How the Girl Guides Helped Me in the Early Days of My Struggle With Mental Illness

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I started Girl Guides just before my seventh birthday and stayed with them for over 12 years before I finished up at 19 years old. Even though I am no longer an active member, I will never forget my time spent as a Girl Guide. For me, it was far more than just an after school activity, it was lifesaving.

I didn’t know at the time, but in my early teens, I started experiencing symptoms of mental illness. I was being bullied at school and I started to feel very different from the other kids. I was becoming isolated and confused, not understanding what was going on inside my own head.

Guiding gave me a safe place to be myself, a place where I felt accepted as “one of the gang.” I developed friendships and support I struggled to find elsewhere. Guiding was more than just a group of girls hanging out together, it was a second family. People who I knew had my back, no matter what.

Guiding got me out of the house and away from my thoughts for a couple of hours each week. It got me doing things I would never have otherwise done. Learning all kinds of skills and accomplishing some incredible things. The range of activities I got to participate in was as varied as door knocking to raise money for charity, to playing silly games where you have to try and cut up a block of chocolate with a knife and fork while wearing a hat, scarf and gloves. I participated in selling ice cream at festivals, volunteering at a Christmas party for disabled children, rope courses, hiking, camping, building solar ovens, joining in Anzac Day marches, sleepovers, raft building, delivering phone books, singing Spice Girls songs at the back of a bus, earning badges and completing various certificates. The list could go on forever.

In doing all these things, I got to meet so many amazing people and developed friendships I couldn’t imagine finding anywhere else. These friends came at a time when I needed them the most. Some of these friends recognized when I wasn’t feeling myself, and offered support without judgment, even when I could offer no explanation as to what was going on, or why. These friends listened to me, they distracted me, they gave me something else to focus on and they gave me laughter and genuine moments of true happiness.

Guiding provided me with activities that got me to exercise my body and my mind, both of which are good for the reduction in depression and other mental illnesses. It got me doing the things I needed to do, even though I didn’t know it was what I needed at the time.

Guiding stopped me from feeling completely isolated and alone at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It stopped me from potentially going into a complete downward spiral when it would have been so easy to just slip over the edge. Guiding was my safety net.

Because of Guiding, I have lifelong friends. Despite the fact that I don’t talk to them as frequently as I used to, I know when things get tough, I can always call on them for help, just as they can call on me.

This post originally appeared on Alison’s blog.

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To My Anxiety and Depression, for the Good and Bad You've Given Me

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To my anxiety and depression,

You have been a part of my life for many years now, but still, I struggle to understand you. You are always there… not there for me, but there to challenge me.

You challenge me every day to fight an invisible illness, to dig down deep within myself for strength. You challenge me to find reasons to fight a continuous battle raging inside my own head.

Anxiety and depression, you each have your own personality traits. Anxiety, you literally take my breath away. You make my heart pound, my stomach tie up in knots, and my body start to shake. Depression, you take the “life” out of me. You bring tears to my eyes, make my soul ache, and cloud my thoughts often for no apparent reason.

You are two separate and daunting entities, but when you team up it is like two against one and you become a formidable opponent.

Having you both inside of me is like riding a rollercoaster. It is like being pulled in two different directions at the same time. It is like being held down and pulled up simultaneously.

I feel like I am going to crack from the pressure.

Depression, you make me not care. Anxiety, you make me care too much. I wish you would ease up and help me find some balance.

I wear a mask to keep you both hidden. My mask is my smile, to hide my sorrow. My mask is my laugh, to hide my panic. My mask is my confidence, to hide the fear of what is inside me. But, anxiety and depression, my mask is coming off as I write the following to you today:

You are thieves. You have stolen so much from me over the years — happiness and peace of mind. You are liars. You tell me things about myself that aren’t true, that I’m not good enough. You are cheaters. You play games with my mind; you don’t play fair.

I have worked hard to get you out of my life. You took residence in my head years ago, but you just don’t want to go. I don’t like either of you and I don’t want you around.

I know you are mental illnesses and are doing your jobs, and doing them very well. Thanks to your skills, I am an adult with anxiety and depression. But I am more than that. I am a wife, a mother, a friend and a professional, and I have jobs to do as well. Having you in my life makes everything so much harder than it has to be.

I must admit, you aren’t all bad. In fact, you have taught me some valuable lessons and given me some priceless gifts. You have taught me compassion; through my own journey I have become more aware of the suffering of others and I want to help them in any way I can. You have taught me not to judge others so quickly. Most people have no idea about my struggles, so I may not know what is going on inside somebody else. You have given me true friendships. In opening up about you, I have fostered some truly meaningful, deep and lifelong friendships. You have given me strength and courage. It takes a strong and brave individual to stand up to you and fight to get better.

And last, but certainly not least, you have helped shape my life. I would not be the person I am today without you. And while I will continue to battle against you every single day, I am going to take your lessons and gifts and use them to grow.

Dear anxiety and depression, I wish I could write myself off into the sunset and away from your hold over me. I wish I could end this letter by telling you goodbye. It just isn’t that easy; right now you are still too strong. But, don’t count me out. I am getting stronger.

Jennifer

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A Letter to Myself From My Depression

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Dear Alyssa,

I’ve been a really shitty friend. I’ve neglected you and bullied you and put you in dangerous situations without caring about your well-being. I’m truly sorry. I wish I could go back to the beginning, when all the dark thoughts appeared and found a way to resist them. I wish I could have stopped myself from hurting you with my actions, words, thoughts and lack of all the above. I know we’ll never get that time back, but it doesn’t do to dwell on what could have been. I’m sorry for taking so much away from you and replacing it with anger, self-hatred and resentment. I’ve wronged you in unspeakable ways and there isn’t a day where I don’t wish I could go back and change every bad thing I did to you.

I want to try to make things better between us. I want to reconnect with you and show you how much I care about you. I want to show you how much I’ve changed. And I will continue to change for the better, I swear it. We will never be “perfect” — we will have blemishes on our skin, pains in our body, jumbled words in our speech and blank spots in our mind. Our armor will be riddled with dents and scratches, but this doesn’t mean we are a failure because we are not perfect. Sometimes the most beautiful of objects and people are those that have survived through horrible tragedies and returned bruised and battered. Scars are not defects, but proof we survived what once tried to destroy us. And I’m so proud you’ve made it this far.

I promise to put you first. It’s been too long since I’ve asked myself, “How would Alyssa feel if I do this?” I want to try harder to take care of you in every way possible. You deserve it. You deserve so many things — things I’ve prohibited you from having, doing and most of all feeling. I want you to be blissfully happy. I want you to see the most beautiful sunset and feel its warmth on your skin. I want you to know what it’s like to be in love. I want you to have your heart broken. I want you to grow from it, becoming even stronger and wiser than you were before. I want you to be able to laugh at yourself without screaming internally. I want you to make more friends and create inimitable memories with them. I want you to be independent but still have a good relationship with your family. I want you to never be afraid to be yourself. I want you to sing at the top of your lungs while in a car with your closest friends, driving down the highway, surrounded by the most magnificent stars in the night sky. I want to experience all of these things and more with you — and not lock myself away or let the numbness take over. I want you to take risks and see, smell, hear, taste and feel things like you never have before. I want you to live.

I want to fight for you. I want to fight with you, no matter how tough the battle is, no matter how long it takes and no matter what the outcome may be. I’m in this with you for the long haul. I hope you can forgive me, and I hope you’re just as optimistic about the future as I am. Together, we are fearless. Together, we will persevere.

I love you,
Alyssa

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Why the Man in My Body Isn't Me

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The man in my body isn’t me. I look in the mirror and all I see is a pained and broken man. I smile, but it’s always fake. I laugh, but it’s fake. I love to laugh and smile, but nothing I do or nothing anyone else does can bring them to be real. Nothing.

When I was little I remember running around in my backyard laughing and twirling sticks around. I remember the happiness in my eyes. Where did I go? Why is there deadness in my eyes now?

I remember having friends and enjoying so many activities. Where did they go? Where did my enjoyment go?

I remember when medication was for sickness, not to make myself feel happy. I remember when alcohol was for fun, not to drown my sorrows. I remember how sleep was just to sleep, not to save myself from numbness, anger and pain.

I remember when mirrors were to see how good I looked, not to see my flaws. I remember when the highest place in the world was my father’s shoulders. I remember when I didn’t try and kill myself.

What ever happened? Now my life is full of heartbreak, alcohol and blood. Now my blue eyes bring me no pleasure. My features have disappeared. I can no longer bring myself to eat. Sleep is my only escape.

Depression has completely taken over me and turned me into a man I have no desire to be. I miss being able to truly laugh and smile. I miss the light I used to have in my eyes. I miss being able to go out and have fun with friends.

The man in my body isn’t me. It’s a monster. A depressed monster who wants to kill themselves. It’s a demon that had nowhere to go but here.

Everywhere I go, it follows suit. Every time I feel happy, it takes it away. It takes my hunger away.

The man in my body isn’t me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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'Why Are You Acting Like a Maniac?'

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“Why are you acting like a maniac? Just kidding, you OK?”

This is what someone texted me. He apparently had seen some things I had posted on Facebook about having a tough time. And this was his comment to me. All I had to see was “maniac,” and I lost it. Sitting at work, the tears flowed. I broke down yet again… when all I was trying to do was not cry today at work. Now I sit here with my face red, hoping someone does not come to my office to ask me for something. I am so embarrassed. Embarrassed for the way I look now and embarrassed for what all people must think of me. Feeling alone… and like a maniac… an outcast.

Instead of not responding as someone at work suggested, I did. I told him that his comment did not help. I told him that I was going through depression and that I am just trying to get through the day. He apologized… but… it was too late.

If he had really read what I had put on Facebook, he would’ve known not to say what he did. I posted things about anxiety and depression.

I just read an article that says how depression tells you lies. I guess that is true and I am trying to remind myself of that. Right now though, I feel like the black sheep of the family… of the world. I feel like I have made a fool of myself. I wish I could hide from everyone… but at the same time, I need everyone.

People need to really be careful with what they say..

You never know what can make or break someone. One word… maniac…turned my world upside down today. Praying for everyone who feels like a “maniac.” We will get through this. Never giving up.

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Facing Anxiety and Depression Means I'm No Longer My 'Old' Self, and That's OK

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Ask anyone close to me what I was like at university. They’ll tell you I was happy, confident, and full of life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, it now feels like an entirely different life.

I was daring and brave, trying things I never imagined I’d do. I lived abroad completely on my own. I danced on stage in front of friends and total strangers. I took pride in my appearance, carefully selecting my outfits and always putting effort into my hair and makeup. After years of low self-esteem, I finally felt good about myself and even had the confidence to take selfies.

I was also incredibly passionate. I loved every part of my degree; learning new languages and about cultures never ceased to fill me with wonder and intrigue. I was motivated and driven to do the best I possibly could. I went through different phases of liking things; in my second year it was superheroes, in my fourth year it was film and video game soundtracks. Whatever I liked, though, I liked with such intensity and fervor that it overflowed into every aspect of my life. My passions were all-consuming and gave me life.

Fast forward to my graduation. I had achieved the highest class of my degree with a distinction, and for the first time in my life I felt truly proud of my accomplishments. Things were looking up; I had secured a place on one of the best teacher training courses in the country. Finally I was going to be able to share my passion for languages and love for learning with the younger generations; it had always been my dream.

That dream, however, was not the reality I faced. Constant feelings of dread and incompetence, working up the motivation to get up in the morning, bursting into tears at the thought of returning after a long holiday. Deep down, I knew something was wrong. But with an early-secured teaching job on the horizon, I couldn’t contemplate the possibility of having a mental illness. In complete denial, I bluffed my way through my training, always making up excuses for the way I was feeling.

“I’m away from home; this is a lonely existence.”

“This isn’t the right school for me.”

“This is only temporary.”

It wasn’t. Three months into my new teaching post, I finally accepted I needed help and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I began seeing a counselor to work through my feelings with the hope of moving past my mental illness, and while the sessions helped me understand the way I was feeling, my depression and anxiety only got worse.

I began self-harming and having regular panic attacks. Everything I had ever been passionate about seemed to drain away with my energy and motivation. Music no longer gave me chills; film and TV no longer enthralled me; even my love for languages was slowly dying. I struggled to complete even the most basic of tasks; the dirty dishes piled up in my sink and my fridge was empty. My parents, worried out of their minds, lamented for the “old me.” She was long gone.

Eventually, my managers realized the very nature of the job was a source of my depression and anxiety, and no amount of time off work was going to change that. Several strings had to be pulled, but I was generously given the role of a teaching assistant within the school. As soon as I heard the news, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.

I write this now a week after returning to work in my new role, and the change I have undergone is astounding. I’m taking the time to put effort into my appearance, making myself take selfies, sharing them to remind myself I can and do look beautiful. I’m doing the housework and weekly food shops. I listened to one of my favorite soundtracks and was moved to tears — not just by the beautiful music but also by the fact that it gave me chills for the first time in months.

When I speak to my mum on the phone now, she comments on how she can hear the “old” me coming back. And while it’s true that I’m doing a lot of things the me at university did, I am no longer that person. I am a girl who has fought her mental illness and is still fighting it to this day. I am a girl who has faced her demons and come out much stronger. I am a girl who is learning to love herself again and accept the part of her that was denied for so long.

This is the “new” me, and she has depression and anxiety.

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