Maria, November 15, 2017

Holding hands.

I was first diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 16. Since then, I’ve gone through really low patches every few years. For me, depression feels like losing the will to live. I stop caring about everything and anyone, especially myself. Even getting out of bed becomes an insurmountable obstacle, so I just don't even try.

I used to find talking about my feelings basically impossible, so even though I needed help, and was at times suicidal, it was incredibly difficult for me to communicate any of this to the people around me. If anyone asked how I was – family, friends, my GP – I’d just say “I’m fine!”. I’m a real expert when it comes to fake bubbliness. Instead of speaking about my pain, I'd take it out on myself, by not eating, for example.

...denying my depression, rather than accepting it, had been making things a whole lot worse.

I hoped that my mental health would naturally improve with age. In fact, I was counting on it. When I had a nervous breakdown at the age of 30, and was unable to leave my house, I realised that denying my depression, rather than accepting it, had been making things a whole lot worse. If my depression wasn't going to go away for good, then it was about time I befriended it. I decided to stop lying.

This year, I suffered another episode. Instead of hiding away and covering up what’s going on with me, I went to the GP. He put me on medication and referred me to a (surprisingly unscary!) psychiatrist, who signed me off work. I decided to be honest with my employers too. To my surprise, I received a card from my line manager and colleagues. In it was a list of “Ten Things We Could Do to Help (Unless It’s Annoying)”. They outlined ten treats for me to choose from – from a homemade cake or a handwritten story, to a foot massage or a cup of tea and a walk – with the option to choose them all, if I so desired. I was bowled over! I could never have expected such kindness, understanding, and good will. Acceptance is the most incredible gift to receive.

When my neighbours noticed that I was staying at home all day and asked if I was okay, I decided to tell them the truth. They have been amazing – whenever I’m having a bad day I now know that I’m welcome to go round to theirs for a cup of tea and a chat.

When someone reacts in a really kind, normalising, accepting way, I know they're worth keeping in my life.

I still struggle to be open with everyone, and I often feel judged when I talk about my mental health, even within my own family. But since I have made steps towards talking more openly about my illness, the less fearful and ashamed I feel. When someone reacts in a really kind, normalising, accepting way, I know they're worth keeping in my life.

Speaking out feels like taking back control, taking back my right to speak. I just wish I’d started doing this sooner.

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