My depression back story - YouTube
So today I want to talk about an extremely personal subject - my mental health.
I don't like to start posts off with a big clumsy disclaimer, however I really do think it's important here to recognise that everything I am about to say is informed from my personal experience of depression and therefore is a product of my own bias. I do not wish to speak for everyone who has been depressed and I do not presume that my experiences are representative of all.
I'm not sure the phrase "post depression" is completely accurate either, mainly because I don't believe that my personal manifestation of depression will ever be gone completely. It seems to be quite cyclical in its resurgence every few years, though I'm hopefully getting better at recognising bad phases and dealing with them.
It's hard to find a way of describing my current state - not actively in a depressed stage, but not completely free of it either. Neither crisis or calm, managing functionally with occasional dark days.
Getting help after an acutely awful phase was an accident really
The thing about being very depressed, in my case anyway, was that it took a long time for me to realise that I needed external and probably professional assistance in dealing with it. This was also hampered by the fact that I have always had issues with anxiety and not feeling good enough. I also like to do things on my own, which is probably a defence mechanism from being an awkward child who found it hard to connect with others.
However after a year of constantly feeling like my world was crumbling in my hands post university, I went to my GP to ask for help. This took a lot of courage on my part, as I finally had to admit, in public, that things weren't OK and that I couldn't solve this myself.
6 months. That was the average waiting time in my local authority apparently to receive help in the form of talking therapy. The doctor was patient and kind as he listened to my symptoms, but there was nothing he could do other than prescribe more medication, a route which I had already found ineffectual.
So I waited
During this time I tried to keep the black dog at bay in other ways.
I started to reading avidly again, something which had dropped off the agenda since university. I also increased and varied the amount I exercised.
It was during this time that my anxiety really made itself known as I started to suffer frequent panic attacks. As the flatness of the depression receded, my mind became flooded with feelings again in an absolutely overwhelming manner. One extreme replacing the other.
Whilst I am generally more functional as an anxious person, it does cause a lot of internal anguish. Depression at least was never painful in the way that anxiety can be.
One year on
After a the first six months of waiting and slowly finding myself less depressed, I got the letter through offering me a spot with the "Improved Access to Psychological Therapies" team. This NHS service offered me 6 sessions of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
I don't really want to go into an NHS slamming spiel here, so I will leave things at the observation that this was not really enough time to really achieve anything meaningful. I was also paired with a trainee who was well intentioned and lovely, but had the hallmarks of inexperience.
Counselling when "you feel fine but don't at the same time"
After a further six months, I finally found myself in front of a fully trained counsellor with a large number of appointments ahead of me. This felt kind of strange, as I had gone from previously feeling OK only 10% of the time to feeling pretty good over 80% of the time.
I had a moment where I almost had to say "I don't really know what I'm doing here now, but I do know that I don't want to go back to the way I felt before".
So we talked, well I talked really and I started to realise that despite not actively feeling depressed, I had a lot of things I needed to say to someone. Many of these thoughts were ones which I had held inside for a long time, irrational yes, but very real.
I needed to say that I feel like a horrific freak most of the time - like an absolute outsider who is unworthy of anything. Even writing it now makes my skin crawl, because it's honestly how I still feel deep down inside - despite how melodramatic and teen angsty it sounds.
Writing it down on here forces me to confront it - much like talking about it in a counselling session. Speaking thoughts out loud makes you critically evaluate them and sharing them with another person forces you to listen to another perspective.
This is especially true when it comes to anxiety, well my anxiety anyway. As I'm irrationally anxious about most things.
*Bethan at a party* "nobody wants me here, I'm awful at conversation. I mean what if I smell bad and everyone hates me?! Oh God did I leave my straighteners on... The house is probably burning down right now along with my car which has blown up as the fire spreads down the street Pudding Lane style."
Just a quick snapshot into my mind for you there. The point is though, that anxiety makes you loose your perspective on reality. Having someone patiently, rationally and compassionately respond to your anxious thoughts is a great antidote to an overly worried mind, I find anyway.
Counsellors are also able to talk about coping mechanisms with you, both for anxiety and depression. This is really important for me, as it helps allay the fear that I will slip back into old patterns. I now feel much more equipped to recognise and attempt to neutralise/cope with periods where I just don't feel OK.
After a slightly meandering narrative - in conclusion
The morale (if there is one) of this story - talking in a safe space helps everyone. I think.
We all could probably benefit from the ability to talk candidly with a non-judgemental stranger because unburdening yourself really does feel rather good. I actually come away from sessions feeling physically lighter.
Whilst I dearly wish I had been able to access help when I needed it most, I am very glad to have had the opportunity to speak to a therapist after the fact. Even though I feel in a way like I am not deserving of help now, going to counselling has helped, a lot. Especially when it comes to creating the foundations for a more resilient and happy future Bethan.