Alone or Lonely?

In depression, there is a limit when it comes to convincing yourself that you’re isolated because you like being alone, being left alone is all you want. All you need to carry on is your own company and being alone is always preferable. The need to be alone leads to a constant insistence to push away those around you, push away the very people who are openly offering to help you and to lend a listening ear. Yet, all the while there is a persisting fear of loneliness. So why do we insist on pushing others away? When it’s inevitable that we’ll return home to an overwhelming sense of loneliness, further sinking us into depression, believing we have nobody to support us, forgetting that it was in fact us that rejected and ignored those whom tried to reach out to us in the first place.

Depression is a selfish illness, a self-centred world of dark and negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours, all leading to perpetual sense of being lost, lonely and hopeless. There is no room for anyone else because the mind is clouded by this self-focused cycle. It’s not to say that being alone is always a bad thing, we all need to time to ourselves, it can be refreshing and it’s healthy. But just like it does with everything, depression exaggerates this need to be alone. A swarm of fear is created, that one will be made to face the real world, a belief that one simply doesn’t have the energy to engage with others or leave the safety of being under a duvet. All of which are methods of faulty thinking, but very real and unavoidable concepts for the sufferer. This response is reflected in many from a young age- in the face of difficulty the response is to hide away, to suppress emotions in fear of making things worse, or to act out through aggression or other behaviours to separate oneself. This mechanism to shut others out should be challenged across all of society, both in the well and unwell.

The evidence shows that by having more social connections and networks, a happy life is much more likely, whilst being alone and without social contact can lead to lonely, unhappy lives with a much shorter life expectancy. If you have a friend with depression or whom appear withdrawn, don’t be disheartened if they are not in contact. Reach out to them, persist with it and offer kindness not rejection, visit them if you can – we visit and encourage the physically ill, it should be no different for the mentally ill. They are the ones who need contact but are too afraid or unknowing of how to reach out.

And if you’re the one in the thick of depression; don’t give up, make a change and try to face the world, face your demons, face everyday life and allow yourself to express your opinions and feelings, both to yourself and to others. Avoid shutting others out, being honest about your true feelings can go a long way to helping you and others understand. The need for some time alone is not something to be ashamed of, and those who are true friends will understand if you say that’s what you need. Set yourself goals to get in touch with others little by little, you can still have time alone without being lonely.

Wandering through life

There is an awkward stage between being entwined in a diagnosable illness, and what can be considered a ‘recovered’ person. The stage of mental health limbo, where symptoms are residual, bad patches still occur, thoughts and emotions are at times overwhelming, and slip ups are inevitable. But it’s presumed you’re ‘better’, you’re ‘strong’, because you’re over the worst of it. However this to me, is an incorrectly black and white illusion of mental health, as I’ve previously written; mental illness occurs along a spectrum. Similar to this recovery is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ prospect, it is a journey with ups and downs, and although I’m not entirely convinced there is any such thing as a ‘full recovery’ from mental illness, I do believe it can become ‘fully manageable’, with room for dips and highlights along the way.

In this limbo stage of recovery; where can you go for help? and how does one refer to oneself? A recovering alcoholic still has an addiction, they still need to work on their recovery, still need to work hard every single day and minute of their waking hours to avoid the liquid that could send them back down a slippery slope. They may not be drinking, but they are still fighting hard as ‘recovering alcoholics’. This in between stage can feel quite lost, an undefined category between health and ill, it is conflicting and scary to reach out for help, for instance something I found from my experience, is that reaching out is incredibly difficult in this stage, you don’t want to say words like ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘I’m anorexic’, because without the severe and obvious symptoms, nobody can see the internal struggles. It’s like giving yourself a name you are somehow not worthy of, for not being ‘ill enough’ or for not being ‘strong’ like others say you are. Yet when it comes to trying to express yourself, just saying it’s ‘a bad patch’ or ‘I’m just feeling low’ doesn’t express the utter and complete turmoil inside, saying you feel ‘depressed’ doesn’t even carry the impact it once did, it is unfortunately, an overused term.

If it is you in this stage of despair, then don’t forget you have as much right as anyone to reach out for help, get someone to fight your corner and get that help. Your journey is your own, no one else’s, don’t compare what you perceive as ‘less severe’ compared to someone else get in the way of your recovery. The fact you have realised you need that support and are willing to expect it, is something professionals need to recognize. That kind of attitude is hard to come by but it what makes therapy successful. We need to remember that these wandering, recovering bodies should not be forgotten, not by the family and friends surrounding them, healthcare professionals or even oneself. It may not be immediately life threatening, but a full blown mental illness is easy to fall back into. Don’t assume that someone out of hospital or presents themselves as healthy is ‘recovered’, mental illness is secretive, so keep in mind those who are recovering. A life of being residually unwell is no life at all.

Location Location Location

One thing I’ve learnt, which retrospectively I should have realised earlier, is that a mental health condition doesn’t disappear or improve by simply moving location. Whether it be moving house, going abroad, starting University, a new job or living with different people. A mental illness is firmly manifested within the mind and body of an affected individual.

Taking someone out of a triggering or stressful situation from a temporary spell of anguish, is definitely a helpful action to take within that moment. However avoidance of a problem or assumptions that by moving around, the problem will disappear, is unreasonable and flawed. A temporary relief can be felt, surrounding oneself with new people and environments can influence a different self-reflection and world view, but ultimately the sly ways of a mental illness will not be fooled by a new setting.

Triggers, factors or causes of mental illness may lie within a given location, but that also doesn’t mean that ridding of such a place will provide a permanent cure. In reality, if the root of illness lies within a location, then everywhere you ‘run’ to will hold direct or indirect reminders of that place. Without dealing with real issues embedded within, the problem will reoccur and perhaps, with an almighty bite.

Christmas cheer & tears, chaos & calories

Christmas is upon us, a day known for merriment, family, laughter and food. It marks a special occasion not only for religion but for bringing a society together, where our charitable inclinations increase and acts of kindness are abundant. However, behind all this, there is a hidden world, where the idea of Christmas can represent an occasion of fear, anxiety and ambivalence. For those with autism, the lead up to Christmas can be a bizarre concept; for not everyday is Christmas so why are we decorating, advertising and exciting ourselves? For those with social anxiety, the idea of a room full of people, shops swarmed with the last minute purchasers can initiate the physical and emotional feelings of panic. Depression has leached the enjoyment out of life, and that doesn’t change for this one day out of 365. Christmas may evoke feelings and memories of pain, loss or abuse, everyone has an individual story to tell and it cannot be assumed that this festive season is jolly for all.

The intense focus on food is particularly challenging for one with an eating disorder, the fear of family members piling calories onto your plate, adding up to what is no longer a serving of nourishment or pleasure, but a numerical, quantitative pile of anxiety. Eager family members laughing around the table, looking expectantly for satisfied faces and yet the disordered response is a tentative one, avoiding complimenting the food due to an infestation of guilt that one could simply allow or accept that they can enjoy this nutritional necessity. The whole day becomes a nightmare of thoughts- resulting in tears, binges, purges, restrictions, anxiety and self-doubt, to a point that the very acceptance of presents becomes a guilt-driven activity. After the mechanical action of eating, the anxiety doesn’t dampen easily, the day will hold fears of having eaten too much, gaining weight, continuing to eat uncontrollably and results in a day lost in a world of clouded vision, an unintentional, self-centred bubble of worry and rumination.

Even if someone is struggling, people can be helped to find enjoyment from Christmas. If you have a loved one who is struggling in any way with this holiday- talk to them before the day. Put a plan in place. Whether it be discussing the meal with them, choosing certain foods, firming a safe place they can go if it’s overwhelming and reassuring them that it’s ok to need to ‘escape’ the family laughter and loud jokes. Make sure that person knows who they can talk to on the day, make sure they feel safe, that they know they are cared for and that even if they just show their face for a short while, they deserve to enjoy Christmas. Whatever an individual likes about Christmas, get them to focus on that and even if it’s just for a moment. Christmas holds some universal enjoyment, and please remember if someone is withdrawn at Christmas time due to mental illness, it is never their fault.

A prozac nation

Fluoxetine, Citalopram, Venlafaxine, Mirtazapine, Bupropion, Olanzapine, Sertraline, Lamictal… An endless list of old and new medications designed to dampen and cover up symptoms of depression, anxiety and in combination with other drugs for multiple disorders. A society constantly growing a reliance on synthetic pills to function through the day, yet is this really the right route to take? Surely more acts of compassion and talking therapy should be top of the list, yet a trip to the GP for symptoms of a mental illness almost certainly ends in a little slip of paper that will lead to the possibility of a lifetime of prescription drugs.

One cannot deny the necessity for some to have a chemical ‘pick me up’, even for myself having been on and off medication for years and trying a variety of brands and types; I have again, returned to what is perhaps a safety net of biological treatment. However treatment should not be about prescribing a cocktail of drugs and releasing individuals into society, in many cases there is nothing more empowering and motivating then simply having someone to offload to, to be responded to with genuine care and concern for your needs and welfare and ultimately feel that you are not alone and that there is validity in your emotions.

Having experienced a sense of being restrained by a ‘chemical straight jacket’ when dosed up to the point of blurry vision, sleeping through days and having the inability to form a sentence, I feel that this method should never be the first point of call when treating someone so vulnerable or at risk. The unfortunate truth is that the first point of call for many GPs is to prescribe an antidepressant which can strip someone entirely of their identity and sense of self.

A bad day V.S the exhaustion of depression

There is an initial stigma that already surrounds the diagnosis of clinical depression, one that infers they can simply ‘snap out of it’, that it is simply an overreaction to a bad day. This of course is a myth that perhaps the more healthy minded won’t ever understand; depression is an illness that truly and completely overwhelms an individual through to every ounce and cell of their existence. It is waking up in the morning and feeling as though you are paralyzed, as though the laws of gravity have magnified and you can no longer push against it, no longer pull yourself up out of bed or off a chair because the smallest task is incomprehensible.

It can be near impossible to see on the outside, depression may not show itself 24/7, so when one can muster the energy to interact, force a smile then the society that observes them will see nothing but a normal person who has bad days. Yet the shame to admit that one suffers from such demons behind closed doors can prevent them getting the help they need.

Depression becomes a cloud, a muggy fog of poison that covers and infests you. The problem is that along with the less known physical symptoms of nausea, headaches, fatigue and indigestion there is a manifestation of negative thoughts and overthinking. Through the day, depression can prey on those with already shattered self esteem and cause doubt through the mind, judging every action and every thought which quickly turns into a dangerous and overwhelming over analysis of ‘Should I have done that?’, ‘What if everyone hates me?’, ‘What if it’s not good enough?’, ‘It’ll be all my fault’, ‘I’m a bad person’. Depression creates a world of misery, anxiety and isolation for the sufferer, an internal battle that is near impossible to explain to others when one is caught in the thick of it. Outside noise can cause frustration because on top of the internal noise of thoughts, this can become a horrid whir of conversation that one can’t concentrate on, mixed in to the inner voice of negative thoughts fed by depression. It is easy to become irritable because one loses touch with reality to a degree, becoming lost in a world of their own so when something, however small happens around them such as an item out of place or a change of plan then the sufferer can feel great anger which is followed by more guilt and confusion to why they feel such extreme emotion that further consumes them in the negative cycle.

Anyone with the mind monster of depression can experience it differently and in different severities but if you can take anything from this, it’s that depression is physical and emotional, it is not just sadness; it is a clinical illness that can destroy the very identity and life of a person.

Boundaries

Diagnosis of mental disorders is a topic of discussion among many psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors. Which symptoms are vital? Do they all fit to give a reliable diagnosis? There is so much quantitative questioning and effort to fit people into boxes that we almost forget that there is a real person suffering behind all these numbers of length of symptoms and severity.

What I find increasingly difficult is to distinguish my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours of which I show and feel normally from the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are triggered and caused by my own mental illness. It is so easy to become wrapped up in your own world and hold on to a diagnosis that from everything that happens, you may now attribute everything that you think or feel down to having a mental illness.

For example, when does feeling overwhelmingly tired, without even the energy to move from the sofa or hold a conversation due to lack of concentration become just a day where you haven’t had enough sleep? When does crying over the smallest thing become a temporary hormonal imbalance? When does coming home, slamming all the kitchen cupboards and swearing for no reason but being irritable just become a long or hard day at work or a result of stress? When does behaviour really become something that one can call a mental illness? After all; every single person on this planet has bad days.

Perhaps what we should focus on, is not the title given to an individual such as ‘clinically depressed’ but rather we should open our eyes to what is around us, see that we aren’t really alone, everybody will find it difficult when a close family member becomes very ill, when one has a bad day at work, they are unemployed or break up with their partner so we can’t use being ‘mentally ill’ as an excuse to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in all situations but we can of course say that these events may come with a little extra difficulty on a more fragile mind.

This may seem as though I am dismissing mental illness as something less serious, but I assure you this is certainly not the case. In fact those with a mental health problem whom do have these naturally ‘bad days’ will in fact need a little extra support or care because the bad days will be exaggerated and even crippling. And even a reminder that they are not the only ones, because the fact is their judgement and clarity on the situation will indeed be clouded by the very invisible entity that gives them the diagnosis of being unwell. Those with a mental illness will already be isolated by the invisible mind monster living in their head, twisting their world so they feel alone. So the best, and perhaps the only thing we can do is to reach out, reach out to those around us and remind them that we care. Everybody deserves that.