You wake up, paralysed. Unable to open your eyelids, unable to move your body, unable to speak. No, I'm not talking about a hangover, I'm talking about trying to wake up for work when you're in the throes of depression.
We've all had off days at work, days when the stress gets too much, when we just can't face the thought of going into the office. But thankfully, they are just off days, and through grit and will power we make it through them. I wish I could do that, but unfortunately my off days are more like off months: weeks and weeks go by with more off days than on days, until it gets to a point where you can't remember the last time you actually went to work for a full week without a days relapse.
It goes without saying that this has a detrimental effect on your career. A doctor recently told me that no company will want to hire someone who has prolonged absences, as if I hadn't realised that myself. As if finding a job isn't hard enough, keeping one is even harder. It's a catch 22. You can't go in because you're ill, so you feel guilty that you're letting the team, and yourself, down. That then spirals you further into depression, making you miss more work, making you feel more guilt, and so on and so forth until it spirals out of control. Furthermore, not leaving the house in itself makes you spiral deeper into depression, so all in all you find yourself in a totally hopeless situation, fearing that you'll lose your job, your security, your income, your stability, and your sanity all at the same time.
I wish I could tell you how to overcome this, but I find myself stuck in the spiral at the moment. Today, I made my boss cry. Not by being rude, or mean, or through stress, but by crying in front of her so hard that she couldn't help but cry herself. It was a tragic moment, one that I would never wish anyone to experience, nor one that I had ever imagined would establish itself in my memory. Her compassion and caring made me feel a million times worse, knowing that I have such a great support network that many people aren't fortunate enough to have, and yet I cant muster the energy to live a normal life which I so desperately want to have.
I'm very fortunate that my work have been extremely supportive. I've been signed off for stress for three weeks now, during which time I've barely had the physical energy to leave the house. Even doing a food shop proves too stressful and anxiety ridden. I find myself gazing down the never-ending food aisle like a zombie, incapable of moving, let alone thinking. Who knew food shopping required so much thought?
I've always taken pride in the fact that I've managed to sustain permanent work regardless of my illness, but I'm now coming to realise why so many people with mental health issues struggle to stay in employment. On average, mental health related sickness absences in the UK last about 21 days at a time - that's a serious amount of time to take off work, but know your rights! You have a right to be ill, to take time off work, to get better, and to be able to return to a normal life. If it were any other illness, it wouldn't be a problem for the employer, so why should mental illness be a problem? The most important thing of all is to focus on getting better first, and then tackling the problem of work.
So here's my plan of action to get myself out of this miserable dump - hopefully it'll work for me, and work for others too.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but showering is really tough when you're in the midst of depression. Firstly, you just don't have the energy. Secondly, who cares if you shower?? You're not leaving the house anyway. But it does help. Getting in the shower is crazy hard, but once you're out, you feel refreshed and ready to face the day. I'm averaging one shower every four days at the moment (I know, gross, I even gross myself out) but I'm trying to get that up to once every two days. Today, I even painted my nails. cRaZy I know.
2. Treat yourself.
Ice cream, movies, take away, steak, whatever it is you crave, go for it. Don't deny yourself anything (except drink and drugs) when you feel like this. The little things do make a difference to your mood, and bit by bit those little moments of joy will add up until you feel more yourself again.
3. Surround yourself with distractions.
Most days, that's friends for me. My best friend in particular is really great in that she lets me just sit there and do nothing - we don't talk, we barely move, but just having her company makes me feel less alone. Some days though, even sitting in silence with a friend is too hard to bare, and on those days, that old genius invention of the television does wonders. Get yourself a Netflix account and binge on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It will bring a smile to your face.
4. Take walks.
This ones tough. Seriously. Depression is a PHYSICAL illness as well as a mental one. It's draining, you're tired all the time, even getting up to go to the toilet can feel like a chore (don't worry, I haven't taken to defecating my bed...yet). But the fresh air does wonders, even if it's only for a minute. On days when I can't face the outside world (that's pretty much every day at the moment), I sit in the garden so I feel like I've at least kind of ventured outside.
5. Don't be too hard on yourself.
This is the most important of all. It takes time to get better, a lot of time. Don't put pressure on yourself to be better, to be social, to be normal. It will just make you feel worse when you aren't able to do it. And there's nothing wrong with not being able to do it now, just know that at some point in the future, you will be sat in a beer garden with your buddies after a day at work, feeling absolutely fine, and not even remembering that a couple months before you were trapped in your own head.
Onwards and upwards.