Six Cats and a Black Dog | Depression: Beyond Surviving to Thriving
In 2015, I made a Blog For Mental Health pledge. Sadly, there is no pledge in 2017 and the Blog for Mental Health site is no longer being curated, though it is currently still accessible. However, this was a wonderful project (and it ran for several years) and I’m truly glad it got me blogging about living with depression.
Depression: Beyond Surviving to Thriving
Something happened this week that felt pretty transformative. I haven’t made any secret of having depression. I blog openly about it but it is not something I necessarily talk about in my day to day life. In fact, for those who don’t read my blog or follow me on social media, it’s highly likely some don’t realise what an impact it has on me. That’s on me – living with a mental health problem can make you a pretty good actor – but it’s also on society. We still don’t have the conversations we need to have anywhere near as openly as we need to have them nor anywhere near as often. I’m lucky that I do have a great support network. Sadly, not everyone does.
This week, I presented a paper as part of my teacher training. It was about austerity and mental health and their impacts on students. I wanted to share things I hoped I could do within classrooms to create an environment of belonging and trust, even if there is “no money”. To do that, I wanted to open up a little bit about why this topic was particularly important to me personally. I wasn’t as nervous as I’d have expected for one key reason: I’d already decided to go all in. My rationale? What was there to lose? I was going to be my truest self and be as open as I had ever been in a room full of strangers. So on Monday, for the first time in my life, I uttered these words aloud to a group of people I did not even know.
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with depression and it started as mild.
By the time I was twenty, I had clinical depression that led to me spending two weeks in a psychiatric unit. I didn’t get the help I needed and I was back in A&E twice more. As a student myself, I was not always open about my own mental health. I didn’t want to be a burden and, yes, there was an element of shame. Although I can stand here now and talk openly about my mental health, it wasn’t always the case. So I empathise with those students who struggle to share.
(I didn’t record it so this isn’t verbatim but I’m sure it’s near enough.)
And then I waited…
I waited to feel regret or feel sick at something I couldn’t take back. I waited and nothing came. Nothing came because I did not feel ashamed standing in front of those people. I felt empowered. I felt proud.
For the longest time in my life, I never considered myself to be anything special or have any particular merit. I shied away from every compliment or praise. I never gave myself enough credit. But as I finished my talk and sat down, I gave myself an inner hat tip.
I don’t like using the term survived about my depression, although there have been times I didn’t think I would make it to 30, let alone be nearing 40. I haven’t survived, though. I’ve thrived. This is a disease that can make you believe that nothing is possible and I spend most days trying to fill them with possibility. My running joke with my husband is that I want to KNOW ALL THE THINGS. That I never stop.
I still get tired. Before Christmas was a terribly low ebb and I had really run out of steam and had to take a massive step back. However, I’ve learnt the things I need to do to rest the pumps and get fired up again. But I am not the sum total of my depression. It doesn’t define me. I don’t just survive it. Instead, I will use it to propel me when I can. I will use my stubborness to prime the pump. There will be many times it has an impact and knocks me back but I will win out overall. And I will always remember standing in front of people – only one of whom I knew – and saying “This is the truest me” and how I finally felt like a butterfly after years as a caterpillar.