Where do i begin?
It is the very first time i am opening up about my mental health journey online. The reasons are personal; more and more people i encounter with are in need of help.
I will start by saying i am doing great now. The only reason why i mention that is my very own experience: when i was deep into depression i wanted someone to tell me that what i am going through is normal, the heavy head is normal, the feeling of heart attack i have everyday is normal, the unwillingness to leave the bed is normal... I wanted someone to confirm that-anyone... So, i can confirm to you that you will be fine. It is possible.
I am not a psychologist or anything. I am a person speaking from her own experiences. I am Afroditi and i am living the last six years acknowledging and embracing my depression.
The first couple of months i was dealing with Major Depressive Disorder and Panic Attacks. At night, i couldn't sleep because i was afraid i wouldn't wake up again and in the morning, i could not leave the bed because everything away from it sounded extremely dangerous. I will avoid going deeper into details of how it happened and how i was diagnosed because this is not the focus of this post. What i am aiming while writing this post is to help you see that nothing is over. And i would never lie to you, not at this point...
Phase 1:What is happening to me?
In the beginning of my journey, i was lost. The doctors monitoring me were talking and i would see their figures while hearing some confusing and unfocused words coming from here and there. It didn't make any sense. I could only focus when closing my eyes. The key is to find a doctor you trust from the very first moment - not someone pitying or pampering you- since there is much job that needs to be done!
The only image i can recall is me sitting on the couch, covered with a blanket and the airco working like crazy. It was August - an August i will never forget... After my first hospital admission, i couldn't leave the house for days. One evening, my best friend tried to grab me out of the house and take me out for coffee. Well, what can i say? It didn't work out very well... Everyone looked blurry, it felt as if it was 78 Celsius and i was short of breath. I officially had my 20th panic attack for the day. I asked my mother if i could drop off my university since leaving my island and staying alone in an apartment 7 hours away from home wasn't an option for me. Sometimes i close my eyes and remember me back then: a girl crying all day, scared to die, already dead.
I was in medication (still am) because i could not continue only with consultation. I am not ashamed of that. This saved my life. I did have some suicidal thoughts crossing my mind in the beginning - which is scary. A note to anyone possibly reading my words: stop pill shaming. Besides the fact that some people are medically in need for some chemicals that you need not-to-have depression, you cannot generalize and send everyone to find their inner peace and happiness away from pills. Indeed, that helps in several cases - but not every time. People fighting with depression, panic attacks and other mental health issues, don't have the power, the courage to listen to your shaming statements that are far away from helping.
Phase 2: Shit is real!
After realizing that i am mentally ill, something weird happened. My therapist told me my humor saved me-together with my dedication to survive.
The wake-up call for me was when my mother took me out for a walk to my grandmother's who was trying to act like a clown to make me laugh. I couldn't. I honestly couldn't laugh. When i was leaving her place, i saw her waving goodbye and crying. "Why do i make everyone cry? Why did i make my granny cry? My heart was breaking. I am not a loser, i was always a perfectionist and this is definitely not perfect". Some sort of inner power was exploding and i could feel the frustration and the fear co-existing inside me, i was feeding them.
One morning, i woke up with such a heavy head. I couldn't sleep of course as i feared not waking up. That was my situation for the first six months at least. My therapist called me and wanted to see me at her office. She sort of ordered me to prepare my suitcase and go back to my apartment and my university. When she told me that, i felt so weak- i was insisting i am not ready. She told me i was ready. My mother came with me together with two family members since my situation was still unstable. I couldn't eat. Every time i would swallow it felt like the food would stick into my throat. A common problem that all of us dealing with such issues have is the digestion issues, such as acid reflux. So, if you feel like having an upset stomach every time you eat or drink water, it is normal. It is the anxiety that causes it. You only need to relax, take your time and caress your belly as if you are pregnant! (applicable to men as well).
In general: on this phase, you know what you have (kind of), everything looks like a mountain to overcome, you are tired, you have migraines every single day but somehow, you work your ass off to survive the day. Reminder: If i made it, you can make it!
Phase 3: Reborn!
This phase is the fun part (again, according to my book).
In my case, the third phase came in two parts. The first part was the second year after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. When i gained some power and independence i thought i am the queen of the world! You feel 3 times more powerful than you used to. I tried to do all the things i wouldn't do before because i was too "bored", too "busy with other stuff" or too scared. I took my driving license, i went straight up to the people that got into my nerves and actually told them, i travelled by plain (!!!) throughout Europe and i finally registered myself to the theater workshop that i always wanted to do.
I was in love with my shameless, guilt free, yolo-type of self. Why would i be ashamed or scared? I went through hell and back. I saw me slowly dying and i made it to survive. Spoiler alert: Unfortunately, this feeling doesn't last for too long.
How to put it nicely... I was so desperate and so tired at the same time that with the first glimpse of positivity and comfort i thought i was back to normal. But little did i know that the "back" was not my normal" and i should feel blessed.
Depression and other mental illnesses are not built overnight. It is something you grow up with. I was always melancholic, i was always different. Depression blew my world, changed my life and i would never have assumed that this change would be for the best.
The second part of the 3rd phase came a year ago. As mentioned above, i was wrong thinking i was over depression and i tried to stop the medication without consulting and as expected, i was suffering again from panic attacks. But this time it was different. This time i was mad at me for going through all this crap and darkness the past 5 years and falling back again. Am i stupid or what?
I obviously wasn't stupid. I was overambitious. And it's ok that i was, that is what "we" should all keep in mind. We are human beings, we screw up things, we fix them, we are weak and we are strong, we cry, we break down , we win and we lose. We don't have to be so strict to ourselves, everyone else has been in the past and will be in the future.
I have to admit i had serious issues with committing and opening up to people in the background. I couldn't control myself and i chose not to engage with anyone and anything that makes me feel weak and vulnerable. Of course, you will very quickly guess that this cannot be permanent. And you are right. It was extremely hard for me but i exposed myself into feelings again, i fell in love again, i filtered my "friends list" and hooked up with the ones i actually had fun with and connected and i was not scared to say "NO".
At times, i feel tired, sad, i cry, i have no mood doing anything. A learning curve for me was the following:
If you don't want to go out , then don't. You are not obliged to go out because it's Saturday and you are on your late 20s. Some Saturdays are for lazy ass people. It won't make you fall into depression all over again if you choose to be anti-social sometimes.
It's ok if you stop seeing this guy/girl and it doesn't make you unattractive or unimportant. Things happen and we cannot match with everyone out there.
You don't have to have sex with everyone showing some kind of interest in you just because it makes you feel wanted. You are much more than that and don't lower your standards.
You have boundaries. Say no. The first couple of times will be extra-difficult but then you will feel FREE!
Take your time. You don't have to always rush. Sometimes you need some more time to react, reply, examine.
Don't stress out about things that happened in the past and most importantly don't stress out for things that are out of your control. Just think of that: What will change if you stress out?
Do some walking and/or exercise. It is boring AF but it really helps externalizing your energy, stress and blocked feelings.
Every time someone pill shames you , block your ears with something. Dunno what...
Keep in touch with your dark side. Trying to avoid negative thoughts, fears and things you are not so proud of, doesn't help. You have to create and maintain a relationship because in the end of the day, it's all part of you.
To end with, let's have a look of what i have accomplished past depression:
I finally felt reliable enough and i adopted the love of my life, my cat afanas. I participated in two theatrical plays and i had the time of my life and made friends for life. I completed my bachelor studies (even if i had to miss one examination period) with a high grade and a thesis i was asked to publish. I left my island and moved to the Hague. I found a job. I make my own money. I was accepted for my Master studies, even though i was first rejected, and i stood up for myself because i was sure i was worth it. I graduated. I finally learned French! I have travelled in so many places in Europe. I made my first two international trips with long flights, even with panic attacks. I have limited the milligrams of medication to one of the lowest levels. I fell in love and i was hurt and i survived!!! I am independent. I have dreams and i am looking forward to the future.
The goal isn't to get rid of depression and hide it forever. The goal is to acknowledge you have depression and leave with it.
*For any help, advice, discussion please feel free to contact me or comment below and i will provide my contact details. I could also post this article in Greek for those having difficulties understanding. Just respond and i will work on it!
My deepest love,