August 22, 2016

I’ve always found it difficult to talk about my feelings and thoughts. Words don’t seem to do justice the depth and intensity of these emotions. My automatic response is to say I’m fine. I’m trying to change this because as John Keating says Dead Poets Society “you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all”. Until a couple of years ago I took these thoughts at face value. Having anxiety was my normal. I thought that this was how I’m supposed to experience worry: by obsessing over every worst case scenario especially the ones outside of my control. But being fearful to live is not normal nor is it a healthy way to live. And because I wasn’t doing the things other people my age were doing I also had a fear that life was passing me by.

I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder during the spring of 2013. But the doctor wanted to treat the symptoms of the panic attacks with beta blockers rather that the causes of the anxiety. Things did not begin to improve. Indeed the next year would be the worst I’ve ever felt. I felt so guilty about existing when there was nothing I could control especially my reaction to the things that made me anxious for example having a panic attack every day for weeks on end. It seemed like I couldn’t get anything right. The thing about depression is that I didn’t realise what was happening to me until it was too late. There wasn’t one day where I woke up and wasn’t depressed and by the time I went to bed I was. Rather it was a steady progression of my mood getting lower and lower; starting by making everything subdued and ending by convincing me that I was the most disgusting and vilest person possible.

Mental illnesses also has this way of telling me that no one wanted to hear about what I was going through. If not for an absolutely horrible work situation I think I would still be listening to this lie. On the day when I reached my breaking point my parents, sensing how massively stressed I was, sat down with me and asked how I was feeling. This wasn’t an easy conversation to have but my parents sympathy really helped me open up. Telling them was so freeing; I could feel the weight of the months and years of stress literally start to lift of my shoulders. This now wasn’t something I was going through alone. Without my parents support and reassurance I could have never resigned from my job or booked another doctor’s appointment. This time the appointment was with a different doctor who diagnosed me with depression and recommended starting anti-depressants and using talking therapies. Throughout this time of getting back onto my feet I was quite choked up at how everybody took the time to listen and help.

Making huge progress in dealing with my mental health I have lived more in the past eighteen months than I ever did before which has dramatically rebuilt my self-confidence and self-worth. My life isn’t going to be defined by mental illness. It’s no longer a dreadful prospect that bad days, things and thoughts will visit me. When they do I’ve found it useful to have a conversation with these thoughts and ask questions like “so how exactly have I messed everything up?” It’s strange to do this but by working out if these thoughts are true or not I can see how them for what they are: irrational and out of proportion.

Another one of my favourite quotes from Dead Poets Society (in a script which overflows with inspiring lines) is “carpe diem, seize the day, make your lives extraordinary”. The best piece of advice I can give to anybody living with anxiety and depression is find out what works for you and do whatever you have to do to make progress. Mental illness has a way of telling us that no matter what we do or how much we do it’s never enough. That’s just not true. What we’re doing is enough simply because we’re trying. Every step forward is such an achievement because we are becoming the amazing people we were created to be.

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