It feels hypocritical to be writing tips on how to live, as someone who until fairly recently didn’t want to. When depression struck, I wasn’t sure what it meant to live, I just knew that what I was doing certainly wasn’t it. I was surviving, but I was not living and there is a big difference between the two. One is necessary in order to function, the other is necessary in order to be happy. You have to achieve the first, in order to achieve the latter.
Depression made me form bad habits, habits that are very hard to break. These habits were my coping strategies, things I did when things becomes unbearable. When I got overwhelmed, I hid in bed all day with the curtains shut. When I felt sad, I drank a bottle of wine in the hope that it would make me feel better. When I felt out of control, I wouldn’t eat. When I felt like I was floating away, disconnected from reality, I would dig my nails into my wrists until they bled. I did what I had to do in order to cope with how I felt.
There is nothing wrong with these coping strategies and I am sure that many of you have your own without even realising. They are actions that you take in an attempt at self preservation. They worked to a certain extent, because I’m still here, but that doesn’t mean that they were helping me to get better. They were helping me to survive, but they weren’t helping me to live.
Forming healthier, more proactive habits as coping strategies has made survival more bearable.
Now, when I get overwhelmed, I go to the gym and spend an hour sweating it out. When I feel sad, I make fun plans for that evening with a group of friends. When I feel out of control, I sit and read through my plan for the week. When I feel disconnected, I pull out my notebook and draw mind maps until I run out of drifting thoughts and my feet feel back on the ground. All of these things have positive consequences, which push me forward, rather than back.
It sounds simple, yet forming these new habits has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s terrifying leaving the safety of what you know, when you are at your most vulnerable, and trusting yourself to be able to cope. If you know that something makes it all hurt a little less, it is what you want to reach for. Think of it this way, if you know taking painkillers gets rid of a headache, why would you want to try anything else? You have to be brave, which is hard when you are tired of being exactly that.
Sometimes I fall back into old habits and it has taken me a really long time to realise that that’s ok. The initial reaction to using an old, unhealthy coping strategy is utter fear at the idea of slipping back into your darkest state; that this is the beginning of the end. I can tell you now, it’s not. One of the best pieces of advice that someone has given me is that if things haven’t gone so well, you can always try again tomorrow. One bad day doesn’t mean that you have lost the battle. Ten bad days doesn’t mean that you’ve lost the battle. There is always the possibility of things getting better.
Regular exercise and a better diet have contributed to my improvement. I feel better mentally as a result of feeling better physically. Everything I do is a step in the right direction and helping me to regain control.
These self care strategies are all well and good, but they are not enough.
I don’t want to just survive, I want to live.
When I arrived at UNI at 18, I felt like I had made it. I felt like I had all the answers because I had reached the beginning of my adult life relatively unscathed, with a clear plan in place. When you leave school, the learning doesn’t stop. In fact, learning just got a whole lot harder because you have the freedom to learn about yourself and what it means to be alive. Becoming an adult is tough, don’t believe anyone that tells you otherwise.
Living isn’t anything that you can be taught to do, I have no tips to offer you despite the deceiving title of this piece. Living is learning that never really ends and I can only share what I am working on. Think of me as a ‘work in progress.’
- I am learning to stop comparing myself to others and be proud of what I have achieved.
- There were times where I was too depressed to dress myself, or answer the phone, so I have learnt to view everything that I do, no matter how small, as a victory. I feel like I’ve had a successful day if I’ve managed to put a bra on and leave the house and you know what, that’s ok. I might not have conquered the world, but I remembered to buy loo roll at Sainsbury’s and that is what matters to me today.
- I am learning that in order to live, you have to embrace how you are feeling, good or bad.
- I am learning to love myself, flaws included because happiness can only grow from the inside out.
- I have spent so many hours hating myself for feeling the way that I do, which has only brought me more pain.
- I am learning to accept myself, to allow myself the right to feel that way and to allow myself to move on.
- I am learning that I am not damaged goods, I am a person that feels and that is fine.
- I am learning that no one will judge me for feeling, no one will judge me for being human.
I am learning that although I now know all of these things, it is impossible to fully embrace them. I just hope that if I talk about it enough, one day I will believe the words that come out of my mouth and I will start to live again.
I am learning what it means to live everyday, give yourself the chance to learn as well.
Izzy White is a third year War Studies student at King’s College London.
I’m passionate about mental health and dogs, and always looking for ways to make them overlap.
You can find more of my work at www.forgetfine.com
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