Depression – I’ve been there.
Post natal depression- been there too.
Anxiety- yep, I know all about it.
Almost my entire life, I’ve been exposed to the realities of mental illness. I’ve supported and lived with loved ones suffering a range of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Some of them have overcome their illness, some are on their way, some haven’t reached the point of acknowledgement yet, and sadly, I have lost one to suicide.
More importantly though, and the reason why I feel I can speak honestly on the matter, is that I’ve also been the one with mental illness. I’ve been the one who needed patience and support from others while I worked through those struggles myself. I’ve been in that place where I was so low and lacking motivation that I felt as though I’d never come unstuck. I’ve had the manic episodes where I was careless with my own well being, and at the same time, felt so very alone. I know what it’s like to have an anxiety attack and feel as though you you’re genuinely going to die, and no one would be there to help you. I’ve worried over things that were never really happening in reality, and cried so much it made me feel physically sick. I’ve also felt so numb that I couldn’t possibly face the world, let alone socialise. The incessant worrying, the unprecedented thoughts, the sadness, the anger, the numbness, the loneliness, the sporadic highs and lows…I know how it feels firsthand.
But I also know how it feels to overcome it.
If I was given the choice to go back and not experience anxiety and depression, you know what? I wouldn’t. I have learned so much about myself and others, that I am grateful for having lived through it. I am thankful that I am now able to truly empathise with others who experience similar challenges, and as a parent, I am better equipped to support and guide my children with their own mental health. I am grateful for having a much better understanding of life and of who I really am. Nope, I wouldn’t take it back.
Unfortunately you can become so stuck in a depressive state that it can just feel easier to stay there. It feels safe. It feels familiar. Even though part of you knows that you don’t want to be living like that, and that it can be overcome, it just all seems too hard. Loved ones may ask you to get help, or it may even take a big, sometimes painful, ‘wake up call’ (like a relationship breakdown or loss of some kind) for you to finally realise it’s time to reach out and get help.
Thankfully, I didn’t need to reach a catastrophic moment to recognise I needed help; I was just lucky I was open enough to listen to my loved ones, as well as my own heart when they brought it to my awareness. I’m glad I did too, because I was then better prepared and in a much healthier place when it came time to face some of the toughest experiences of my life. If I hadn’t made the effort to begin the healing process when I did, I might very well still be suffering to this day, and would likely be in a much darker place than I was initially.
No matter how deep your depression has gotten; whether you’ve felt this way for a few months or several years, you
can get out. Not only have I done it myself, but I’ve seen others who were in a much darker place than myself do it too. But first, you have to want to get better, and to do that – to be in that mindset in the first place – you have to acknowledge you are depressed.
Among many helpful tools such as reading up on mindfulness techniques, cognitive behaviour therapy, medication, and the support of my psychologist and loved ones, the most important part of my healing was allowing myself to feel, and then, to express those feelings. So, if you’re in a place right now where you’ve been able to take that first courageous step of acknowledging you need help, my suggestion to you is this:
Feeling your emotions
Allow whatever feelings arise to flow naturally. Whether it’s anger, sadness, disappointment, guilt, jealousy, or even rage, allow yourself to feel it. Don’t keep trying to push those feelings aside because the more you bottle them up, the harder they are to manage when they eventually resurface again (and they will resurface-even if it’s years down the track). It’s much safer and healthier to cry, yell, sob, or throw punches at a punching bag than it is to get to the point where these feelings may come out in other ways (such as violence, self-harm or addiction).
As difficult as it is to believe that really feeling these emotions could be helpful, I promise you, it is. They’re obviously not nice feelings to be experiencing, but they are there for a reason, and that reason is to be felt. You will quickly start noticing just how different you feel afterwards; how much lighter you feel, and what a relief it is to have finally let it out.
This is a huge part of the healing process and is called releasing or letting go. Once you’ve been able to do that things will start getting easier. You will have made room in your heart and mind for more positivity to enter.
Another very helpful thing to do when processing your emotions is to express them in other ways, such as writing or speaking about them with someone you trust. Until you’ve done it, you will not believe just how therapeutic this is. Again, it may bring on tears or feelings of anger or sadness, but being able to express your innermost thoughts in this way gives you a more ‘concrete’ way to further release them through the use of words (eg. on paper, on a computer, or by speaking).
A great way to think of this process is that once you’ve released these feelings by turning them into words, you no longer own them. They are no longer intoxicating your thoughts, your heart, or your mind. This again, leaves a much bigger space for you to start the road to healing.
While suffering from depression or any other mental illness isn’t easy, it can be overcome, and ultimately, will make you that much stronger and wiser as you make your way through it. Life does get easier, the days will be brighter, and you will know again what it’s like to feel joy. This is in no uncertain terms, the absolute truth, and believe me, I know, because I am now in that place. No matter how long you’ve been there, or how deep or dark a place you are in right now, you CAN get out.
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” – Doe Zantamata
If you are feeling depressed, or know someone who is, there are many support networks out there, as well as useful information available, with just some of them listed below. If you are ever in a place where you feel like harming yourself or others, please reach out to someone you trust and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Emergency 000 or 112 from your mobile phone. You can also contact the Crisis Support Chat online.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation 1800 650 890
Black Dog Institute Information on symptoms, treatment and prevention of depression and bipolar disorder.
Kids Helpline A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25. 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia A telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way. 1300 78 99 78
MindSpot Clinic An online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression. 1800 61 44 34
SANE Australia Helpline Information about mental illness, treatments, where to go for support and help carers. 1800 18 7263