Mental illness has become a topic that is widely discussed in today’s world. Yet, just a few years ago, it was taboo – and involved hushed voices – to discuss anyone’s mental health. It’s empowering to see how far we have come as a society, and I’m all for breaking the stigma, but even though it’s amazing, sadly just talking about the fact it is real doesn’t cure any of us that suffer with it. And there are still many ignorant human beings who believe that depression is just “feeling sad and being lazy” and that anxiety means you’re immature.
I’ll start, I suppose, by talking about my history with mental health. I’ll try and keep it brief (if I can, Lord knows I’m a known rambler) because I don’t like to be so garrulous on about my health problems. Yes, I’m a very open person. I love being open about everything; I respect honesty. But egging on about how I’ve been low or anxious? Frankly, it bums me out.
I was always an over-anxious child, I’d get rashes when I was stressed, I’d cry and panic over tiny things and work myself up so much that I couldn’t breathe properly frequently, I struggled to talk to anyone and sometimes just went mute from being so shy. I wouldn’t describe myself as having anxiety – but I was more anxious than the average child. Growing up helped me combat it because life teaches us some great lessons about emotion.
My full-blown anxiety started after I had my first child. And it was accompanied by full-blown depression – at the time they called it PND, but now it’s just chronic manic depression.
Depression is one of those things that so many people think they have because they feel sad, but they don’t really understand it. I remember struggling as a teenager to cope with my own emotions and my life. I’m ashamed to say I had a history of self harm: but let me interrupt this post to explain self harm. Those of us who have self harmed: we didn’t do it for attention. We didn’t do it as a fashion statement. We did it because it was the only way we found to cope with what we were feeling that worked. To take the pain we were feeling – that we didn’t understand – and make it physical. In the same way that some people will pinch or punch themselves elsewhere to distract themselves from a bad pain in their body.
I don’t like to talk about my history of self harm, nor am I someone who will show these scars because it is the only thing I am ashamed of about my life. I have done many controversial things: I had a child at 16, I’ve made mistakes, I have tattoos and piercings, I didn’t go to university. But I stand by every one of those choices because I like the person I am today. All except for the choice to self harm at the times I have. Although I know that it had helped me through hard times, I am ashamed of it and that is the last I will say on the topic.
I thought I was depressed as a teenager, but my ‘depression’ was mild in comparison to the empty abyss that swarmed me after birth. 1 in 10 women develop Post Natal Depression (PND) after the birth of a child – so for every 10 mothers you know, the chances are one of them has been clinically depressed after their pregnancy. And really, that makes sense – since depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and pregnancy affects the body so negatively by pumping it full of hormones and then siphoning them all out again after birth. Unfortunately for younger mothers like myself, postpartum depression is even more regular and studies suggest that 53% of young mothers develop PND. This is a staggeringly high amount, considering it should be one of the happiest times of our lives.
Not only depression, but any new mother panics – and my anxiety sky rocketed. I began to revert back to being unable to talk to new people in some situations and started having fully fledged panic attacks. If I went to a new place or even to the doctors I would tremble uncontrollably; and the panic attacks that would come if I didn’t calm myself down were outrageous. Luckily, my other half has a knack for looking after me and teaching me to calm down and he helped me so much to cope with life. I don’t think I would have been able to seek help or find out how to cope with anything it weren’t for him: support is key when you’re ill.
It took until late 2013 to find medication that worked for me (I gave birth in May 2012). Obviously then in 2014 I got pregnant and in 2015 my daughter, Willow was born stillborn. Naturally my depression worsened after that as I was stricken with grief and I sunk to very low points that I never wish to find again. However, during that time my chronic pain manifested to a very bad state and I have been living with moderate-severe chronic pain since then. I manage it with medication, but there’s nothing like being in constant pain to dampen your mood and wear you out. I wouldn’t say my depression has worsened or increased much since 2015, I’ve been very up and down, so I’ve just had to learn to fight through it. I brought my business up to a great standard and pushed forward with my life the best I could, but my mental health still affects me. I have periods where I wont talk. Most of the time I don’t want to do a thing but lie in bed, and it is a struggle. Emotion is squashed so far down that I feel nothing all the time, until suddenly I burst and 100 repressed feelings of grief and sadness tear out of me. Honestly, my depression sometimes helps me in some forms because I suffer with very bad stress/sadness/upset migraines and being cut off emotionally helps to get rid of them. My anxiety however, is managed well by strong Beta Blockers which basically keep me on a “spaced out” level a lot of the time. Yeah, mental illness doesn’t seem so cute now to those people that turn it into a fashion statement.
Many people have told me I need an outlet for my emotions; I have tried to go to therapy before and it didn’t work out. I’m going to try it again, but some people find it works and others don’t – I know that. However, writing… Writing helps me to express myself. I am introverted myself. I prefer to be inside with a good book, or coding a website, or editing photos than out partying or with friends. That doesn’t mean I’m not sociable – I like to talk to others and build relationships and I really adore it whenever others like me. I think every human being seeks approval of some form, and it’s nice when someone can appreciate the person you really are. I think that is why I write so open and honestly on the internet. I see no point in creating a fake person that other people will follow and read; hiding behind that person and pretending to be them but never being that person who is liked. Being open and honest and reaching out to connect with other people who can empathise with me or want to empathise with me – or even just want to read what I have to say, because they respect, like or have an interest in me… it is empowering. I don’t mean to sound in any way conceited by that – I don’t think I’m a big deal in any way, shape or form, I’m yet another teenage mother trying to make a living who needs an outlet. But appreciation comes from anyone and to anyone and it is a lovely feeling.
So, writing my inner thoughts and feelings is a beautiful use of my time. It releases pent up emotions and lets out the thoughts that whirl around your heart. The kinds of innocent, curious, creative thoughts that will build up and fester and turn more and more negative: you can instead turn into the written word for someone else to enjoy and for you to release. Like exercise is an outlet for the body, writing is an outlet for the soul that I thoroughly enjoy and recommend. Yes, it is helping me combat my mental health problems because everyone needs an outlet: especially those with emotional difficulties. Not only that, but anyone who is struggling with a negative image of themselves or negative feelings will grow stronger from other’s praise: it can teach us to love ourselves, to know that someone else does or cares – and others appreciating your writing is a great place to start there.
So, to combat grief. To combat sadness. To combat anger, fear, humiliation. To express love or shout your desires. To get what you want or give away what you should. Writing it not only lets it out, but helps you express yourself to the people who care about you. Express yourself and empower yourself. And then learn to love yourself. Because learning to love yourself is the first and the most important step to living a healthy life again, and I took that step – so can you.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Writing about emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both psychological and physical health. Writing about what hurts you quite literally can help to let you move on and heal. Below I’ve listed the benefits of expressive writing, as found in a scientific study.
Health outcomes: Improved immune system, Improved lung function, Improved liver function, Reduced blood pressure, Fewer days in hospital, Improved mood, Greater feeling of psychological well-being, Reduced depressive symptoms, Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms.
Social and behavioural outcomes: Reduced absenteeism from work, Quicker re-employment after job loss, Improved memory function, Improved sports performance, Higher students’ GPA, Altered social and linguistic behaviour.
There have even been reports of improvement from those with medical conditions: Lung functioning in those with asthma, Disease severity in Rheumatoid Arthritis, Pain/physical health in cancer, Immune response in HIV infection, Hospitalisations for cystic fibrosis, Pain intensity in women with chronic pelvic pain, sleep-onset latency in poor sleepers, Post operative course.
Although, of course these are all findings in case studies by those who study the sciences, I should say this backs up what I am trying to say. That expressing yourself and your emotions in the written word is good for you and your soul: and in turn, that can be good for your physical health. We always feel more ill if we are heart broken and unwell, so it make sense that if we are happy and unwell we would feel less so. Scientifically, it is likely that the development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganise and structure traumatic memories, resulting in better emotional capability and better emotional health. Logically then, repeated exposure may lead to the extinction of negative emotional responses to traumatic memories and make it so you can move on and look back on your experiences rationally.
Even if you can’t write about what hurts because it is too painful, writing about your feelings about it or even other feelings will only help lessen the load. If you want a task to help you get started, I suggest you spend a few days writing your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected your life. In your writing, really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. This could maybe be tied in to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives; to your past, your present or your future; or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now.
If you are struggling, I hope this has helped you. If you know someone who is struggling and think that this would help them: please, share it with them. If I can help one person, I will be happy.