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5 things I learned about coping with depression in my teens

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Five things I learned about coping with depression as a teenager

Recovery Note #4

~ Emma Edwards


1. It’s okay to not be okay

It is not a weakness to experience depression, anxiety, and other forms of distress as a teenager. It is quite common! Society tells us that we should look and behave in certain ways, and that we have to fit a certain stereotype in order to simply be accepted. I didn’t think it was okay to be struggling with depression when I was a teenager. I thought it meant I was weak and worthless. But admitting that I was not okay and that I did not know who I was took me on a journey of incredible discovery. I came out the other end of the dark tunnel with strength, purpose, and value for my life. I wouldn’t change a thing.

2. Connection is the key

It is incredibly lonely when experiencing depression – and I almost think it is more lonely when you experience depression as a teenager, during the life-stage in which you are trying to figure out how and where you fit in the world. At a time in your life when you are trying to fit in, you fall into a dark hole that isolates you – giving you no opportunity to find your place in the world. I isolated myself and was anxious to interact with anyone. However, the most useful thing for me was the one thing I did not want to do – it was to spend time with friends, family, and people who understood what I was going through.

 

“When you are at the bottom of the dark hole, it feels like every movement causes you to fall deeper. It is extremely difficult to see that each step actually takes you closer to the light of day.”

 

3. Asking for help actually helps!

Looking back, I had friends around me going through similar struggles, and I wanted them to be honest, ask for help, and let me support them. I saw them as courageous when they confronted their fears, darkness, and failures head-on. I learned that it takes more courage to be vulnerable, ask for help, and accept others’ support than it does to wrestle alone in the dark. I learned that friends, family, and professionals actually wanted to help me. Each time that I reached outside of myself and asked for help, my burden was lightened a little bit because it was shared with another. Even if the problem was not solved by the other person, at least I felt more understood, more loved, and less alone.

4. Balance between trust and supervision

I am sure my adolescent self would not admit this, but I’ve learned from looking back at my experience that it was helpful to have a balance of trust and supervision from my parents. I think this balance is largely determined by what is safe for us. As I built up trust with my parents, the amount of supervision I needed decreased. I found that, as my parents trusted me more, I learned to trust myself more – giving me confidence in myself. From my view, the helpful parent provides love, encouragement, support, practical help, and compassionate supervision.Blaming, minimising, or not being taken seriously are not helpful. Being listened to, provided with appropriate help, and shown compassion are essential.

5. It is never the end

There is always hope. I know clichés like “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” often don’t provide much reassurance at the time, but it turns out they are actually true. When you are at the bottom of the dark hole, it feels like every movement causes you to fall deeper. It is extremely difficult to see that each step actually takes you closer to the light of day. But others can see it. Others can see the bigger picture because they are not in the dark hole with you. In these times, when all hope seems to have escaped you – I learned that I could rely on at least one person around me to hold the hope for me. When I could not see it, they could. When I could not believe, they believed. They held my hope, and gave it back to me when I could hold it again. It is never the end. There is always hope.

 

Emma Edwards
Treasurer, Community Mental-Health Resources Trust

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About the author: Emma Edwards is currently completing her doctorate degree. She was previously a registered mental-health professional, working in youth and adult mental-health settings. Her own service-user and family experience with mental-health struggles sparked her passion to support others and make a difference to those struggling to cope with difficult times.

Read more Recovery Notes here

Recovery Notes is an Engage Aotearoa project that asks people to share the top five tips and insights they have learned from or about their personal experiences of mental-health recovery or being a supporter.

Write your own Recovery Note

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Copyright (c) Engage Aotearoa, 2014

 

5 things I’ve learned about surviving my darkest struggles

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Five things I’ve learned about surviving my darkest struggles

Recovery Note #3

~ Taimi Allan


1. De-claw the Bear

Talking about the most difficult stuff (the unwanted thoughts, the frightening images, fears, guilt and panic) takes their power away. These things are waking nightmares designed by my brain to purge the rubbish and if I don’t find a way to let them out and dispose of them they become a self-destruct mechanism. Speaking them aloud to someone empathetic and non-judgmental I can trust helps me to challenge their hold on me, come up with more balanced perspectives and talk through cause and solution.

2. Look for physical and environmental causes

Sure there are some moments where my distress/depression/mania/psychosis is an equal and opposite reaction to an external, significant, negative event; those moments are really tough and life feels very unfair. The upside of horrible things happening to me though is that it’s easy to see why my brain is in meltdown, and get support and empathy from others. Sometimes, however, it just hits me like a sledge hammer from seemingly out of the blue. In these times my experience tells me there is usually a physical cause, maybe my hormones have gone haywire, I’ve developed a food allergy, eaten unhealthily for too long (or not eaten at all) or typically, I’ve not had enough sleep. I know now that if I address the physical stuff, nurture my temple then my mental health follows.

3. Avoid the Sirens-song of Substances

We all know the myths of sailors lured by beautiful Siren song only to become shipwrecked on the rocks. It is very easy in my darkest moments to reach out for the easiest means of escape. “Self medication” for me nowadays is junk food and wine. In my darkest moments it is tempting to use them, or something more destructive as a quick way of blocking out, avoiding or putting off dealing with what’s really going on. I learned the hard way that even taking a single step in this direction when I’m unwell is bad, bad news. As difficult as it is, I need to remove the temptation completely from my home, my friendships and my life until the moment has passed and I feel in control enough to simply eat respectfully and drink in moderation.

4. Observe moments of choice

Mental distress is like a pot-bellied stove, it gets stronger by feeding on every little piece of negativity and fear and yet it is warm and inviting. It is easy to fall into the comfort of distress, it sounds contradictory but life IS unfair and horrible so sometimes the only thing I really want to do is escape under the bed-covers, take a respite from responsibility and shut out the world. In every single millisecond however I know I have a choice to turn that around. I forgive myself for needing a moment to wallow, then as soon as I notice the moment that don’t have to punish myself or anyone else, I make the conscious choice to do something different.

5. Take responsibility

Here’s the truth as I see it for me; it is not the rest of the world, the people around me, services, doctors or pharmaceuticals job to ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ me. They are helpful aides when I need support, but without my buy-in, they actually don’t have much effect. In fact, if I blame anyone or anything outside of myself I know the situation very quickly deteriorates. That doesn’t mean I need to blame myself, but adopting a radical acceptance of the situation I’ve found myself in and a willingness to do everything I can to improve it gives me back some semblance of control. It’s fair to say that when I’m at my worst, I feel completely out of control, so this step towards autonomy is imperative to becoming whole again.

 

~ Taimi Allan
Chairperson, Community Mental-Health Resources Trust

 

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About the author: Taimi Allan is chairperson of CMHRT and has worked as a mental health consultant since 2009. She is most well known in the field for innovative and engaging health promotion strategies that challenge attitudes, inspire creativity and entertain audiences.

Read more Recovery Notes here 

Recovery Notes is an Engage Aotearoa project that asks people to share the top five tips and insights they have learned from or about their personal experiences of mental-health recovery or being a supporter.

Write your own Recovery Note

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Copyright (c) Engage Aotearoa, 2014

5 things I’ve learned about supporting friends in distress

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Five things I’ve learned about supporting friends in distress

Recovery Note #2

by Sheree Veysey


As a person who has experienced my fair share of mental distress and who now works in the counselling field, I have learned a few things about how to be there for someone who is upset and how to ask others to be there for me.  I wish this list had been available for me to give my friends and supporters in times  past – I lost a few of them, at least partly because of the stress that supporting a friend who has longer term “stuff” going on put on our relationship.

1. You don’t need to fix: you don’t need to make someone feel better

We live in a fixing culture, and often when someone tells us what’s going on for them, we jump immediately to problem solving, or ideas for the person to do things differently to make them feel different. This is often not helpful as frequently the person can feel that they are not heard. This may also give the message that their less pleasant feelings are somehow ‘wrong’ and that if they tried harder to ‘fix’ them they would not have issues…

Instead of aiming to help someone feel better, if we concentrate on listening to their experience and validating it then often the person will walk away feeling heard, less alone, (and not surprisingly often feeling a touch better). Validating people’s feelings and experience is about just acknowledging where they are: “I can see how you would feel that…” “Wow, that’s a lot going on” “No wonder you feel overwhelmed.”

The opposite is invalidation (e.g. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” “There’s no reason to get so upset”) which can leave people feeling isolated and awful about themselves.

2. Friend and support versus therapist…

If someone is dealing with high levels of distress, then I would be strongly encouraging them to be engaged with health services (doctor, counselling, psychologist, mental health services) rather than just using friends for support. Counsellor’s and others who work with people in distress receive comprehensive training and regular supervision. Part of the reason they are able to offer such intensive listening and support to a person is because of this- and also because the time they give has boundaries around it and clear expectations.

When we try to be there for someone in a lot of distress outside of these professional relationships, often we start out with lots of energy and listening time and empathy. However, if the distress is not short lived, we often run into problems because we have not put boundaries around our time and availability. We  tell our friend to call us at any time of the day and night- and when they start doing this, the supporter can be left burnout, not wanting to hear from their friend, guilty about feeling this way and sometimes even experiencing what is called ‘vicarious trauma’ from listening to really difficult and traumatic experiences.

If you are aware of this pitfall, then you can set some boundaries with the person. Boundaries are our friends! Some of these may not need to be discussed and you can just hold them in your own head, others you might like to talk about. You need to be clear about where your lines in the sand are about what you can and cannot offer: Are there things you don’t feel able to talk about with the friend and you would prefer they saw a professional? How late is it okay to call? What about if they are intoxicated? What if they are feeling that they might harm themselves? What if they want to stay over?

3. Think long haul 

The boundary setting above is crucial if you intend to keep this person in your life long term.

I have had times in my life when a dear friend has let me know she isn’t available for any support at this time. While in the moment I would have preferred it to be different, I also understood that her letting me know this was about her wish to be a friend for the long haul and to do this, she needed to prioritise her wellbeing.

I would far rather have her in my life for years to come, than lose this friendship because she got exhausted. In return I have learned to set similar boundaries with friends in distress – letting them know I care very deeply but I don’t have the capacity for support right now. I would always encourage people to be developing a number of supports for themselves- I feel it leads to far healthier relationships.

Some people experiencing distress are hyper aware of asking for ‘too much’, and as a result often won’t ask for support they need because of their fear. Talking about this issue can really encourage them to reach out at the appropriate time, knowing you will be able to say “not today” if you need to.

4. Reciprocity

When I was a teenager I had a good friend who didn’t tell me until weeks afterward that she was living with another family for a while because her parents were fighting and might be splitting up. I asked her why she hadn’t told me, and she said that she didn’t want to put any other stress on me because I was having such a hard time. I heard her thoughtfulness, but at the same time I was dismayed, because I didn’t just want a friend- I wanted the chance to be a friend. I would have liked to take the opportunity to give back to her with some listening and support. Our friendships work best when there are vaguely equal amounts of give and take- so don’t be afraid to ask your friend who is distressed for things you might need. If they can’t give this at the time- well this is also a good chance for them to practice boundary setting and say no (remember- boundaries are our friends).

5. Look after yourself

You matter, and you need to keep an eye on your own well-being. Sometimes when someone we love is really struggling we can tell ourselves we should just keep giving and giving to them because they are having a harder time than us. In the long term, this really does not do ourselves or them any good.

Don’t underestimate the stress of having someone you care about really struggling. Good sleep, a wide variety of food, some sunshine and physical activity are all important! Turn to your supports, and even think about seeing a professional if you feel you need to. This is great modelling to our friends, families and children.

Arohanui

Sheree Veysey
Secretary, Community Mental-Health Resources Trust

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Sheree Veysey is a counsellor from Auckland offering counselling and coaching via Skype and face to face at www.lifeinprogress.co.nz. Her own journey toward wellbeing inspired her to work with people and offer them the compassion that helped her healing. Sheree is also a writer, dog owner, auntie and part-time performer.

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Read Recovery Note #1: Five things I’ve learned about food and my mood

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Read the Recovery Notes Writing Guidelines to find out more. 

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5 things I’ve learned about food and my mood

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Five things I’ve learned about food and my mood

Recovery Notes #1

by Claire Sexton


It is generally accepted that our diets play a huge part in our overall physical fitness and health. But have you ever considered the possibility that the food you eat can also affect your mental health and mood? Although experts believe that clinical depression and other mood disorders cannot be cured by diet alone, they do advise certain food types, nutrients and eating habits in general can act as a natural aid alongside medication to help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. After all you are what you eat, so getting a healthy, well balanced diet will make you feel healthy and happy too. Here are some of the nutrients that can make up a happy diet and help aid recovery for depression or simply just boost your mood.

1. Antioxidants

Free radical cells are responsible for a number of health issues, some of which can lead to serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease occurring. Free radicals can be caused by inhaling the harmful compounds from pollution or simply unexplained malfunctions in the body. They can also have a very detrimental effect on the brain’s functioning and contribute to causing mental-health problems such as depression to occur. Antioxidants found in types of vitamins can help fend off these free radical cells and protect your mind and body from their harmful effects. They can also help boost the immune system keeping you fighting fit from other bugs and infections too. Antioxidants can be found in a number of foods but they are most powerful in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables with high Vitamin C content such as broccoli, orange, peppers and berries. They are particularly potent in strawberries and blueberries which are being hailed as new ‘super foods’ due to the sheer amount of goodness in such small berries.

2. Happy carbs

One of the key reasons for irregular mood is irregular energy levels caused by irregular blood sugar. When you are running on caffeine or sugary highs you will find yourself feeling pumped up and full of energy one minute and lethargic and irritable the next. This rapid change isn’t good for your general health or your mood. Certain food types have simple molecular make ups which means the body breaks them down quickly and uses up the energy they provide quickly too. Try and adapt complex carbohydrates into your diet as these have a much more intricate make up which takes the body a lot longer to metabolize, thus leaving you with more regular and long lasting energy. With fatigue being one of the key symptoms in depression and low mood, feeling energized and ready to go is a great way to improve mood. Complex carbohydrates can be found in wholegrains such as brown rice, pasta, cereals and bread and also in a variety of vegetables.

Fact: Complex carbohydrates are generally less fattening than their simple counterparts and leave you feeling fuller for longer due to their high fibre content. This means that a diet rich in complex carbs can also help you maintain a healthy weight as well as improving your mood.

3. Protein

Foods high in protein contain a substance called tryptophan. When absorbed by the body this substance is transformed into serotonin – otherwise known as the happy hormone. This will make you feel more alert, calm and focused as well as providing you with more energy. It is also great for boosting the immune system and helping the body to fight off any ailments which may also bring your mood down. Protein can be found in a range of food types including dairy, fish, beans and poultry. It is also particularly high in bananas.

Fact: Whey protein is very potent in the tryptophan compound. Although you should try and get protein from your diet, you can buy whey protein in powder form and incorporate it into your meals either by stirring it into a stew, adding it to smoothies or even mixing it into a cake or bread mix.

4. Vitamin D

Although research is ongoing, experts believe that there is a clear link between Vitamin D and depression and those deficient in the vitamin are more susceptible to suffering from mental disorders. The reason for this isn’t fully understood but it is known that Vitamin D is vital in brain development. For this reason you should try and keep your levels of Vitamin D high through consuming full fat dairy products, red meat and some fish. It is worth noting that many foods rich in Vitamin D are generally quite fattening and for this reason experts are unsure just how much to recommend in dietary form. You can also add Vitamin D to your diet through supplements (although always speak to a healthcare provider first) or through a stroll in a sun. That’s right, the key source of Vitamin D is through natural sunlight.

Fact: A brisk walk in the sunlight can really be the ultimate mood enhancer. Not only are you elevating your levels of Vitamin D but you are also pumping blood around the body, improving oxygen levels and getting feel-good hormones circulating.

5. Eating habits

Getting the key nutrients is important in elevating mood but so are your eating habits in general. You need to ensure that you eat regularly to avoid blood sugar levels dropping and also ensure that you drink a lot of water throughout the day. Becoming dehydrated is a sure fire way to lead to fatigue and irritability and it can be very dangerous. Try to ensure that the food you eat means you can maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can put extra pressure on vital organs and make you feel sluggish and tired. Combat this through regular exercise and healthy eating.

Fact: When it comes to drinking a lot, don’t assume that anything in liquid form will keep you hydrated. High caffeine drinks such as coffee, alcohol and some fizzy drinks actually act as a diuretic meaning that it makes your urinate more and this leads to dehydration occurring. They also tend to produce anxiety-like symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, followed by depression-like symptoms such as low energy dips.

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Practice Point: Check out Strategy 18 in The Coping Kete for ideas to help turn the Good Mood Food information into part of your daily practice.

About the Author:  Claire Sexton is a freelance writer and full-time mom with experience of supporting people she cares about through the experience of depression. This gave Sexton an interest in mental health in general.  After graduating college, she put a lot of effort into her career as a nutritionist, but when motherhood came along, she decided it was time to pull back and take up her other passion, writing. Now she writes about health and finds her work-life balance far more enjoyable. When not working and caring for her children, she likes to go for long walks and find ways to make family meals more exciting.

Read more Recovery Notes here

Recovery Notes is an Engage Aotearoa project that asks people to share the top five tips and insights they have learned from or about their personal experiences of mental-health recovery or being a supporter.

Write your own Recovery Note

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Copyright (c) 2013, Engage Aotearoa 

 

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