In support of Mind

Not only haven’t I published anything in this blog for months, I also haven’t really written anything for months. I know I owe no explanations to anyone but the fact of the matter is that I do suffer with depression, and whenever something in my life changes it takes me quite a while to stop feeling overwhelmed. Doesn’t matter if I perceive the change as positive or negative – the mere reality of it creates confusion, and to some extent, stress. So what’s changed? Well, I got a job in late Spring, simple as that. It’s not a dream job but it’s taking up some of my time. Hence why I haven’t been able to write. I am constantly trying to get back to it though.

The reason I’m writing today is that in a week’s time I’ll be running my second half-marathon. My first one took place in May, and that one I ran by myself, for myself. This one, The Royal Parks Half-Marathon, I’m doing for charity. As alluded to in the title, the charity of my choice is Mind, a mental health organisation here in the UK. There were lots of other great causes to choose from but I find that mental health is one that really demands more awareness. I can’t think of many physical illnesses that would come with a social stigma comparable to mental health issues.

And stigma isn’t the only problem with getting help for mental illness. Oftentimes we downplay signs of depression in our own lives because the symptoms don’t seem serious enough to validate asking for help. Yes, suicidal ideation, drug abuse and self-harm are very clear red flags, but it doesn’t have to get that bad before you deserve help.

Here are five lesser-known signs of depression. Remember that each of them is a normal human experience every now and then; it is only when they come bundled-up over an extended period of time and have a noticeable effect on your ability to live life that you might have a reason to get worried.

1. Irritability
Personally, this is a big one. I have always been somewhat hot-tempered and especially as an adolescent I was often moody to an extreme. With age I’ve gained more patience, and at least I’m not as explosive.
When depression gets the hold of me, other people become hugely irritating in my mind. Your choice of words, tone of voice, the speed at which you respond to my messages, etc. can all set me off without a warning. I get snappy, rude and cold – and the worst of it is that I’m often completely oblivious of having offended you, and if I do apologise, it tends to take a while to occur.

It isn’t only interactions with other people that can push me over the edge; I easily get annoyed at my tech not working, or when the bus is late, or when things don’t go exactly as I wanted them to go. The irritation is so strong that I can feel it as physical tension all over my body, and it often boils over in angry tears.

Irritation is a normal feeling, but when it becomes your reaction to everything and everyone, there is probably something else than the universe having turned against you, going on.

2. Short attention span
This one is also right up there in my personal hall of fame. As a uni student I literally had to start tricking myself into reading and writing. I would take books to the gym with me and read them on an exercise bike for example. If I tried to read at home I would either get distracted or fall asleep. Even interesting lectures wouldn’t keep my attention for long unless I was either doodling in a notebook or playing Solitaire on my phone.

In general, it can be difficult to take on any task if you are suffering from depression. You might be motivated and have a footlong  list of things to do, but concentrating your mind on any one of them seems impossible. To an extent, being distracted and procrastinating are normal human qualities as our minds naturally wander. But extreme distractibility can be a sign of an underlying issue.

3. Difficulty making decisions
Big decisions can keep any of us up at night, but when you become paralysed when faced with everyday choices it is time to stop. Sometimes, when I’m asked whether I want to do a or b, my mind simply goes blank and I cannot summon the power to choose. Not to mention when I’m presented with an open-ended question where I don’t even have the luxury of picking a ready-made answer.

This flavour of indecisiveness is not the same as looking at a particularly mouth-watering restaurant menu, unable to make up your mind on what delicacy to order. Depression seriously makes you doubt that you are even capable of making a decision, any decision. It leaves you feeling like you’re just floating with nothing solid to hold on to, in the fear of choosing incorrectly – even when the choice is between a white shirt and a black one.

4. Excessive fatigue
It is a true challenge to get enough sleep in the hectic modern world where most of us are completely consumed with work. So naturally many suffer from persistent lack of quality sleep. But what if you still feel exhausted after getting a solid eight hours a night? Depression doesn’t necessarily make you feel sad or hopeless; it can simply suck every bit of energy out of you leaving your mind foggy and body heavy with sleepiness. Every time you sit down to read you find yourself drifting off to sleep, and no matter how many cups of coffee you ingest the drowsiness persist.

Sometimes sleepiness can merely follow from unwholesome habits such as a poor diet and physical inactivity. But if you’re otherwise taking care of yourself by eating the greens and moving around, extreme fatigue can be indicative of depression – or some other chronic illness.

5. Physical aches and pains
Personally, I haven’t really encountered this one but I have known quite a few people with daily headaches that just resist treatment. Like tiredness, aches and pains can arise from a multitude of conditions but when you’ve ruled out the most obvious causes, it might worth looking into your mental state.

Mind and body are not separate entities and so we shouldn’t overlook the interconnectedness of our mental and physical states. And it surely is time to erase the idea of mental phenomena being somehow less than real and painful. The stigma around mental illness arises from the perception that because it is in the mind, it doesn’t really exist in the same way as physical illness does. Of course, this is an ancient myth, and in reality the chemical imbalance in the brain is just as measurable as the depth of a wound.

I could ramble on and on, but I’m aware that most readers have already given up. If you made it this far, please consider taking a detour to my fundraising page and making a donation. I’m not asking for a substantial sum – £5 would be fantastic!

NHS Mental Health info