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How a Simple E-Mail Sent Me Into a Depressive Episode

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I was having a good day. But then, in an instant, it changed. That is the nature of my illness.

I saw an e-mail. Opened it. A few seconds went by and then there they were — symptoms I know all too well as early warnings I am about to have a depressive episode. My sense of calm from a few minutes earlier was replaced with an overwhelming sense of sadness and guilt. My normally optimistic outlook was replaced with a sense of hopelessness.

I send my girlfriend a message. It was irrational, and I knew it as I wrote it. I knew I was in it then. The episode was no longer on the horizon. It was on me. I had to fight like hell to prevent myself from losing full control.

I send my girlfriend another message. “I’m losing control,” I say. She knows what that means. After almost five years of dating, she has been through this before. She knows what to do. “OK. Call me when you can. I’m here,” she says. I say thanks and then say I will be MIA for a while. I know this doesn’t make her happy and she will worry but, for me to get through this, I need to do it by retreating inward.

I try and focus on something else but I feel tears on the verge of spewing out of my eyes. I know if I do not focus, I will start crying. My day becomes about preventing myself from going into a full-fledged depressive episode.

For me at least, preventing myself from fully losing control is hard. It is not as simple as flipping a switch. I need to put a lot of mental power into it.

I try to simply start thinking about something else. That doesn’t work. I take a deep breath and say to myself, “Just don’t cry. You can do this.” More deep breaths. More talking to myself. I’m not back in control, but I feel like I have prevented the full-fledged episode.

I look at the clock and angst comes over me. I have two hours of meetings. I think to myself, “How am I going to survive this without ending up on the floor crying? Forget that, how am I going to get through them without people seeing how awful I feel?”

I managed to get through the meetings without issue. They ended up being the best thing to happen to me because I was so focused on what was happening in the meetings, my mind was able to right itself.

And just like that, it was over. For four hours, my day was turned upside down. That is the reality of depression: it is always there, lurking in the background, just waiting for an opening. When you have depression, you are very aware of this. You wake up each morning knowing your day can change in an instant because of something as innocent as an e-mail you open.

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Unsplash photo via Tom Pumford.

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9 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone With Depression (and What to Say Instead)

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With the best of intentions we sometimes put our foot in it when it comes to supporting a mate or loved when who might be going through a tough time. Understanding depression and anxiety or any mental health issue can be bewildering for both the person unwell and their support network.

Sometimes we don’t always say the right thing to let the person know we are there for them. But words have power and thinking twice before offering advice, an opinion or a judgment to someone who is already feeling vulnerable, is key.

We’ve put together a few common scenarios people with depression/anxiety sometimes hear and offer an alternative response. These responses are more supportive and likely to encourage your loved one or friend to open up to you. Being able to open up without feeling judged, gives relief and establishes trust — and that’s the best gift you can give someone who’s struggling.

Here are some things you shouldn’t say to someone who has depression:

1. “I read that exercising every day is the best way to beat depression/anxiety, you should join the gym and start walking 5km a day. Endorphins, you need endorphins!”

While it’s true that exercising does help lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety, some people, when they’re in a really low place, can barely cope with getting out of bed to shower. The gap between where they’re at to this new world of up and at ‘em, can seem impossible to reach.

Instead say: “I know when I have been feeling a bit off, getting out each morning for a walk really helped me get back to a better headspace. If you ever want a walking buddy or want to try Tai Chi or something like that, I would love to join you.”

2. “You have a great life, a great family, a beautiful home, what do you have to be depressed about?”

Depression/anxiety is not a choice and this is not a supportive comment, it will only alienate the person further. Your friend/loved one is probably very aware they have a “good life.” This comment will probably just shut down the possibility of them feeling comfortable opening up about their troubles with you.

Instead say: “I can see you’re doing it tough at the moment. Do you feel like opening up about what’s happening, I have time to talk? If not now, you can call me anytime, I’m always here for you, please know that.”

3. “You just need to get out of the house, you’re cooped up here on your own and that can’t be good for you, no wonder you’re depressed!”

People who are struggling with depression or anxiety just can’t leave the house, sometimes. Facing the world when they are at their worst is just not an option for them. It just isn’t.

Instead try: “If you feel like going for a walk, even just around the block, I would love that. Have a think about it. If not today, how about tomorrow? I really need to walk too, you’d actually be helping me get more active.”

4. “You need to snap out of this, it’s not fair on the rest of your family/friends, you’re being selfish.”

Red flag to a probably exhausted bull. This is not helpful, it can feel judgmental and alienating. This is not a choice, it’s something that feels completely out of their control. Guilt and shame compound their problem.

Instead try: Is there anything I can do to make this time a little easier for you? Can I drive you to see your doctor or phone and make an appointment for you? How can I best support you?

5. “I was depressed for a few days once, I get it, but I just made myself get over it. You should just try and be happy.”

Being out of sorts for a few days does not equate to depression and comparing your situation to someone else’s isn’t supportive.

Instead say: “I went through a few rough days myself a couple of years ago, but I managed to get myself back on track. I know this is probably different, but I’d be happy to share what got me through it, if you think it might help.”

6. “I’m throwing a dinner party to cheer you up, it’ll just be a few close friends and family.”

Eek! With the best of intentions, you have probably seen the wide-eyed look of horror on your friend’s face in response to that well-meaning offer. Depression and anxiety are no friend to socializing. Even if the guests are people they know well. The pressure to chat and appear happy when you’re not is exhausting .

Instead say: “I would love to have you around for lunch or a cuppa one day next week, just you and me, is that something you feel like you might be able to handle at the moment?”

7. “You’re depressed because you have nothing meaningful to do in your life. You need to socialize more or join a club, just get out and about more, you need to make an effort.”

While social connectedness and feeling a part of things is definitely key to a healthier lifestyle and a sense of well-being, not everyone with depression or anxiety is capable of taking such a big step. It can be scary enough for some people when they’re feeling great, but a terrifying prospect when that person is not at their best.

Instead try: I was thinking about joining, (e.g.) ‘Ladies who Luncheon,’ it looks like a lot of fun and it’s only once a fortnight. I’d feel a lot better if I had someone to go with, would you consider coming with me next week if you’re feeling up to it?”

8. “I’m trying to be supportive and I know you can’t help having depression/anxiety, but you’ve been taking medication for a while now, so how come it’s not working? How long before you’ll be better?”

How long is a piece of string? The odds are your friend or loved one has been wondering the same thing. Getting better or just managing a condition, even on medication, is different for everyone. There’s no quick fix and making the person feel like they’re not getting better fast enough, will possibly make them withdraw further.

Instead say: “Have you had a chat to your doctor lately about your progress, how are you feeling about it all? I’m happy to listen if you want to get anything off your chest. This must be very frustrating for you and sometimes a good vent helps. I’ll make us a cuppa.”

9. “This mood you’re in is a choice you know? You need to pull yourself up by the boot straps and get on with things. People depend on you, you know.”

Oh, thank you for being so frank, said no one ever. A comment like this will only further compound the isolation this person is already feeling. It will It certainly not open up any opportunity for meaningful connection or conversation, which could actually be the starting point to them getting help.

Try instead: “I really can’t relate to how you’re feeling, mate.  I haven’t had depression so it’s hard for me to understand what you’re going through right now. I wish I could understand it a bit better, so if you want to talk to me about it, I’ll make us a cuppa and sit with you for a while.”

Have you helped a friend, loved one or colleague through a tough time? What did you do or say to let them know they were supported and not judged?

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Thinkstock photo via Vmelinda

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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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Photo via contributor.

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What I Remind Myself When Mental Illness Makes Me Feel Like a Bad Sister

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I love my sisters more than anything. They are my best friends and my biggest supporters. I know I can always count on them to be there for me. But sometimes, my depression and anxiety have me believing I don’t deserve my sisters. I start to believe they deserve better. I find myself believing they deserve a sister who can be there for them whenever they need.

It had been a hard week for me. Finals were coming up, my meds had not been working the way they’re supposed to, my dog was just diagnosed with a heart murmur and it felt like everything was piling up around me, smothering me. I could feel myself starting to disconnect and withdraw. When friends invited me out, I didn’t want to go. When it was time to buckle down and do school work, I was completely overwhelmed. I started to feel like a hollow shell, just going through the motions. My sister asked me if I would attend her concert (the last one of her college career), and I couldn’t get myself to go. Later that night, she asked if I would come to her award ceremony (where she won two awards), but I was so exhausted. The idea of leaving the house to go sit in a stuffy gym for two hours while I waited for her name to be called had my heart racing. I later found out one of her friends drove six hours to come, and had brought her flowers, and I felt like the worst sister in the world. I felt like I had completely failed as a big sister. I wasn’t there to support her and celebrate in her accomplishments. I chose watching Netflix over watching her perform. I had chosen taking my dog to the dog park over being there to watch her receive her awards.

But then I remember, I chose self-care. Sometimes I can’t leave the house, and that’s OK. Sometimes being around other people is just too overwhelming, and that’s OK. Sometimes I’m not a perfect sister, and that’s OK.

I love my sisters more than anything, and they know that. They know I try my hardest to be there for them, and they know sometimes my depression and anxiety get the better of me. Sometimes my depression may make it hard for me to engage, and sometimes my anxiety may make leaving the house seem like an impossible feat. But my depression and anxiety will never change how much I love my family and friends. I will never let my mental illness take away how much I care for those dearest to me. Even though sometimes it’s hard to show just how much I care.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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How a Loved One Helped Me Eat When I Was Struggling With Depression

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Spending all my nights and days in bed took a huge toll on my physical health. After dealing with depression for a long time, I’d come to a point where I’d completely forgotten what being “normal” felt like. Depression became such a huge part of my identity that it became difficult to differentiate myself from my disorder.

I went for days without having a proper meal, or going out to eat. Even when I took the pain to get myself a meal, I realized how much appetite I’d lost in these months. Being on medicine never worked for me, and leaving them resulted in a heavy weight loss. I was at a point in my life where I’d started feeling my way of living was basically who I was. My thoughts were so clouded that I couldn’t identify how unhealthy my schedule was, even after many people came forward to point it out to me. At this point, when I couldn’t even think of having a healthy mind or body, a loved one decided to put me on an eating schedule.

From waking me up, to getting breakfast in bed and feeding me, this person went the distance to make sure I had three meals a day. This was amazing because I was formally a person who did not even have the strength to have one a few weeks earlier.

The initial days were not only annoying, but I felt my body couldn’t take so much of food, and I felt sick and heavy all the time. I felt my personal space was violated, and I did everything to push aside this help. My loved one never stopped trying to help me.

In no more than a month’s time, my body started getting used to this food schedule. So much so that I started getting up to get food for myself on the usual assigned eating hours. Instead of sleeping through lunch, my body growled and made me get up to get something to eat, a feeling so different to me that it gave me tremendous hope for recovery.

The hope of recovery was such a motivating factor that I started investing more time on myself. I started getting up early, getting out of bed, going out of my room and fetching myself good meals. In the initial days, I surrounded my schedule around food, and eventually everything started falling into own place. I started getting back at work, as I had more energy and zeal. I’d stopped feeling exhausted all the time, and my body now supported my mind to face the world.

This feeling of being healthy felt so new, like I’d forgotten how it felt. The feeling of doing things easily, which most seemed to do on a regular basis, felt like an achievement. This felt like a reward to keep myself going.

A loved one might have done a basic deed of feeding me regularly, but now that I look back at it, I realize how beautifully that brought the changes in me I feel today. I feel stronger as a person, I feel healthy, and more than that, I feel beautiful. Maybe I love myself a little more!

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Unsplash photo via Joshua Newton.

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Today I Decided to 'Show Up' for My Life

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I’ve lost count of how many times I have found myself shattered, lying on the floor. I’m often unsure the length of time that has passed, and why I fell to the ground in the first place. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve fallen. What matters is how many times I slowly pushed against the floor and rose to stand. With knees trembling and a heavy heart, I rose to stand another moment. Most people that have interacted with me through the years would never have known I have lived deep in the well of darkness for over a decade. I quickly adapted and learned to hide behind the mask I created for myself. Being labelled as the girl who is “too sensitive,” I rode that wave and resigned myself to the fact people just couldn’t handle me, never truly understanding how I lived in the intimacy of my inner world. So, I remained quiet.

However, through my darkness, I have learned to honor this place and accept this is a part of me. Once I did this, slowly a voice began to emerge. My spirituality has taught me that. It taught me this type of awareness is actually innate, it is always there, nudging at me, focusing me on the present moment. And my empathic heart taught me compassion and patience towards myself, and in doing so, I’ve been more compassionate towards others. The teacher sitting within has guided me through the years to always question, always uncover the answers — or at least attempt to.

Although my depression has taken up the better portion of my life, I am slowly crawling out of it. I am turning 31 this year. A decade ago, I envisioned something very different for my life, but instead of dwelling in what “should have been,” I will look at what I have done. I have been derailed over and over again, it has been an exhausting battle, but through it, I’ve built of reserve of strength and resilience. I have accepted this may be something I will battle through for most of my life. The difference between now and then is that back then, I had no backbone. I had no way of bouncing back. I believe you get real good at bouncing back when you are kicked to the ground day in, day out.

Last week, I caught myself on the floor again. Yes, just last week. Fetal position, gasping for air, screaming at the world, so fed up with the way my life is. This time though, I placed my hand to my heart and I remembered to breathe. I called my power back and I asked for what I needed. The voice spoke back. Movement. So I pushed myself off the floor and got my ass to a yoga class. I moved and grooved and cried my way through the 60 minutes that slowly passed. I was the girl in the corner. I didn’t mind. It’s those moments that count. I believe the small victories are what teach us about how far we have come. These tiny moments hold weight in how we “show up” for our life. For someone living with mental illness, these tiny moments count. These tiny moments, in fact, are large victories. Count those victories and be proud. Always resort back to those victories when you are lying on the floor, defeated and let down. I remind myself, today, I decided to “show up” for my life in whatever capacity I was able to muster, and that is enough.

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