An honest blog sharing the ups and downs of my personal mental health journey

Friday, 26 October 2018

But...You Don't Look Depressed?

*Sighs*...I'm writing this one reluctantly, but it's important.

If I had a quid for every time someone has said to me: "But you look so happy, how can you be depressed?" 

I would be filthy rich. 

What we do know, or what we should all know by now, is that depression doesn't discriminate.

How generous of depression...cheers!

As touched on in my To GP Or Not To GP post, mental illness works in different ways for different people, so does dealing with it and overcoming it.

When someone says to me: "But you don't look depressed!", I picture myself walking around in a long black cloak, a bit like the Grim Reaper, with a huge dark cloud over my head. Occasionally thought bubbles pop up saying things like 'You're Not Good Enough' or 'Why Are You Even Trying?'.

But the reality is I don't look like the Grim Reaper (at least I don't think I do, although 99% of my wardrobe is in fact black). I look like I've always looked and I act like I've always acted - outgoing, loud (sorry everyone) and usually laughing at something most people find extremely unfunny.

So why do people struggle to believe you're suffering from a mental illness just because you're not walking around with a huge frown on your face, wearing a placard that says: 'I'M DEPRESSED BY THE WAY'?

I personally believe it's a mixture of mental health miseducation and the individual that's suffering putting on a bloody good front. Basically, people with depression deserve a BAFTA half the time.

There's a common misconception that someone suffering with depression or another mental health illness is just a huge attention seeker. This is completely false, and a hugely negative connotation to suggest.

When you're suffering from depression or a similar illness, you'll do anything in your power to deflect the fact that you're feeling like absolute hell on earth. Hence the front, hence the acting like everything is normal and hence the not walking around dressed like the Grim Reaper/wearing a placard.

It's also a common misconception that someone suffering with a mental illness is selfish, because realistically you would do anything possible not to be thinking about yourself or what's going on in your own head. Again, a hugely negative connotation.

Behind closed doors of course, it's a different story. Your friends and people you pass in the street each day don't see the mornings you wake up and don't want to be awake at all. They don't see the days when your anxiety is so bad that you convince yourself something awful is going to happen if you step out of the front door, so you just stay inside all day without speaking to another person.

This, of course, all leads back to the ole' mental health stigma. Because people feel so uncomfortable talking about what is still hugely a taboo subject they just try and pretend it's not happening at all. The more you try and act normal and pretend nothing is happening, the more people believe you're fine - therefore it's a vicious circle.

This again links to communication and opening up about how you're feeling, as mentioned in my previous post.

It's so important to try and speak up about how you're feeling, even just so it's not such a huge shock to people when you turn around on an anxious day and say: "I don't want to leave the house today because I feel like absolute s**t, and there's a chance if I do I'll fall down the front steps and break my neck, which would just be typical wouldn't it? So I'll just stay at home and binge watch Friends and eat cheese instead" (I don't know if you can tell, but I'm talking from experience).

Because ultimately if you don't tell people how you're feeling, they won't know. I'm making it sound easy, and I know it's far from easy, but I've found that the more open and honest I am about how I'm feeling, the less 'but you don't look depressed at all' comments I get, and the more 'how're you feeling today?' questions I get.

Give it a try and see what happens. 


Friday, 19 October 2018

Why Falling Out Of Friendship Doesn't Have To Be Sad

I've been pondering this one for a while.

Everybody knows that you reach a certain point in your life when you grow up, maybe move away and inevitably stop speaking to people as much as you used to when you were younger and at school. 

This is just the way life goes.

I've always been quite a sensitive soul and take real pride in friendships that I have, so when this started happening in the last year or so it initially made me really quite sad, and definitely had an impact on my mental health. 

I started wondering if the reason these people had stopped making an effort with me was because I'd done something wrong, and maybe I did? This thought was pretty much on a loop for a while and started to make me feel really down. In reality, I should have just said something to these people and been honest about how I felt...but I didn't. I held out the hope that maybe if I didn't say anything it wouldn't be made into a big deal and when I eventually see them/speak to them again it'll be like nothing happened, despite the obvious lack of contact. 

After all, we once had a pretty solid friendship, so surely that's worth something?

Well, the reason I wanted to write about this subject is because when you're suffering from a mental illness you really, truly realise who your friends are. Sad, but true.

But does it have to be sad? 

Finding out who your real friends are is surely the best thing that could possibly come out of a horrible situation?

Since my depression started again in the Summer, I've really had a wake up call in regards to who I consider my close friends. And I can definitely count them on one hand (okay, maybe one and a half hands?)

I tried to be as open and honest as possible with my friends about what I was experiencing, but naturally it was something that I didn't particularly want to speak about to start with. It's easier just to pretend it's not happening. 

What I've learnt is that a real friend is someone who knows you're struggling even when you're trying to hide it.

I'm so lucky and grateful that I've had, and continue to have, a really great support group of friends, family and my lovely boyfriend around me when times get really bad - which they definitely did. 

But I can't help think of the people I considered close friends that never even bothered to check in. 
Even when I spoke more openly, and even 'publicly', about how much I was struggling, I still didn't hear from certain people. Not even a text to say, "I hope you're okay". There is absolutely no excusing this. Of course people are busy, of course people have their own lives to contend with and of course people don't always know exactly what's going on or what to say, but how hard is it to send a text these days?

On World Mental Health Day I shared a post that touched on my Bipolar diagnosis, which happened to be the first time I'd openly spoken about it - you can view it here - which included the following: 

"If people aren’t supporting you, they are not the people you should be surrounding yourself with". 

I stand by this completely. Surround yourself with amazing people, people you love and people that love you. People that care about you and take time to ask you how you're doing or if you need a chat, however busy they are - because that is ultimately what a friend is there for. 

I do not claim to be a picture perfect friend, I have done wrong and will probably continue to do wrong sometimes myself, like every human being does, but going through this journey myself has made me realise how important it is to be there for someone and let them know that you care. I'm learning from it hugely. 

I don't want to end this post on a negative note, because that's not my aim. I don't h0ld any negativity towards anyone, regardless of what this post may come across like!

What I will say, is despite how sad it made me not hearing from certain people, I heard from lots of people from my past with messages of support and care after sharing something which ultimately was really quite difficult to share. Those messages will stick with me and completely overshadow the messages that I didn't receive - there is absolutely no point stressing over something that's not even been said. 

Some food for thought if you're going through something similar:

Have a rant about how you're feeling (exhibit A, this very blog post) and then move the hell on.

Don't hold grudges or negative feelings towards people - it won't help anything, and it definitely won't help yourself. The likelihood is people aren't even aware they've done something wrong!

Focus on the positives and the people you have around you - that's what truly matters.


Monday, 15 October 2018

To GP, Or Not To GP? And My Weird Analogy About The Wizard Of Oz

So, I've been wanting to write about the journey that's lead me to getting my Bipolar diagnosis.

Let's start with the fact that it was NOT easy.

Now, I do not want this to put people off getting the right help - I want it to do the exact opposite.

What I want to do is paint an extremely honest picture of the difficulties that can arise when getting the correct help, medication and ultimately a diagnosis for a mental illness.

Firstly, I want to make a point of saying that this is 100% my own experience of my diagnosis journey and I am sure, in fact I know, that many other people have managed to get the right help and the correct diagnosis without the troubles that I have personally experienced. 

This is also a reflection of my Bipolar diagnosis and it is important to remember different mental illnesses work in different ways, therefore will always be medicated and treated differently from person to person. 
Like most things, what works for one person may not work for another. 

I just feel it wouldn't be right to tell people that getting help for a mental illness is always an easy ride. 

I'll begin with this. I like to think of my mental illness as The Wizard Of Oz. Stick with me...

Dozza Gale gets herself into a spot of trouble (tries to save Toto, gets swept away by a tornado) - this part is the depression. 

She lands herself in Munchkindland, in the Land of Oz (kills the Wicked Witch of The East, she then has to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City to get back home, the Wicked Witch of The West is now after her) - this part is anxiety and loneliness/isolation. 

On her journey down the Yellow Brick Road, you'll recall she meets a few types (the Scarecrow, who wants a brain. The Tinman, who wants a heart. The Cowardly Lion, who wants courage) - these ones are slightly more obvious, representing learning to control your brain, looking after your heart, finding courage. They join her on the journey to help reach Emerald City. 

In amongst the laughter and the singing, that old witch is still trying to kill Dorothy (she sets winged monkeys on them FFS) but she keeps on going - this represents the good days and the bad days along the way.

Eventually, Dorothy kills The Wicked Witch of The West, Toto exposes the Wizard, the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion are rewarded with gifts showing the attributes they already possessed and everyone finds their way home - this, of course, is overcoming the illness.

Okay, so I went off on a tangent a bit there, but what I'm trying to say is building up the courage to speak to someone when you're suffering depression, anxiety or a similar mental health issue is tough. It's tough because unfortunately there is still such a huge stigma surrounding mental health. It's tough because you can't always put in to words how you're feeling (unless you refer to it as a musical). And it's tough because so many people just won't understand what's going on inside your head. 

I want to stress the importance of speaking about a mental health issue and I also want to share some things that helped me personally feel more comfortable about opening up. 

One thing I found really helped me open up about my mental illness was writing down how I was feeling. Next time you leave the house go to a shop and buy some really cute stationary and write the s**t out of how you're feeling (and don't pretend buying stationary is lame because we all know smelly gel pens were and still are the best invention ever). Even if you write something and screw it up and throw it away straight afterwards, you are one step closer to being honest about how you're feeling - because you've let it out. 
A friend said to me once that growing up their family sometimes struggled with communication and found that writing to each other was far easier than talking face to face. This really stuck with me as it shows the importance of communication, regardless if it's through the spoken word or not.

Once you've done this it's time to talk to your GP. You've made the first step and that's amazing, but this is the important one. 

Now I don't know the statistics of this, but it is widely known that GPs and Practice Nurses don't have a huge amount of training in mental health. Remember this, because if you don't initially get the help you need from your GP you have to keep trying. When my depression started again in June I went to the doctors and got completely and utterly shot down by the GP I saw. She prescribed me anti-depressants (again, these work for some people and not for others, but are definitely a good place to start) tossed me a piece of paper with a number for me to call and basically laughed me out of the surgery and said she "didn't have time to talk about my other issues" when I raised a question mark over Bipolar. I wish I was exaggerating this...but I'm not. 
And here I am, 4 months later with a Bipolar diagnosis under my belt. If I had walked out of the surgery that day and not tried again I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in now. Don't get me wrong, I walked out of the surgery in tears feeling as if I'd made the whole thing up in my head - this experience was not only degrading but it was disappointing. I demanded another appointment with a different, wonderfully helpful and understanding GP who I am still currently seeing and she immediately referred me to a Psychiatrist when I told her how I was feeling. 

Psychiatrists are the Golden Ticket (don't worry, I'm not going to start spouting a Willy Wonka analogy...mainly because I can't think of one right now) but effectively GPs are the gatekeepers to the Psychiatrists and Mental Health Nurses that are fully trained and qualified to medicate, treat and diagnose a mental illness.

I'll leave it here for now, as this is nowhere near the end of the story but it's a good place to stop (mainly because I'm banging on).

The moral of the story here is to persist. If you're told no, try try and TRY again until you've got your Golden Ticket.


Friday, 12 October 2018

An Introduction


Welcome to my first blog post. 

Not only do I have no clue what I'm doing, but I don't consider myself much of a writer. Therefore if all else fails, it'll be entertaining at least...

My aim for this blog is to tell an honest story of the mental health journey I'm currently experiencing, and the ups and downs I have experienced along the way. I've never thought about doing something like this before, not only because it's sharing parts of my life I've constantly tried to ignore and cover up, but because it's not a particularly easy thing to write down and come to terms with.

But that's exactly why I want to do it - to come to terms with it, and for other people to read this and maybe come to terms with something similar they may be experiencing too.

The story so far, if you're interested:

I'm Maisie, I'm 26 years old and live in Bristol, UK. I have just been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. 

I first suffered with depression and anxiety around aged 11, and have struggled with mental health issues on and off for around 15 years now. 

A few months ago, around June in the height of Summer, I had a breakdown. This wasn't the first time this has happened, I experienced the same thing when I was around the age of 16, and only last year had suffered with depression again for a few months.
But this time, it seemed different. 
It's hard to figure out if the reason it felt different is because it's the worst period of depression I've experienced so far, or if this time I'd actually realised how often throughout my life this seems to be happening. Maybe, in reality, it was a bit of both.

On October 10th, which just so happens to be World Mental Health Day, I woke up in what (at the moment) seems like a normal haze of confusion, sadness and tiredness. Not the normal tiredness you get from a lack of sleep, tiredness that seems to somehow consume your whole body and mind. Tiredness of being tired. 
I was staying at my parents house for a few days, as a recent incident sees me currently being babysat now and again (not a bad thing if you're getting free food, I always think...cheers Mum and Dad).

I started the day by doing what I find myself doing a lot nowadays - picking up my phone and scrolling through social media. In between the somewhat normal posts of bikini clad reality TV stars that fill my feed on a daily basis (which I'm extremely envious of, I'll admit), I started seeing posts of support, wellness and happiness in relation to World Mental Health Day. The more I read these posts, the more this sense of tiredness started to ever so slightly lift. Celebrities and 'normal' people alike were posting messages of support and reminders of the importance of health and happiness on their pages. Each person with a reason for posting something. Maybe they know someone who has suffered from a mental health illness, or is going through a hard period in their lives and wanted to share a message of support - a reminder to keep going.

But what if you are the person that's been through it, or the person that's going through it right now? 

Well, I'm that person right now. 

It's not easy to share something so personal. It's uncomfortable and ultimately at times can feel embarrassing and shameful. 

But that morning something felt different. Being in this mind set right now and seeing those messages gave me the courage to stop and really think about how I'm feeling. If I share what I'm experiencing publicly, however horrible it is to do (and trust me, it's pretty grim) then maybe one other person going through their own mental health journey will read what I've shared and find the strength in themselves to speak up about it, be it to a doctor or a loved one rather than publicly splurged on a Facebook feed.

But for me, publicly splurging it on my Facebook feed was one of the best things I've done.

The feeling of relief and achievement I felt clicking that post button felt almost like I was taking all of my bad thoughts, worries, concerns and emotions and flushing them straight down the toilet or putting them through a shredder. Of course, posting a status on Facebook has not cured my depression, my anxiety or my Bipolar Disorder. Nowhere near that. But it has offered a sense of relief that you can only truly experience after you openly and honestly admit not only to yourself, but to other people, that you're struggling.

See my World Mental Health Day post here.

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