Mental Health problems are not something we pick and choose – nobody wants to be depressed or have borderline personality disorder or struggle with OCD, bulimia, schizophrenia and so the list goes on – if we had a choice then nobody would ever suffer to begin with!
Saying you know somebody who had anxiety is exactly the same as just saying you know somebody because everyone is different, right down to their mental health experience.
We can’t control it. We want to, believe me. And we are trying. But there’s no “quick fix”. No one solution that fits all.
So, I asked as many people as were willing to answer, what they would honestly answer to one question of their choice during some of their worst mental health moments. Everybody who was willing to respond has really given it their time and effort in providing a helpful and true account of their thoughts and feelings. They’ve trusted me with their secret thoughts and are willing to share them for the greater good – the idea that people might see past the “I’m fine” or “I’m good today” and maybe learn how to ask the questions that really need to be answered or maybe not ask at all – just know what’s needed because they’re more aware.
“[In response to the question “How are you?”] You know, I’m really not doing great right now. My depression has been worse than usual, and it seems like there’s nothing I can do to help it. My anxiety hasn’t affected me much at all though which I guess is a plus. My attendance at University has been dropping as a result of my depression, but I’ll always try to beat it” – Laura, Anxiety & Depression.
“When I’m going through my real low moments, this is quite typical….“How Are You?” – My initial response *big smile* “I’m good thanks and you” (usually works, cos I have a believable smile) …how am I really, though? Well, this morning I cried and punched a wall to try to deflect my internal pain; I then sat down for 30 minutes staring at nothing trying to concentrate on my breathing and ignore my swollen hand; then proceeded to ignore messages and calls. I don’t even know what’s wrong, but I don’t want to be me!” – Jayed, Depression
“If someone asked me how they could help.. My answer would be to allow me to be open and honest without passing judgement, to be patient if I also choose not to share how I’m feeling during that time, simply be present when I need you to be there and understand when I am unable to socialise or be around anyone due to my anxiety, to not disregard my feelings regardless of how silly and minuscule you think my problems may be, to not hold it against me or blame me for the way I am feeling, to not tell me someone else is going through something worse as that consequently makes me feel even more guilty, at a loss and childish when in fact my feelings matter just as much as any other person as that is my current reality and what may be someone else’s disturbance may be my hell, and to please never tell me to just get over it or expect it to go away in an instance, and last but not least please don’t take what I’m feeling personally. It is not you… But I do need your help..” – Ivy*, Bipolar Disorder/Anxiety/Depression
“‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ What my brain screams from inside is, ‘YEEESSSS please help me’. There are a few things that you could do to help. I just want someone to show me they care about me. I just want to feel loved. I just want to offload all of my thoughts and feelings to someone. I want to have a really in-depth talk about all sorts of emotions that I’m feeling. I want someone who I can tell my deepest, darkest secrets and worries to without them judging me. I’m just too ashamed to ask for help and feel like I am a huge waste of time. Why would anyone want to waste their time talking to me? So, I decide against it and say ‘I’m fine, thanks’.” – Lillie*, Anxiety & Depression
““Why are you so tired all the time?” I’m tired because I don’t want to get out of bed. Ever. I want to lay and be warm and safe. It takes so much energy to get up, get dressed and drag kids along. It takes work to navigate traffic to drop the kids off and get to work. Being around people all day who I don’t want to be around and some who don’t want to be around me and who I still have to be kind to is exhausting. By the time I get home, I don’t care about laundry or getting kids bathed. I don’t have the energy to straighten up or to load a dishwasher. All I feel like I can do is veg out on my phone. And then I feel guilty and like a terrible mother because my kids deserve someone happier and more engaged but I just don’t have the energy. The only thing I ever have the energy to do is to lay in bed and sleep, something I never ever get to do, even when I’m sick. So I’m always tired because I wake up with negative spoons every single day. I need help, somewhere, anywhere, along the way. I need someone to help with this incredibly heavy load of just existing.” – Asia Renée, Depression
“Yes I have been to the Dr but they didn’t help in any way due to NHS cuts – all they use is CBT which in all honesty was useless [for me]. I went to a group meeting for 6 weeks but it was hard to get to as I don’t drive due to my epilepsy (I had to get 2 buses) and also had to take my baby which made my anxiety worse. I would feel a panic attack coming along every time my baby would cry or I’d have to change him as I felt everyone was judging me – “what is she doing bringing a child here… this is hardly the right place” when I had no choice. Then the other option was taking meds which I hate taking in all honesty – I don’t even like taking them for my Epilepsy. They did help at first but then everything seemed the same again. So yes I have been to the doctors. Did it help? No.” – Rachel, Anxiety
“Normally if people ask if I’m okay, I tend to avoid answering the truth as I feel like I’m going to bother them or ruin their day somehow with the honest answer. If I do answer, I try to explain it but I always end up saying something along the lines of “it’s probably nothing, I’m really sorry for bothering you’. The truth, though? Be understanding, know that even though I may not talk much, I do care about you – I just feel awkward starting conversations. I have my low days and sometimes I just need reassurance and the freedom to vent about silly things, because sometimes the silliest thing can be the hardest thing to deal with, so just be there for me… even if it’s just to say hi, so I can feel normal for just one second – Lauren, Depression/Anxiety/Perinatal Depression
“Honestly? I’m not happy. I am so unhappy that I am almost suicidal. Every day I wake up hoping this is a dream and that I could go back to my old life prior to all the responsibility…the sleepless nights. I can’t cope. I’m breaking down. I HATE my life. Everyone says I’ll get better and it’s just chemicals. I try and tell myself that too. But these feelings are real. These feelings are so strong that they consume my mind 24/7 even when I’m dreaming. I’m not happy being a mum. Honestly, I wish I was. There is one thing, though: No matter how much I hate being a mum I will always protect my son and make sure he has the best of everything. It isn’t his fault I feel this way. He’s innocent in all this. I can’t wait for the day he is an adult and I can get on with my life. Travel the world and have fun with my friends… be free. I’ve lost my freedom and it is killing me. My life was so good and so easy. I had so much free time to spend with my husband. Now I barely get any. I wish things were different and I could see how having a child would have changed me so much. But alas. There is nothing I can do. Oh God. Make this feeling go away. I want to be happy.” – Sierra*, Postnatal Depression
“So my partner will ask me what can I do to help you feel better? He knows I struggle and he gets frustrated that I can’t give him an answer but the truth is I sometimes don’t even have an answer to how he could help. Some days I feel so lonely like I’m looking at me from outside in and I’m in this little bubble trying to get out. Some days I feel like screaming out of frustration not knowing why I feel the way I feel and having an answer for it. I just want reassurance not because I don’t know that you love or care for me just because it helps me feel better. Make me laugh, help me with housework – not all the time, just sometimes. It helps.” – Janae*, Anxiety
“Can’t you just change the way your mind works? Trust me, I’ve tried. But saying that is kind of like telling someone with a broken leg “well, why can’t you just un-break it?”. It simply doesn’t work like that. It takes time, and care, and sometimes a setback. And a lot, a huge tonne of a lot, of patience. And all that is just to get to the point where I can have more neutral days than bad days. Even at my best, good days tend to be something I can only dream of. I can’t change the way my mind works any more than you can change the way yours does. So now I’m just trying to go along with it, and to learn to live with it.” – Saar, Depression/OCD/Anxiety
“Yes, I have spoken to a Doctor but it’s taken me a while. I’ve had recurring PTSD and anxiety symptoms since my first daughter was born 6 years ago. It wasn’t dealt with properly by the doctor I spoke to. I was just given horrible medication that made me numb so I came off it by myself. Another traumatic incident 3 years ago added to my symptoms which now included intrusive thoughts. I haven’t been the same since. I’ve tried to carry on and tell myself I’m okay but after having a breakdown a few weeks back I eventually asked my GP for help. I’ve been referred to mental health. I wish I hadn’t left it so long. I wish I had the courage to ask for help sooner. Pretending I was okay had made things worse. Speaking to my GP was the best thing I’ve done. I feel more positive and optimistic now.” – Sonia*, PTSD & Anxiety
“Why can’t you just cheer up? It might never happen. Honestly, if I could cheer up today I would. If it was easy enough to turn my own mood around, I would do it in a heartbeat. If there was a button I could switch to get me out of my depression I would press it. But there isn’t. And if I’ve allowed my emotions to be seen, if I’ve let you see how I really am today – please bear with me and know that I am doing the best that I can. Please understand if I cancel plans, or if I can’t sum up the energy or enthusiasm to come to a group situation, or offer the advice that I am normally so good at. Be here for me, support me, help me see that I will come back to myself and that I am not alone.” – Laurie, Depression.
“My boss would ask me “How are things?” in our regular catch ups but if I answered honestly? Things aren’t good. I’m feeling a bit swamped at the moment. I know everyone in the team is busy, but I can’t keep up with the amount I’ve got on. I enjoy my job I really do, but I’m having to work evenings and weekends and I don’t think you realise how long some of the “quick things” you ask me to do take. Can you help me? Can we work together to plan my workload? I just need a bit more support at the moment. When I finally did tell my boss about a year later, she was sad that I didn’t ask for help, and that she didn’t see how I was feeling. If only I’d been honest earlier, it would have helped me quicker.” Amanda, Work Related Stress
“”Can’t you just change the way your mind thinks/feels” See my mind is wired differently, and changing that wiring is not easy. I try and change that every day. I take a pill every morning to kerb my depression and another to regulate my moods. I spend countless of hours with a psychiatrist and a psychologist working on ways to prevent my mind from being my enemy. I wish I could flip a switch and be “normal”. in the same way you can’t change the weather on any given day, I can’t change the way my mind works. I simply have to acknowledge what is happening and find the best way to keep myself safe and sane. Mania and depression are not comfortable states to be in.” – Ros, Bipolar Disorder II
“I honestly wish it were that simple [as just changing the way your mind thinks/feels]. I don’t like feeling low all the time, I don’t like fighting with my own thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. It really drains me having to. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution to any of it. I am on prescribed medication as depression and anxiety are actually illnesses; it has been proven that people with mental health problems cannot just snap out of it. Asking me to just change the way I think and feel is like asking someone with a broken leg to get up and walk normally unaided, without a cast or anything.” – Lyndsay, Depression and Anxiety
“If someone asks if you want to talk about it but you say no when in fact you really do want to talk and talk and cry about it all but you can’t as you know they won’t understand so you leave it and keep it all to yourself. Some people say they will listen but actually, they just hit out with generic shite they’ve heard or read – Listening… just listening without comment or advice is sometimes all I need. Let me get this off my chest without saying it will all be ok and things get better” – Pamela, Depression
Looks can be deceiving: mental illness and my type one Diabetes goes hand in hand. You learn to cope because not coping isn’t really an option. Having a long term illness that isn’t curable but isn’t visible is very hard to explain. You can never switch off your brain, you have to constantly check in with your body to see how you feel so relaxing isn’t really an option. Other people go for a walk to unwind but before a walk I have to check my blood sugar levels, calculate how much insulin I have taken recently and whether it’s safe to walk or if my blood sugars will drop so it’s like extra baggage all the time. You never relax. No matter how many times you repeat that type one Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has no cure and is not caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, you have members of the public feeling it’s their right to blame you or offer unsolicited advice. It’s taken a long time for me to address the mental health aspect of my t1diabeties, Having type one Diabetes and also mental health issues with anxiety and stress isn’t a negative in my life, it’s just who I am and it’s brought me to a place in my life where I can deal with these issues together – Linda, Stress & Anxiety due to physical health problems.
If someone asked me how they can help and I was free to answer honestly, I think I would have said read the blog posts. The insights. Try to be patient. Don’t think I’m making excuses or overreacting because I’ve probably beat myself up for that already, even though that isn’t the case. I know they say nobody else can love you if you don’t love yourself but that’s not fair for someone like me – I need love just as much as I want it. Just love me as much as you can because I can’t love myself enough right now. Don’t judge my tears, my misplaced anger, my “laziness” which is really my total lack of spoons, my disinterest or my so called “hypochondria”. I’m trying and learning but I need you to be willing to try and learn with me – Emmie, Anxiety & Depression.
*Some names have been changed to maintain anonymity
Mind – the Mental Health charity; no one has to face mental health alone
Time To Change – end Mental Health stigma