It can be paralysing at times: living with depression

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Our health and wellbeing should always a priority – and this has been made even more important due to the impact of Covid-19. It’s important for you to feel confident to talk about your mental health and wellbeing and know what support is available.

In this issue, Melanie Peak, People and Money Systems Trainer in the Service Excellence Programme, shares her experience with depression, and the ways she’s found to keep it at bay in difficult times.

I have suffered with depression since the age of eight. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was like to not have it. To not have to analyse each bad day and wonder if it is the start of another downhill cycle. To not have it always lurking in the shadows behind me. To not fear whether I will have the strength to cope with it this time.

Some may think that it is a lack of resilience. We all have bad days, you just have to get on with it. Just pull yourself together. But they have no idea. Because when it hits, it’s a darkness that consumes you. A numbness that you can’t shake off. An emptiness that you can’t fill. And during these times it can be so hard to do the basic things for yourself. Cooking dinner, turning on the laptop and even opening the blinds, have all been tasks that I have struggled with in the past. It can be paralysing at times.

But in more recent years, I have sought therapy to address some of my issues and now that I feel more stable I have been able to retrain as a psychotherapist. My depression has definitely shaped me, but it hasn’t defined me. And so along the way, I have learned some ways to support better mental health that I would like to share with anyone that is struggling to cope right now.

Reach out

Firstly, tell people how you’re feeling. I know how hard this is to do. The fear of judgment. The lack of understanding. Or worse still, the pity! Added to that the paranoia that opening up could cost you your job.

But it really is ok to not be ok. You would be surprised at how many people understand what you’re going through, especially since the pandemic. And in my experience, when I told people, they were nothing but kind and supportive.

The truth was, at times I wasn’t coping. And I was overwhelmed by the anxiety of people finding out. But it turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Things rarely are. Instead, I had colleagues checking in on me, friends cooking me dinners, my doctor and therapist supporting me back to good mental health again. All from a few small words, “I suffer with depression and I am struggling to cope right now.”

So please, find a way to put your faith in people and ask for the help you need. I am sure you won’t regret it.

Get plenty of rest

Then of course there’s the exhaustion to contend with. I used to feel so lethargic all the time but then struggle to sleep at night; battling with my own thoughts. And this is still a fight for me. But these days I win more often than I lose.

I find pillow spray can help. For me, this was trial and error to find one that works. I like the This Works brand, but you may find others that work better for you.

And whilst I haven’t found a way to stop the thoughts coming into my head, I have found that if you are aware of them, it pops you out of it as if you are a spectator. You’re no longer thinking about what it was you were thinking about. Now, instead, you are thinking about the thought.

And so by disrupting your thought pattern, it stops you spiralling into a world of overthinking and you can redirect your mind to something else. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

I used to also get so frustrated by being unable to sleep. Tossing and turning; checking the clock to see how much time I had left before the alarm. But actually if you just lie in bed calmly and relax, even if you don’t fall asleep, you will feel rested. And chances are, just by doing this alone, you will eventually drift off.

Take care of your body

There are also other ways that you can gain energy too. Starting the day with a drink like Berocca can really help. Especially when you are not feeding your body the nutrients it needs.

And make sure you drink plenty of water. It really does help.

Exercise is a fantastic mood enhancer but I know that can feel unrealistic when you are feeling low. But try to at least get outside if you can. Even if that’s just to sit and have your morning coffee. The sunshine can give you such a boost. 

Be kind

Finally, one of the most valuable pieces of advice I can offer, but one of the hardest to live by. And that is to be kind to yourself. Think about what you would say to a friend if they were telling you these things. Would you be critical or compassionate? Judgmental or understanding? I think we all know the answer to that.

Allow your mind and body the chance to rest and heal. Know what you are capable of for now and give yourself that acceptance. It won’t always be like this but for now you need to listen to what your body needs. And that certainly isn’t your inner voice bullying you to try harder or to be better. That will only push your recovery back further.

Celebrate your wins, no matter how small they feel and know that these feelings will pass. You are not on your own, no matter how lonely it feels right now. It is ok to not be ok.

Talking about your mental health can be difficult, but when you do, it’s vital you have access to the advice and guidance that you need to support your mental health and wellbeing at work. The University provides mental health and wellbeing services that relate to work and help you access specialist external services, including your GP, in times of crisis and when you are struggling.

The Wellbeing Hub aims to bring together all available University services into one location.