ‘I have learnt’ list was partly inspired by the introduction to singer India Aries album ‘Love and Relationships’. The words are my own. I hope if you are feeling sad or if you are contemplating things in your own life that these words give you strength.

A letter to my future self, I have learnt (From 2010)

‘Dear future me

I sit here as a woman who has survived trauma and illness, travelled to 3 continents and got a university degree. I sit here as a woman who has survived a severely broken heart.

I have learnt that love is not enough.

I have learnt that just because everyone else does something doesn’t mean I have to.

I have learnt that I have inner reserves of strength.

I have learnt that a supportive family or network is everything.

I have learnt that loneliness is painful- but is part of life experience.

I have learnt that life is joy and pain and mundanity.

I have learnt that some people are meant to leave your life physically but leave an impression on your heart.

I have learnt that facing life takes a lot of courage.

I have learnt that we need the love of others. A person is not a person without other people.

I have learnt to assess character.

I have learnt not to fall too easily.

I have learnt that having a shattered heart or mind is painful but not the end.

I have learnt that the mind is incredibly powerful and we have to learn to master it.

I have learnt that food is good.

I have learnt that fears are blessings because by pushing through them we grow.

I have learnt about the power of the soul.

Be strong. Believe even at your saddest moments.

 

Stigma part 1- We are not attention seekers

I decided to write this today after a very interesting week for Mental Health awareness here in the UK. We are very lucky to have a much more accepting society than in elsewhere in the world and we also have a National Health Service meaning sufferers can seek free treatment (albeit with waiting lists).

However, like most of the Western world- there is still a long way to go in changing attitudes, hearts and minds about mental illness sufferers. This was epitomised this week by the brilliant World Mental Health Day, with celebrities admitting to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Despite this, I noticed an appalling phenomenon on social media. This week, Zayn Malik, the singer formerly of One Direction, cancelled solo concerts due to high anxiety. I thought he was so brave to give this reason and for his celebrity friends to publicly support him. However, when reading the Facebook comments my heart sank. Here were a few (I am paraphrasing as don’t want to put the actual comments on this blog):

‘He didn’t have anxiety when he was in One Direction and earnt all that money…’

‘Such an attention seeker, man up’

‘Drama Queen…. getting bored of this’

These were the gist of many comments written from cowards hiding behind computer screens. However I couldn’t help but think that if he disclosed he had heart problems, diabetes, cancer etc…. people wouldn’t say he was attention seeking. I definitely face palmed reading these comments…..unless you have experience of an anxiety disorder or have a friend of family member with it, you have no idea the courage it takes to a) get on with life and b) talk about it- let alone to the whole world.

Then, yesterday, reports came out that the singer Will Young quit Strictly Come Dancing (UK version of Dancing with the stars) due to anxiety and the scrutiny that the job required. Of course, the Facebook trolls were back in force with similar comments,

If he didnt like the attention, he shouldn’t have gone on Pop Idol in the first place’

‘Drama Queen, can’t believe hes quit, hes let everyone down

etc etc – a whole plethora of disparaging, stigmatised comments. Luckily, there were many people combating them but why have so many people got ingrained attitudes in them that anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders are caused by people wanting attention?

We are not attention seekers.

We want more than anything to live a normal life despite our conditions. We don’t want high anxiety or suicidal thoughts. We don’t want to feel embarrassed or ashamed for our conditions.

We are not drama queens. End the stigma now.

World Mental Health Day- The Mental Health Checklist.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This is a day focusing on mental health and illness around the world and encourages people to talk about their own experiences. So, I thought I would write a checklist of tools that have helped me recover from depression and severe anxiety in the past. I still have bad days but this is what has helped me.

1) Support Network- having someone to talk to. Whether its one friend, a family member or an extended support network on or offline, talking to those you love and who care for you is vital. If you struggle in this area, the charity Samaritans is always on hand to listen on their helpline.

2) Waking up earlier- Try and get up an hour earlier in the morning to kickstart your day.

3) Get washed and dressed even if you don’t feel like it when depressed. It can alter your mood for a little while and prepare you for the day.

4) Set 3 small achievable goals in your day. It could be as ‘insignificant’ as getting out of bed if you are depressed. (Note: not insignificant at all!!). If you are feeling good, set yourself a goal personal to you.

5) Exercise. I hate exercise- but even moving around a little can change your mindset. Build it up slowly.

6) Eating and resting well. With my bipolar, this has been vital in keeping me well. If you are having trouble eating or sleeping, speak to your GP/ psychiatrist.

7) Positivity. Try to think and visualise something happy. While difficult when you are very low, even writing about something happy cheers me up.

8) Don’t suffer in silence- Tell someone how bad you are feeling.

Happy World Mental Health Day from London, England.

 

Time to Change- ‘Having Bipolar is not Shameful’.

This week, I achieved one of my dreams and goals to write a blog published by the anti discrimination charity ‘Time to Change’. They are a UK mental health charity partnered with Rethink and Mind, to tackle stigma against mental illness in the UK.

My blog was shared over 150 times and liked almost 500 times on Facebook, in the first day and a half. This is amazing. I have heard from people who are suicidal or struggling with bipolar and other mental health issues. I am so thankful to the charity for publishing it and giving me a platform to share my story.

You can read the blog here:

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/i-cannot-imagine-having-bipolar-without-support-networksarahtime