Mental illnesses can creep up on you in a lot of different ways. For it was gradual, a bit like when Mr Twit snuck out every night to add tiny slivers of wood to his wife’s walking stick so she never noticed anything until one day she realised something was really off and typical Roald Dahl chaos ensued. Okay maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as when Mrs Twit thought she had the dreaded shrinks but it definitely took a long time to build up before I realised something was actually wrong. To be honest even after I did realise it it took just as long again to convince myself I wasn’t just being overdramatic and to actually do something about it but that’s another story.
Basically what I’m saying is that for me, and a lot of people, it can take a really long time to realise and come to terms with changes in your brain, because they don’t happen all at once. Obviously sometimes specific traumatic events can trigger PTSD and panic disorder etc but that’s not how it happened for me. (For reference I’m mainly talking about depression and anxiety because that’s what I’ve dealt with personally and they are the two most common mental illnesses. However the general gist applies to most disorders).
Often there also might not be any identifiable reason behind it at all, which is probably even scarier than being able to pinpoint a certain trigger. For me there was, looking back I can pretty much map the stressors that piled up on top of each other like dominos until I slowly became clinically depressed and anxious. It’s hard when it happens so slowly – over a period of years for me – because you start to forget who you were before and think that that’s just who you are. It’s no wonder so many people don’t seek help if like me they don’t even realise what’s happening.
There’s a number of things that I know definitely contributed (and still do) to a downwards spiral for me, and while it’s a lot easier to identify them than actually tackle them it can help to break down what’s getting you down. For me the main thing is definitely sleep. I’ve struggled with sleeping for years and the more stressed I am the worse it gets. Most people aren’t fantastic at sleeping (a recent survey found that us australians are amongst the biggest sleepers in the world at an average 7.5 hours and that’s still under the recommended time), but I’m really, really bad. I have seen the light of dawn before falling asleep far more times than I’d like to admit, and before you imagine a lovely montage of 4am trains after nights out with the girls and still-drunk beach sunrises, it’s more like a lone red-eyed unshowered anxious wreck still not having started an essay before the neighbours start getting up to go to work. Not so cute. Anyway, my lack of sleeping abilities has had a lot of unfortunate carry on effects, including:
- missing lectures
- going to lectures but falling asleep
- waking up more anxious/depressed
- not being able to concentrate
- having to rely on coffee
- being late to everything
- looking like a zombie
- acne breakouts
- not giving myself the time to prepare nutritious meals
- not enough energy to exercise
- social withdrawal
- constant guilt for sleeping in
Which guess what… all end up causing more stress. It’s also just really bad for your brain to not get enough sleep because human brains evolved to work bloody hard and they need time to shut down every night to repair themselves and function properly.
Obviously not all of these things are purely caused by not getting my 8 hours but you can see how depression and anxiety can create such a vicious cycle which becomes incredibly difficult to break. More like a cyclone than a cycle. A cyclone of guilt and isolation and terrible self esteem.
If you’re feeling down it can be hard to work out whether you’re “just stressed” or if there’s a bigger problem at play. There’s a line between stress and mental illness and it’s not always very clear. This website helps to separate the two if you are confused.
But please, if you feel like everything is piling up on you talk to someone about it. Even if like me you are unsure whether you’re “actually depressed” (spoiler alert, I was) or just being overdramatic it’s much better to tackle it before it gets too much. And if you do already feel like it’s too much, please please know that you can get better and no matter how lonely and isolated and afraid you feel there will always be someone there to help you.