Natalie, 27, UK

 

natalie baker

“Throughout the course of my twenty-six years on earth, I’ve lived a full life. My childhood was a happy one, and I’ve been fortunate to travel with my family and be on the receiving end of unconditional love (thanks to my parents).

My family provided a safe environment and one that enabled me to explore my love of dance. They encouraged self-expression, and as a result, I completely fell in love with ballet and performing. This in turn helped me develop strong relationships early on, and my self-esteem was at a healthy level (for a young girl, anyway). I still look back on what was a beautiful, colourful childhood and feel glad that it was mine. But when I reached adulthood, everything changed. It was as if my sense of home had completely evaporated.

In the summer of 2010, a number of troubling and life-changing events happened in quick succession of each other. I experienced grief and trauma in a very short space of time, and for many years I struggled to live without a nurturing maternal presence. I have seen things that I will not forget. Moments that I cannot erase. Scenes that I’ve played over and over in my mind like a projection that will not tire. My life thus far is now defined by episodes ‘before’ and ‘after’ these scaring events took place. During this prolonged period, I distrusted those close to me. I struggled to soften my heart for those who cared to know me and love me despite my innermost struggles. I was crippled with self-doubt. It grew inside the mind like a vicious parasite, attacking every part and sucking on the good bits until all that remained was this hollow outer shell.
How easy it is to get trapped in the prison that is your mind.

In August 2014, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I broke down in tears in the doctor’s surgery and my GP prescribed Sertraline and put me on the never-ending waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). About twelve weeks’ later, I attended my first session with a young practitioner who encouraged me to talk about my great big black hole. She insisted I learn to own and take charge of it. I suppose this was the beginning of my journey back to health. I felt a release. It was somebody else’s problem now too. For the first time, I understood that this disease was not self-inflicted. It was completely beyond my control and it certainly was not my fault. I hadn’t sought help before this point, yet I believe I’ve experienced bouts of depression since my teens, if not, slightly earlier.

I have frequently broken down into tears in public places for no apparent reason. My dad and sisters have been witness to this and I have them to thank for their complete support. Not once did they tell me to ‘pull myself together’ or show any kind of embarrassment as a result of these public displays of panic and grief.

 Depression is a disease. It is truly disabling. It attacks your entire being and digs it’s nails deep into your skin. Mental illness of any kind is insufferable, there’s no doubt about it. Depression is not simply perpetual sadness. It’s much, much more. It’s complex.

We need to understand this in order to diagnose it and treat it effectively. Our minds are intrinsically connected to our bodily functions. Stress and anxiety can trigger negative symptoms in our physical being. Depression is a disability and one can begin to rely on it and feel at a loss both with it and without it. When my depression is at its worst, I struggle to identify with anything that isn’t misery. I fear life every single day. I expect bad things to happen, especially following a good thing. For I know that happiness isn’t sustainable in the depths of my mind. It’s hard to gain perspective, too. I know that there are matters far greater and more severe than my misery. In other words, I know that my position is one of privilege. I am grateful to live in a safe place and have a network of kind people to support me. But despite this, at times, I still feel empty and completely useless.

In the dark episodes, I feel disconnected and alienated from everyone and everything. I cannot talk in a coherent manner, which in turn makes me feel pathetic and completely hopeless. It doesn’t help that my day job as an editor and teacher relies on communication, efficiency and the ability to make oneself heard. But with depression you master the art of what I call the ‘happy face’. Happy face is a fixed smile. It’s talking very fast. It’s wild gesticulations. It’s trying to make people like you and believe you are fine. It’s a nervous energy. But this alone is not sustainable. It’s hard to maintain. It can be disarming to witness but only you know the inauthenticity of it. There is also ‘unhappy face’. Unhappy face is a faltering smile. It’s watery eyes on the brink of tears. It’s being in a public place and avoiding eye contact at all times. It’s a sense of impending doom. It’s a big black hole. It’s a sinking ship.

 Not long after the insufferable bouts of gloominess, I experience what I now recognise as guilt in its truest form. I am a well-educated young woman with a relatively secure job and a roof over my head. Therefore, what could possibly be so wrong? The shame that follows my episodes of depression is almost as bad as the hollowness of the depression itself. How can I be so weak? Why can’t I pull myself together? Be grateful, you silly, stupid girl.

Up until just two years ago, I had always dated but struggled to reach a true level of intimacy and trust. But someone enabled me to overcome this obstacle and I am now a better, more secure person as a result of his patience and love. Every day I am trying to be kinder to myself. I long to find peace in my mind as I learn to understand and practise the ‘art of letting go’. It’s not easy. I follow a vegan diet. I exercise regularly and have a full, healthy social life. I practise yoga. I try and focus on the present and not dwell on the past. Dwelling can infect the mind; a lesson I have learnt from my dad. Despite my healthy lifestyle and (for the most part) positive mentality, I sometimes find myself brushing shoulders with the great big black hole. But it cannot swallow me up anymore. It cannot engulf every part of me as it once did. I am strong and my depression has made me a better, more forgiving person. I refuse to see it as a weakness in myself or anybody else. The great big black hole cannot win, for I am more resilient than that.

 Today, as I write this, I am learning to accept my ‘sometimes-depressed’ state and know that it is okay to feel like this. It’s okay to not be okay. I also want to change my perception of vulnerability and see it as a strength and not a weakness. I know that although this is my journey, it is shared by many who are also struggling and learning to live with their inner demons.

 In April 2017, a good friend of mine will be jumping out of a plane to raise money for ‘Mind’. She, among others, inspired me to publish this post. We should never fight alone or feel ashamed to admit that we need help or support. We must stand in solidarity for the millions of men and women who are living with this wretched disease. Our mental health matters just as much – if not more – than our physical state. Kindness is everything. We do not know the internal struggles people are facing, and for this, we must have compassion.

NB – If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of depression then there are a number of things you can do to help yourself or your loved one. Mind offer practical advice for those dealing with it first-hand, as well as those who are concerned for someone else’s wellbeing.”

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