Emma’s guest post is the 30th post in the segment on my blog, called “The Reality Of…” which gives others the ability to share their story and raise awareness of the disabilities, illnesses, impairments and invisible illnesses that they have.
Hi! I’m Emma from Nottingham, UK. At 20 I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder, but I’ve suffered with the symptoms of this condition throughout my teenage years.
Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder (MADD) is a fairly new diagnosis in the psychiatric world, and was first introduced as part of the ICD-10 in 1990. Until then, anxiety and depression were considered to be entirely different conditions, so people with my condition were likely either diagnosed with both – or neither.
My diagnosis basically means that I exhibit symptoms of both anxiety and depression, but neither is predominant, or severe enough to warrant two separate diagnoses of anxiety and depression.
When I was unmedicated, I exhibited a lot of the typical symptoms of anxiety and depression, like:
- Persistent low moods
- An inability to eat, or eating too much
- Loss of interest in my regular hobbies
- Inability to concentrate
- Complete lack of energy
- Slow movement
- Constant worry
- Heart palpitations
- Tight chest
- Panic attacks (thankfully, these are rare)
I took these pictures for a post on my blog, showing the difference between me on a bad day, and me on a good day. Even though it’s super hard to get me to smile on bad days, my partner used my eyeliner to turn me into a cat to try and make me laugh.
How It Affects Me
I’ve had this condition pretty much all my life, even though I was only diagnosed at 20. It’s affected every relationship I’ve ever had with the people in my life, and I count my lucky stars every day that the vast majority of them don’t judge me for it. My in-laws are super supportive, even though they don’t entirely understand, but they always ask me what support I need.
The best way I can describe my bad days is catatonic. I can’t move, I can’t think, and I can’t make any decisions. Every move feels like dragging myself through treacle. Weirdly, it also feels like the ‘real’ me is trapped in a corner of my brain, screaming at it to function properly. Thankfully, these days are currently very few and far between since I started on medication. Where it used to last for weeks, on medication, I’d get a few hours, or a day like this, perhaps once every 4-6 weeks.
On top of that is the anxiety aspect. If I’m having a really bad day, my anxiety will be beside my ‘real’ self in that cage, yelling about how I’m not getting any work done, I’m a fraud, and everything will go wrong in my life because I can’t function. If my anxiety’s bad I can’t interact with people at all, and even talking to the cashier in the supermarket will lead to me replaying the conversation over and over again, for hours, just because I stumbled over one word.
Generally, every day I have to be super aware of my mental health, my internal talk, and what strains I put on my emotions and mental wellbeing. Particularly now I’m coming off my medication, I need to be super aware of what’s going on to make sure I don’t relapse.
Learning To Adapt
Exercise is a HUGE part of my self care routine. Before my diagnosis I found pole dance, and fell in love. The pole community is hugely supportive and really feels like a big family, so the people I’ve met in real life as well as the friends I’ve made online have really helped to keep me going. These days, I exercise 4 or 5 times a week, and split my time between pole dance lessons, weightlifting and Clubbercise.
I also pay close attention to my nutrition, as I feel way better about myself when I eat food that serves my goals. I eat far less takeout than I used to as I make an effort to cook food that feeds both my muscles and my mind.
This might sound contradictory, but I focus more on how food makes me feel, rather than it’s nutritional content – I’ve found that high protein, low carbs and plenty of veggies makes me feel great. Don’t get me wrong though, I still treat myself to the occasional pizza, but it’s far more satisfying now that I don’t restrict what I eat. I allow myself to eat what I want, when I want – but heavy, rich foods taste way better when they’re not a regular part of my diet.
My body image is a huge part of my condition, so I take time each day to treat my body well. Whether that’s through exercising, taking long baths, or simply spending 15 minutes to moisturise at the end of the day.
I’ll also take mental health days where I need to in order to recharge. My old job was cool with me using sick days for this, but now I work for myself, I take them where I feel like I need them. As I’m freelancing I can work on my own terms, so if I need to take a mental health day I can schedule around it.
For the past year I’ve been managing my condition with a combination of medication and therapy, which has worked wonders. The medication has helped keep me stable while working on the underlying causes of my condition, and while I’ve been exploring my own beliefs and assumptions about the world. This is changing as I’m coming off my medication, so I’m going more down the self care route these days.
Changing As A Person
I am way more on top of maintaining my boundaries. I’ve cut people out of my life because they’ve violated these boundaries, because I now believe I’m actually worth being treated properly. Before, I used to believe people treating me badly was my own fault. Now, I don’t tolerate being treated any less than what I deserve.
I’m a believer in second chances in relationships. I’ll communicate how I’m feeling and how people have made me feel, and I’m willing to give them a chance to understand that I’m hurt because of something they’ve done. If I give them a second chance and they do the same thing again, don’t show signs of learning – I won’t keep them in my life.
I’m also a huge advocate of breaking the stigma against mental health and medication for mental health, which has influenced the direction I’ve taken with my career. I regularly talk about my mental health on my blog’s social media channels, as well as use those channels to uplift voices that struggle to be heard.
I would have loved to read honest accounts of people’s mental health struggles when I was diagnosed, and even before I knew what was going on – but as I was diagnosed just as the tide was turning on mental health publicity, I want to become part of the change.
My Favourite Superhero
It took me a while to pick a single character, but I think it would have to be Captain Marvel.
I really identify with her journey throughout the movie where (minor spoilers, if you haven’t watched it yet!) she’s always told to control her emotions to become a better warrior for her cause.
However, her emotions are what makes her powerful, and she uses that power to stand up for the people who were wronged by the same people she once considered her own.
Plus, the ‘stand up!’ scene which shows a montage of her always rising, always getting back up, no matter what knocks her down is SO powerful for me.
Thanks Emma for sharing your story with my readers and me!