Hi everyone. How are all of you today?
If I’m honest, I’m not doing all that great right now myself, but hey – all the more reason why I’m writing this blog. To help spread the message that it’s okay… to not be okay. 🙂
Today I’d like to talk to you all about my depressive voice and my personal journey with anxiety. I think it’s a core part of me, and so it’s hard to share. It makes me feel vulnerable, sparks my fear of attention seeking, opens up fresh wounds, etc. But the wounds are already open right now. So I may as well delve deeper for all of you, for anyone who is struggling to grasp what their own inner demons are telling them, for those who know all too well what they are saying and just need to know that someone else is experiencing the same thing, and for those who want to help broaden their knowledge about depression and anxiety… maybe for someone you love, or for other people in general. Whatever the reason, I’m glad you came. I’m glad you’re reading.
I think I might start with a bit of background knowledge of me. Personally, I think I’ve always known my anxiety was there, in the back of my mind, nudging me in directions I wouldn’t otherwise think about. Causing me to make small decisions out of fear (or the opposite – to be paralysed into indecisiveness out of fear!!) which would over time build to something as big as to what it is now. The problem is that I only knew it was there subconsciously. I didn’t know what to call this voice in my head. When I talk about voices, I’m not talking about some creepy whisper seeping into my mind, I’m not talking about hearing things or being possessed and going crazy. I’m talking about the small, frail girl who is my core, pleading for help. I’m talking about my conscience, my deeper thoughts that I sometimes fail to let rise to the surface.
My voice, my instinct, my conscience, whatever you’d like to call it, has often kept me safe. It’s barred me from acting in a dangerous situation, forced me to retreat from things that it thought would cause me harm. But bit by bit, this voice was slowly degrading my sense of self-worth. It would make me feel unsafe at random times and occasions, when I couldn’t actually see what it was that so disturbed me. That’s the funny thing I’ve learned about anxiety over the years… it makes you feel so totally vulnerable, so at risk, so completely unsafe, when you know in your own head that you are perfectly safe. And yet, your blood runs cold, your hands feel clammy, your heart starts to race. But why?
I could go into a whole sciency-ramble about just “why” our brains like to trick our voice that we are in some deep and serious trouble. Because that’s all it is – it’s science. Yeah, anxiety is a real condition. It is a real illness. And, oh yes, anxiety can affect you physically, in immense ways might I add, as well as mentally. But I won’t delve into that. Today is more of a philosophical discussion.
My point is, I did not KNOW that this was anxiety until recent years. How could I? I’d never even really heard the word until I reached around 10 years old. But it was always there… pressing in… like a shadow protruding from the darkness, or a hand gently pressed against my throat. Not constricting, just there. Threatening to tighten its grip. And that was the scariest thing of all, that feeling of impending anxiety. Knowing that it could, and would, strike up again when I least expected it.
At first, it started off just as little nigglings when I’d do something out of my comfort zone. Walking down the road to the shops, talking to someone I’d never met before, standing up on stage in front of my primary school to deliver a prayer or say a few lines during assembly. All normal, healthy stuff you’d expect a normal young girl to feel a little apprehensive about. Only, it got bigger. The squeezing in my chest got tighter. The niggling more incessant. And with the divorce of my parents, the weight continued to pile. Soon I reached high school, now at the age of 13 years old. Transitioning from primary into high school was a major milestone for me, with the anxiety I had to overcome. But it was something I could overcome. I had my friends, caring teachers, and always my family and pets to come home to. I was nervous, but I was happy.
It wasn’t until around the age of 14 that I really started my downward spiral into anxiety. If I could describe my anxiety in the earlier years of my life, I would say it was just there… sitting on the periphery of my life, getting comfortable on the edges of my mind, often dipping its toe into the waters of my thoughts to make a few ripples, but never a huge splash. To describe my anxiety over the past 3 and a half years to date… would be an absolute disaster. I simply cannot explain it to you in words. The pain, the fear, the attacks, the isolation, it is just something you need to have experienced for yourself to truly understand.
I have to say: I am in a much, much, much better place right now in terms of my mental health overall than I was about a year, or even 2 years ago. But in those early stages of learning the reality of what I was going through, I descended rapidly into a dark hole. And it was absolutely terrifying, my first experience in this horrible place. I felt as though I had no one to hold onto. My mind was playing tricks on me in the dark. This is the place where my small, little voice of anxiety turned into my great, big, nasty depressive voice. “You are alone.” “Nobody cares about you or understands what you are going through.” “Everyone is lying.” “You are a waste.” “You drag everybody else down.” “You’re just a hindrance to everyone else.” “You’ve caused all of the problems in your life, and in those around you.” And you have to understand: I had no problem looking the same as I always did on the outside. It’s not that I wanted to fake my emotions. I had just become very good at hiding my internal struggle, and it was my go-to instinct rather than bringing these attacking thoughts to the surface for others to hear. It was all within my mind, and no one, not even those closest to me, knew the real depth of what I was suffering.
I regret that choice. I lived for over a year with those attacks eating me from the inside every day. Some days, they were diluted, but I could not escape from them, because they were me. I had no idea how to formulate these thoughts into words. I was ashamed. I was confused. And I felt very, very alone and detached.
Around the time that I turned 15, I finally realised that this struggle, although internal, was far bigger than I could handle. I couldn’t take it any longer on my own or I would cave in and break. So I reached out to my parents, reached out to my two closest friends, and they pointed me in the direction of Headspace, where I got counselling for the next four months.
I then learnt that my anxiety comes and goes. Yes, it is always there, in the back seat, watching over my shoulder. But there are periods of time where it tries to take control from me, and periods of time when it lessens its hassling and sits complacently behind me. I learnt to acknowledge that these periods of time occur sporadically, and whilst I could never schedule in a time that I knew it would come, I learnt to recognise the symptons of it; “yep, I can feel an anxiety attack or depressive episode coming on tonight”, and live with it.
Thus came the period in my life I was at my best. I thought everything was past me (foolish, I know.) I thought I was “cured”. That I was better. I’m sorry, but there is no cure to anxiety. There is no cure for depression. There are only things that can help us lift out of it for a while, every now and again. But it is enough to sustain us. We do not need a cure.
Anyway, yes, I believed I was finally free for those couple months after my counselling, and so I broke off with Headspace. It took a mere few months before the demons came rolling back in to sweep me back into my hole. But this time, I knew I needed to reach out. Now, at 17 years old, I am back at Headspace, and I have to tell you it honestly helps so much to talk to someone that is outside of your life, looking in to give you perspective. At the same time, if you are able to talk to people in your life about your suffering, you must do so.
In some respects, my depression and anxiety is worse because of the busy life I am living, being a full-time ATAR student, working 2 jobs, and everything else in between. It is worse because I am so much more aware and attuned to my struggle. It is worse because of the strain I put on myself to be better, to help others. It is worse because the moments of panic are harder to deal with, and becoming more frequent. The nights are getting longer. The voice in my head is louder. The hand on my throat is tighter. The fear in my chest is too scared to let go, and is clinging for dear life.
But… I do feel, compared to this time last year, I am in a better place despite my mental illness growing stronger. I feel better because I have chosen to let people in. I feel better because I have let my anxiety and depression in rather than fighting it. I feel better because I have learned more and more (and am still learning!) about this important issue. I feel better because I have developed healthy strategies that help me cope in desperate times; such as doing things I love, like going for runs/walks, listening to music, riding horses, spending time with people and animals I love to be around, writing, singing and drawing. I feel better because I have learnt to read both my body’s and mind’s little signals that I am breaking down, that I am about to panic, etc. and – most importantly – LISTEN to these signals and give myself permission to have a break. I feel better because I talk. And that’s what I want each and every single one of you to do.
My mental illness is becoming stronger. But so am I. I am becoming stronger, every day.
So, even though my depressive voice is a little louder than usual today, the hand is a little tighter round my throat than it normally is, it’s ok. Because I know I will be ok. Everything will be ok. And we are all here to help each other, to stand up to the stigma around mental illness and say “no” to its face!
I think I’ve covered everything I’ve wanted to talk about today. It’s a long winded process, talking about this worldwide issue. There are literally millions of topics and aspects I can talk about, but I will do my bit, piece by piece. If there is anything else you’d like to know about, or have any queries or requests, send me an email or a comment below! 🙂
Be well lovelies ❤️