When I was 19

Guest article on depression by one of my closest friends:

‘When I was 19 years old, I made a friend called Kevin.

We first met as I was walking home. He called my name, a curious voice amongst the grey surroundings. When I turned, he made no move, but stood observing a little distance away.

He returned a few days later. This time there was a knock at the door, a light tapping that only I could hear. But there were no introductions. We spent the day sitting together in my living room, peacefully occupied with our own thoughts.

Our acquaintance continued for several weeks. We got to know each other: he learnt about my friends and family; I learnt that he disliked leaving my side.

It was curious how my friends never spoke to him. They noted his presence; I saw them watch him from afar. They asked after me, and still made plans. And although Kevin was never invited, he was always there, at every event and every party. As time passed he was with me more often than not – a distraction from priorities, who took me away from my friends to sit with him alone.

He showed me an island of his, a small, vicious crag of rock isolated by roaring wind and towering sea. We went for day trips, some sick lovers’ retreat; he revelled in the lonely violence of the place. He took me more and more, and it wasn’t until I looked up and saw my friends waving to me from the shore that I realised I had not returned for weeks. And even as I begged, he would not let me leave.

The mainland looked so beautiful from the island; I ached to go home. I recalled the sunlit meadows, misted forests, still water beneath a sky on fire. But as time went on, the memories dwindled. I could see the sun rising above the clifftops, but could not remember how it felt to sit beneath its rays. I could see the wind breathing across the grasslands, but could not remember how it felt across my face. Worst of all, I could see my friends waving, but could not remember how to wave back.

Time passed. I stopped living and simply existed. Kevin was always by my side; he didn’t leave once. We barely spoke. It’s no wonder he became bored of my presence, searching for more ways to entertain.

There are several ways of causing hurt; he used all of them.

I never really considered that I would ever hate to live. Now, my old life on the island was what filled my dreams. I wouldn’t have to go home; I wouldn’t have to see my friends. I could stay, on the island, with him forever. If only he would stop, I would gladly give up everything. Sleep only delayed the pain; and eventually every breath was sharp and every thought was scarred.

I thought that if I hurt myself, he would leave me alone. He was willing to wait. But even this caused a greater sorrow, spiralling like electricity across the mainland. A web of pain was forming, glowing nodes of orange, pulsing light surrounding me, my house, my friends’ houses. Every muscle I moved sent ripples far and wide.

Things had reached a climax when one day, I realised that Kevin was not directly by my side. A few days later, we were again apart. And a few days after that, and after that – and one day I felt a touch of warmth flit across my face; I turned and saw the island across the water.

Nowadays, I hardly see him. We meet occasionally as the months pass by, as I wander through a life worth living; and the clouds are sparse beneath the glorious sunshine.’

 

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From barely functioning to melting down

When I’m somewhere outside my comfort zone – anywhere new, busy, or with a lot to remember – I will go into the mental equivalent of power saving mode. I keep my head down, remain on the sidelines, or wherever it’s quietest, and withdraw into my own head.

If I have an obligation to be in this place, I will do what I think is expected, but, though polite, will not be at my most sociable. Nor my most attentive. My brain is doing only what it has to. As soon as is socially acceptable, I will recharge in the seclusion of my own room, and start to feel more human pretty quickly.

Now turn it up a notch. I’ve been in such a place too long, or there are too many demands being made, or maybe I’m in a difficult situation with a person. At this point, even power saving mode is wearing thin. Until it becomes…meltdown mode.

What is a meltdown, anyway? It’s something people with autism experience. It’s something people with mental illnesses experience. It’s feeling something snap inside you and suddenly having to leave the room because you can’t take any more. It’s crying because of some minute trigger that unleashed festering negativity. It’s snapping irrationally at those nearest to you. It’s doing anything to shield your senses from the world around you. It’s being too stressed, bewildered, and unfocused to function. It’s…it’s…it’s…

Well, it’s lots of things really. And no two people melt down in the same way.

For me, meltdowns are mostly internal. I don’t have big, emotional outbursts, because it just isn’t in my nature. I feel that mental “snap” inside me, and I might cry, or try to escape, but usually I’m just stuck in a daze, with my mind in turmoil and my social skills gone. Outwardly, on the other hand, there’s little noticeable difference between that, and power saving. So it looks like I’m doing ok.

How do you deal with a meltdown anyway? Write down what it means for you, and the situations you might struggle with. Useful for showing to people for future reference, and can help you understand yourself better, too. When facing a high-stress environment – for me, it would be airports, very large train stations, or my graduation ceremony – plan when and where you could take a breather. Learn in advance what to expect from the occasion. Stick with someone who understands you well. And bring a book, or an ipod, or anything that helps you calm down.

Whichever coping methods you come up with, try to use them while power saving mode is still working. Because the more you are struggling, the harder it may be to communicate your needs. It’s not easy telling others about what feels like a weakness, especially one that the majority won’t have experienced. But the people around you have a right to know. And you know what? You have a right to not suffer in silence.

University Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness

Good evening and happy Valentine’s Day! Has anyone else celebrated by having a lovely date with themselves at home, sleeping, gorging on pancakes in front of Netflix and listening to “Single Ladies” on YouTube? As I thought. Only the cool people.

There is also another annual event happening next week, and no, I don’t mean pancake day. No, I mean the little known University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day on Wednesday 18th February. As a regular Demon contributor, I have written a number of special needs themed features for the website, and what better way to raise awareness? As follows:

Mental health. We all have it, it’s all around us. Some know plenty about it, others don’t. Some don’t know how to talk about it while others fear judgement of their own mental health. Which is why this week, universities across the country will be taking different steps towards raising awareness.

Everyone’s heard of depression, bipolar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anorexia and many more conditions. Of course we have, awareness is increasing all the time. But it can be hard for anyone in good mental health to grasp the reality and the nature of mental illnesses. I’m guilty; even writing about it is helping me learn more! Think about how many left-handers you know. According to statistics, you may know as many lefties as mental illness sufferers.

Approximately one in ten people in the UK have experienced some form of anxiety related problem. These include panic attacks, phobias and OCD. Panic attacks cause very frightening physical symptoms that can make a person feel suffocated and overwhelmed. Phobias can become so strong they can prevent a sufferer from living an everyday life just from the fear of encountering whatever they are afraid of. OCD is caused by an attempt to reduce anxiety through rigid, repetitive behaviours and thinking patterns.

Then there is depression. It can be hard to distinguish between a sufferer simply being difficult and them really struggling to battle inner despair. The key to this? Be rational, compassionate and open-minded when interacting with them. Cut them a little slack if it helps them, and keep any criticism objective and sensitive. Getting the balance right could mean the difference between stopping the person from spiralling into irrationality and saying the exact things that could push them in that direction.

Eating disorders affect one in 20 young people in their teens and twenties – ten times more girls than boys. Like OCD, these disorders cause people to become stuck in repetitive, unhealthy attitudes towards food. Binge eaters may resort to it for comfort to help mask underlying emotional problems. Anorexics may see their diet as the only part of their life they can control, and will eat as little as possible no matter how much they love food. Worst case scenario, the body will run out of carbohydrates and fats, before eating away at the non-essential proteins and finally the essential proteins. This leads to organ failure and death – a painful way to go, indeed.

The aim of University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day is to promote awareness for all mental illnesses battled by staff and students alike. At DMU, there will be a chance to wear knitted friendship bracelets to represent your willingness to raise mental health awareness. You can also take a poll on whether you would be willing to speak up about your own mental health. If you’re not at DMU, what is your university doing? As I haven’t struggled with mental illness myself, I feel hesitant to end with any advice. But I do know one thing that applies to any life struggles. Whatever your situation, there is always hope.

For the original version, go to: http://www.demon-media.co.uk/?p=9958