As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a breakdown when I was 22.
After the initial shock of the breakdown, I had a long course of therapy and everyone around me was really wonderful and supportive.
But what happens after that?
I was discharged from therapy when I was 24 and was considered ‘cured’. My depression had slunk back to its cage and my anxiety was at a level where I could function in an almost ‘normal’ (oh, how I hate that word!) way. In fact, after the inital shock of the breakdown, I’d been what was called a ‘high functioning depressive’, which meant that I could walk and talk and eat and wash myself and sometimes laugh and smile, even with the depression eating away at my insides.
My last day of therapy brought with it very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt ‘ready’ to work without the net of my therapist and it felt good to know that my doctors felt the same. But it was also terrifying to know that it was just me and my brain, on our own, from now on.
But, we managed.
My CBT training kicked in and my brain and I slowly learned how to live with each other and to cope with the world around us. My depression stayed firmly locked in the cage and I started to breathe a little bit easier each day.
It took a very long time – five years in total – but two years ago, I looked up and realised that my anxiety had receeded.
When I was first ill, and for a long time afterwards, my anxiety was this constant roar in my head.
What’s happening next? Is that safe? Are they looking at me? Do I look stupid? Do they hate me? Can I eat that? If I get on that bus, will I have a panic attack? Everyone hates me. I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’ll never be loved. I’ll die alone. Why did I say that to that person? Have I locked all the windows? I can’t breathe. Everything is too loud. It’s too bright. I can’t stop shaking. Will I be late? Do they hate me?
Therapy helped me reduce that roar to a shout and when I looked up two years ago, I realised that it was barely a whisper any more.
I am of the opinion that depression and anxiety are not something that will ever go away completely.
There are some people in my life – and I’m sure in the wider world – that think I’m wrong. They think that depression and anxiety can be rooted out and removed, with enough therapy or medication. And that is a valid point of view too.
But for me and my mental health, I believe that they are so intertwined and rooted in me that they are now just a part of the fabric of what makes me.
I am lucky that I have been able to fight my depression back into its box and I count myself lucky every single day that it stays there. I am painfully aware that its claws could come out at any time but I also know that if that does happen, I have the tools and the support to fight back.
Anxiety is more difficult, because it is so embedded in my life, but I realised about six months ago that I hadn’t actually felt anxious in a long time. I’ve felt tired or nervous or stressed but those are ‘normal’ emotions that come with a busy life and the pressures that that brings.
Being mentally unwell also changes the way that people look at you, how they treat you and what they expect.
My friends and family were wonderful when I was ill but it has been harder for them to see the changes in me as I’ve recovered. That isn’t their fault, everything that has changed has obviously been in my head and it has naturally taken time for them to catch up.
I no longer consider myself to be depressed. I also don’t consider myself to be anxious. But I do consider myself to be someone who lives with both demons; they just aren’t in charge anymore.
And that’s the difference.