My Mental Health

I haven't blogged in ages, and I haven't PROPERLY blogged (and by that I mean written a whole load of deep stuff) in FOREVER. I think this is mainly due to not have anything to write about. Except that's complete nonsense because I in fact have loads and loads to write about. Including my mental health - something I've probably touched on in previous blog posts but not ever gone into too much detail about.

I went for a meeting with my graduate project supervisor yesterday. It's a mere two weeks until our final project deadline and my last big submission of my degree. It's a scary time. It's come around fast - the project deadline but also the finishing line of my degree and university experience. These last three weeks are busy and panicky and a lot of pressure.
A final goal. One last chance.
And yet despite that, and despite the fact that I still have lots more work to do on this project and an entire essay to write reflecting on this project (they're just the worst aren't they?!).... despite all that, I sat in my penultimate project meeting yesterday and said:

"I feel like I should be more stressed".

This was something I can't ever recall muttering two weeks before finals (GCSEs, A-Levels, previous uni years). It was just a remark I made about how I'm feeling right now (oddly calm). But actually I think this is quite significant, and reflective of a much deeper and important situation:
my mental health.

Rewind three years. It's 2014. I'm in my final year of sixth form and my final A-level exams are fast approaching. On the outside, I'm stressed and anxious and don't have enough hours in the day to revise. I'm so incredibly worried that I won't get the grades I need to get into my first choice uni. I'm terrified of not living up to the expectations of my teachers. Everything is tense.

On the inside, I'm numb. I've been diagnosed with depression. I have no energy and no desire to move, to revise, to work in my free periods at school, to even get out of bed, or see my friends, or eat. I spend hours staring blankly at walls, sitting in lessons hearing nothing and feeling nothing. I don't think I really concentrated or paid attention in class that entire year. I couldn't. I wasn't there. I was too empty. So heartbreakingly empty, and yet it felt like my brain was so FULL. So full of emptiness that it felt like I was going to explode. I remember trying to explain how I felt to one of my teachers. I think I described it as feeling like 'I'm in a small empty room surrounded by four brick walls. It's empty, and lonely. The walls are solid and I can't escape. It's empty but it's claustrophobic and I have no room to think or feel. My head feels like it's going to explode.'

That's probably the most anyone got out of me that year. If you were in my life then (thank you for being in my life then), you'll remember. I was distant and hollow and my face didn't know how to smile anymore.
To this day, I still don't know what triggered the depression demons to come out to play. Perhaps it was a mixture of things. It felt like it was a long time coming. Inevitable. Creeping up on me. And at the same time, it felt like it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The same bricks that built those four solid walls in my head.

The worst of it lasted about 9 months. I'm so grateful that it wasn't longer. I don't know how I passed my A-levels and got into uni. But eventually I managed to pull myself out of the deep, dark pits. It took time. I still get hints of it now, almost like an old stranger who says hi every now and again and then (thankfully) walks on by.

At the time, I wasn't really aware of how I was recovering, but I knew I was. I could feel it. I distinctly remember saying to my mum one day a few months later, "I didn't even realise how bad it was until I felt normal again. I'd forgotten what it feels like to feel like myself."

Looking back now, though, I think my recovery was influenced to some degree by the following:

  • Realising that I have a mental health issue and that feeling that way was not normal. It sounds obvious, but when those patterns become your everyday experience, you just mould to it without even realising. I also think I didn't know much about mental health issues and misunderstood what depression is. I didn't know it was a chemical imbalance in the brain. I didn't know that it didn't have to have a specific trigger (i.e., grief, loss, a break-up, illness, money problems etc). So I didn't believe that it was depression (none of these things had happened to me). I now think my depression was probably triggered by a combination of things (the situation at home, the pressure of school, lifelong self-loathing, toxic relationships). But for many people, it could be something else (genetic or a sudden dip in endorphins) or it could be nothing. Absolutely nothing. 
  • Being told that something was wrong by people who knew me well. Again, when you realise that other people have noticed, it's a bit of a lightbulb moment. It's not all in your head, then. Two people in particular helped me to see this. Katie, my sister and Charlee, my head of year. I'll always be so grateful that they said it as it was.
  • The desire to change things. This often comes from that initial lightbulb moment. Accepting that something is wrong is self-awareness - something that lacks hugely (at least in the rational sense) when suffering from depression. Self-awareness can lead to a "wait, I don't want to feel this way anymore" moment and a desire to try to recover.
  • Talking about it. Once I realised that I wasn't okay and that it wasn't normal to feel like my brain was constantly filled with Guernsey-Airport-style-fog, I felt better about opening up. I started talking to people about it, and explaining how I felt, even if they didn't quite understand. Talking about it made it feel separate from me, like I wasn't my depression but my depression was just something that was happening to me.
  • Yoga. YOGA! Probably one of the most quietly influential things aiding with my recovery. I went to a class one night with my best friend, unaware of how nourishing yoga is for our mental health and wellbeing. That class handed me an opportunity to be self-aware, breathe, move, and focus on something (the postures, breathing, not collapsing in a heap on the floor) other than my brain fog. It energised me. So much so that when I walked out, my body had turned to jelly. Yoga has since been a huuuuuge part of my life. I make sure it's a part of my life because it makes me feel incredible - and it highlights to me what is out of balance physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
  • Investing more energy into what made me feel good. The re-gained - increased - self-awareness helped me to realise again what I enjoyed and loved and nourished my soul (walking, being by the sea, reading, yoga, night time drives with my best mate) and what drained me and brought the insecurities and self-doubt to the surface (late nights, little sleep, toxic relationships, comparison, triggering images - yes Tumblr I'm talking to you). I made a conscious decision to invest more energy into what filled my heart and fuelled my soul and to let go of all the toxic crap, habits and relationships. Absolutely life-changing stuff.
  • Positive words/quotes. I made Pinterest boards full of them. Reading them re-wired my brain to positive messages rather than triggering ones. 

I honestly could carry on for days reflecting on what helped my recovery but I'll get back to the point of this blog post. *Desperately tries to remember the point of this blog post*.
Okay yes so... fast-forward to yesterday. "I feel like I should be more stressed". Why do I feel like that? Well probably because I've been stressed (and more) about these kinds of situations in the past (deadlines, exams, final hurdles) and because I simply don't feel that way at the moment. There's a lot to do, yes. But I feel calm. I feel happy. My mindset is healthy, my mental health is the best it's been since I was a foetus (no exaggeration). And stress is such a waste of energy. Worry won't do you any good. How can it? It'll make things worse, sure, but it won't make things better. Your energy is much better spent getting organised, enjoying the work, looking after yourself. 

This blog post is an acknowledgment, I suppose, that I've worked hard on myself, that I've come a long way in three years, that I'm starting to find a balance. It feels light. It feels fab. This is also a chance to say a huge thank you to everyone who showed love and support and understanding. I appreciate you more than I could ever express.

A final note (ha, sorry)...

If you're at the point in the year where all you see and think about and do is revision and exams and dissertations and coursework and deadlines and final projects, know this: 
You don't have to be stressed - let it go. You don't have to panic - breathe. 
You are enough. You are doing your best - and it is enough. 
You deserve to enjoy all that you're doing even if you're not enjoying it and you must look after yourself and your mental health. 
Walk, read, take breaks, eat chocolate, eat fruit, get outside, take a long bath, do some yoga, watch Friends (perhaps as a 22-minute study break?). 
You deserve to feel calm. You deserve to feel proud of your self. 

Please honour that, honour you. It'll change your life.