I would argue that the first wave of my depression hit when I was in year 9, aged 13. At that point in my life, I didn’t know exactly what to call it. I was sad all the time, I would sit in my closet and cry, I would wish I would sleep and never wake up, yet at no point would I say, ‘I am depressed’. When teachers found me lashing out at school or crying in the hallways, or when I was screaming at my mum or dad then crying two seconds after their answer was always the same: hormones.
Ironically enough, this wave of depression was not something I felt alone. In a small group of five teenaged girls, all of different ethnic origins and lifestyles, we were all feeling the same thing. We would meet up after school and talk about this heavyweight sitting on our shoulders and how the world felt suffocating, yet we would never say we were depressed. Instead, we would blame it on the stress of getting good grades in school, which everybody had, right? Or the maturity we were forced to find at a young age to deal with household issues involving family affairs or finances, but that was only because we were the favourite child, right? And sometimes it would be simply because we didn’t feel pretty or beautiful or worthy, but that’s just how the media want us to feel, right?
We did try talking to adults but as young teenagers, our feelings were put aside and disregarded and maybe that was wrong, but how can we blame people for being uneducated on these topics where these topics were ignored? Instead, we turned to older students who told us that when you are upset you should smoke or drink or get high and that’s what happened. The group of five girls, all with exceptional grades, all started to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and some even chose to smoke weed; we would sit there in our clouds of smoke trying to fix our broken friends by swapping broken pieces. This life just simply continued.
I am now twenty-two years old, and only now can I say I was depressed. I know I have anxiety. And yet I am still scared to label myself publicly. As times have moved on mental health has become less of a taboo; social media outlets such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook openly talk about it, some glorifying the topics, some highlighting the struggles and some try to help by putting forth coping mechanisms. But first, before I tell you how I deal with my anxiety and depression, I have to tell you how I feel.
My depression creeps up on me. I will be having a perfect week and out of nowhere, I will be attacked by my own thoughts. I will realise that despite how much I have a plan and despite my goals, my depression will make them seem unachievable and thus make me feel like a failure. My depression will crawl into the deepest corners of my mind and bring forth every bad memory or traumatic experience I have ever gone through and make me revisit it. It will show me just how much of a waste of space I am. It will show me I am useless. It will show me I am pathetic. It will show me I am weak. And I will believe it. My depression will have me clawing at my skin wishing I could scratch it all off and become someone else, anyone else, because anyone and everyone is better than me. It will leave marks on me where people cannot see so people do not know and then, the next time the tsunami hits, I will see them and remember I am weak.
My anxiety, on the other hand, is always there. My anxiety is the reason my attendance for my first year was less than 40%. My anxiety is the reason I will fail at every sales job I have. My anxiety is the reason I will whisper every time somebody talks to me because I feel like my voice is too loud. Because of my anxiety, I will never be a singer or a performer (a dream I held up until I was 17); I will never be bold or change the world and I will never be a leader. My anxiety is like an annoying puppy that just pisses all around me and I have yet to find a cage to put it in.
They work as a tag team, when I am anxious I will ultimately end up feeling like a failure then feeling depressed. When I am depressed I will ultimately feel like I’m useless then feel anxious. They’re the best tag team I know.
After dealing with this duo for almost 10 years I have pinpointed 10 things that help:
1 – Fresh air
I have realised that if I go and surround myself with nature, I end up feeling so much better. In winter, I love the feeling of the ice (or snow when we’re lucky enough to get it) against my boots. In Autumn, I love seeing the colours of the leaves fall and change. In Spring, I love to see the ducklings emerge and in Summer I love the feeling of the sun against my face as I look up into the clear skies. Seeing nature and being surround by it reminds me that ultimately not everything is in my control and that’s okay. The world will keep spinning regardless of how I feel and eventually I will be where I am supposed to be. I am simply a small speck, a small but important speck.
2 – Music
I still love to sing. I might not be performing on stages anymore, but it helps me feel. When I am sad, I love to have long showers and sing my heart out with Adele, Jess Glynn, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and many more. When I am happy the words of those same artists and many more fly out of my mouth. Now I said ‘feel’ and not ‘feel better’ because of number three.
3 – Allowing myself to feel my emotions
I have learnt that sometimes it is better to feel upset and accept it rather than push it down. If I have lost a job or failed an exam or simply been reminded of more haunting times, it is better (for me at least) to take a moment to just feel upset. I’ve learnt that I don’t have to be perfect all the time; strong people never are.
4 – Reading
Despite being an advocate for feeling emotions, sometimes taking a moment out of yourself helps. I read as a form of escapism. Sometimes I would rather be alongside people fighting for justice and taking down the bad guys then be left with haunting memories attacking my brain. And that too is okay.
5 – Friends/Family
Surrounding yourself with your biggest supporters if one of the most important things. Sometimes fighting off the bad thoughts can be as simple as being in a communal space rather than being left with your own thoughts; be in an atmosphere of laughter and love shows me that not everything is bad. It’s nice to remember that.
6 – Talking
I cannot stress this enough: talking helps. A lot of the time what I am feeling is just a result of me overthinking and talking to someone who isn’t me really helps me to calm down. My anxiety loves to attack me before exams, to the point where I feel physically sick, yet talking about the possible outcomes and the statistics of the bad ones happening really helps to calm me down. After three months of hard-core revision, a head full of sources and my quick penmanship, failure isn’t that likely. This works with almost anything; talking and logically thinking about the possible outcomes helps me mentally prepare for whatever could happen.
7 – Writing
Similar to writing, but more personal. Sometimes I can’t talk about what is bothering me because it hurts too much. When this happens, I tend to write. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s pros and sometimes it’s just random words. The feeling of letting my emotions roll out of me and through my pen helps me let go.
8 – Baking
My mother always told me that cakes made with love taste the best. Now when I feel low, I go to the kitchen and make a cake from an old family recipe and each time I stir in the flour I’m left thinking of all the things I love. Not only does baking take my mind of things it is one of the only things in life that does not bring me bad memories. I save this for the very dark times.
9 – Cleaning
A clean-living space can help you clear your mind. Sometimes it is as simple as changing the bedsheets and picking up the dirty clothes from your floor and other times it deeper. When an item of clothing, or a picture, or even an old gift haunts my mind and makes me feel bad I simply throw it away. I used to hold onto everything from train tickets to old jumpers but sometimes you need to let go of the past.
10 – Celebrating your achievements
This is the most important. I have anxiety, I have depression, yet despite this, I still achieve fantastic things. I have graduated from university, I have gotten my first corporate job, I have achieved things I never thought I would, and these things are worth celebrating.
These 10 coping mechanisms are not failproof. These are just my way of getting through the tough times. Some days are so hard I go through all ten, yet I still don’t feel at peace. But those days are rare. My ultimate piece of advice is to find your own ten steps and learn what helps you heal; we are all individuals fighting our own battles, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share our strategies.