Getting back in touch with an old friend was one of the best things that’s happened to me of late. However what I didn’t realise at the time was that it would also mark the start of a very difficult period of realisation and self discovery for me.
My friend had just openly admitted to his struggle with depression. I felt sorry that I couldn’t have done more before but am told my support helped him get to where he is now, so I’m glad he let me in and am so proud of his achievements.
It was so good to have my friend back, as I hadn’t realised what a huge hole had been left until we started to spend time together again. When you’ve got someone in your life you can truly relax with and not have to be anybody or do anything, it’s something to value indeed. That’s what I was given back by my best friend. However for all the laughing and making up for lost time, there was a bitter subplot to the story.
In relaxing with my friend and being myself, I began to open up and talk about things that bothered me. This was something I’ve never really been that good at doing over the years. Many people who know me would testify to my ability to talk the hind leg off a donkey. But when it comes to talking about myself and my feelings, that ability evaporates.
I’d never really had close friends in whom I could confide. Or who I felt I could confide in. I also never really felt like I had problems that were such that I needed to share them. As I’ve dug deeper and started to accept that there are some pretty deep-seated problems I have never really acknowledged before, however, I’ve also realised that it was about time I started to let people in.
As I started to talk to my friend, I began to experience periods of darkness. They may only last a few hours at a time before I regained control and could carry on, business as usual but they began to happen with greater frequency and lasted longer. Being completely open with my friend, however, he suggested I may be depressed.
I struggled to hear his opinion. I don’t have any misconceptions about depression, but I couldn’t identify with his suggestion. My reaction was one of disbelief and incredulity. I could not understand why he would think that I would be depressed. I had no reason to be depressed; I have a loving family and friends, my health, a nice home, a loving husband and my family of cats… the words that ran through my mind were that I had no RIGHT to be depressed. Now if it was anybody else who was struggling, I would never think somebody needed a reason to be depressed, but with the condition staring me down, I was backing away not wanting to accept it. As my friend pointed out, if I was unhappy, something wasn’t right.
After more ups and downs, including despair and uncontrollable crying, nearly constant fatigue, sleeping problems and loss of appetite among other things, my friend’s frustration rising out of seeing me unwell led me to accepting I had a problem. I agreed to answering the questionnaire my friend completed as part of his treatment and reluctantly admitted that many of the questions were things that affected me. But I was still unable to name my problem as depression.
I knew I felt down and helpless but my mind was so full of activity, constantly buzzing and whirring with worries and stressing over things outside my control or that had already happened that I couldn’t believe that would mean I was depressed. I tried to admit to it because I was told it would make me feel good to accept it and be able to start resolving it; beating it. But even as I text my friend saying, ‘I have a problem that has held me in its grip for too many years, controlling my life and stopping me living as I want to live. I have been fighting depression and not been able to accept it. I am now taking control of this and will fight it with the help of my friends and loved ones’ I felt like I was texting a lie. I tried to write a blog admitting to my problem and hopefully calling it out so I could face it and vanquish its hold over me. I published the blog but went to bed feeling nothing. It had done nothing. And it didn’t feel right.
Perhaps I was too firmly rooted in denial and the words were just words with not enough meaning behind them. No true acceptance or admittance, and therefore no relief or peace. Or perhaps it wasn’t the right diagnosis.
The following morning I woke earlier than the alarm but was completely alert. An idea popped into my head. I grabbed my phone and Googled ‘depression vs anxiety’. An NHS article came up which detailed the common symptoms that anxiety sufferers experience. I looked at them in surprise as all but one of them applied to me. I then decided to click the link to the NHS depression and anxiety questionnaire – an app version of the questions I went through with my friend. Answering honestly, the results were that a medical professional would be able to confirm whether I had depression, but I had a score sufficient to indicate I could have, but that my anxiety related answers showed a considerable effect on my life. It advised me to seek medical help.
I messaged my friend about my discovery and then began a chain of analysing, overthinking and learning. I am the sort of person who needs to understand how things work. I am also a control freak and stubborn about proving I can do things alone. Ironically, I am not very good when I’m on my own. But these are things I will save for another post. Chris did some research about anxiety and suggested that the symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) sounded very much like the problems I was experiencing. He suggested looking at the library for some books to help as he knew I was reluctant to see a GP but was keen to help me start dealing with the problem. Finding a book about somebody’s journey dealing with anxiety throughout their life, a book on mindfulness and meditation and two titles giving self help courses utilising CBT techniques, I happily used the self service check-out and later that day began to ease myself in to learning more about anxiety.
The more I read, the more I identified with. From tension to headaches, constant worrying to easy distraction and lack of concentration, trouble sleeping to loss of appetite, the number of things that had plagued me for years that were usually attributed to anxiety surprised and shocked me. Even cramps in muscles which I’d attributed to lack of salt in my diet can be caused by the constant tension, and floaters in the vision which I’ve been troubled by for 6 months and saw an optician about can be symptoms of anxiety. And that’s without the reduction in immune system resilience caused by fatigue leading to higher susceptibility from infections. For the last ten years, I’d been worrying about getting kidney and ear infections if I was overdoing things, even though I felt like I didn’t have an excessive amount on my plate, but it was my anxiety causing my worry causing the infections all along.
Over the past 6 weeks, I have learned a lot, both about anxiety and about myself. At one point, I felt a crisis of identity; is who I am just the sum of symptoms and effects of my anxiety? But I am determined to understand my condition and my knowledge and drive to regain control and learn who I am will enable me to be a stronger person for the experience. I will not be defined by my anxiety. I will learn how to control it and accept it for what it is.