Writing this post has been really hard, but it is one I need to finish before I can say any more about what my life is like at the moment. I can’t find the words for what I want to say, or I find words but they don’t quite come out right when I go to put them down on paper. So I’m going to post something I wrote for the ‘Mind Your Head’ campaign at Oxford but that never got used. It doesn’t capture the experience of living like this precisely, but it’s nearer than not writing anything. As ever, if you have any questions, please get in touch.
Living with anxiety / depression
I guess many people who know me in person will probably already know or suspect as much: I have anxiety and depression. Nor is it a short-term thing: I’ve just finished my degree, but I have been depressed since I was 13. Which, when you’re 22, seems like an awfully long time.
On a day-to-day basis, this means it can be much harder for me to cope, with people, with work, or with just getting on with the normal tasks of living. When I’m in one of my bad spells, my head can make me feel drained, with no energy to do anything I am supposed to or want to do. I struggle to hit deadlines, because it can be hard to concentrate or even just to get up in the first place. At other times, it becomes hard to sit still to focus.
Furthermore, I worry about what others think and am properly terrified of hurting them. I will generally feel like a burden, and will apologise far too much or over-explain myself in an attempt to make sure that I am not being a nuisance or hurting others. (One of my tutors, to prove this point, kept a tally of how many times I apologised in an hour. It honestly worked out as about once every three minutes). Making plans with other people becomes impossible in one of my bad spells. Partly this is because I just don’t have the energy to do so but partly, this is because however much I care about them and would like to see them, I find it stressful to organise meeting up in case I am imposing on them and their limited time, or in case I can’t cope when I am around them. It becomes really difficult to get myself to leave my room and engage with others because it takes so much energy. At these times, I can’t hang out in big groups of people – mainly big, intense groups where people are debating or arguing or where there is an undercurrent of unease or unhappiness – as I pick up on people being stressed in this way far too easily. In this respect, when I am particularly ill, I become a bit agoraphobic and get particularly anxious around or because of people. I generally have very little faith in myself, and struggle to believe anything nice people say about me.
Lastly, in particularly severe spells, just functioning becomes something of a mythical goal to be aspired to. My mood can slip pretty easily, which is really scary when I’m trying to keep steady and keep going. I can end up in tears fast, and even little things cross from being difficult to being impossible: for instance, it can take me until 6pm to leave my room and get lunch. Of course this was the case during finals, but (I think) has happened a little more often than people have realised over the past three years, just because I’ve been so ill and so much has been going on. During finals themselves, this sometimes turned into proper panic attacks, when my chest hurt and it would become hard to breathe. Oddly enough though, my mind remained clear at these times, and it was more like observing what was going on with my body without being upset or scared, just hurting. When my chest hurt, I would be unable to sleep properly, sometimes for days in a row. One particularly terrible holiday, I became unable to leave the house even to go to the supermarket as I felt so sick. Even thinking became something I had to be careful about, since thinking about things that were bothering me would very quickly make me sick. Sometimes I become scared that, maybe I’m just being lazy, or that I’m being ridiculous, though I know I really am properly ill at these times and that it is just the anxiety talking.
For a perspective on depression that I really like, see here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2013_05_01_archive.html