Name: Cat Lamin
Location: London UK
Depression and Anxiety
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 19. Looking back, I realise that I had struggled with issues around depression and anxiety for much more of my life than that. I often wonder how things might have been different had I realised that the crushing self-doubt I felt all of the time wasn't actually normal and the constant feeling that no one really liked me was a symptom of my illness, but at least I made it through secondary school; not everyone did and I will always remember the day we learned one of our classmates had committed suicide. Maybe if mental health was better talked about, things might have been different, but we'll never know. All I can do is to work now towards highlighting what it's like to struggle with your mental health and to break down the barriers around acceptance and understanding.
Most people who meet me assume that I'm a very confident person, I tend to talk to strangers easily and am not shy in a new group; in fact, I seem totally at ease and probably a bit arrogant. That's my coping strategy - it took me years to realise that the more anxious I was, the louder and more obnoxious I became - because if I could just pretend to be confident and fine, then maybe I would be confident and fine. In reality, I'm the type of person who won't even call a restaurant for fear of saying the wrong thing, who will cancel plans because I just can't face being around people.
Over the last 18 years, my mental health has been something of a rollercoaster, but I've found that since I've been more comfortable talking about it, I've become more comfortable coping with it. That's not to say I don't struggle anymore, I'm just better able to identify when I'm becoming overwhelmed and when my brain gremlins are lying to me and therefore more likely to be able to claw my way back to a sense of normality.
So, what does it feel like for me when I'm struggling to cope? One of the first things I notice is that become more emotional - I start to cry at things that aren't really that sad. That maybe doesn't sound like much, but it can become exhausting and makes me want to avoid people, which in turn makes me more unhappy because I don't want to leave my home. I start to cancel plans or make excuses and I start to become worried that people don't really like me so I'm better off cancelling my plans anyway.
This is the point in the spiral where things start to become difficult. My brain is telling me over and over again that no one really likes me, and that I'm worthless. That nobody wants me around them and people being nice are just being polite. Part of me knows this probably isn't true, but my brain gremlins don't let me believe it.
My body becomes physically difficult too - suddenly I'm tired, and foggy and everything seems grey and weighted; I crave carby, unhealthy food which also adds to the negative feelings - a tub of ice cream resulting in guilt about eating rubbish, plus a sugar crash on the other side; a takeaway pizza I probably shoudn't be wasting money on... it all adds to the feeling of despair, guilt, negativity.
When I was teaching, being in the classroom was one of the few ways I could keep the brain gremlins at bay - I knew that my responsibility for my class was more important than listening to the part of me telling me I was useless. I knew that teaching and being there emotionally was too important to let my mental health get in the way. In some ways, it made me a better teacher because I was able to empathise with my students better and support them when they were struggling. In my final year of teaching, one of my students was diagnosed with clinical depression (aged 9) and I felt fortunate to be in a position where I knew I could support her and least understand a little of what she was going through.
In the UK, generally mental health isn't publically talked about - we still subscribe to the 'stiff upper lip'. People don't cry in public or talk about their feelings and it is certainly not acceptable for someone in a role like teaching to have mental health issues; it's just not done. My school were very supportive behind the scenes, and even let me take a day off for my mental health in the months after my dad passed away, but it was made clear that I shouldn't be public about it and shouldn't put myself in a position where parents knew about my struggles because they would judge me and it would make my job more difficult.
Looking back, I fully understand why my school advised this approach and I suspect it wouldn't have been a good plan to talk publically about my mental health. However, I would like to think that were I in a similar position now, I would be confident enough to push back and to demand that people around me had the confidence enough in my ability to teach; that they would support me if parents chose to complain on the grounds that being a depressive made me unfit to teach; that they would recognise that no one is their illness and everyone deserves a chance to thrive, regardless of their battles.
I'm very lucky that I'm supported by a lot of people when it comes to my mental health now - I have a supportive partner who has learned that sometimes I just need a cuddle and a cry. He understands that sometimes my anxiety leads me to become a little bit needy (usually via text message) and, while it sometimes probably winds him up, he tries to remember to check in. I have incredible friends, who I know will be there for me when I'm struggling, although making that first step to actually sending them a message can be one of the hardest things I have to do.
I've found that by sharing my story, not only do I help myself, but I seem to help other people too and so that's why I've started talking more openly about my mental health - I hope that you feel the same way too and would be interested in sharing your story .
Thank you for reading.