My name is Michaela.
I have depression and anxiety.
I am also extremely logical.
This means my head is pretty much a constant battleground of irrational thought vs. logic trying to win.
Some days logic wins. Some days it doesn’t.
There has been a decent amount of coverage the last week or so about various mental health issues, thanks in large part to those dapper princes HRH Prince William, HRH Princess Catherine and (my personal fave) HRH Prince Henry and the work they are doing with the mental health charity ‘Heads Together’.
My mental health battles are something that I have been quite honest about over the last year or so. I haven’t always been so open and honest about it but, being truthful, it took me a long time to realise that it was ok for me to have depression and anxiety. It didn’t make me a bad person; it didn’t mean I was damaged any more or less than the next person. I realised that, actually, being honest was the best way to be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t introduce myself with that as my ‘fun fact’, it is not something ALL my work colleagues know but it is something that, when asked, I will be honest about. I try very hard to not let it take over my life; I try very hard to not let it beat me.
Most days it doesn’t, some days it does.
My earliest memories of dealing with anxiety are from when I was around 8 years old. My dad used to ride his bike to work and, for whatever reason, I began to worry that he wouldn’t come home because something would happen. The hours he was gone on the days I was home to know he was gone I would be panic-stricken that I wouldn’t see my dad anymore. I would lie on the couch, eyes shut, reciting my times tables until he got home – it was my way of coping and trying to distract my mind from the worry. I always felt too nauseous to eat my dinner but I would force myself because I felt silly telling my mum and sisters what I was worrying about. I was 8.
Fast forward to when I was about 12, my anxious self was petrified of power cuts. Lord knows why, I just was. We were all watching Titanic on the telly box and suddenly there was a power cut. I didn’t watch Titanic for almost 10 years because I convinced myself that there would be a power cut at the same part of the movie that there was when I was 12. I also developed distaste for cheese on toast because of power cuts – as we had a gas cooker my mum would always do us some cheese on toast by candlelight. To this day I can’t stomach cheese on toast.
When I was in my final year at university I was living in a house my friend Steph nicknamed the Big Brother house because there was always something going on. There were various incidents that happened over the course of that year. I had so much anxiety being in that house – it was quite a toxic environment. Not the best place for anyone to be let alone someone who has depression and anxiety. That house and the events that took place there took its toll on all of us, I think. Back to the point… towards the end of that year I finally went back to the house after a few days away – I hadn’t been able to face being there – I borrowed Father of the Bride (banging film) from my pal, housemate, best thing to come out of that house – Mark and fell asleep watching it. I then watched it at bedtime everyday for a month, if not longer, because that first night I watched it nothing bad happened. That meant if I watched it on day 2, 3, 4 etc. that nothing bad would happen. It was only when Mark came in to my room and asked me how much I’d watched it that I realised it was a problem.
Welcome to my obsessive, anxious mind.
Back to the summer of 2010 – I was just back from falling in love with everything that life had to offer in Valencia. I was walking on cloud nine for those few months. Then back to earth with a bump. A dark cloud followed me for the rest of that year, a dark cloud called Depression. Hello, friend.
I had days where I would wake up, cry the whole day, and then fall into an exhausted sleep. I had days where I would sit in my bed, having not showered for days, just staring out the window. Being a student it was easy to hide – people almost expect you to be a big slob. They expect you to sleep lots, be lazy, eat poorly. Living away from home it was easy to hide. My sister’s knew something was up – to quote my eldest sister “I thought you’d gone mad”. My mum said I’d lost my sparkle. My best pal Dalbs knew I had to get out of the hole myself because I was too goddamn stubborn to accept help. The whole time she was my silent cheerleader.
I got there though. In my own time – I’ve never been one to be rushed.
Depression came a knocking again at the end of 2013. This time the symptoms were very different – I had a FT job so I couldn’t spend my days lying in bed and crying. I had to get up and go live because it was what was expected of me. Inside I remember feeling very numb though, I was existing. Not living. I didn’t care for most anyone or anything. For this reason I didn’t recognise I’d fallen back down the same hole I’d climbed out of just 3 years prior. I thought depression only had one face. It doesn’t.
A visit to my doctor in 2014 gave me the reassurance I needed that I wasn’t crazy and that it was simply an illness that I had. The sentence “it’s no different from a chest infection. You’d take medicine for a chest infection, why wouldn’t you for an illness in your brain?” was all it took for me to finally see things a bit clearer and to see that it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was what it was.
Making the decision to get help and take antidepressants (or happy pills as I much prefer to call them) was one of the very best decisions I have ever made. In those first three months there was such a change in myself – I stopped hating the world, I stopped blaming it for everything that I thought was wrong. My ridiculous mood swings stopped. Sure I still get grumpy but hey, I’m only human. I was no longer going calm to crazy in the blink of an eye – now it takes at least two blinks.
Once I started to feel better, started to talk more and accept it, I started to open up about it. I realised that I am definitely not alone. Two of my very best friends in the world have also struggled with depression and anxiety; one of my Nan’s had it, one of my cousins. I am not naming them individually as I feel it is not my place to talk about their experiences but it just shows you that it affects so many people, from all over.
I eventually got to a place where I felt strong enough to write about it. I was really frickin nervous posting it because the fear of being judged was so real. Some people see the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ and immediately paint a picture in their head of how they think you are, there are those that think we do it for attention, we imagine it all. Then there are those that don’t believe you because you ‘don’t seem the type to have that’ or ‘but you’re always smiling when I see you’… say hello to the person that has highly functioning depression.
After I posted it I had 3 people message me privately from my Facebook friends confessing that they had felt very low and were worried it was depression but were scared to go to the doctor. They didn’t want the doctor to think they were overreacting because they were stressed/ going through a break up etc. I told them if they were worried enough to reach out then go and talk to a medical professional – I am not one and would never diagnose someone but I can empathise with the symptoms that come with them.
All three of those people got back in touch to say they’d gotten help and were on the road to recovery. All because I’d taken the time to share my story and listen to theirs when they reached out.
I can’t tell you the pride I felt. I can’t tell you how, much more importantly, I was pleased they were going to get better. That’s why I won’t stop talking about mental health, and the importance of getting help if you feel it’s too much.
I was recently out for a friend’s birthday and got talking to someone about my tattoos and they noticed my semi colon –which is a symbol of the mental health movement. It then came out that this person also had depression – having been off my happy pills since August last year I was able to sit there and tell her that it does get better. I’m living proof of that. All the fears of that any happiness you feel whilst taking the tablets is artificial is just that, a fear. Sometimes you just need a helping hand. I was so honoured that person felt they could talk to be about their experiences and that they were reassured about the future, if only for a moment, because of me.
Hope is always there. When you have anxiety and depression there are days when it is really hard to see, sometimes you believe it’s gone completely. Having people around you to not just tell you but also show you that hope is not gone; that it gets better is why I won’t stop talking about mental health.
There’s too much to lose if I do, if we do.
To anyone that is suffering, or thinks they might be. Know this, you are not alone. Help is out there. Hope is real. You matter. The world needs you.
Some cool websites to check out if you want to learn more about mental illness of if you are struggling and need help –