Will you judge me if I tell you I have a mental illness? Will you think me less capable of doing my job? Will my expertise in mental toughness seem less credible because I have a diagnosis of depression and anxiety?
It’s Time to Talk Day today so here I am, talking about my own mental health in the hope that by sharing my experience it will make it possible for you to look after your own health in whatever way you need to. I’ve always been a big advocate of reducing stigma and talking about our mental health. I’ve often been the person that others talk to about their mental health and yet, it still feels really vulnerable to talk about my own health, to be able to say that actually I haven’t been OK.
2020 strained my brain to a point where it wasn’t working very well any more. Although I was functioning on the surface, underneath there were gaping holes in my memory, difficulty making decisions or organising myself, emotional lows that were becoming more frequent and difficult to get out of, small things seemed overwhelming, I’d lost the enjoyment in things that would normally be fun and most scarily a dark voice in my head was telling me how nice it would be if all this would just stop.
It’s really difficult when you’re living through a global pandemic, dealing with the loss of most of your work, experiencing financial uncertainty and lockdown isolation to know whether what you’re feeling is just ‘normal’ in those circumstances or if it’s something you need to do something about. After several months of spiralling emotions and regular bouts of what I can only describe as despair I decided in December to speak to my doctor and I write this now 2 months into taking a daily dose of antidepressants.
If you’re not sure about whether you should talk about how you’re feeling let me tell you this - I started to feel better as soon as I spoke to my doctor. I hadn’t even started the medication and yet I felt lighter simply for having told someone how I was feeling. The first week on the meds wasn’t great – I felt sick and tired, my mouth was dry all the time, but 6 weeks later here are the headlines: my mood has stabilised, my brain feels sharper and more capable, I’m not anxious all the time, I’m laughing more, I’ve got much of my joy back.
How does a person with great mental toughness get depression though? Well, just like being a top performance athlete doesn’t stop you getting injured, having high levels of mental toughness doesn’t make you unbreakable either. It means you can perform better for longer and in more challenging circumstances but it doesn’t stop you being human. Just like an athlete can suffer a stress fracture from running long distances, having to perform under significant pressure mentally and emotionally can cause similar damage. And just like an athlete needs to apply ice, rest and return to training gradually, so might you need to seek medical support, rest up and go gently if you’re struggling. If your brain can’t balance itself out you have to help it.
If anything you’ve read here resonates with you then please speak to a friend, partner, parent or doctor. Life is tough right now, but if you get the right support it might just be a little less tough.