THE BLOG

How I Learnt To Manage My Depression So I Could Live A Full, Happy And 'Normal' Life And I Hope You Can Too

11/05/2017 15:47 BST | Updated 12/05/2017 09:00 BST
Hannah Bouckley

Anyone who has met me and isn't one of my closest friends or family (unless they've caught me crying in the toilet or on the bus or on a kerb) would probably say I am a happy and friendly person.

Anyone who has met me and isn't one of my closest friends or family (unless they've spotted me disheveled in my pajamas taking a delivery of another takeaway at the front door) would, I'd hazard a guess, not think I'm someone who has issues with their mental health.

Unlike the head-in-hands stereotype sometimes portrayed by the media, I'm a physically healthy person with a good job and amazing family and friends. I have a home where I can pay the rent, can also afford to go on holiday and post happy snaps on Facebook and eat food that I want to photograph for Instagram.

feet in sand

But I'll let you into a secret; Despite the guise of 'normal' often perpetuated by my social media posts and sunny disposition, I've been battling depression and anxiety for 16 years.

And for Mental Health Awareness Week, I've been inspired by the bravery of others and decided to speak out in the hope that people will speak more frankly about mental health, without fear.

The lowest patches since I was 13 have included not wanting to exist anymore, while the day-to-day struggles have included finding it hard to get up and look after myself.

But after 16 years of trial and error, finally talking more openly and accepting help, the good days finally outweigh the bad and on most of them I feel incredibly hopeful about the here and now, and the future.

And I want to share with you how I learnt to survive, and thrive.

Unhappy teen became unhappy student. Unhappy student became unhappy adult. But it all came to a head, my head, literally, when I was diagnosed with stress-induced alopecia in 2014. As the rapidly growing bald patch made me so anxious I would look in any mirror I passed to study it, the first step was admitting I needed help.

I gave in, told the doctor how bad I was feeling and accepted antidepressants might actually help. I was really against them at first but I came round to the fact that you wouldn't deny a diabetic insulin, so why should medication for mental health be any different? And it didn't mean I had to be on them forever.

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Thanks to the amazing NHS's self-referral iCope service for Islington and Camden, I received Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I went on a self-esteem course. As my issues went around in circles, I was then referred for a longer term Coping With Emotions support group, which helped me realise there were lots of other high-functioning people fighting to survive out there and also gave me invaluable self-care and mindfulness skills.

The first step was asking for help. Please don't be afraid to do the same.

While I don't think anyone is able to pinpoint the cause of their depression, we can attempt to untangle the messy fuzz of everything that fits under a 'mental health' umbrella. While being open with others in similar situations had equipped me with skills to move forward day-to-day, there were also life events including being adopted as a baby and then my dad dying from cancer when I was 20 lurking in the background.

I am lucky enough to be able to afford therapy and I paid for an amazing therapist who I worked with for eight months. For people who can't afford therapy, many therapists will offer rates on a sliding scale to make it way more affordable.

I can't recommend therapy enough. And by being open and honest and putting loads in, I got loads out of it.

By looking at my behaviour and connecting it to my past I discovered my greatest weapon against depression was to always be kind to myself. It can feel impossible at my lowest points but I try to treat myself with the care I would dote upon a loved one.

Although everyone's mental health is different and this is just what worked for me, I want to share additional things that helped as well as asking for help and getting therapy.

The first is looking after myself and making myself get up. Every. Single. Day. Completing small and simple tasks can keep me going.

The second is relying on myself and as the only person who will experience my life's journey in full, I persevere to be kind to myself and enjoy my own company along the way.

Also, I ask my loved ones to support me. I can't expect people around me to mind read so I communicate to them what I need. But I realise they have their own lives too. I surround myself with people who lift me up and make sure I do the same for them.

Another important thing that gives me hope is knowing that feelings will pass. I had another down patch recently but I did feel better eventually. Trust me, sleep ALWAYS helps.

And, as an emotional person, I try to not act on feelings straight away. They do pass. When I'm anxious, I try to hold onto the fact that thought are NOT facts. I find distractions; phoning a friend, walking, reading, box sets, naps, attempts at mindfulness.

The biggest recent change in my life for my wellbeing was giving up alcohol, for now. I got to the stage where alcohol, which is a depressant, was bringing me down. And I still go out with my lovely friends, enjoying lime and sodas, which are way cheaper than gin.

If you're reading this and you feel alone in the way you are feeling, please know that there is hope, and help out there. You might be going through a rough patch but please believe things can, and will improve.

You are stronger than you know.

For inspiration, I recommend starting with the Blurt Foundation.