Stress is something every single one of us experiences at some point. I am absolutely sure of that. On a basic physiological level it is the body’s way of responding to the brain and can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, from increased heart-rate, sweaty palms, stomach churning, sleeplessness, over-sleeping, loss of appetite or over-eating….the list goes on. On a personal level, stress is a mental, emotional and, sometimes, spiritual ordeal that can vary in degrees of severity and depending on circumstances we either do or do not deal with it.
In some ways stress is an important function – it can help you to cope, concentrate and engage. In a mild form it can drive us to achieve and perform.
But too much stress is both physically and mentally damaging. It is one of the most pervasive illnesses in the UK, with some form of mental illness affecting 1 in 4 people. It is a very real occurrence for many of us.
And yet, I still find that stress, depression, anxiety, bi-polar and other mental illnesses are still a stigma in society. Some illnesses or injuries are something to gloat about (broken arm playing rugby), something to moan about (cold or flu) or something to share (period pains). But mental illnesses are hush-hush.
The problem with a mental illness is it is just that – mental. It’s all in the head, literally. And other people cannot relate to something so personal, unique and individual as your own experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Thus, the mental illness conundrum.
I can harp on all day about how everyone should show compassion from one another, share and share alike or just allow others to be stressed, depressed or anxious. But it really is quite another thing to step off the soapbox and practice what you preach. It is scary. You fear alienation and prejudice from others. You fear that your condition will be undermined, ridiculed or poo-pooed. What if people think you are weak? What if people think you are weird? Crazy? Ridiculous? Or plain stupid? What if people avoid you or find you too difficult to cope with? What if? What if? What if?
My therapist says that worries about the What if? is unhelpful as it places the anxiety in the future over of which we have no influence; it hasn’t happened yet.
Yes, that’s right, I just admitted that I have a therapist. It only feels fitting in Depression Awareness Week that I step forward and say, yes I have depression and I am not ashamed to be honest about it. It is an illness and I am in the process of healing.
I come forward with honesty in the hope of compassion from others because I know that I am not alone.
I first told some of my classmates after I took time-off from Uni. I am not a very good fibber so when asked why I was off sick I told the truth. I could see that some people were a little taken aback by such candour but I soon found this opened a door for others to open up about their mental health issues, stories, histories or about those close to them who are also dealing with the illness. By sharing I was able to feel less ashamed and more empowered. I felt less alone and more connected – something I found so difficult for a while.
Stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Stress caused by internal or external factors causes excess hormones to be released into the body, which in the long-term can cause debilitating conditions ranging from acne breakouts, hair loss and peptic ulcers to possibly life-changing diseases.
I want to talk more about ways of dealing with stress, depression and anxiety but I think I will save that for another day. I want to finish with two things. First, if you are going through something similar all I say is be kind to yourself and take your time. Secondly, I want to leave you with a quote from Stephen Fry – actor, writer, comedian, author, film director and author who was diagnosed with a form of bi-polar.
“If you know someone who’s depressed please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation, depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the otherside. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do. ”