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mental illness : ignorance is not bliss

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mental illness : ignorance is not bliss

Julie Patrick

PART ONE

I started writing this post last September and made very few edits since. Yikes... being vulnerable on this platform is daunting!

For those who just want to see the natural remedies, scroll down to the first pic.

At the beginning of 2016 I had a massive burnout. Burnout is a grey area term so to be more specific: I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and a chronic anxiety disorder. Click on the links if you want to know what those are or to see if you recognise symptoms in yourself or loved ones. Everyone gets sad and stressed at times, so please don't self diagnose and freak out. Only seek help if you have these symptoms EVERY day for more than two weeks.

For months I was completely debilitated. I didn't want to eat. My smallest jeans were loose on me. Getting out of bed seemed impossible and I hardly slept. If I tried to nap during the day I'd have a panic attack. I hated the idea of seeing people. The thought of washing my hair made me spiral out of control. I could barely work, even in bed. I felt worthless. I wanted to die. I finally understood why people commit suicide. I did not try it myself and I'll explain why in Part Two. Now anyone who knows me (healthy me) would think that all sounds preposterous. I love life. I love people. I laugh a LOT.

How did I get into this deep uncontrollable dark place? I'm still learning about where it all started. Finding that out is key. There were many factors involved: people, circumstances, bad thought patterns etc. However I know enough to say that my burnout happened largely due to IGNORANCE. That is why I'm writing this post. If my honesty can prevent ONE person from going through this kind of experience - it's all worth it.

DISCLAIMER: This is my personal story. My situation is unique. Many people suffer with mental illness from different, often tragic root causes. Others cannot afford medication or are drug resistant, so they have to live with their diagnosis indefinitely. The natural remedies below help to alleviate or prevent anxiety and depression specifically.
All the data not related to my story comes from hours of research. I discarded any information that was not properly referenced. I read clinical trials and do not trust internet forums at all. I also listened to talks by those with PhDs / medical degrees, both in person & online. I am in no way a doctor myself but I hope to convey accurate information.

I've been driven and perfectionistic as long as I can remember. I'm an ambivert and fall under The Protagonist ENFJ personality (if you've ever done the 16 personalities test ;) I was not an anxious or depressive child. There is no history of mental illness in my family. So where did this come from? I am pretty sure the main issue was stress. Stress is a killer. So much illness and death is caused by excessive and prolonged periods of it. I'm a graphic designer and photographer which I really enjoy, but most of my working life I've done too much. Either because I worked two jobs or because I worked one job too hard. I've been in the design industry for nine years and I barely ever did the normal 8 to 5 thing. I worked nights and weekends. I was a major people pleaser and would move the earth for my colleagues, bosses and clients. My holidays were filled with social events or overseas travel and therefore they were fun, but tiring. There were other factors involved but they are too personal even for this post.

The world has changed drastically since the invention of the internet. We all know this. My work deadlines morphed gradually over the years from "as soon as you can" to "SUPER urgent". Surely "urgent" is enough? Now we have: "SUPER urgent". There is an ever growing and potentially dangerous culture of "NOW". Everything must be done, sent, seen, liked, posted, read.. NOW. I'm not against the internet. The benefits are too many to list. But this technology-driven world comes with warnings and we need to be aware of them.

I had the anxiety disorder (GAD) for two years without knowing it. I got more and more worried about little things, then I started having panic attacks. There are different types of panic attacks, but they are all horrible. The signs were there - if only I'd known what was wrong with me. I asked advice from colleagues and many said it was normal to have panic attacks... NORMAL? I went to a doctor after one incident where I thought I was having a heart attack. I truly felt I was dying and experienced all the physical symptoms. I was driving and nearly pulled over thinking: "I'm going to die then the car will roll and it might kill other people". Then I almost took the offramp to the hospital. I kept driving for 90 minutes until I got to my parent's house. I realised I needed help. I was confused, and the doctor I saw put me on a mild tranquilizer (which is like putting a band aid on a septic wound). If only he had referred me to a psychologist or counselor back then; I may not have needed medication at that stage. Therapy and awareness might have been enough. There is such a stigma around Psychology and mental illness in general. It needs to be broken. Unfortunately it took this burnout to break my own subconscious stigma against both. Just as we go to a dentist when our teeth hurt, and a GP (MD) when we have a virus - we should see a psychologist / psychiatrist when our brain is not functioning correctly. Chemicals can deplete and new research has revealed that your brain gets inflamed when stress levels are too high for too long. I had NO idea there was anything wrong with my brain at the time, especially because the GAD occasionally went into remission and I felt better when my triggers were completely removed. I kept thinking: "I'm just stressed". Fast forward 18 months. December 2015 I started to get depressed because anxiety and depression are like terrible twins. If you don't treat one, the other usually creeps in. It was subtle at first but one day everything collapsed. I had major neurotransmitter deficiencies. When I was finally diagnosed I was incredulous. The test score showed I was in the most severe category on the depression scale. Surely I couldn't have DEPRESSION? Not me. I didn't think I had the personality for it. Clearly I had no idea what clinical depression really was. It has nothing to do with your personality. In fact, it often takes down those who are outgoing and hard working. It's very difficult to understand unless you experience it and believe me - you don't want to experience it. It's an epidemic on the rise in a big way.

Very suddenly I had to move back home to live with my parents. I had no choice but to go onto medication. I don't condone going onto meds unless truly necessary, but severe crashes like mine often warrant it. Until I could vaguely function again I was unable to do anything natural to get better. I was severely allergic to the first two antidepressants (everyone is different). I had every side effect on the package leaflet. Every single one. I ended up with a stress ulcer and a torn muscle after four weeks of being bedridden because I had intense nausea that made me retch every hour. I also developed flu-like symptoms. My psychiatrist was almost impossible to get hold of and eventually she told my dad that I must just carry on with therapy because there was NOTHING more she could do for me. Perhaps she was just having a bad day, but it wrecked me. Did this mean I'd be like this forever? I started researching natural medicine at that point. Thankfully I have a doctor friend who told me that there are many other categories of meds. She made an urgent appointment for me with a wonderful doctor and once he'd diagnosed the ulcer, got rid of it AND cured my flu-like symptoms, he put me on a good antidepressant that didn't make me sick at all. I hit a big dip when he increased the dosage after two months, but this is quite common.

If you've been told by a medical professional that there is nothing they can do, don't give up hope. Get a second opinion, and if they confirm the previous diagnosis (which is rare) then try the natural remedies below. Take heart though - new medication is being developed all the time. My antidepressant is relatively new. There are also other treatment options that are experimental but are becoming more widely used as the success rate grows. For example: a friend tried ECT as a last resort and it worked. Please consult your doctor before trying anything alternative.

Very slowly I started to improve. In the meantime I was trying to run my business as best as I could under the circumstances. I lost some clients but most were gracious. I read and read about mental illness since I was still too sick to work much, and narrowed down the most common and well researched natural remedies which I added to my medication. I had an inner 'fight' which I completely attribute to my faith. I was going to beat this. Another good friend told me though: "Don't put pressure on yourself to get better by a certain date". It was great advice (are you listening, Type A's?). My therapist also told me not to make any big decisions, because at that stage I wanted to shut down my business and find a quiet half day desk job with minimal duties. I miraculously got through the hectic projects and shoots that had been booked far in advance. My Instagram feed was quiet and showed only a few photos that made my life look great, when in fact I was gasping for air.

Remember that social media is MOSTLY just a highlight reel.

By June I was functioning but not exactly wonderful. I'd booked a trip to Greece the previous year so I 'HAD' to go (you're hating me right now). Seriously though, depression and anxiety make you scared of doing ANYTHING! Even bucket list stuff. I'd dreamed of seeing Greece since I was 16, yet I was petrified to get on the plane. But I went, and of course it was an amazing trip overall. You can see the photos in a previous post. For the first time in 6 months I felt the horrific black cloud lift and experienced many moments of happiness.

Now the worst year of my life is over and I'm well on my way to being my true self again. I have NO depression left! None! I cry more often than I used to, but I've learned that tears are not always a bad thing. Joy is back in full force. I'm laughing aloud again so much. I'm enjoying everything I used to - and more, because I'm so grateful to be enjoying them. I'm soaking up new info about running my business, my productivity has increased and I'm dreaming big again. I still have some issues on the anxiety side but I'm learning to manage and combat it. I'm dealing with muscular pain which sometimes makes my head feel muddy (UPDATE AUG 17: that muddy feeling is now rare). I have the occasional bad day. Despite this I'm improving rapidly. This is a journey and I don't have all the answers, but I'd like to share what I learned last year about fighting anxiety and depression naturally. I strongly believe all of these things accelerated my pathway to health and are relapse preventatives. Many are obvious, so view them as reminders. If you relate at all to this post and feel like you're overworked or just overwhelmed by other stressors, keep reading - you could use this information to prevent burnout. Those in high pressure jobs: I've been there. Those running their own businesses: I'm there now. Parents: I'm not there yet but I have an idea of how hectic life must get.

Please be kind to yourself.

If you already have anxiety or depression: know that there is hope. You're certainly not alone, and things CAN get better.

Get outside :) One of the best habits I developed during my worst stage was dragging myself out into the sun for 20 minutes with a book. My job involves being indoors in front of a screen for hours on end... not super healthy. If you can only manage 5 minutes during your lunch break, that's better than nothing! If you live in a country where there isn't much sunlight - look into Vitamin D supplements. The whole experience of being in nature is so good for us though. It does something positive to our brain chemistry.

This was the MOST COMMON natural remedy I found among all the legitimate posts and clinical trials that I read. There were even some tests that showed exercise to be AS EFFECTIVE as an antidepressant, which is great news for those who are drug resistant. The best is a combination of both. A friend who'd been through a similar experience messaged me: "Even if you feel you can barely walk down the passage, try to exercise as much as you can." I started small, with walks around the block with my parents. Later as I improved I started to go to gym more, and now I go as often as I can. If you hate most exercise (like me) then try to find something you enjoy. I used to watch series (#lifehack) while on the treadmill or elliptical. I would also go to martial arts and dance classes with a friend because I love dancing. Now I have a holistic, fun routine at a local gym and try to go at least four times a week. I struggle to get to gym when sooooo many other things beckon (like working late.. or my bed), so I have made it part of my work day. On weekends I try to do outdoor exercise and have just joined a weekly trail run group. We'll see how far I actually RUN before I collapse but I'll get fitter. I work in a large building so I also walk around there every few hours to get my blood flowing. I like walking. Exercising correctly is important too, so I'm learning about posture, correct breathing and strengthening your core. So in summary: Exercise. Just do it. Tick. (thanks Nike).

This is one of my biggest challenges! Unhealthy things are so quick to make and often cheaper to buy. I've found the best way to avoid eating badly is just not to have any 'weakness foods' in the house or office. Also if you're a sugar addict, try brushing your teeth after a meal - it takes away the craving. I cut out caffeine and sugar during my worst stage. It's actually easier to do when you're depressed, because you don't enjoy things anymore.. so you don't HAVE to drink that morning coffee anymore. Chocolate wasn't even enjoyable. Those who know me well will realise how hectic that statement is. Now that I'm much better though: bring me Cadbury & caffeine! I try to stick to one cup of coffee per day (sooo difficult sometimes!) and substitute with herbal teas. Too much caffeine is especially bad for anxiety. Exchange the Cadbury for 85%+ dark if you can afford it [Side rant: can someone besides Lindt please start selling affordable healthy dark chocolate? You'd make a fortune]. Google can help you find foods that are good for brain health. Generally though: it's all the food we know is good for us, but we hardly ever eat. Less processed and more natural. I recently bought a Nutribullet using Christmas money + medical aid points. I'm loving it because it creates smoothies that contain the pulp of the food. Juices are great but they don't give you all the nutrients and I want ALL the nutrients. I don't like eating spinach, but I don't mind drinking it if it's mixed with fruit. I throw other healthy things in too for good measure. Sometimes it's a fail. Eg. green beans. No guys. Fail. Fortunately there are vegetable smoothie recipes everywhere! Then of course: drink LOTS of water. Water does wonders for your body. We know this but we need reminding. I'm reminding MYSELF as I write this. <gets glass of water>

Those suffering with depression and anxiety usually develop insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping all the time). I had the insomnia kind ...yay. So I was prescribed sleeping meds to help me get the rest my body needed to function and heal itself. If you burnt out then you need to replenish the chemicals you depleted. Our brains are incredible because they can actually heal themselves while we sleep. I have been actively pursuing rest, not just sleep. I've taken steps to separate my work and home life by finally getting my own office space. This is a big leap for me as I've always brought work home or worked FROM home. I want home to be HOME. I want to associate it with relaxation and down time, not deadlines and stress. If I had a proper home office that would also be great, but I don't and I'm happy to get out of the house every day. Having office space has also given me more structure - which is great for alleviating anxiety (in my case especially since I'm a planner). I want to eventually get a work phone too so I can switch it off after hours and on Sundays. I am putting in more boundaries with myself and with my clients. This is beneficial for clients too, because a less harassed creative will produce better work! Finding the balance is tough. I'm a designer AND photographer. They work different hours. I'll find my groove though.

I've been going on low-cost weekends away - to the beach or to the mountains. You don't have to go far, and could get lifts / stay with friends to save money (shout-out to all those who have hosted me and given me lifts). I am very fortunate to live less than two hours from both the beach and the mountains. Even just a few minutes of staring at the ocean or sitting in the stillness of the mountains is amazingly good for the soul. Everyone has their own special space where they feel most at peace. Go there often.

This one is SO important. It links up with rest because it helps us switch off those anxious, catastrophic or just plain negative thoughts that swirl around our minds and prevent us from moving forward. Mindfulness has many definitions right now. I'm talking plain and simple: being present in the moment. Just be present. Sounds easy right? Not so much. I saw this video by Joe Tasker a while back. Watching it will probably distract you from reading this. That's fine though - you need some comic relief from this super long post. Ok have you watched it? You can see why we battle to switch off our brains. We multitask ourselves into the ground and technology has become an addiction. I wrote that before Simon Sinek's talk on Millennials went viral. He confirmed what I already knew. On an average day at work I used to have open: up to 7 programs (which I rapidly switched between), work email, Facebook (which inevitably leads to YouTube), some kind of news article or blog and my personal email. I worked in an open plan office for many years so I had constant distraction there too with people coming to my desk at least every half an hour. And we haven't even MENTIONED my PHONE yet. That's a whole other monster. So how do we train our overstimulated brains to be mindful?

Practical things we can do: limit access to technology and distractions. I've deleted work email off my phone, because if it's THAT urgent the client will call me. If you're away all day though, be courteous and use an automated 'out of office' message. I recently deleted the Facebook app off my phone and I don't miss it. I'll only install it again if I go overseas with no laptop. Clients do contact me via Facebook, but I dedicate specific time to check those messages on my computer. While on holiday in December I took a complete break from social media for a week. Then I stayed off it an extra day. It was awesome and the world did not explode while I was offline. Definitely turn Instagram popup notifications off. Mute unimportant WhatsApp group chats. You'll still see the messages when you open WhatsApp. Each time your phone lights up, your eyes will glance at it or part of you will think "what if it's <insert name here>?" and your brain will un-focus from it's current task. These are just suggestions. Some people don't need to go to these extremes, but it is helping me personally right now. Staying mindful is an ongoing battle. The distractions are everywhere.

I found a wonderful phone app. A case of technology helping not hindering. It's called Calm. Website link HERE. Calm teaches you mindfulness through breathing, muscle relaxation and focus techniques. Occasionally Calm will mention something borderline contrary to my beliefs, but I know the app developers are trying to cater to EVERYONE so I bear this in mind. Once they asked for feedback and when I mentioned my concerns, they actually responded and apologised very respectfully! They really are trying to keep it scientific, not spiritual. The meditations I enjoy most focus on breathing. Quietening your mind, not emptying it. They should bring peacefulness, not nothingness. The app really helped me; sometimes even just playing the soothing music. Their sleep talks and nature essay sleep stories help me to drift off almost immediately, which is unusual because even when I was healthy I often battled to switch off my mind at night. Calm also brings in some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is another technique for anxiety relief. If you don't like the Calm app, there are others out there. Another popular one is called Headspace, and I'm sure there are more. I use Sleep Cycle as my alarm clock which now has a sleep aid feature as well (UPDATE: You now have to pay for that feature - darn). Then a tip you probably already know: turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. Easier said than done! I know people who don't even take their phone or laptop into their bedrooms anymore and have reverted back to old school alarm clocks. Others are deleting their Facebook accounts. How is that possible when most recruitment agencies require you to have a Facebook profile? I'm intrigued by all of this. There must be a balance and I'm determined to find it.

I thought to myself: what did I used to DO before the endless amounts of work, social media and series? I used to read. So I re-read all my favourite novels and joined my local library. I used to journal too. This one is a challenge for me but I'd like to make it a habit again, because it's also proven to help encourage mindfulness and is yet another form of natural therapy. When I was a teenager I used to doodle. Adult colouring: another trend that has become so popular because of the demands of our current lifestyles. I got a whole bunch of colouring books for my 30th birthday. I love them and sometimes colour before going to bed, to replace the mind-numbing Facebook scrolling. I did an art therapy class a few months ago and now have some watercolour paper waiting to be painted on. What do you enjoy that doesn't necessarily involve technology? We're going back to the simple things. Practice mindfulness.

The Psychologist Stigma. Before last year I still had a distorted view of what they actually do. I went to three psychologists last year and each of them helped me in a unique way. If you are diagnosed with a mental illness and are with any medical aid in South Africa, even just a Hospital Plan like me, you should be granted a minimum of 15 therapy sessions per year. There are also options for those without medical aid and free counseling is out there. Medication is important if you are severely ill, but it should be combined with therapy for the best results. Make sure you feel comfortable with the person. The psychologist who diagnosed me was recommended by several people and gave me valuable advice, but I felt awkward with him so I went to someone else. He was not offended and was very courteous about it. The next lady was incredible because she helped me so much with day to day stuff. I was not coping with work and I had a huge project looming that I could not cancel, so was out of my mind with worry about it. She gave me practical tools to deal with it, and we got along well too. One stand-out statement she made was "Stop trying to get back to the person you were last year. You're going to be different when you get through this, but in a good way. You will have learnt more and grown as a person." I can see that now. At the time it was difficult to understand because I just wanted the Old Me back. But the Old Me was a people-pleasing over-worker. I'm still Me, but a better and stronger version.

The clinical psychologist I'm seeing now is very experienced with anxiety, which is my main issue now that I'm depression FREE (happy dance!). He helps me get to the root causes of things. Some roots go many years back. Events in your life contribute to the percentage of chance that you'll develop an anxiety disorder. I now know what to avoid in future, and have even MORE tools to deal with stress. I highly recommend therapy. If you have social anxiety or severe depression - just getting there can be daunting, but remember that psychologists keep everything confidential. It's a safe space.

The image above shows me (far left) laughing with a few of the incredible friends who were there for me throughout this heavy process. They saw me at my very worst, and they stuck around despite that. Mental illness rocks the boat in all your relationships. Many people you thought would always be there for you.. just aren't. Don't let this fuel the flame of your depression. Sometimes there are other reasons - maybe that person is going through a tough or busy time. Mostly: people just don't understand. A few people I've shared my story with just stared blankly at me as if to say "but why didn't you just cheer yourself up?". I didn't understand depression myself until I went through it. Rather try to focus on those who ARE still around. In my case I had people in my life who truly loved me for ME, and saw my true self underneath the black cloud. Last year was really difficult for my family as well as everyone around me. It's very tough to live with a severely depressed person. If you've never experienced mental illness you won't be able to conjure up true empathy. Someone I knew had a major breakdown a few years ago and I didn't understand it all. However, you can still have sympathy and love that person unconditionally. Research whatever it is they are diagnosed with and see how you can help. My parents were absolutely phenomenal. I cannot even count the amount of sacrifices they made for me and looking back, they must have gone through a lot of pain - seeing me living like a withered plant. I don't know where I'd be now if not for them. I was advised by several people to go to a clinic when I was first diagnosed. I refused because I knew being at home was the best thing for me. Clinics can really help though if you don't have the support system that I did. Most medical aid plans cover clinics for at least two weeks. If you are struggling right now, I hope you have at least one person in your life who is there for you despite everything. Tell them how much you appreciate them. We need people. I could not have got through last year alone. Thank you to everyone who gave advice, helped me get out of the house, messaged me often or just cried with me on my bed. You know who you are. I love you all. Thank you also to the many people who encouraged me to post this. I finally did.

I read a lot of forums (bad idea!) and weird blog posts while researching. Omega 3 fish oils kept popping up in the more legitimate articles though. This article was written AFTER my research stint! So I read a few clinical trials and decided (after consulting my doctor) to start taking supplements. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Omega 3 fish oils are very good for your brain, so there was no harm in it! I can't tell for certain whether they have helped but I reckon they have. Make sure you buy a good brand though in case of contamination. I used Solal Omega 3x3 (Krill Oil, Fish Oil, Flaxseed Oil). If you can't afford supplements, there are many foods containing Omega 3 as well - like spinach, fish and chia seeds. (UPDATE: Niacin Vitamin B3 is also great!)

The simple act of hugging someone can alleviate depression and anxiety. If you live alone - pets are also great to cuddle with. My parents have two beautiful dogs and they love affection. Pet therapy is real too, and I think it links to this hugging principle. Massage is also a winner, especially for those with anxiety. Massage reduces your cortisone (stress / adrenaline hormone) levels by up to 50%! It's also very helpful for those who store a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders or work behind a computer a lot. If you can't afford frequent massages (I envy you if you can) then a hot wheat bag can also help. Sometimes I used to put the wheat bag on my chest when I was feeling especially anxious. I've since discovered that there are weighted blankets created for this calming effect! Now I know why the wheat bag helped. Seeing a chiropractor is also a good idea if you have muscle pain. My chiropractor charges a similar rate to a massage therapist, and it's a tax deductible expense (take note entrepreneurs!) because it's medically recognised.

Another bonus tip for calming & mood boosting: Lavender oil and Camomile oil. You can buy them in small bottles at Dischem or Clicks (South Africa). They are inexpensive and you can use them in a bath, diffuser, or even put some straight onto your skin. Just don't drink them!

When we have a chest cold, we don't go for a run in the freezing cold rain. Terrible idea. In the same way, when you are clinically depressed or anxious, do not intentionally watch / read / be around things that are depressing and anxiety provoking. It may seem obvious but again, with social media taking over our lives it's hard to get away from negativity. There is a lot of heavy stuff going on in our world at the moment. I am not telling everyone to stick their heads in the sand. I am not encouraging that. In fact I've been engaging in some very tough conversations since I've improved mentally, and I believe in being informed. What I am trying to emphasise is that if you are sick, then during your recovery process focus on happy things. You may not FEEL happy at the time but you won't feel WORSE. As you improve you should notice yourself enjoying things again, instead of just tolerating them. That is a wonderful feeling.

Celebrate the small victories. As you begin to feel better you will find many things to celebrate. Everyone has their own victories. Mine were sometimes as trivial as being able to wash my hair without having a two hour freak out prior to showering. I also had a strange anxiety trigger about cooking in bulk. Before the burnout I cooked all the time - I'd have up to 6 people over for dinner. After the burnout.. nope. Could not cook for anyone else and only just managed to make basic meals for myself. One night I HAD to cook for my dad and I did. I put loud music on and made supper. Nothing bad happened. My dad really enjoyed the meal. I allowed myself to be proud of this small thing that was actually pointing to something bigger: my recovery. Another minor yet important victory was when I saw a meme that made me laugh out loud. I couldn't remember when I'd last laughed. I saved the meme on my phone, and still look at it when I'm having a bad day. This act of celebrating leads to another important mental health remedy: gratitude. Gratitude does wonders. Depression AND anxiety cause us to focus on the negatives of every situation. Thinking about what you're grateful for can be very difficult at first, but as you improve in health you'll find it easier to do and more to focus on. I am tremendously grateful at this moment.

My last point and perhaps the most difficult: keeping all of this up. When your brain isn't well, the rest of your body usually isn't either - so mental illness is frequently misdiagnosed. Not only do you feel awful in your mind, but often physically too. I certainly ended up with many physical health issues. Keeping yourself motivated can be tough, which is why you need people around. Tell them what you want to achieve and allow them to help you get there. Listen to success stories and let them give you hope - even if you only feel the tiniest spark of it. Remember that this is a process and not always a quick fix. Realise that you'll have bad days without beating yourself up and thinking that you're right back at square one. Your loved ones will confirm that you aren't. Two different specialists told me that recovering from depression is a 'two steps forward and one step back' process. I discovered this can even mean two good MONTHS and one bad. It doesn't only relate to days. Therefore you are always moving forward but don't always feel it. Take courage that you are moving.

When you improve drastically, KEEP GOING. I started to feel better so I began to eat badly again.. go to bed late again.. prioritise work over exercise and rest again.. the list goes on. Fortunately I noticed this so I'm making certain activities into routines and HABITS, rather than keeping them as hobbies and spare time fillers. Once they are ingrained into my life, they will be much easier to maintain. If I don't do this, my spare time will fill up with work and social media and every other distraction I create... until my life looks just as it did before.

So I'm creating my own maintenance plan for long term gain. I'm getting gym into my calendar. It's not an optional thing anymore, it's part of my day. I also want to go to bed earlier and get my morning routine in check. Waking up at the same time every day and giving myself time to journal, meditate, pray and reflect. Of course I have more goals, but those are just three things I'm really focusing on right now. You'll have your own plan!

Thank you so much for reading. Remember that whether you are sick or healthy, you are unique and incredible.

You are NOT your depression, or your anxiety, or any related mental health problem. You may have an illness, but it's not who you really are. Please don't embrace it as your identity. Even if your diagnosis is long term - fight for your health with everything you've got. Look at the Paralympic Games. Participants with life long disabilities don't focus on what they can't do, but rather what they CAN do.

And no matter what your mind is telling you : you are NOT worthless.

YOU. ARE. NOT. WORTHLESS! You matter.

Don't give up, and reach out if you never have before. Look after yourself - not so that you become self obsessed - but so that you can truly BE yourself and change the lives of those around you. A better you creates a better world.

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Part 2 is about my faith in God and how it massively impacted my recovery. If you're curious, click the link. If not, thank you for reading Part One!

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2