It’s mental health awareness week and I wanted to open up about something that I tend to keep to myself. I find it quite difficult to talk about. In part, because I’m still actively working on it. But mostly because there is a huge amount of stigma around mental health and I feel that fear of judgement. But I’m going to step outside my comfort zone and share this with you, my lovely readers. Sometimes, I am mean. I’m irritable. I say hurtful things and I do just about everything I can to push people away.
Quite honestly, I can be a total asshole.
Why do I do all this you ask? Why do I choose to behave this way? Well, I have anxiety and depression. When I am in the throes of depressive phase, I am not a nice person to be around. The happy-go-lucky Lily who is always bouncing around is gone and some horrible cow has replaced her.
Now before I go much further, I want to clarify something; I am not using my anxiety and depression as an excuse to be a horrible person. Anyone that knows me knows that I am not a mean-hearted person and I would never normally do something with malintent. What I’m talking about are the effects that my anxiety and depression have on me and my personality.
I don’t treat people badly because I want to be hurtful. That is absolutely the last thing I actually want. What happens is that those negative voices that we all have – the ones that make us stay up at night worrying about that stupid thing we said in a big meeting, or make us question whether we should go to that party for fear of seeing an ex – become overwhelmingly loud and impossible to ignore when I’m feeling low. The lower I get, the louder the voices become. And before I even realise it, the negativity envelopes me and I can’t escape from it. When I’m at this stage, I try so hard to be nice and push the negative thoughts away, but it’s like fighting quicksand. The harder you fight to ignore or quiet those thoughts, the louder they get.
I push people away and withdraw because I’m really just scared of letting them down so badly they subsequently abandon me. I’ll be mean and force them to end things so I can’t have to deal with the anxiety of waiting for that inevitable rejection. After the fact, I feel ashamed and guilty for doing it, which makes me more depressed. It’s a vicious cycle! And to clarify, I’m not doing this all consciously when I’m ill. It’s kind of like I’m on auto-pilot and can’t turn it off.
I’ve been struggling with my anxiety and depression since my early teens. I’ve had many ups, many downs and a handful of very down downs. But it is only now (age 25) that I am finally receiving some ‘formal’ support via 1-to-1 and group talking therapy. These sessions have helped me realise a couple of important things about my depression/anxiety:
- I AM NOT MY ILLNESS – When you are in the throes of illness, it’s easy to forget who you were before you became sick. I felt like a different person entirely thanks to all those negative thoughts and feelings whirring around my head. But therapy has taught me they are exactly that; just thoughts and feelings. Try to stop fighting them, accept that they will come and go, and don’t dwell on them. (Absolutely realise this is easier said than done and not something I totally have a handle on just yet either!)
- I AM NOT ALONE – Irritability, negativity, anger and reckless behaviour are all totally characteristic of depression and anxiety. They are even some of the key descriptors for diagnosing it! The truth is that very often depressed and anxious people are not very nice to be around. They’re sick and it’s not their fault, but it doesn’t mean it’s always a bundle of laughs! This is a normal part of depression and you are not alone in this.
You so often hear about people’s journeys with depression, but I find they don’t often share this side of things. I can totally understand why. It’s not a nice thing to air your dirty laundry and tell the world that I can sometimes be a mean person… but it is a fact of depression (and life). We aren’t always saints, as much as our social media pages might have you believe. Although just writing this is making me sick with worry, I really hope it helps open a dialogue about another side of depression/anxiety that often gets swept under the carpet.