Anybody who has ever suffered a period of depression, anxiety or both together can, I’m sure appreciate what a difficult, dark and horribly conflicting time it can be. Often it is really difficult to see in the faintest glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. On their own, both depression and anxiety can be incredibly debilitating, creating both physical and psychological symptoms, but together, as they quite frequently manifest, they are potentially devastating. You cannot function correctly or find value in life as you are depressed, but your inability to live a normal life and get things done causes you anxiety, which of course in turn, makes you feel more depressed and creates the most vicious of vicious cycles.
Of course there are treatments available, but we are not dealing with an exact science here. Nobody really even knows what causes such conditions in the first place and theories vary from there being genetic, chemical and environmental causes. I suppose as a result of this, there are also many different recognized treatments for anxiety and depression including various medications, talking therapies, mindfulness, reconditioning and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). No particular treatment is necessarily better than any other, and I would not endorse one because I am a firm believer that different cases react in different ways to each therapy. Some people react better to say, talking therapies than others and may just need to talk their demons through, whilst some may need anti-depressants to take the edge of their illness in order to even initiate other therapies.
I think it is quite likely that it all depends on the person as an individual and their own personal set of circumstances, although in truth, I think a combination of different therapies along with the support of loved ones, is the best way forward for most sufferers of anxiety and depression, and naturally, this process should include a fair amount of self-help. Not that I am an expert of course (well, not as such), and I have no qualifications which would enable me to give out this type of advice on a professional level. I am not a ‘Head Doctor’, ‘a Shrink’ or whatever you’d like to call it. I have just been there and write from my experience that someone out there may find my outpourings of use one day.
I was hit by a pretty severe bout of depression and anxiety in mid-2013. I didn’t really see it coming and it took a very long to for me to even admit and acknowledge that I actually had a problem. But when I eventually swapped being a busy reading, amateur writing, distance running father, husband and experienced paediatric nurse, for being a detached human being who struggled to even get out of bed each morning instead, I knew things needed to change. So after the inevitable diagnosis, I went on to endure trials of various anti-depressants, each with their own crushing set of side effects, I dabbled in talking therapies and mindfulness and completed a lengthy course of CBT.
And in truth, they all played their own little part in my recovery, along with the support of family and friends and a new job, but then in May 2016, I had an epiphany. A genius idea that I would use to maintain my recovery, because not only is it difficult to initially pull yourself from that gloom, it is equally as trying (yet essential) to maintain that recovery. Yeah sure, I knew that the anti-depressants would help me keep ticking along, that I’d learnt enough mindfulness and CBT techniques to help out in difficult times and that I’d broken a major cycle of anxiety by moving jobs (into a less acute area of the job I love), but I wanted to go back several years and rediscover the best version of myself.
So, my master stroke was to start up a blog and being a wannabe writer who had seriously lost his creative mojo, this seemed a good idea. And, so it began. Quite effortlessly, I set up my page on WordPress and had a good think about what I should be writing about, which after some consideration, was a pretty obvious decision and I began to blog about my experience of depression, anxiety and mental health in general. In all honesty, starting my blog was really one of the most effective interventions I took in improving and especially maintaining my mental well-being and it was arguably as important to me as any medical or therapeutic method I was prescribed (although I admittedly would not have pulled myself from that deep, dark place in the first place if it wasn’t for all the amazing, professional help I received).
Although I will be quick to state that blogging may not be the miracle cure and key maintenance method for everyone, for me as an individual, it proved priceless on so many levels. Firstly, it helped me to rediscover myself as a writer and proved to add a new feather to my bow. As I’d struggled to find the desire and discipline to write throughout my illness, writing a blog gave me the necessity to write regularly (weekly at first in fact) and the fact that I quite quickly developed a readership, I needed to make sure that I wrote a blog when I said I would be. It also helped me regain my confidence as a writer, as not only was I busy writing again, but I was writing some very different from the type of things I usually wrote (dark and humorous fiction), which was, well a little ego feeding.
Writing a blog around my experience of mental health also really helped me get to grips with and fully explore several of the issues that had dogged me when I was ill and appreciate more the treatments I had received, which proved to be really cathartic. And as a bonus, it soon struck me that by writing about my experiences, not only would it help me out, but it would help others with similar problems and their loved ones attempting to understand what they were experiencing, and that was greatly uplifting for me. Of course, the best thing about it all was that people were enjoying my writing and I was actually reaching a bigger audience than I’d ever reached before. As I’d never really talked to friends about the issues I’d suffered, they were also able to understand why I’d likely been anything but myself with them, and the whole experience of writing the blog helped me to understand, helped others to understand and gained me the acceptance that anybody trying to recover my mental health problems needs to have.
I am not saying that my route out of darkness is something that everybody will find a good fit, just that maybe when people suffer mental illness, it is important to remember the need for a certain degree of self-help and that rediscovering your best self, however you do so, is key to a good recovery. Although blogging was ideal for me as a writer, other people may have other ways of doing so, either through the arts, mindfulness or simply rediscovering yourself (I have even started to replace my CD collection with vinyl records so that I can reconnect with the music I love). It is definitely not a cure all and it’s absolutely essential at the start of an illness to gain all the professional, medical and therapeutic help that is available to you and then to wholeheartedly connect with it, but when it comes to maintenance, it is this sort of self-rediscovery and mental dissection that can really help to keep your mind ticking away healthily and hopefully reduce the likelihood of future capitulations.
Find more of Steve's work here