Warning – this is riddled with triggers, it's how I felt at a bad time, please don't read this and struggle in silence, if it hurts talk about it, read this knowing I'm ok and I survived and you can too.
So I read a blog today. A brave beautiful blog by @miss_aknight. In It she spoke about her struggle, but stopped short of talking about her feelings at the time. It made me really think about whether I’ve actually spoken about that part. You won’t have to look too far to find my story, to know I suffer from depression and anxiety, but I’m not sure if I actually can explain the feelings I had (have?). Today, though, I’m going to try.
No background, it doesn’t really matter how it starts, sometimes it’s nothing, or everything, or both.
It starts usually with general lowness; the sun still shines but it’s not as bright. Flowers are there but they loose their vividness. It’s so gradual you don’t really even notice: you’ve become a zombie. Walking through life; looking but not seeing, hearing but not listening, touching but not feeling. You become a little bit numb , life’s loses everything that made you love it and at some point a question pops up that you can’t answer: what’s the point?
You wonder why you need that job, why DO I need to get out of bed, who am I showering for? What will actually happen if I disappear, I’m basically gone now anyway. Small tasks take monumental effort and the unanswerable questions are screaming at you.
The days that aren’t numb are spent wondering why anyone would even consider you a friend, after all you are a hideous person. Every bad thought about your body or yourself is proof of people not liking you, a delayed response is all the evidence you need of someone’s hatred. Every time you even attempt to find something good about yourself, you see a hundred reasons that contradict it. You're having an argument with a voice inside your head, except that voice is still you. If even you hate you, how could anyone else like you.
The anxiety is even more fun. Every embarrassing thing you ever did plays on a reel. A game of top trumps with only one loser (you). When some one reaches out a branch you throw it back in their face because you know its only pity, further proof of how ugly a person you are. When you try to go out and be normal and see your friends, panic attacks literally rip the air from your lungs. They blur your vision like an angry ex jealous of you seeing other people. It locks you in isolation, forces you to withdraw from the battleground. A vicious bully, intent on finding you vulnerable and alone.
And after months and months and months of this continuous bullying, when every reason you ever had for choosing life was thrown out like trash. That one solitary thought creeps into your head. There’s one way I know will stop it. One way to make the pain and all that hurt just stop. It sounds awful to us too. We don’t want to die. We just don’t want to live, not like this. I’m tired, I’m so damn tired of living. I don’t necessarily want to die I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep and I want this to be over. But those two things are the same and eventually it’s not a choice you want to make but have to make. Because even though one option is death, choosing to live is killing you too.
I’ve heard a few metaphors for what depression feels like and there’s two I’ve kind of identified with. The big grey cloud almost exemplifies daily life, but it doesn’t really show how bad it is. It’s just this negativity that follows everything you do. Some people walk in the sun but you walk under a thick grey cloud.
The one I think will help you understand is this: you’re locked in a room with the windows open, it’s the biggest storm outside you’ve ever seen. The rain and hale is blowing in and you’re trying to hold the window shut. But it’s broken. Trees are flying against it, the wind is howling and you can’t hold it shut. You’re cold, you’re tired, you’ve been in this room for months, maybe years. How long before you chose to leave that room one way or another? It’s not what you want but it would be a whole lot easier.
My experience is not everyone’s experience. I can only say how I felt and why I ended up where I did. In the frame of mind that I was. All I know for sure is that I was in a world of pain that I wasn’t equipped to deal with. But remember my story had a happy ending. For thousands of others it didn’t and for thousands more their ending is yet to be written.
Help is out there if you want it. There are people who will help you close the windows, who can shine a light through the darkest clouds. And you can choose to accept that help.
They rule our lives in one way or another. We can’t leave home without it. We check it on average every 5 mins, some 200 times a day. They tell us when to get up, where we are supposed to be and literally anything else we want to know.
The smart phone.
But I say it’s ruining our lives. Depression rates have never been higher, nor have rates of anxiety. Bullying is infinitely easier and happens at all times of the day from people you’ve never even met. Social media has decimated our social lives.
It would be far too radical of me to suggest ousting the smart phone completely, though doable, even I got lost the one time I went for a walk without my phone to sat nav me home. Nor, am I suggesting we turn them off at a certain time – does anyone remember what happened to your alarm clock after a power cut? Really, my alarm didn’t go off!!
I want to draw your attention to the options at the top of your screen, the power saving mode....
On my phone at least, power saving mode allows me to deactivate all my apps except a select number I pick to remain. The regular phone and text still work, a basic version of the internet exists, there’s a camera and of course an alarm.
But what’s important is what’s gone. No facebook alerts, messages or tags. No whattsApp group conversations going crazy at midnight over a random meme. No work emails popping up before bed that just NEED a response before tomorrow. And no endlessly checking your phone to see if anyone has swiped right.
It’s the 3310 for the modern world.
And I turn it on at 9pm, none of the messages get delivered until the next day and my sleep isn't interrupted by a multitude of vibrations. But the part of me that screams “what if it's an emergency!!!” is kept happy, in a real emergency they'll call; otherwise it can wait till tomorrow.
Once I started I couldn’t stop. Watching a really good film? Power save mode. Out for lunch with friends? Power save mode. Having a bath but want music? Power save mode. It really is that simple. AND. Your battery lasts longer.
I urge you to find yours now and save yourself from the screen addiction. Every minute counts if that minute is spent on you and your loved ones and not your phone.
It's no secret I've struggled this summer. The lack of routine and infinite free time to think set my anxiety on overdrive. Add in my attempts at dating and I'm sure you can see how I could go from loving the freedom of the holidays, to suffocated by the expanse of nothing stretching ahead.
Ever wary of my triggers, I hadn't anticipated this one. So I guess at least now I know! I really do need to stay active and keep busy. So that's what I did. I popped off to stay in a yurt for a few nights, went lavender picking I even went for a walk in the forest I've lived 10m from my entire adult life. But when the dust settled and I had had one too many rejections, I still wasn't feeling like me. So I talked to a friend (more than one actually), who listened to me cry for over an hour before I fell asleep on his sofa, but ultimately I knew I needed to sort this out myself.
And as fate would have it, I’d already signed on to volunteer with the same group I sat my 10 day silent mediation in Malaysia in July last year. Sometimes I really do think the world works to help you out when you need it most. I had signed up to serve, to help a group of 250 people experience the sheer peace that I found in Malaysia last year. I'm not sure what I expected really, a bit of cleaning, maybe help in the kitchen; certainly I assumed there would be lots of mediation.
But what I actually experienced was a world away from what I expected.
Firstly I want to lay out the rules; this time round they were slightly different from when you sit the course. Most obviously is you can talk, but your speech should be “noble “ – no swearing, gossiping, singing, humming, whistling, lying or shouting. There are no phones, no internet, no books, Male and female are divided everywhere but the kitchen and everyone who serves sits 3.5 hours of mediation everyday. You literally stop whatever you are doing and head to the mediation hall.
So I turned up a day early ready to help and needing a peaceful place to get back to my happy place and it kind of was. I'm disappointed in myself for letting my mediation slip gradually to a few minutes here and there. The sessions immediate sent me internal to feel who I was and where I was. A sense of peace drifted itself over me after the first day. But it wasn't quite smooth sailing.
On day 2 I was asked to be the kitchen manager, not really knowing what that was I agreed wanting to help in whatever way I could. It turns out the kitchen manager is responsible for the entire kitchen; getting food out, preparation for the next day, organising the kitchen team, health and safety, seting up the dining rooms; even taking meals to the teachers. It was NOT a small job. I was supposed to be trained for 2 days but the person I was relieving was ill and had to take 4 days off, so I got the equivalent of half a day! So its just Me, a kitchen, a very detailed recipe book, 10 other volunteers and 250 mouths to feed. It was initiation by fire (literally when we set a box of matches alight).
I think it took 3 days for me to be ready to go home, I had had a confrontation with another volunteer who didn't like being told what to do and believed they'd be better than me. I didn't ask for the job, I didn't even want it, I was stressed. I spent my only break in the day (we have 30 mins for each meal and 1.5 hours after lunch, otherwise it's 9 hours of working) crying my eyes out and planning how to get home. But was this not the exact thing I had been worried about starting work again? I've been petrified I won't be able to handle the stress and here I am in a stressful situation, not handling it. I needed to see if I could do it.
It's a gorgeous atmosphere in these places, you're never really alone, just when you think lunch is going to be late, 3 more people will turn up to help you finish everything off, even though they're on the cleaning team not kitchen, or its their day off. So I let my stress be known, I asked for help (not something I do very often) and help came. It was there in the words of encouragement, the random helpers, the innocuous conversation and the late night motivational speeches.
Before I knew it the course was over and I had survived. Everyone was fed, the food was even complimented and most importantly no one got food poisoning (my food hygiene certificate from way too many years ago clearly helped). It wasn't the peaceful escape I wanted, but it was the stress test I needed. I feel like if I can handle that, I can handle anything.
I’ve been home a week now and while I've not kept that busy my anxiety has been almost non existent. I learnt that I don't need other people to be happy and that's easy to forget; especially with modern dating and social media. I just need to accept everything as it is and let my path unfold, wherever it may take me.
And possibly take a few brakes from my phone a bit more often! I can't tell you how freeing it was to turn it off for 12 days! No facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google (we had to ask other people for answers to our questions) or even texts and calls. Modern liberation. I highly recommend unplugging for a day or 2.