Last Christmas, I was battling very severe depression and it took all my strength to get through each and every day. I felt terrified at the thought of my family coming over for Christmas dinner because I just didn’t want to socialise – I didn’t think I actually could. But it was Christmas so instead of lying about, I got up and put a smile – and some make up – on. This Christmas, I am truly happy. This Christmas, I can actually eat, drink and be merry, which is something I couldn’t have imagined last year. It feels like yesterday and yet a lifetime ago, that I was in such a dark place. I am beyond ecstatic to say that I have recovered from depression and the real gift for me is my health.
It probably sounds so silly but I didn’t actually realise you could recover from depression. With depression being such a taboo subject, we don’t know who suffers therefore we don’t know who wins the battle. I read articles about actors who admit to struggling with their mental health, but I did not see any comforting quotes of anyone who has suffered saying “You can beat this because I did”. But now, I have recovered – I have no depressive symptoms and I feel so much better than I ever have. I’ve become a much more compassionate person and I have learned an abundance of life lessons within such a short period. At this moment in time, the only thing that separates me from a completely mentally healthy person is that I take an antidepressant daily and I can’t travel by train. And if I have won this battle, then everyone else can too.
FACE YOUR FEARS
At the start of the year, I had a longer list of what I couldn’t do than of what I could. There was no chance I was capable of going to a restaurant, or a party, or a foreign country. One day at university, I was telling my friend I couldn’t get the train and he said, “Siobhán, you just need to face your fears”. I remember that statement making me so angry – I just wanted to scream, “It’s not that easy”, and sure it’s extremely difficult, but it is that simple. You need to face your fears so that you can remove the anxiety that the situation/place/thing induces and this really works. I found this incredibly challenging but with small steps at a time, I got there. I used a technique called Graded Exposure Therapy, it’s a form of Cognitive Behavioural therapy which is highly effective for anxiety and depression. I have described this more in detail in this link: Graded Exposure Therapy and it’s easy enough to undertake yourself. This was a life-saver for me; it got rid of all of my fears and when I have free time I’ll use it to become comfortable with riding the train. This technique recently got rid of my fear of flying and I no longer have to drink or take diazepam to try to reduce my anxiety induced by airplanes.
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
If you gave into your depressive feelings everyday then you would probably get bed sores. You need to go out and do “fun” things even if you could think of nothing worse. Just pretend you’re feeling fine (people with depression have to do this a lot) and go for a drink with your friends. You will actually most likely have a good time and feel a bit better. The next time you have to make a decision whether to cancel a plan just remember how good you felt the last time and even if you are horrendously unmotivated, you will know that this is the best thing to do. Even if I didn’t have a good time, I was always proud that I pushed myself to go out and that feeling of pride led me to challenge myself every single day, which is something I highly recommend. The first few times you go to a pub, for example, you may feel like it requires a horrendous effort but if you keep at it, slowly but surely you will see a difference. You will start to laugh, you will start to join in and then you will start to really enjoy it. Having a good time is so vital for recovering from depression and it will make your life seem “normal” again.
HEALTHY LIFESTYLE = HEALTHY MIND
My life before and after depression are stark contrasts and I would never go back to how I lived before. I’m not talking about eating healthy – I probably should do that too though – I’m meaning living healthy. And by that I mean taking care of yourself. Are you too tired to study anymore? Then go to sleep. Are you hungry? Then eat. Are you too stressed to get things done properly? Then take a break and chill out. It’s all about listening to your body’s natural cues. Hunger and tiredness in particular are there for a reason therefore you should treat them as alarms for taking care of yourself.
It is also extremely important to surround yourself with positivity. Think of the people around you as either radiators or drains; are they sucking the energy out of you or are they radiating love and support? If I don’t want to be friends with someone I won’t force myself as I trust my gut instinct, and whenever I go against that I am always wrong. If I feel too stressed then I make myself take a break, even if that means missing out on a night out, because my health is more important. And if I’m upset I express my emotions – as concealing how you feel only burrows the sadness temporarily – it’s much better to talk about it in order to let those negative feelings go.
The first step to recovery is acknowledging how you feel, going to the doctors and then you can begin to make healthy changes in your life. That’s how I did it and you can recover from depression too.
So this Christmas, if you have been going through a hard time then allow yourself to feel proud of yourself – it’s not easy. Embrace the love surrounding you at the Christmas dinner table, as you are surrounded by the most important people in your life. You stay strong for your family, so as you watch your parents and siblings open their presents with a huge smile on their face, know that you made that happen. These people are the reason you continue your fight with depression; they keep you going. If you try your hardest to recover from depression because you don’t want to hurt your family, that means you have a deep love for them; even if sometimes you might not feel capable of such a feeling. Be grateful for that love, that keeps you alive and let your family know how much you appreciate them.