This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. If you didn't know that, where have you been? Seriously, what the hell have you been doing and how do you avoid the news for a WHOLE week? That is an art form in this day and age and I know I'm not alone when I say a world without the word 'Brexit' must be pure bliss.
Anyway, back to my reason for writing this blog. This week, to honour this very important national awareness campaign, I wanted to focus on the dreaded D word: depression.
Anyone who has had, currently has or thinks they might have depression knows it's utterly crap. Something you wouldn't even wish on your worst enemy level of crap (I would use a stronger word but mum would tell me how disappointed she is in my language, so I won't. Just use your imagination and choose a word 1,000,000 times stronger than crap. That's depression). Depression is not just feeling sad. In fact, it's so much more than that. It's having no motivation to do anything at all, even the things you usually love. It's feeling completely useless and worthless, as if you bring no value to the world. It's having absolutely no motivation to even shower in the morning because you just do not care about starting the day. It's feeling as though if something happened to you, no one would bat an eyelid. It's being surrounded by people and things and feeling absolutely nothing at all. It's not being able to see a future at all. Well, at least that was my experience.
So, how do you practice self-care when you don't even care about yourself or think you're worthy of being looked after? I'm lucky to slowly be shimmying my way into the 'had' camp when it comes to depression, thanks to very approachable GPs and a good response to treatment, in the end. Sadly, I know the 'had' camp isn't as big as it could be and there are many people in a place I was in this time last year. I thought by sharing what small steps I took to maintain some level of self-care during a very dark time might inspire others to think of the things they can do, no matter how little or small those actions or activities might be.
So, here's just a few things I did to take care of myself when I wasn't feeling my usual confident, occasionally funny, bubbly, sassy self:
Talk Talking comes a lot easier to some than others. There are some things I can very openly talk about, and there are others things I will simply not discuss. The most important thing is identifying the one person you can tell anything to, even if that's a counsellor or a GP. Explaining to people what I was thinking and just how bad my thoughts were getting was one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. I was convinced at one point I would be sectioned if I said it out loud. The truth is, it takes a lot for you to be sectioned, as my mum reassured me. I didn't want to tell the world but just telling a few people why I wasn't myself just helped me to share that burden and relieve some of the incredible stress I was putting on myself. Although talking is often deemed a weakness, I very quickly learned that opening up was one of the very bravest things I've ever done.
DOGS, DOGS, DOGS Anyone that knows me knows how much I love dogs. There seems to be a different one on my Instagram every week. Of course, we all love dogs (and if you don't, have a word with yourself) but what people often don't realise is why I love them so much. I am very lucky to have an incredible friend who has a beautiful little pug that I could spend time with when I was at my lowest. She gave me a key to her house and said I could pop over or stay at any time. Seriously though, she is actual friend goals. I can't tell you how much her incredibly kind offer and that little guy meant to me and how much of a difference it made. Even just for 2 minutes, I could concentrate on someone or something else. Plus, who doesn't like a cuddle from a dog?
Be with your nearest and dearest I learned a lot about my friends and family when I was first diagnosed. You learn who your absolute rocks are and you also, sadly, learn who isn't as supportive as you thought they would be. Yes, it's hard to accept when people let you down, but that's when you invest time in those who are there for you with open arms. I didn't take every offer that came my way, but spending time with those who made me feel safe and took the time to try and understand what I was going through were the ones who helped me to look after myself. If your loved ones truly care for you, they'll do anything to make you feel better and will be more than happy to completely change plans to fit around what's best for you. You never forget what a friend or family member has, or in some cases has not, done for you during a terrible time, and I certainly won't forget those that had my back every step of the way. I LOVE YOU FOR LIFE- you know who you are.
Read I'm not suggesting you crack into War and Peace, unless you want to that is, but I found reading helped me to escape and gave me a much needed break from my thoughts. It helped me to focus on someone else's life rather than my own and educated me all at the same time. I opted for a couple of self help books to reassure me that my mind was something I could control (but I think that was to ease my anxiety as well given I was battling that bundle of fun at the same time). My only advice, if I am in a position to give advice, is to not go for something like the Bell Jar. Something a little more light-hearted, perhaps?
Do what YOU want to do As an avid gym goer, I can sometimes suffer with lack of gym anxiety. What I mean by this is I feel guilty if I don't make it one day and I'm constantly looking at the next week to make sure I get at least 4 sessions in. Healthy, right? I have to admit, I do actually enjoy exercising. However, when I started getting to the stage where I was crying before the gym because I was lacking motivation to even get out of bed in the morning, I knew things weren't right. So, I did what I needed to do and took that pressure away from myself. Accepting the fact that I didn't have the mental strength to cope with the intense exercises I was used to doing really helped to relieve some of the pressure I was so forcefully putting on myself. Instead of going along, failing miserably and telling myself that I was just as useless and I had convinced myself I already was, I accepted that it was doing more bad than good at that moment in time. Instead of doing two gym classes back to back, I simply went for a walk instead. Saying no to things that brought me unnecessary stress slowly helped me to build my confidence up again. Don't get me wrong, I didn't lock myself away but I understood my limits and what I felt comfortable and safe doing. Plus, I hadn't convinced myself I was avoiding these activities forever, just putting them on hold whilst I took some much needed time to focus on me.
The tips and tricks I used won't work for everyone and I know that. I'm not David Attenborough and I therefore don't know everything about everything. One thing I do know is even attempting to inject the tiniest little bit of self-care into my life at a time when it felt as though the clouds would never lift, I believe, were so crucial.
To anyone who is currently being treated for depression or who thinks they might be, I know you feel that you're not worth investing time in right now but there are just a few things you can do to make your life easier. I can't figure out how best you maintain some level of self-care through this horrendous time, but I just hope that you try with any little ounce of strength you have left. And if you're currently being treated for depression, I know you're strong because you're looking this hideous monster right in the eye and doing something about it. Don't underestimate yourself.