HAPPY WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY TO EVERYBODY.
Who was the mastermind behind this day? Who decided we should dedicate 24 hours to our mental health? I extend my heart, my brain and a huge muchas gracias to this genius.
I haven’t written for a little bit, mainly because I haven’t felt very well. Here’s the thing though, this week a friend of mine asked me how I was and I told them I was doing better than last week where I had struggled to eat for four days due to anxiety. Her response went along the lines of “oh no but in your pictures you look like you’re having such a good time!” I immediately felt like she was feeling I was being untruthful on social media which I cannot explain is further than the truth. So I’ll break it down:
I fricking LOVE Sevilla. Like almost more than I could have imagined. I cannot really explain to you that the last 5 (!) weeks, although challenging in some ways have been the best..
What do I love? The list is becoming near to endless but off the top of my head:
The atmosphere, the pace of life being slow, the absolutely beautiful language and the coloured walls and doors. I love the fact that people have espressos at 6pm and eat at 10pm. I love the fact that I feel safe walking home at 2am by myself with loads of people out, communicating with their phones face DOWN on the table and looking at the person opposite with interest and excitement in their faces. I love the fact that due to the relaxed Spanish attitude I’m surrendering to, I’m starting to ease off worrying about the future, my family, the nerves for my trip ahead, my Grandma’s health and enjoying Sevilla LITERALLY minute by minute. I love the fact there’s music at every corner blaring out of windows, that the majority of people speak little to no English and the town feels authentic. I love the fact that whoever designed the city didn’t really think about the fact that people and cars should walk and drive through the streets in harmony and we have to push ourselves into walls to make sure cars can go beyond us down the narrow alleyways. I love the fact that I have 4 solid friends around me that I feel like I’ve known forever who I’ve met in random places and I’ve met other really cool people along my journey. I especially like the fact that people seem happy, truly happy – I mean you can’t not be, it’s like 28 degrees 24/7 – and that energy is continuously bouncing off me.
But I cannot lie and say I’ve been happy all the time because I haven’t. The thing is, those pictures are absolutely true of how I’m feeling at the time – I wouldn’t post a picture of me shaking, looking guant with chattering teeth because I don’t really think you’d like to see that on your morning feed. Sevilla has and IS giving me the space to work through a lot of things, it’s just that – and crucially – Anxiety and Depression don’t leave you, no matter where you are and no matter how good a time you’re having. They aren’t defying my trip, in fact being in Sevilla, day by day, minute by minute, is helping me accept them for what they are and giving me the space to breathe and think through my thoughts, noticing which situations and with which different people the feelings rise with and why.
I’ve already written about the fact that I am and have suffered from Depression and Anxiety for a very long time. If we throw in a couple of eating disorders, Insomnia and OCD into that mix that over the years I’ve also dealt with in secret then hey! I’m like a totally different person to the smiley, happy person you’re used to most days.
That’s something I’ve found really hard – the worry that people would find about how these issues affect me and think I was fake, when in fact I’m probably the furthest from fake person you’ll ever meet. I’m learning very much to not cover up when I feel scared and sad from my family and best friends and rather than put on a face, try to explain without accusation how I’m feeling – especially if it’s something they’ve done or said that has brought it on. The more I do this, the less of a fake person I feel and the more honest and open my mind is. In light of World Mental Health Day and in light of my experiences here in Sevilla, I’d like to tell you something that happened last night, something I’m proud of doing and something I’m going to try and continue doing no matter how difficult it is. I’d like to firstly try and indicate what these two moods can feel like. I know exactly when I’m starting to feel them come on, and it’s only with time that they start to ease. I can have days of feeling content and then I can feel something shift. So what is Depression and what is Anxiety?
How does it affect me?
Well, it’s like a day dream. That’s the closest I can get to describing it. A day dream where I can be staring at a wall and feel nothing but sadness. Then I start to think about how lonely I feel, really deep inside. It’s not that I have actual thoughts? They’re feelings. And they’re usually brought on by feeling all alone. And THEN I start to think..and then I start to feel alone. And then remind myself that I don’t deserve anybody. And I should stay in bed like the waste of space human that I am. I could have my parents, my friends, anyone tell me you’ve got friends and family that love you! But in that moment? I don’t. I don’t feel it. I don’t have anyone apart from myself and for the days I’m depressed, I can’t tell you how much I hate myself and see little point in a lot of things.
My depressive episodes usually happen post feeling anxious, post panic attack. But what do I mean when I say Anxiety?
Well, for me? It’s the feeling that I’m literally about to get attacked and I need to run off as quickly as possible. Imagine feeling absolutely secure and content one minute and then you think you’ve embarrassed yourself in a certain way, or you have an argument with someone you care about, or someone isn’t treating you nicely. Imagine being absolutely rooted to the floor, feeling like your heart is going to pump out of your chest over a mere conversation.
Last night I had this. I’d just moved into my new room, into a new place after bus-ing it from the airport after a fun trip to Majorca. I had to walk to my new house, leave and walk more to grab my backpack from another house and go back. On top of that I felt ill, tired and then I read something from someone that pricked something for me. For many people, I’m sure they could have a discussion and not feel the way I did and the way I do. But I’m not like every other person out there and anxiety isn’t the same for everyone.
And what did I start to feel as I was sitting on the chair? Dread. Pure pure dread. I started to feel sick and start to shake and feeling like I was unable to breathe. But last week I had this feeling and I let it take over – sometimes it’s impossible not to, but I was unable to eat or sleep for four days. I kept waking up unable to breathe and wasn’t able to concentrate in class. But last night? I tried my best to not let it get worse, and I started to remember what my therapist had once said to me. Feel it out, and think about what comes to mind – you are not going to die by thinking about what you’re feeling, no matter how scary it is.
So I did just that.
I sat on my wooden chair in my little room, closed my eyes and started to tell myself what I was feeling, from my scalp down to my toes.
For one? My hair felt loose, like it was going to fall out. I felt this unbelievable urge to pull it until I could only focus on that and not what I was feeling but I didn’t. I felt my mind swimming with thoughts and feelings of current situations and past situations. I felt my teeth start to chatter and my mouth get dry and my throat start to close up. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to push itself out and my hands were getting really sweaty. I kept going. Now my hands started to get numb and my legs started to shake, bouncing up and down. I started to think of all the situations I had ever felt this way before, and tried to write what deep down I was trying to cover up. Slowly, the more I tried to focus on what I was really really feeling, the more I started to calm myself down to the point where I was able to stop my legs from shaking and my heart from beating at a million mph. Let me tell you this is RARE for me. In many a family horror situation, in many instances with ex boyfriends and ex friends, I have let my anxiety take over and I have been unable to eat or drink anything but caffeine to get me through. This type of thought process won’t happen every time I am sure of it, but trying to work through the deeper meanings of why I’m feeling a certain way is helping and although I can feel the pangs today, I was able to have a really good Spanish lesson this morning.
If I let my mind wander, I’ll start to panic above my Dad’s health, my Mum’s health, my little brother still living at home’s health, my Grandma who’s coming up for 93, the worry that when I’m home for two weeks in November everything is going to go wrong – because that, by no coincidence is what happens. Like when Sophie and I went for Sushi one night and an ambulance rushed past us as we were driving home and I made a joke it was going to be for my Dad and we’ll see it when she drops me home – and it was outside my house for my Dad when she dropped me home. It just seems to be that just when I let myself relax family members have to be rushed into hospital and I’m going to panic about things that aren’t in my control and THEN I’ll get depressed. And then anxious again, and then depressed and then the whole bloomin’ cycle starts again.
But being HERE, where life is so slow, is helping me focus on things DAY BY DAY. I’m forgetting to worry about where I’m going to live when I’m home for two weeks because living at home makes me feel sick. I’m forgetting to worry about flying around the world by myself. I’m forgetting that actually no one, repeat – NO ONE – has the power to control me, and I can do whatever I want.
I find it incredibly hard to write so honestly, but also incredibly empowering to do so, not to mention feeling reassured from messages I’ve received from others telling me that I’m not the only one in this headspace. The move to Sevilla has been possibly the best thing I could have done – it’s allowing me to breathe, to get creative, to learn and to allow myself to feel like I’m only going to come back stronger and more determined than ever. I think it will be a long time before I’m able to believe I’m not crazy, that is if I can be content one minute and feel depressed and anxious the next BUT the more I start to speak about these issues and the more people are learning about what a nightmare these mental health conditions can be, the better I feel. Perhaps if we all took a minute to have an honest conversation about how we’re feeling – about how we’re REALLY feeling, we’d all accept that as human beings, we’re capable of feeling a bunch of emotions and just because they’re not turned on ALL the time doesn’t mean you’re mad. Only with knowledge, acceptance, a willingness to try and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings can we try to break the stigma over mental health and help others feel they’re not so alone.