Submitted by Helen
'I had no idea. You're so happy all the time, nothing gets you down! But you're so confident!'
When I first started speaking about my depression and anxiety, I got that from nearly every person I knew. 'I wouldn't have ever said that about you' was another. It honestly made me question if what I was going through internally was actually real. I was having therapy; I wasn't really bothered about anything. I had no real drive. But if what people were saying about me was true why didn't I care whether I lived or died?
The Answer? Easy (now!), I'd made a persona back when I was a child and that was to always be ok. Don't complain, my parents had their hands full already with my brother who, unfortunately for him, needed their constant attention. I was the child that didn't make noise. Literally, some of my teachers in my early years and even into Secondary school had no idea what my voice sounded like.
I've changed through a lot of therapy and I have my coping mechanisms to stop me from spiralling. I remember an old boyfriend watching me get dressed for work one morning and commenting that 'I was putting my outside face on'. It’s always stuck with me. People ask when they hear about my morning routine as to why it’s so long. 'Because getting this together takes time' I joke. But that man was right, I put my armour on to deal with the outside world. The time it takes is the time between waking up and leaving the house that I need to ensure I can be strong for others and make sure I'm the person that 'doesn't make noise'. It’s the reason why when I go to parties, out to meet friends and even my family, I take a deep breath before going into anywhere. Another reason I also enjoy travelling alone, it means I can prepare.
I'm great fun at parties, I've been told. I can talk to anyone, I'll listen to anyone's story, gripes and jokes. Part of it is politeness to people I don't know but also, to me, it’s almost research. What will this person like from me, what person should I be for them to have a good time? My brother mentioned to me recently that he and my dad had had a conversation about me when we all attended a party together. We didn't really know anyone, and I'd got my face on, my dad was concerned because I had just started being honest about my depression and he's never handled it or understood it. 'You watch her', my brother had apparently said, 'she'll be there and be fine, she's a chameleon and she'll be friends with everyone', He'd told me that he was envious of me for that. I'd retorted that it was this sheer chameleon-like persona that had driven me to my second round of therapy in the first place. I had no idea who I was or what I was. Handy as it is at parties, it’s not the same story when you don't know who you're supposed to be when you're alone.
I spent over a year in therapy and becoming more open with people. I started taking anti-depressants around 2 years ago and, quite honestly, I don't think I'll ever come off them. I've had some awful things happen to me over the course of my life, which I've now made my peace with, but I also think that my brain is just wired to be sad. I have my support network in place and my anxiety 'wizard', as I like to call it, hasn't reared his ugly head in almost a year.
But I digress. The whole reason I've written this lot of waffle and put my thoughts out for the digital plains of the internet is because, you might never be 'fixed'. I know I won't be. But I like who I am. I like that I can identify when I'm struggling and when I need to reach out. Or just when I need to spend a day in bed reading books and listening to music. I can enjoy the moment; I can be who I am because it IS who I am. I am grateful that I knew when to ask for help so I could become who I am now. I'm grateful that my friends (and even strangers at parties) feel safe enough to tell me their fears and worries. I'm stronger for being a person with depression and anxiety. I know this because my brain has been to some awful depths, I've stared into the abyss more often than I can count. But it has come back from the abyss, saying 'no, you're not the ruler of me. I AM and I'm going to put a light in here'.
Speak about your struggles, be honest with people you feel safe with. And never think that you are alone because you never are.