How receiving a diagnosis helped me
I call myself a ‘Professional Rebel’. I inspire people for a living. I help people, who feel they don’t belong, remember who they are and find their place in the world. So, just imagine the field day my little head went on when I, a happiness teacher, went to the doctor and asked for ‘happy pills’.
Surely that’s cheating, right? Well, that’s what the little voice in my head told me. Oh, it tried its very best to fill me with shame. But you know what? There’s no shame in asking for help.
I repeat. There is no shame in asking for help.
And one thing I’ve learnt about shame in my time is that shame likes quiet. It likes secrets; that is the way it has its hold over you.
So, instead of keeping it secret, I wrote a blog and shared my experience. You see, the antidote to shame is sharing. Share with people you trust and who aren’t judgmental and shame loses its power. Choose a friend, a counsellor, or the Samaritans – just air it out! Take its power away! There’s an awesome TED talk about this that I would recommend giving a watch.
I’d started 2017 with a bang. My business had loads of great publicity, opportunities were flooding in and I’d lined up some work with my dream clients.
I was dead proud of myself.
And I expected this to carry on and to go on some exciting adventures - the kind of external, big wide world types of adventure. The universe had other plans, though. It wanted me to go on an adventure within, to face the demons we all try to run from (or just try to ignore).
I’d started noticing a pattern. I’d smash it, create awesomeness, love it and feel amazed at what I’d created. Then BAM. I’d get sick. I’d be exhausted, my whole being would ache to the core, I’d get depressed and work would dry up.
But then, I’d pull my finger out, get myself back out there, smash it, create awesomeness, love it, and feel amazed at what I’d created. Then BAM. I’d get sick. Rinse and repeat.
It was subtle at first, so I didn’t notice it. I put it down to what new business was like – peaks and troughs, feasts and famines. But, as time went on, this pattern became undeniably clear – as the waves I rode got bigger and bigger, so did the crash that subsequently followed. Feeling defeated and utterly worn out by it all, I went to my doctor.
I'm not sure what's going on. I'm here to see you about depression, but the funny thing is, I don't feel depressed.
I explained to him that, in my head, I was happy. I knew who I was; a sunny soul full of joy. I didn’t think negative thoughts anymore but, often, the life I was living was completely different to the unlived life inside me. I felt like it wasn’t my head that was depressed, but my body - I felt like it was letting me down. I had passion. I had a purpose. I had drive. But I felt like some force was holding me back, preventing me from moving forward with my life.
My doctor was so understanding. He prescribed me some antidepressants and suggested I get some professional help. Taking the medication helps me function every day, taking the weight off so I can fight the heavy energy. I’m still waiting for counselling, but a few things have come to light since that visit to my doctor.
I often throw myself into my work, but, when my body was feeling so heavy, I was struggling to get to work. When I got there, I was just freezing when I sat down at my computer. So, I decided to take a break from the business, to see if I could work out what was going on in my head.
I’m no stranger to looking inward, especially when something deeper is trying to get my attention - something that clearly needs healing. So, I came off time-suckers like Facebook and took a couple of weeks to solo retreat: I meditated, I practised yoga, I walked the dog, I journaled, and I spoke to friends and family. I went full-on with self-care.
I found out I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I learnt that it’s not just soldiers and people from war-torn countries who can get suffer from this. Trauma can affect anyone. We’re all different. What can bounce off one person, can really affect someone else.
Suddenly every issue, problem and random behaviour in my life made sense.
Finding out I have PTSD has actually been the best thing ever. I’m no fan of labels and being put in boxes, trust me, but I’ve come to learn that giving things names and taking the time to understand them takes their power away. With things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or PTSD, it’s easy to see yourself as flawed, wrong or less than perfect. But I believe that it’s this way of thinking that feeds it, so then it owns you. Depression has you, not you have depression.
I see a diagnosis as a bonus. When you know what you’re working with, you can build on it and create a life around it - rather than letting it limit your life. You can learn about how the condition affects you, so you can put together your own coping plan, learning and adjusting as you go along. You have the power then, not it.
By committing to a complete break from my distractions and my business, earning a few quid doing part-time admin work over the summer and just taking it one day at a time, I’ve mustered so much strength and inner peace. I’ve gained so much clarity too. This is why, for me, self-awareness is key to a happy life.
I’d like to share a few tips to help you connect more with yourself and your so-called ‘flaws’, to cultivate your strengths and have life work for you, not against you:
1. Make time for output every day. We spend so much time putting things in our heads and feeding ourselves with information, but it’s important to let stuff out too. As part of my ‘Start your day with a Yay!’ routine, I journal every morning. Mornings have always been the hardest for me, so this helps combat the heaviness that wants to keep me in bed.
Treat yourself to a nice notebook and free-write for about 15 minutes. Just write what comes out. We often roll around the same things over and over in our heads but, by writing it out, you untangle the knot. You get below the surface and more often than not, you solve your own problems. Honestly, it’s a magic and life-changing habit.
2. Move more. The thing about PTSD is that it’s unexpressed energy and emotion in your body. Even if you don’t have PTSD, the body remembers everything – every upset you didn’t voice, every tear you held back.
By moving, you diffuse some of that. Yoga is great, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Just try some stretches as you get out of bed or really shake things up by putting your favourite song on and dance like nobody's watching.
3. Be kind to yourself. Everyone is fighting a battle and we try to be there for our friends and loved ones. But remember to try being your own best friend or the good parent you never had. It’s not selfish – you can’t pour from an empty cup.