Living with anxiety and depression can affect every aspect of our lives, each and every day that we are unwell. From the moment we wake up our mental illness is there. A lead-weight pinning us to our bed. Whilst most people would be looking forward to, or planning the day ahead, our thoughts are being suffocated by the fog that is depression and the chaos that is anxiety. The thought of even sticking a toe out from under the duvet is overwhelming. It will take every ounce of energy we have today, to climb out of bed, drag ourselves to the bathroom and prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
If we make it as far as the bathroom we are then faced with a multitude of tasks. Reduced levels of motivation, combined with the overwhelm we feel at tackling even the simplest of tasks, means that what are considered basic personal hygiene habits for most are a complicated and exhausting struggle for those of us with ill mental health. At this moment in time we couldn’t care less if our teeth are clean, our hair is washed, or the stubble is shaved from our face. But the pressure that society instils on us forces us to comply. For if we don’t manage these simple tasks then what will the neighbours say, our colleagues at work or the other parents in the school playground think? Many people wake up on a morning have a shower and give their face a scrub without a second thought. But for those of us with mental ill-health, it’s not always that straightforward.
A complicated and exhausting struggle.
Once we’ve managed to get up and (maybe) washed, our next task is getting dressed. Our energy stores are already starting to feel depleted and anxiety may be building as we start to think about the difficulty of our journey into work, a meeting that is planned or that sinking feeling of having to stand and hold our own next to the other parents in the school playground. Finding the right outfit is probably not something we really care too much about, and if our confidence and self-esteem is low then a part of us might really dread looking in the mirror. We know we aren’t going to like what stares back at us. Nothing we try on will look right. And some mornings we might exhaust ourselves trying on the whole wardrobe, before realising we are out of time and resigning ourselves to wearing anything that fits. Or on a really bad day, we might just give up and go back to bed or flake out on the sofa.
This is a real example of what someone suffering with anxiety or depression may go though in the first one or two hours of their day. Is it even possible to imagine what they might be feeling by bedtime? Only to be faced with the reality of a full repeat the next day. And the next day. And the day after that.
For some people anxiety may be triggered by an event, person, situation or memory. For others it is present from the minute they wake and may even be noticeable in sleep patterns. Anxiety and depression affect different people in different ways, so it can be confusing for those who desperately want to understand and support. It can be hard to explain to those who’ve never experienced it quite how it can seep into everything we try to do and make everyday things seem extraordinarily difficult. The social stigma attached to mental illness means there’s already an existing prejudice around anxiety and depression which creates a culture of fear – for both the sufferer and their loved ones. Often we become so used to managing our condition that we forget what it would be like to live without it. We develop maladaptive behaviours in order to manage triggers and keep the symptoms at bay. This can result in living a lonely and isolated life, with a limited capacity to reach our full potential. Anxiety and depression can affect people as separate conditions (a person can have anxiety, without suffering from depression and vice versa) but they often go hand in hand, which aggravates symptoms and can result in a vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviours which seem impossible to break. It is important to be aware that symptoms of anxiety and depression rarely just ‘go away’ and often when left untreated things become worse.
When we are depressed or suffer with high anxiety we lock our attention and enter what can be described as an ‘emotional trance’. Our attention is narrowed. We can only focus on what is upsetting us, making us feel bad or anxious. It becomes difficult for us to multi-think and our perspective on life becomes limited. We put our own ‘spin’ on things. Analytical thinking disappears. Critical thinking disappears. We tend to lose our ‘meaning vacuum’. Someone doesn’t phone us back and we might immediately conclude ‘oh I knew they didn’t like me’ instead of ‘oh I wonder why they didn’t phone back’. We are unable to relax with uncertainty or consider the other possible reasons that aren’t an affront to ourselves. This demonstrates an example of how insecurity and paranoia may develop further aggravating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Our state of mind – the emotional trance that we become locked in – becomes a barrier to logical or rational thinking. And so begins a vicious circle of subtle self-defeating thoughts and behaviours.
Depression and anxiety usually have a root cause. This could be anything from going through significant trauma to a life changing event such as redundancy, divorce or moving to a new house. Figuring out what is behind your illness can be hard when your mind is constantly full of chaos and overwhelm. Whilst medication may help to relieve some of the symptoms you are suffering, it is unlikely to deal with the original cause. Therefore, once dosage is stopped or reduced sufferers may find that the symptoms of anxiety and depression re-emerge.
Getting help for anxiety and depression.
Talking therapy can help you to work through and process any events that have contributed to the onset of your mental illness. Exploring your thoughts and emotions with someone who is impartial, empathic and non-judgemental may help you to reframe and process past events, so they become less disturbing to think about. Having an increased self-awareness of cause and effect can give you more control over your illness, empowering you to start making life choices that will help you reconnect with healthy ways of living. If your symptoms are linked with a past trauma, you may benefit from therapy that encompasses some treatment for this. The Rewind Technique is a safe, fast and effective treatment for the symptoms of PTSD. It can greatly reduce, or even remove, traumatic symptoms including nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and disturbing images.
People often see counselling as a last resort, when they have nowhere else to turn. They are at the point of desperation, they feel shame, guilt, embarrassment, worthless, weak and that it is their fault. However, when they leave counselling people report feeling more at ease with themselves, that everyone around them feels better too. People report feeling less stressed, less depressed, they can now say no to people (so can be more assertive), they feel lighter, they understand their anger, understand their past, their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, they go on to make positive relationships, understand themselves, give up coping mechanisms that no longer work, are able to move on with their lives, stop self-harming, let go of grief, they choose to live and give up the thought of dying and live authentic lives. Huge isn’t it?
Counselling is the ultimate self-care. Counselling is prevention– it should be before you find that you are on your knees, before your relationships break down and before you begin to get sick. Counselling should not really be a last resort; it should be the first port of call.
Article written by Janine Mccorry
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