This blog originally appeared on SANE's website here.SANE are a fabulous charity doing great work to raise awareness of mental health issues and fight against the stigma surrounding it. Please do check out there website and help them if you can.
The lovely people at SANE have been kind enough to invite me to blog for them as part of Mental Health Awareness week. Writing is a key tool for me in dealing with my anxiety and depression, and previously I've written openly about coming to terms with having depression, and the need for us all to do more to raise awareness. I find writing incredibly therapeutic. It helps me process the overwhelming amount of thoughts bouncing around in my head. It gives them some order and helps me find some clarity. Publishing my writing for all to read is empowering. It gives me a great feeling of accomplishment, and makes me feel like I'm taking control against my affliction. Yet, this time around, the words have been more difficult to find.
The reason I find this more difficult is that the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness week is 'Relationships', and it's a topic I can't profess to being an expert at. My last relationship ended at the start of this year, and my depression and anxiety no doubt played a large part in its demise. I know too well how difficult it can be to maintain an intimate relationship when you're also battling with mental illness. Unfortunately, it can lead to impossible situations where looking after yourself can mean hurting the person you love.
It can be immensely difficult for both involved. When you love someone that struggles with depression it's natural to want to be the one that they turn to, but a key aspect of recovery is being able to build up a network of support. It's incredibly valuable to be able to talk to people who are going through a similar experience in order to know that you are not alone. It's more valuable still to talk to someone who has been through it and come out the other side so that you can see things can get better.
Unfortunately, building these new relationships can mean damaging the main one that you already have, leaving your partner feeling unvalued and helpless. It's a puzzle I am yet to solve, but I know that, like with most things, the answer lies in honesty and openness; the more you are able to talk, the easier it can be to fight through things together.
I've had a much better experience of building relationships with new friends based off of shared experiences. I'm fortunate enough to have a handful of people who helped me through the worst, and I owe them a debt of eternal gratitude. At my lowest, it was the calming words of these people that kept me going. Opening up isn't easy, but if you're lucky enough to have people around you, I encourage you to talk as openly as you can. Keeping it all to yourself can leave you feeling cripplingly alone and like there is no way out, but friends can help you break things down into little bits and then walk alongside you through each step.
A final aspect I wanted to talk about is your relationship with yourself. Depression and anxiety have an ability to tear you apart. They tell you that you are useless, and leave you unable to concentrate on the simplest of tasks. It's very easy to descend into a thought process that you aren't good enough or even deserve to suffer. The unimaginable pain of depression is something I will never forget, and I still wince at the memory of how painful it was both physically and emotionally; it is something that nobody ever deserves to go through. Be kind to yourself. You do not deserve it and it can get better. You are more than just a disease, and you can improve your situation one step at a time.
Everybody has things that they enjoy that can help lift them when things seem worst. For me, it's writing, running, and music. I also enjoy spending as much time outside as I can and being around animals, but the list of options is endless. I encourage you to find yours. Set yourself small goals and give yourself time to reach them. Celebrate each forward step no matter how small and remind yourself that you are travelling forwards. Things will still go wrong, but go easy on yourself when they do. Recovery is not a straight line, but a wavy one with peaks and troughs. Remind yourself that each time you fall down you will be a little bit more prepared to stand up than you were before.
Remember to take the positives from your battle. As horrible as having depression and anxiety is, I know I'm a much better person for it. I have a knowledge that I'm stronger than I ever thought possible, capable of enduring pain I thought would break me. I have appreciation for the world around me and the wonderful people in it. Most of all, I've developed a desire to have a positive impact on the world, no matter how small that is. When you have suffered with mental health problems but benefitted from the support of others, it's normal to want to help others in return. I'm incredibly excited to be running the Great North Run fundraising for SANE, am volunteering for Mind as a mentor and shown people through writing that they are not alone. These are all wonderful achievements, and things I would never have been capable of in the past. I realise that in truth, instead of being the worst thing that could happen to me, having a mental health issue may well have been my making. The same can be true for you.
If you'd like to donate ahead of the Great North Run, you can do so on my JustGiving page here.
You can read more about my own battle with depression and thoughts on support for mental health awareness at the links below: