After having 2 episodes of depression and anxiety, I can look back with a clearer head and say how back then, everything was so muddled.
When I was in that horrible spiral of self-doubt and low mood, just like a lot of people suffering, I didn’t want to:
- Burden people with my illness, by causing them to worry.
- Anticipate their reaction.
- Have loads of suggestions of what I should do thrown at me.
- People to then start talking about their experience with depression and how they felt, making it all about them - that would muddle me up and make me withdraw even more.
- Worry about my job and how it would affect my sickness record.
- Worry that I wouldn't be able to do my job that I enjoy so much, due to my mental health illness.
I didn't know where to start when talking about my mental illness. With an injury like a broken leg, you know it will pass and get better. When you have a cold, you know you’re not going into work because people don’t want you to spread the germs about! But with depression and anxiety you might seem fine on the outside, while deep inside you’re struggling. You might put up an act to keep up appearances in front of others.
When I did speak about my mental illness, sometimes people didn’t realise that it doesn’t always show on the outside. They made comments like, “You seem ok” or “You seem like your normal self”, which doesn’t help. I dreaded telling certain people, but when I did speak to them, it felt like a weight had been lifted.
Very rarely did anyone just listen to me when I was explaining how I was feeling. At that point I didn’t know myself what I wanted or needed, and I felt that a time scale was put on me for when I would be returning to work or feeling better.
On the flip side, I understand how difficult it is if you suspect someone close to you is living with a mental illness, but doesn’t realise it themselves, or doesn’t want to talk about it.
I’m lucky enough to be able to recognise when I am feeling low and anxious and that 'I really need to start doing something about this now!' Whereas other people cannot recognise this in themselves, or they’re not ready to receive support and start doing something about it.
I think we all need to tread carefully and instead of telling people what they should do or try...sit and listen, comfort them, be there for them, be honest and gently plant the seed…sometimes that's what makes the penny drop and the realisation that change is good. And you will be there to support them through the good and bad days on their journey to recovery.