Living with Depression and Anxiety
Wow where do I start?! I have to begin by saying this is written based on my personal experiences with mental illness and I am by no way a doctor giving out any medical advice. At the time of writing this I am a 37 year old man who has had various stages of mental problems since the age of 7.
I will start with the dreaded word beginning with D, yes you hear it pop up quite a bit but most people don’t fully understand what it means. ‘Isn’t it just feeling sad or upset?’ is a phrase I normally get. The answer: Yes but also no.
To me personally sadness is the lack of happiness but I find it means more of a concentrated burst. As in when you scratch your bike for the first time, you feel that upset emotion but soon realise it’s fine, the bike still works and move on. The sadness is only temporary.
Depression doesn’t have that temporary time frame. It engulfs much much more of you. I normally visualise ‘being sad’ as someone putting your head into a bucket of water and then when you lift your head out of it you can breathe and the sadness gets replaced with a more joyous feeling or relief. In comparison depression is more like being thrown into the ocean and land is nowhere to be seen. You have that sad feeling but also a feeling of hopelessness. It is very difficult to write about it as I know people have different experiences of different levels of mental illnesses but that is the best metaphor I could use. Both are a level of sadness but depression goes much deeper and is harder to counter with a kind gesture.
Anxiety is another mental illness that can go hand in hand with depression but can also be on its own. Anxiety is a very difficult thing for me to comprehend personally as I would say I am intelligent (some may disagree somewhat) but what I mean is I am self aware. I see myself and my anxiety brain as weirdly two separate things. I don’t call it a split personality but more so just living alongside something that has a ‘mind of its own’
To put this into context. I love cycling, but my mind likes to take a journey on its own and build up worst case scenarios before even getting on the bike. I read quite a lot about it and it does stem from your mind's love of comfort zoning. It thinks the safest solution for you is to simply not do it and dismisses the benefits of the exercise, social interactions etc. It is the reason why most people who suffer from mental health issues have their comfort bubble, which sadly can be their bed. That cocooned and protected environment is where their brain seeks refuge from all the problems of the world, although mostly exist in the future and haven't even happened. I read a quote about people with active minds can worry about 85% of the things that never will happen. I relate a lot to that quote.
My anxiety appears in my working career too as I was bullied during my early school years because I was smart and talented at things. That manifested as ‘being good at things gets negative reactions’ so my developing brain made me shy away from making people aware of my abilities. As an adult now I know how stupid that sounds but it took me a long time to acknowledge I did have a talent and accept peoples praises instead of thinking they were just ‘being kind’.
The term anxiety can have hugely varying levels of understanding by people who have had the fortune of never experiencing it. ‘Getting slightly nervous’ is just the tip of the iceberg when talking about this mental illness and the other end of the spectrum is debilitating symptoms that cause extreme ‘fight or flight’ reactions (when your subconscious mind gives you a lovely cocktail of chemicals to make you take the life threatening fight or run really fast away) and introduce you to other symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS as it is known (where the term ‘nearly soiling yourself’ comes from). The anxious brain tends to amplify the situation. A trip to the shops becomes a fight for your life with no actual reasoning other than you may have slipped in a shop 8 years ago and people stopped and stared. Consider it similar to a ‘Facebook memory from years ago’ popping up on your news feed, an anxious brain loves to store these and use them when you step out of your comfort bubble.
For me I come somewhere in between and it is extremely annoying. My actual main frustration with anxiety is that I am aware of it being there and simply cannot understand why it continues to dominate even when I know my situation is under control. Some people may be familiar with adrenal fatigue or the anxiety hangover that comes after that burst from the anxious mind. Your body is put under too much stress from the ordeal and then when the coast is clear you feel wrecked and exhausted.
Symptoms during a pandemic
No one really foresaw the pandemic happening and how it would impact people's lives (well there are theories that I won't be discussing here). The lockdowns just gave my anxious mind the green light to move from normal life with my daily anxiety stresses to full on comfort bubble mode with the world accepting it as the right thing to do. Putting aside the scary fact that work was drying up and everyday life was not going to be easy with restrictions and that constant fear of getting a deadly virus, religiously washing hands and not really touching anyone for months at time, my anxious brain was now going into full defence mode and was probably not complaining.
That's the most dangerous aspect I noticed about the lockdowns and restrictions, the fact that I really just didn’t want to do much, I became distant with myself and everyone around me and low and behold depression seized the opportunity. Depression has a lovely way of covering you in its dense fog and making you lose focus on your goals and life aspirations. The new normal life was just isolation and not wanting to be social at all.
I fought back with my Cyke brand. I set it up to give me something with more purpose to focus on and keep my skills sharpened. The bonus of it would be perhaps getting me more involved in the hobby I have loved since as long as i can remember. Opening new doors to be more social again and generally talk to people about what I am going though. It's a step in the right direction.
I did maybe bite off more than I could chew and launching a clothing brand during the worst time of everyone's lives was a risky decision but was always worth a go. Since starting it I have met and talked to so many who see my story and resonate with what I am trying to do with it. The project was going to be at my own pace and just apply as much knowledge and expertise as I can to create something cool from the ground up.
It takes a sudden change of lifestyle / habits to realise what maybe keeps you on the straight and narrow. Cycling is one of those things that I noticed helps me cope with my depression and anxiety. I somehow have acknowledged that my brain is a very stubborn thing to convince to change and I am slowly trying to work out how to live a life as best as I can with my overthinking and compulsive brain still very much there.
Cycling is a proven anti-depressant and really lets my mind take a break when I'm out on the bike. I know a few others who notice the same benefits and I really want to share this with more people. Somehow by doing exercise and not relying on self induced relaxers such as alcohol and drugs weirdly makes your brain relax in a different way. I am always more cheery (yet sleepy) after a bike ride and I understand the benefits.
‘But what about medication?’ I hear this a lot and see a lot of prescriptions going out that simply mask the problems. From my experience and I know this varies between individuals but I thought medication was never a solution for me. I literally blanked out years of my life on medication from depression. I felt numb, uninspired and just tied to an imaginary safety net which stunted my creativity. Most creatives have an overthinking brain, it's why we are good at what we get paid to do and they just didn't gel with me at all. Yes they removed symptoms to an extent but they also removed my personality too. Luckily I got myself off the medications, had some clarification and moved from Ireland to Australia for lots of other reasons but I needed my own mind back to make that decision. As I said earlier I am not a medical professional so medication for some is required but I believe I should have been told to increase my exercise, get a bit of psychological guidance and eat better before starting on a journey of tablet dependence.
You are not alone
My main aim for writing this is to just let others know that it is ok to have mental health problems. Today's fast paced and electronic consumed lifestyle is not how people should be living and it makes it truly difficult to get away from it all. Social media anxiety is a huge problem that is most likely going to increase as the mobile phone using toddlers come of age. I am not saying that it is the main cause because genetics and behaviours passed down from generations are pretty much a huge player in how you feel and deal with things. Anyone with a mental problem from my experience seems to have relatives with similar or relatable personalities that depression and anxiety just thrives off.
Just remember you are not alone and it is really good to reach out about it. Even if it's just telling your best mate or parents. Acknowledgement is a great start and helps you accept there is something that you would love to take action about. That first step is always difficult but the next steps can be easier when you start to understand your mind a bit more.
On my website there is a link to great companies out there who can help you with guidance to manage your mental health problems and it is nothing to be ashamed about. Businessmen have mentors, if you have a sore tooth you seek a dentist, so why not seek some professional assistance if your mind needs some help?
Trust me on this, if you bottle things up they end up sinking you to the bottom.
My last bit of advice. Try taking up an exercise hobby like cycling and see how it makes you feel. Give yourself time to recharge as and when you need it. Stay off your phone more and just be happier being you.
My next step is practicing what I preach so if this resonated with you and you know how to manage your mental health better please feel free to let me know.
Take care and see you on the road.
Twain (Cyke Founder)