DEPRESSION AND ME

MENTAL HEALTH

This list from Natasha Evans about her experience of suffering from depression is upsetting and powerful, but above all it’s incredibly honest. Here she details the ups and downs of her life, how she kept going at the lowest of moments when her mind turned against her, and how she slowly began to recover. 

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  • When it comes to mental illness, it can be hard to pinpoint when it started. I know when my mental health plummeted, but it had been bubbling for a long time before my first episode of depression.

  • As a child I struggled with my confidence and had low self-esteem. I was sensitive and deeply affected by other people’s actions, even if they weren’t directed at me. I felt other people’s pain and whenever someone was upset, I wanted to make everything better. I think that I always took on a lot of responsibility for other people’s emotions.

  • Growing up I experienced what I now know as anxiety. But I started to really struggle and have panic attacks while travelling SE Asia in 2012. It never occurred to me that my symptoms were anything other than a physical health condition. I became obsessed with my health, googling symptoms and diagnosing myself with all sorts. I felt on edge all the time, but I believed that this would all improve when I got back to the UK.

  • When I returned home, I travelled back and forth to the doctors, but they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me. One GP suggested that it could be stress, but I completely disregarded it because there was no way stress could be making me feel so bad.

  • I was eventually misdiagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After searching the internet for cures, I spent £700 on a three-day course which claimed to be able to cure me. It didn’t, it just made me feel worse. I found myself crying and praying that I would get better.

  • Eventually things became so bad that I couldn’t function anymore, I moved out of my flat into my Mum’s one bed bungalow and began to accept that I had a mental illness. I would wake up in the middle of the night having panic attacks, so my mum gave up her bed to help with sleep.  She encouraged me to eat and took me to doctor’s appointments.

  • I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a lovely therapist. Although it took some time for things to improve, I was given an opportunity to learn about myself and could see all the things that had contributed to my illness. Things started to make sense again. I left the relationship I was in after realising how much it had contributed to me becoming unwell. I took on new challenges with a more compassionate mind which made things so much easier.

  • In 2014 I started working on a yacht. This gave me the opportunity to have the experience I had hoped for in 2012. I travelled around the world, met people from all over and have so many incredible memories from this time. I also met my boyfriend who I now live with in Dorset.

  • In 2016 I began working in mental health services, using my own experience to support others. I thought of my previous episode of depression as a blip. I had achieved a lot since then and had remained well. I felt stronger than I had ever been.

  • In 2018 I moved to Dorset. I was in a supportive relationship – the opposite of the relationship I had been in previously. I made healthy choices – meditating, exercising, and eating healthily. A week after the move, I started my Level 3 in Counselling studies and we welcomed Mervin (our puppy) into the home. I started a new job as a senior member of staff in a residential home and was given a lot of responsibility with little training. I could write a whole list on this place but that would take up far too much space, so I won’t. All I will say is eventually I broke under the pressure.

  • It started with one huge panic attack which left me in a state of heightened anxiety. It felt like someone had flicked a switch in my mind and I was changed. I felt like I wasn’t even human. I lay in bed that night praying for sleep so that I could have a break from how I was feeling but it never came. I knew that I was unwell again. I started to think about ending my life and by the morning I was convinced this was the only solution. I still can’t get my head around how quickly my mind turned against me.

  • My partner took me to A&E that morning. I saw a lovely nurse who helped me to put together a recovery plan. That weekend, I managed to get out for a couple of walks. My boyfriend had never seen me like this, and I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t believe anyone would want to have someone so miserable around. I felt like I was in shock, frozen to the spot but my body and mind were on fire. I couldn’t find the words to describe how I was feeling, I just knew that I was terrified.

  • By Monday, I told my boyfriend that I needed to go and stay with my family in Shropshire. He drove me there and that is where I stayed for a couple of months. I was getting through each day, but I wasn’t myself. I had to set alarms to remind me to do simple things like feed my dog – my mind was racing so much that I wouldn’t remember. I felt like a shell. I told my sister that I felt like an alien. I just didn’t understand myself anymore.

  • When your mind turns against you, you can become fused with the symptoms of the illness. It feels impossible to separate. I didn’t accept my illness because it was my own mind that was doing this to me. All the different quirks that make me who I am were gone. I was left with this shell of a person. I felt like I had turned against myself.

  • I returned to Dorset. My focus was on getting better. I tried to keep busy, ignoring my body and pushing through fatigue. I wasn’t sleeping – getting out of bed at 4am and watching tv until the rest of the outside world joined me. I watched so many series during this time – I felt like the characters had become friends as they were the only people I was seeing.

  • Because my focus was on pushing through rather than rest and recovery, I gradually became more unwell. I lay in bed one morning and thought about how much of a problem I was, and the only solution would be if I were no longer here. It all made perfect sense at the time.

  • By the time my boyfriend woke up, I had a plan in place. I was certain this was the only way to make it all stop. I didn’t feel anything but relief, so much so that I thought my boyfriend would feel relieved too. It didn’t work out that way which was very strange for me to get my head around at the time. This is what I mean about not knowing myself anymore, all rational thought was gone.

  • My boyfriend responded by telling me that I was going to get better. He showed me pictures of me with friends – in some of them I was laughing, in all I was happy. I didn’t recognise the person I saw; I only knew who I was and what I felt now so I told him that I wasn’t that person anymore.

  • He booked a doctor’s appointment, spoke with my sister and one of my best friend’s (both were hugely supportive throughout my recovery). They all encouraged me to be honest with the doctor. I believed that no one could help me, I had given up on myself and despite knowing of the available mental health services, I knew there were long waiting times. I couldn’t bear the thought of feeling this way for months.

  • I saw a GP who I had never met before. I felt like she wouldn’t believe me if I told her what I had planned, that she would think I was an attention seeker. She was so compassionate and empathetic. She took me seriously and made a referral to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). I was seen the next day.

  • I had attended psychiatric assessments with some of the people I had supported – although I knew what to expect from the appointment, I was still apprehensive. I expected the consultant to tell me that there was nothing they could do to help me. He didn’t. There was one thing that he said which really gave me hope. He remarked that it seemed like I had given up, I replied that I had. He replied, “that’s ok, we can still work with that”. It sounds so simple, but his comment made me realise he had seen others like me and that I was in safe hands.

  • The day I had planned to take my own life ended up being one of the calmer days I had during that period. I went for a walk with my boyfriend and really tried to take notice of my surroundings. I remember it being a sunny day in January, the park we were walking in was busy and it made me realise how much I had to live for.

  • I was under my psychiatrist’s care for around 4 months. It took a couple of months for us to get the medication right, during this time I was still thinking that ending my life would be the only way I would stop feeling so bad.

  • I remember my sister coming to stay, the night before I had been feeling low and kept holding my head under water in the bath, wondering how much time it would take for me to lose consciousness. I was speaking with a friend the next day and told her about this. When my sister arrived, she sat me down and said, “I was told about you playing with yourself in the bath”. She didn’t realise what she said at first, but then we both started to laugh hysterically. There were moments like this, where I felt more like me again and gradually those moments became hours which then turned into days.

  • My experience of waiting for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy wasn’t so positive. Initially I was assessed and offered guided self-help which I think made me feel worse. The Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner was lovely – she agreed that I needed more support and pushed for me to access more high intensity CBT. It didn’t work out with the first CBT practitioner but the second lady I saw made a huge difference. It taught me the importance of speaking up when you feel a treatment plan isn’t working, especially when recovering from a mental health condition. It helped me to feel more empowered and in control.

  • My saving grace throughout all this was my puppy, Mervin. Of course, my friends and family were unbelievably supportive, but I didn’t have to try to be anyone else for Merv. I could just be. I remember that first weekend, he stayed by my side the whole time. Getting up to walk him every morning, making sure he was fed, walking him in the afternoon – it all provided some structure to my day and although some days it was tough, I believe it helped me so much. Of course, now he is extremely spoilt and rules the house so I can only think that he realises how special he is.

  • I gradually became stronger, although there were lots of bumps along the way which is completely normal for recovery. I accessed courses for wellbeing, I went to gong baths and had reflexology. I started to do more art and learned to knit. All of which supported me in building my confidence again.

  • As I started to feel better, I came up with an idea. I realised that if I had thought everything was hopeless, even when I had knowledge of services and previous experience of recovery, there would be others feeling this way too. I really wanted to get the message out that recovery was possible to as many people as possible.

  • It started with a Facebook post, then a blog sharing my experience of depression and recovery. Recovery looks different for everyone. It is about finding your own way but hearing about others’ experiences can make us feel less alone. Now I run a small business, Soothe Box Company – a gift box service with the focus being to normalise conversations about mental health and encourage people to connect with those who are struggling.

  • If it weren’t for the interventions from friends and family, I may not be writing this. I can see now how tragic that would have been. My illness was horrendous, but I have learnt so much about myself and others through the process. I feel grateful for depression now.

  • When I was ill, I didn’t believe anyone who told me that I would get better. In 2020, I attended college to complete my Level 3 Counselling Studies course. After dropping out of the course when I became unwell in 2018, I was determined to pass this time, which I did. I also work as a Support Time and Recovery Worker for a mental health service within the NHS. I live a full life with lots of different hobbies and love being with friends/family – although COVID has meant this has to be online.

  • If anyone is reading this and feeling in any way like I did, please believe me when I tell you that you won’t always feel this way. Let someone know how you are feeling, if they don’t give you a compassionate response that is a reflection on them, not you. When you tell the right person, you will get the right response, whether that be a health professional or a friend, there is always someone who wants to help. You have no idea of the life you have ahead of you, please just keep going – I promise you that it will be worth it.

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HELPFUL RESOURCES:

NHS (Clinical Depression): www.nhs.uk/mental-health

Samaritans: www.samaritans.org

Mind (Depression): www.mind.org.uk

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** ‘But why don’t I feel happy all the time?’ ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and “But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now  and also on audiobook.**

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FANCY SOME MORE?

–  READ Hannah’s raw and vulnerable list The Day I Attempted Suicide written when she was very much in the aftermath of this crisis.

–  READ Antidepressant Withdrawal and how this anonymous writer has managed their mental health and the impact of the medication she was prescribed.

–  READ psychotherapist Anna Mathur’s list Postnatal Depression Got Me Too where she shares her experience of suffering from PND.

–  LISTEN to Matt Haig on But Why? podcast talking Mental Health and how although being open about depression and anxiety can be useful, the conversation needs to be handled mindfully.

OR HOW ABOUT WRITING A LIST?

Find submission guidelines here.  All writers and topics  are welcome.

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