My TEDxYouth talk: Eating disorders have no face


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 If you have a friend with depression or whom appear withdrawn, don’t be disheartened if they are not in contact.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.

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.

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.

Identify yourself

When someone questions how we would define ourselves or to sum ourselves up into an articulated list of characteristics, it can be a very challenging task. Suddenly we have to put into words an entire essence of who we are and how we see ourselves to be; do we say how we think others would describe us? How we see ourselves? Or perhaps we are just totally flustered and unsure of what to say that we rummage through our brains to find the most simple description of ourselves, such as being caring or having blonde hair or simply a job description in fear that we could sound too big headed.

Whatever or however we see ourselves, one thing is for certain; an illness does not define you. If someone asks you to describe your auntie Betty (and it so happens that she has leukaemia), you’re not going to say ‘Oh you know Betty, the leukaemic!’ It would just be wrong.. You would want to describe auntie Betty by the way she looks or by her bubbly personality perhaps. Now suppose you’re asked to describe your friends; Bill and Bob; one has schizophrenia and the other has anorexia, these illnesses  could change the appearances of Bill and Bob, making them look tired or unwell, and of course it will change their emotions and interaction with the world (just as cancer can to Betty), and again you are asked to describe them. In society, it seems we often refer to those with such mental illnesses as ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘anorexic‘, yet this ‘ic’ on the end of the word appears to depersonalise the individual entirely; stripping them of their true self and replacing them with nothing more than an undesirable illness, no longer accepting that Bill and Bob are friendly, kind hearted or good looking but simply seeing them as outsiders to society. This ‘ic’ on the end of their diagnosis overshadows everything healthy and desirable within the individual. Having a mental illness can make ones sense of self less clear as it is, but with the added stigma of the ‘ic‘ in society, it means that not only will the individual feel the need to define themselves by their illness but others around them will too, making it near impossible to escape the disorder and harder to keep reaching for recovery.

Someone’s illness, whether it be physical or mental is no way to refer to someone, there is no active choice to develop depression, just as there is no choice to have cancer, having a mental illness or disorder is nothing to be ashamed of but there is always a lot more to a person than the diagnosed jumble of words on a doctors note so; think before you speak.

Where are you on the spectrum?

Mental illness isn’t something that affects the minority, the less well off or the isolated members of society. It is something that can manifest within anyone, and in fact every single individual with their unique personality may show traits of different mental disorders. Do you ever go on a ‘cleaning bender’ or even refer to yourself as ‘a little OCD’, perhaps you have a day where you just feel really down and like you don’t want to see anyone? You may get easily upset or instantly worried or even angry at small things? The difference is that somewhere along the spectrum, these personality traits such as being quite sensitive, emotional, paranoid or anxious build and bundle together along with life events and neurological pathways to form a mental illness, a whole new world and reality for the individual and a new perception of the world and or themselves. The thoughts and behaviours that come with it aren’t just part of a personality type but they become uncontrollable needs, coping mechanisms and ways of life which when deviated from can cause the individual to feel indescribable challenges and distress. Everyone at some point in their lives need a little extra TLC, some support and a helping hand, those with mental illness require exactly this, just a little more of the time. Mental illness is serious, it can isolate you from everyone so you feel like you’re in a lone bubble of no hope, it can destroy and take lives, but in all cases, it’s important to note that everyone deserves the same compassion and care to aid recovery. One in four people are thought to have a mental illness so before you stigmatize and form an opinion of them, just think how similar the two of you may be.