Friday, 4 February 2022

Facing the shit show: What to do about your mental health if you're struggling to talk about it | Editor's Letter

Warning: This article talks about depression, suicide and suicidal thoughts. Reader discretion advised.

Facing the stresses and worries that keep you in a loop of tormented agony feels lonely, scary, and dark. Thus, it's off-putting to resolve and talk about out loud. Repressing our emotions becomes a more comfortable and less frightening option. But what if I told you you're not alone? 

Comforting, isn't it? The realisation or simply remembering you do not alone avoid and mask your pain. You're not the only one acting okay when you're not, and you're certainly not the only one having difficulties communicating your feelings.

The truth is, following the pandemic and even before it began, most of us aren't swimming as it so appears; we are treading water. And some of us are dangerously close to tiring out.

Acting nonchalantly when dealing with our mental health has been around a lot longer than the coronavirus. Repressing our emotions began as soon as our minds evolved. Still, there is an obvious correlation that once again, as it did following past world wars, plagues, etc., millions instead of thousands act nonchalantly when they're suffering inside because society screams, "keep calm and carry on". 

Due to this 'grin and bear it' approach, it's created generation after generation who do not know how to or are afraid to speak of their mental health. 

What that means is people stay silent because they believe they're alone. The fact some judge, don't bother to understand or mock those suffering is also keeping folk silenced. 

We all know the above already. So, what can we do about it? What's the solution? What can we do to help our and others mental health? There are many solutions though arguably, I'd say there is two key - and straightforward - things we should do. 

The first is the elementary action of; listening to others, making someone feel heard and seen. 

And the second is to be braver and more trusting that there are people out there who will listen and try to understand as best as they can. 

Now, suppose you clicked this article because you're struggling to open up, seek help, or feel alone. In that case, I hope these two stories I'm about to tell will encourage you to feel safer that they will show you how alone you're not. And that they showcase how facing the shit show doesn't have to be as lonely as you think it does. 

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The infuriating noise of the iPhone's incoming call alert rang around my flat as it blasted through Alexa's poor quality.

Scanning the screen and seeing a name I hadn't spoken to in a while, curiosity and a longing to hear their voice again answered for me. 

It was a dear friend, one I had been friends with as a troubled teenager. Ageing had distanced us, but the respect and love had never changed. 

"I'm sorry I'm coming to you for a solution when I should be apologising for not checking in," immediately I reminded my friend I too had not checked in. As I don't feel guilty, she shouldn't either.  

Laughing at the collective understanding that we're busy adults with entirely different lives, she went on to recall how the pandemic has changed her life for the worse. And how no one is listening to how she feels. 

Before Covid, she loved her job, routine and lifestyle. However, after two years of being furloughed, she says her life looks completely different.

My friend, we shall call her Stacey*, would once command attention as soon as she walked in a room due to her elaborate confidence, wit and an astonishing amount of sass. These days she won't stroll into her local pub for fear all eyes are on her.

"I ate and slept all day most days for two years because I was so lonely, bored and depressed," Stacey recalled. "I've gained six stone, have lost all motivation, and feel so tired all of the time. 

"And that's not the worst thing about it," Stacey said as an eruption of repressed emotions poured out of her. I let her cry, which sounds odd, but she didn't need comforting she needed to let it out, so I listened.

"Bet that felt good to get out of the system, didn't it?" I said as she softly laughed. "Now do the same with words, and you'll feel much better."

She explained how her closest friends and family had not lent the kindest listening ear. She elaborated on how no one hearing her has isolated her more. 

"Whenever I try and tell someone how I feel, they just say to me 'be grateful for the paid time off', or 'others had it worse during covid'," Stacey continued, "They just judge me and make me feel guilty so about a year ago I started hiding my depression."

"So, that's why I'm calling you," Stacey said through what I assumed to be a tremble of a smile between tears. "I don't know what to do about any of it."

The saddest part of this story is that she never was all by herself, despite having felt alone for so long. 

Stacey is far from alone. A lot of furloughed people who are now back at work are struggling. However, those around her making her feel alone meant she stopped reaching out and spent nearly two years struggling in silence. 

That repressed pain led to clinical depression - and I'm no therapist. Still, I'd say it doesn't take one to work out Stacey's feelings not being validated dramatically led to the health outcome she's faced with now. 

Had people only listened to her from the start, her mental health would not be nearly as bad as it is today. Had people reminded her feelings are valid, she wouldn't be consumed by them now.

So, I told Stacey the cold truth. Those people she turned to suck and reminded her how alone she's not. 

That was a fair few months ago now. Stacey's doing amazing and finding joy in things again after she cut off some tossers, spoke out, and in doing so, found understanding company to hold her hand through the storm. 

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Like my furloughed friend, I, too, have learnt the hard way what hiding your pain and avoiding facing the storm does to you in the end. Unfortunately, and rather frustratingly, it's a lesson I had to learn again recently.

Some loyal readers may have noticed there has only been one article since the start of December - Christmas is so triggering it turns me into the Grinch, and that's okay. And that is because I have been clinically depressed and feeling suicidal since November.

Whilst depression is not new to me (you can read my experience here), it hurt me more this time around because I thought this fight had been won.

You see, disturbing depressive episodes or periods of feeling on top of the world have followed me all my life as far back as I can remember. 

However, for the first time in my 25 years, feeling happiness lasted longer than a year. As this was the longest I'd ever been able to keep my mind excited for life, I thought I had kicked depression's arse for good this time. 

From September 2020 until early November 2021, I was the happiest I'd ever been. After being able to afford private therapy and life coaching during the lockdowns from the money I saved on not commuting, I managed to gain control over my mind, and thus, my life.

I was happy, lost weight, started a business, made new friends, reconnected with loved ones, and got my shit together.

To celebrate and out of my astonishment, I'd tick the days off my calendar to remember how far I'd come.

I remember ticking off day 365, feeling the warmth of excitement and pride wash over me. Smiling at the calendar, I naively thought everything would be okay now. I felt in control and unstoppable. 

Then November came around, and that happy girl beaming pridefully at her calendar disappeared overnight. 

Suddenly, just like the times before, I was on my bathroom floor riddled with suicidal thoughts and not a rational perspective or kind view about myself insight. 

Despite all the work I'd put into myself and my friends and family's efforts to help, my mind forgot every good memory, lesson, and positive thought and was replaced by suicidal thoughts. 

Those thoughts did not silence from the end of November to the middle of January 2022. My world felt as if it had fallen apart, and there was no escape, no comfort, no peace. Despite the reality being that I wasn't alone, I felt it more than ever. 

Thankfully, and obviously, as I'm writing this, I did manage to come out the other end of this depressive episode pretty quickly compared to the ones I've had before. 

That is because, like my friend Stacey discovered, I have previously learnt there are people out there who will listen and who can help.

So, I dropped my pride, kicked my anxiety out the way, and opened up to my trusted inner circle of very few friends and family members. 

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Open-minded and kind enough to listen without a judgemental remark insight, I was able to safely open up, express and thus find solutions to my problems and health.

Being so open about my feelings was new to me and challenging, but I knew it had to be done. I knew it would help me out of the vicious cycle. 

During past periods of depression, I have repressed my feelings for fear of being judged, not believed or mocked because as many of us have, I've experienced all three at multiple dark points in my life.

However, I'm learning that all staying silent does is give up our chance of a fair fight against our mental health. No more will I, or should you, forsake our lives or the quality of for the comfort of others EQ levels. Not when the noise and difficult conversations can remind us we're not alone at all. 

Now, I'm not saying it is others' responsibility to fix or even understand you or me. But, still, if they love you, it is their duty to do the basic, free and minimal action that is listening to your feelings.

In listening without judgement, what you are doing gives a person hope: faith that they are not alone, comfort from the trust, and love due to your support. 

As was the previous case with me, the problem is that many suicidal people don't feel they can speak up and ask for help in the first place because of bad experiences in the past. Usually because of people not believing, mocking or hearing their cries. 

So when my loved ones gave me nothing but hope, whilst still not easy, it made facing the battle in my mind bearable. It allowed me to get back to myself, and all it took for me to gather that strength was a listening ear. 

It also made me face up to reality. As I trust my inner circle, it was refreshing to hear their advice: to self-refer myself to the mental health team here in the UK. Something else I had never done before but knew needed to be done. 

Despite not wanting to and being afraid, I kicked off my 2022 crying down the phone to my GP. I filled the self-referral form out, drowning the pages in my true feelings and my truth. 

Not long after, I was appointed a psychiatrist, my greatest fear. For years I've known deep down books, meditation, and the likes of yoga aren't enough to keep me sane. But facing that fact, confronting that storm, felt scary, dark and lonely.

Now it doesn't because I have so many kind, loving and good people by my side. And although telling my truth to a psychiatrist has me unable to breathe at times, the fact I no longer feel alone is all the hope I need that everything will be okay. 

As I'm not alone, neither are you. 

I hope these two tales prove that there is comfort in facing the shit show, expressing your feelings, trusting others and coming head to head with your truth. And most importantly, that there is hope.

Written by VavaViolet's Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Sophie Blackman.

PS: Didn't think I'd leave you without some immediate things you can do to help yourself if you're in a similar boat, did you?

Here are some tips from lessons I've learnt (I will write about these all in detail at some point) and helplines and services that can help in the UK. If from other countries, I advise Googling your postcode followed by mental health services near me.

Tips to feel comfortable enough to tackle your pain:

  • Learn how to trust yourself (some call it intuition, gut feeling, etc.) to make wise choices about the company you keep and thus, trust enough to open up as you know it is a safe place.
  •  As much as you possibly can, remove anyone who causes pain, distress, anxiety, etc.
  •  Pay attention to who sits back and listens without interrupting. The ones who let you speak and think for yourself but are always there with a helping hand and a kind word are the ones who tend to care genuinely.
  •  Bite that bullet and reach out to a mental health professional or service. It will be challenging, but it will be okay, and you won't be alone.

If you need immediate help in the UK, mental health support is available 24/7 via The Samaritans.

The Samaritans can be contacted by calling 116 123 from the UK. Or you can text SHOUT to 85258.

You can also Google your postcode followed by 'mental health services near me as there may be a local charity open 24/7.



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