My experience with mental illness taught me a few important things, mainly that depression and anxiety are different for everybody, help is available, it is hard to reach out, and what works for one might not work for another.
Depression, anxiety and stress can means different things to different people. For me it was a different experience. Being lifeline volunteer I thought, I a had a better understanding of what depressions and anxiety may have been. However when I got diagnosed with Depression I realised, how foreign depression can be. It can’t be me, I volunteer for Lifeline!
Also what amazed me was how differently the mental illness manifested itself everyday. Some days would be better than others. One day I would be just mindlessly watching TV unable to leave the house. The other days I wanted to be distracted by friends. Other days I did not want to get out of bed. Physically, I felt these headaches. I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. I was exhausted, fatigued and lacked sleep. The insomnia drove me crazy.
For me, the different nature of depression created difficulty for me and others around me to understand mental illness. As such even though I thought, I knew what Depression was in theory, in practice for me; I really did not know what it meant for me. The most important thing to understand is that: You are never alone, get Help!
Too much Help and too little reaching out
For me, the amount of resources and help available was huge; there was Employees Assistant Program (EAP) at work. Lifeline had special care facility. There was Lifeline phone number itself. Also I had a good network of friends and family; not to mention my GP. What I discovered during the processes was not how much help is out there, but how hard it is to reach out. Usually I am the kinda of guy who is conformable with asking for help and directions (at the very least from family and friends). However the depression almost blinded me to think that I am unable to reach out and that I am all alone.
I cannot stress enough that getting help is so important. Further for me it was the right level and type of help. I was under the care of GP, Physiologist and chatting to a counsellor at Lifeline. Even when I felt like not reaching out and being alone, I forced myself to get help to prevent damaging effects of the depression. Being open about depression assisted me as this made it easier to get help and not feel ashamed. The main learning for me was that there is plenty of help, you just need to reach out!
Illogical thought justifying negative feelings
My experience of having a mental illness was very grey and confused. There was not one answer We tend to reason how we feel i.e. why do I feel stressed or anxious, I am not doing badly (e.g. I have a good job). What amazed me was how illogical thoughts appeared when I was under the influence of depression. Also almost all of motivations and initiatives were characterised as negative. I lost my perspective of things. I remember a light bulb went out and I felt like that was a disaster. Little things annoyed me. The mental illness took my sense of control, motivation and perspective away. Instead the depression gave me negativity that was at times justified by illogical thought.
Hope…it is there.
In my case, I felt that I need a mix of strategies to manage my anxiety and Depression. The depression was different everyday and required a different way to cope with i.e. I forced myself to be kept engaged at times while others days I had to take time off. I did struggle at times in ridiculing the black dog (or mad monkey in my case). Persistence was required. At times hope seemed to little but it was important for me to nurture it to recover.
My best treatment strategy was to surround myself with different levels and types of help. I saw a Lifeline counsellor. I saw a psychologist as well as a GP. I also talked to friends when I felt like it. This gave me a sense of control over the mental illness i.e. at least I was doing something about it. The help also provided me with the boost in persistence, in those really tough days.
I have to say now I believe in proactively managing my health which includes mental health. I like to chat and debrief with people as a way to take care of my mental health. I would like to encourage people to take steps in preventive mental health strategies. For me these strategies include, physical exercise, mediation and being able to debrief with family and friends. When I have a bad day, I look after myself. I reward my self when I can. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.