This is not sadness

black and white image of woman walking up stairs

Photo by Nic Low on Unsplash

The words ‘depressed’ and ‘depression’ get used too much. And at the same time not enough. Mental health is still not talked about enough, the support provided is still not enough and the understanding from society is still not enough.

These words though have been accepted better than any person with a mental illness. They have become part of our everyday language, become something less than what these words truly stand for.

People use them for when they are sad.

Depression is not sadness.

It does not go away after a good night’s sleep. You cannot make it disappear by ‘thinking positive or happy thoughts’. It is not a choice or someone just being miserable. It is not the feeling when your football team is not doing well or there is not enough money to go out for the night. It is not solved by ice cream, a big engulfing hug or the smiles of friends.

It is not sadness.

It will not simply go away tomorrow. It is bone crushing weight. A low that never leaves. Something that saps all things happy, positive or worthwhile out of you. It is emptiness. It is bleakness. It is despair. It is wondering whether you will ever feel that lightness in your body again. If you will wake up in the morning without that weight deep inside. It is loneliness. It is not being alone. It is not caring enough or seeing the point in bothering. It is questioning everything in your life. It is wanting to be out of your own skin. It is desperately seeking something, someone that will save you from feeling like this.

It is not an emotion. It is an illness.

Be careful using these words. Don’t take away from the weight they carry.

Everyone gets sad.

This is not sadness.

 

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And we change.

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Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

We feel as if we stay the same. Yet we change. We change all the time. Often in little ways. Changes so small they pass unnoticed. Life is change. 

Sometimes the change is so big, it blindsides us. Makes us question who we are, have been and will be. Rocks us to our very core, shattering and knocking us off balance.

We change.

Sometimes behind a big change lies a big reason. A big loss be it death, heartbreak, work or any other of the multitude of ways in which loss makes its presence in our lives. Forcing us to revaluate, rebuild, renew.

And we change.

Sometimes it is the little things that do us in. We are undone in the whisper of a moment. The lyrics of a song, a scene in a film, a spoken conversation about nothing and everything, a caught glimpse, a stray thought. We may not even know it at the time. Until we unravel.

And we change.

Sometimes the answer for what or why is unknown. It just happens.

The question is – what are we going to do about it?

Walking the black dog

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Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

I have started walking. Almost every day. I pull on my boots and head out the door. Almost in any weather.

It takes much more determination than a simple walk really ought to. As much as every sinew in my body pulls me to stay where I am, as much as my mind says ‘what is the point in doing anything’, some part of me digs deep and gets putting one foot in front of the other.

Why give so much effort?

Why do I walk?

I do it because I need to. Because otherwise I would sit here day after day never leaving these walls around me. Because I have more walls around me than the stone ones of my house. Because I need to escape.

Read about dealing with depression or anxiety and you will see exercise mentioned as a-good-thing-to-do. And it does work. It connects me to the world outside. Reminds me that there is more than the narrowed existence in my head. The world breathes with me and I with it. I live. I move. Ideas pop and songs repeat in my head.

And it does work.

Until it doesn’t

I seek escape yet my feet tread the same path over and over again. Taking me back to where I started. Nothing has changed. I walk and I want to keep walking almost as if I feel that I can out walk myself. But I can’t. What troubles me is not within the walls of my house, it is within my own walls.

I walk and the black dog walks with me.

Getting the words out

I need a blog post.

I need to write.

I have ideas in my head, scribbled down on what is to hand when the thoughts occur. Yet I am stuck. Again. The words are there, I can feel them. Thrumming away under my skin in a need-to-get-out-but-I-don’t-know-how kinda way.

Where does this come from? This need to write. I suppose words on paper, on screen, have always been my way of communicating.

Ask me to speak to someone and words flee from me like I have asked them to face their worst fears. I stutter, stumble over my words. Spending my time in my head overthinking every word I say. Wondering why I cannot be more interesting, more funny, more full of words.

Written down though it feels like my words come alive. Like I can actually get out the me that lives inside. The one that needs to speak. The one that usually hides because it is too shy, too scared, too doubtful.

It is the one thing that I have always felt I can do. That deep down I know I am good at even if the doubter in me sometimes disagrees.

I am always telling people with mental health issues to talk to someone, to share what they are going through. Yet I know how difficult this feels to do. I know that feeling far too well. The fear of what the reaction might be, the worry that you will lay yourself bare only to be let down or rejected, the knowledge that no one can fix you. The impossibility of putting it into words.

This is only part of what stops me talking to others. I find when I try to speak about how I feel that the words simply don’t come out right. That what I say fails time and time. That I can’t get out of me what it really feels like to be me. That I end either saying nothing or only scratch the surface. Passing off how I am really feeling as something much more superficial.

I can’t do that with writing.

I have to be honest. I type without pause, without censor. I am honest even if sometimes it feels brutal. I can ‘speak’ this way because no one is watching, I am not watching them. People can read or not read. They can respond if they want or they can ignore it and carry on as they were. I don’t feel the rejection and the words in the end always come out.  

Appearances can be deceptive

 

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Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

 

I catch that look in their eyes. The disbelief as they register what I have said to them. I know to look for it.

I have seen it many times before.

You see I hide it well. The face I present to the world is not always how I feel. It rarely is. The bone aching tiredness, bleakness and emotions that live within me are not easy to share. It is easier to hide them away. To pretend that everything is okay. That my world is not falling apart around me. That I can’t breathe sometimes because of what the anxiety is doing to me.

That sometimes the depression overwhelms and sometimes it empties me of everything.

This is not something I do because I want it to appear like I have an awesome life. I fill up my Instagram and Facebook feed with happy things because it is easier. Because I don’t want to make people worry, feel awkward, walk away from me. Because I find it difficult to talk, to share.

And because sometimes I need reminding that I do have good things in my life.

From the outside I can see how it must look like I am okay, that I am happy with life. After all I get up every day. I shower, I brush my teeth. I talk to people and I go out. I laugh, I smile.

You don’t see me when I’m alone.

You don’t see is the effort it costs me. How I have to build myself up to do it all. How I have a social ‘hangover’ from spending time with people. How it drains me. The pretence of enjoyment when all I want is a quiet corner to myself. How I hide away in toilets sometimes steeling myself to rejoin the people outside. The physical need to be alone.

I still function.

Some days though that is all I can do. And it takes everything I have. Sometimes simply functioning exhausts me. Sometimes I can only do it because I feel I have to. Because not doing it is sometimes so inviting it scares me. Because I don’t want people to worry.

So yes I understand why I see that look in people’s eyes when I tell them I have anxiety and depression. I understand why people find it strange when I tell them I am struggling. I understand how I act around others makes it difficult to see. I can’t blame people for not seeing it when I do such a good job at acting like everything is okay.

High functioning anxiety and depression is cruel. No one can see what is going on. Unless you tell them. So if someone does tell you that they are struggling, try to control that reaction. You have no idea how much it has cost them to say that to you.

And don’t then slip back to believing them when they take up the role again that everything is okay.

Earworms

blue headphones on grass

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head on repeat for hours or even days? I do. Constantly. One song always replaced by another. Sometimes only briefly. Others stay with me for weeks. My head is rarely quiet between the blasts of music and the billions* of thoughts constantly racing around. *this number may be a slight exaggeration*

Sometimes the songs in my head carry no meaning for me, are just sound beating away. Sometimes they express something that I am struggling with, feelings I have. Sometimes a tune I simply love with every fibre in my being. The tunes I hear with a mental finger on the repeat button can be anything. Television shows from my childhood (yep Littlest Hobo and Funhouse I’m looking at you), catchy pop songs, slow and sad songs, tunes that fit my mood or contrast wildly, literally anything. A particular favourite thing for my head to do is provide me with bizarre remixes of random tunes such as the Croatian entry for Eurovision this year (if you don’t know it, google it – it’s the one with the man singing with himself) remixed with ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen. I mean what is my head trying to do to me with that one?!

The clever people are not really sure why we get earworms (also known by the more boring scientific term ‘Involuntary Musical Imagery). They know that songs which niggle their way into our heads are usually ones we have heard either recently, repeatedly or have memory associations with them. They know certain patterns in music are more likely to worm their way in. They know that earworms are more common in musicians and last longer in women. But they don’t quite know why.

Earworms are also more common in people who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and OCD or by tired, stressed people. This makes sense I suppose as they are thought to be similar to involuntary intrusive obsessive thoughts. And it makes sense why I get so many. To some people, earworms are at worst a mild irritation, easily forgotten. For some, they can cause serious problems. For me, they fall in between. Sometimes they are funny, a little musical accompaniment to my daily life. Sometimes they crowd my brain, stopping me from focusing on anything. From thinking. Sometimes this is not a bad thing. It quietens down those billions* of thoughts that rattle around in my head. I often get to sleep by reciting my current/favourite earworm in my head in a weird this-shouldn’t-work-but-it-does way.

This last month or so has been tough and if I am honest, pretty bleak at times. The music has been ever present, always there, demanding and yet comforting. There have been many songs that have come and gone. Yet some have demanded my attention over and over again until I know the songs inside and out. These have been the soundtrack to this episode, have both driven me mad and supported me with their incessant presence.

Beautiful Mess‘ by Kristian Kostov – runner up at Eurovision this year (yes okay I am a Eurovision fan…don’t judge me). This has haunted me for months now.  A song that speaks to me of finding a way out of overwhelming darkness, of working out what matters to you and fighting for that against everything working to keep you down. There is a darkness yet there is also hope. The lyrics ‘water so deep, how do we breathe, how do we climb’ get-me- every-single-time.

‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got’ by Razorlight – heard it on the Hollyoaks Pride ‘boxset’ and that guitar sound at the beginning just got me.  It’s that simple really.

‘Back to December’ by Taylor Swift – not my usual cup of tea in the slightest, this song is currently my choice of getting to sleep song. No idea with this one why, it is just there in my head day after day.

‘The Night We Met’ by Lord Huron – my current main earworm. Haunting, sad, beautiful, full of sadness and heaviness. The female voices at the beginning, the lyrics, the singer’s voice and the little guitar twangs…quite simply I love this track.

Tom Hickox – an odd one this as it’s not really a song I hear. Since seeing him at Womad, I have been left with a feeling of his voice, the emotions in his songs in my head. As I say, odd.

I have learnt that the standard advice for getting rid of ear worms – distractions or engaging with the songs – doesn’t work with me. They are part of me, they are simply there. Sometimes you just have to go with the soundtrack to your life.

*This post was bought to you with the accompaniment of ‘The Night We Met’ by Lord Huron*

The oddness of friendships

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Friendships are a funny old thing. Full of ups and downs, tears of laughter and the not so happy tears. Friendships can be the best thing in your life. Sometimes they can be the worst.

Friendships are a tricky thing for people with mental health difficulties. My anxiety and depression makes it hard for me to both make friends and keep them. My head is constantly full of questions – ‘why would this person like me?’, ‘am I funny or interesting enough?’, ‘why did I say that? what must they think’. You kinda get the picture…

Friendships are a hard thing to maintain when you don’t simply like your own space, you fundamentally need it. When you find the world too much to take sometimes and have to cancel things, say no to invitations and shut down away from social media. And then you realise that you have been far too effective at reaching for your own space all the time and no one notices when you do withdraw. That you feel alone.

Friendships are sometimes surprising.  The ‘are you ok?’ that lets you know that you have not been forgotten about. The person who says they love you for your weirdness – who lets you know that it is okay to be you, that the right people will want to be your friend because you are you. The unusual friendships you can form through unexpected ways. The support you get from an Instagram friend you have never met. Who makes you feel that you do matter. The friendship that fills that space in you.

Friendships are sometimes toxic and sometimes the thing that saves you. They are not always easy to find, keep or to let go. They always do matter though and sometimes they literally can change someone’s life. Tell your friends that you love them. Be there for them. You never know what a difference that could make. Or when it might make a difference to you

 

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