Mr & Mrs Smith have chosen to remain anonymous. After receently talking with them for a couple of hours over coffee, I was actually brought to tears. Not necessarily because of how much pain they have both experienced but rather because of how great their love and support for each other is. I was simply blown away by how perfect they are for each other. They are my friends and in my eyes they are superheroes. This is their story…
Tell us a little about your story?
I have been living with Depression for 8 years. I was diagnosed in 2010, though I had unrecognised bouts before then. In 2013 I developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. There is no real reason for my conditions; I am genetically predisposed to having a mental health illness. The first signs I remember were losing interest in my hobbies. I grew very fatigued, sometimes sleeping an extra 4-5hrs in the middle of the day after 8hrs of sleep at night. I would wake up regularly at 2 or 3am in the morning for no reason, often with night sweats. I began crying at the smallest things, and having suicidal thoughts. I felt empty, and at the same time I felt I had this dead weight inside of me. I began self harming. It was a release of my pain, and also a way to feel pain, when I felt emotionally numb.
I experienced a patch of depression and anxiety in 2014/2015 caused by burn-out. The first thing I noticed was that I could not get out of bed. When I finally got out of bed and got to work, getting out of the car would take immense effort and time. Sometimes a whole hour. Small tasks became ridiculously hard, and I became very apathetic. My self-confidence plummeted and my motivation and zest for life (something which had defined me) disappeared.
What has it looked like living with depression and anxiety?
When I am depressed or anxious, the smallest decisions are hard and become a lengthy process. My mind becomes foggy. My concentration wavers. I literally can’t think properly. I become paralysed and trapped within my own thoughts. I can become harsh, blunt, and have little empathy in my interactions with people. When I’m anxious I can also become hyper productive. Needing to control and keep on top of everything so I don’t feel out of control. I often feel agitated and easily irritated. Sometimes I just feel grumpy for no reason. My patience disappears, and I become cynical. When something is hard, my mind jumps straight to suicidal ideation. I don’t want the thoughts, and I don’t want to act on them, but they are there, tormenting me. Sometimes at the forefront of my mind, sometimes as white noise in the background. Most of my anxious thoughts feel like that; like a separate entity tormenting me, whilst a small other voice tries to fight them off. It is exhausting. I don’t feel all of these things all the time – there are periods of feeling fine for a while, and then periods of erratic mood changes. The swinging of emotions becomes exhausting. My brain is tired. And yet onward I go. Life doesn’t stop.
Similar to the first answer. Life was much harder on the inside. I was still doing normal things but just with a hectic level of effort. It was like running on second gear when I used to have six.
What has marriage looked like with both of your struggling?
Mr & Mrs:
I think the biggest strength being a married couple who both have mental health conditions is the empathy and understanding that we both have for what’s going on. We both have similar coping mechanisms and I think perhaps if we didn’t, it would be harder. I kind of picture it as us limping along together in a marathon. We hold each other up.
We have been married almost three years and so far we have found that if we are both struggling, we can quickly surmise who has the strength to help the other and act accordingly. Alternatively, we both just hide together in a cave and enjoy each others company. Eventually, one of us will pick the other up and we continue to do the things we need to do.
Recently an event in our lives caused both of us much hurt, and our ‘cycles of emotion’ did clash, making it hard for the other to cope with their own emotions. Advice given to us was to process separately with someone else, and then come back together and talk. We found this helpful. There were a few times the sharing of raw emotion would bring the other back down to the pits where we were, and it wasn’t helpful. So processing our feelings separately and coming back together with ’better-thought-out’ feelings was definitely helpful.
What has helped you through you struggle?
Mr & Mrs:
- Medication (both of us)
- Talking to Psychologists/Counsellors/Psychiatrists/Pastors
- Finding understanding friends to talk to about it
- Managing the lows, through healthy habits (food, exercise, sleep) and open conversations
- Avoiding the spiral of dark thoughts, through some kind of distraction.
- Avoiding isolating ourselves
- Figuring out the root thought to an anxious thought – “Why am I really feeling anxious?”
- Not playing the comparison game
- Changing lifestyles to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Working less hours.
- Regular exercise with friends
- Keeping a mood journal and graph to rate moods, to notice patterns and various triggers
- Remembering the moments ‘down in the dumps’ don’t last forever
- Believing things can change
- Working out what we enjoy and doing it
- (In marriage) Knowing each others limits and acting accordingly
- (In marriage) Empathy towards each other
Where are you now?
Eight years on and my depression is still here. It is still as hard as ever. Over the 8 years there have been seasons feeling good, but also seasons of not. Currently I’m in a time of struggle, and its a day-to-day battle. The length of my depression and anxiety battle is now a factor that contributes to my struggle.
I am in a good place; the healthiest I have been in years, I still have a disposition towards depression and anxiety but I know the signs and I ensure I act accordingly. I still lack a little bit of purpose and am low on the passion levels towards life, but ultimately I am going pretty well.
What would you like to leave us with?
If you struggle with mental health, don’t play the comparison game. Nobody wins at the comparison game. Don’t focus on where you are, or where others are; focus on where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, try and work out where you want to go. Ignore anyone trying to play the comparison game with you. Ignore yourself when you slip up and play the comparison game. Try to enjoy yourself when you can, because there is no shortcut to defeating mental health. It’s a long journey.
Don’t play the comparison game with your past-self either. Don’t dwell on who you think you ‘used to be’. I’m often saddened because I feel as though I’m not as energetic, outgoing or as excited as I was when I was younger. Mental health battles can change you forever, but know you are not worse or weaker version of you – just different version, and that’s ok. You develop new strengths through the struggle and a new way of seeing people and the world and this should be celebrated, not seen as a failure.