You’re Not As Depressed As I Am….

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Ahh judgemental people. Us “head cases” are the frequent targets of their ridicule and ignorance. We’ve thickened our skin and narrowed our ears, so that the thoughtless comments can’t penetrate us.  But what happens when we’re stigmatised by the people who should know better? What happens when we let our guard down, to try to help someone who’s suffering and they use our kindness to invalidate our experiences and pass judgement on us?

A couple of years ago, my husband and I were out with some friends of his. There was an individual in the group, whom I didn’t know very well. As the night went on, this guy became increasingly melancholic. He spoke openly about his depression and suicidal thoughts. I shared my experiences, not in a one upmanship “my pain is greater than yours” kind of way (well, I hope it didn’t come across in that way). I shared my story to demonstrate that I have first hand experience, therefore my sympathy wasn’t superficial. It was a “you’re not alone” gesture.

It was obvious that this person wasn’t interested in what I had to say, because he’d already formed an opinion of me. His response was, “but the difference between you and me is, I have low self esteem.” Pow! A low blow which rendered me speechless. I retreated back into my shell. I felt kind of betrayed that someone who was supposed to be on the side of “us” had labelled me, had turned native.

What annoyed me the most, was his opinion was based on the mask I wear – my alter ego. Public Me, is outgoing and takes the piss out of myself and life. The dark circles around my eyes are buried underneath layers of concealer, my fake smile distracts people’s attention from the sadness in my eyes, my tear streaked cheeks are coloured in with blusher, my laughter replaces my earlier sobs. I dress the body I hate in dark colours and thick tights. If I can’t fade into the background, I hide my pain in plain sight instead.

 

Why did this narrow minded person and his nasty comment affect me so much? Well, it was nasty for a start. But more than that, it was borne out of stigma and judgement. The same stigma and judgement that I’ve had to endure, for the majority of my life. He invalidated me and my experiences, merely because I choose not to conform to the stereotypical image of a “depressive.” He discredited my illness, because I choose not to be a poster child, or to wear my illness as a badge of honour. I responded to his cries for help, with kindness and empathy. He used my kindness as a weapon against me. And guess what? I didn’t counter his nastiness with nastiness back then, and I don’t now. He still becomes melancholic after a few drinks, and I still show him kindness. And he still thinks I’m some attention seeking imposter, who’s trying on mental illness, like a new pair of Louboutins. For the record, I haven’t yet found a pair of shoes that perfectly compliments my depression; and my bum does look big in it.

His, and countless other’s casual invalidation of me has got me thinking about stereotypes. What does mental illness look like? Well, I’ll tell you. Mental illness looks like the beautiful, charismatic musician. Mental illness looks like your favourite athlete. Mental illness looks like the larger than life stand-up comic. Mental illness looks like the Oscar nominated actor or actress. Mental illness looks like your doctor, your boss, your teacher, your best friend, your relative, your neighbour. Mental illness looks like you. Mental illness looks like me. Mental illness is not an exclusive club, where only the ones who “look the part” are granted admission. And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, tell them to remove your name from the guest list.

 

Photo by Abigail Lynn, courtesy of Unsplash.com

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B For Bigorexia

Bigorexia

Next up, in my A-Z of Mental Health series, I will cover the subject of Bigorexia.

Bigorexia? What’s That?

Bigorexia, also known as Muscle Dysmorphia, is a form of anxiety disorder; which has only recently become a recognised illness.

Bigorexia also falls into the Body Dysmorphia category, in that the sufferers’ perception of their body shape doesn’t match the reality. It has been dubbed by some as the opposite of Anorexia, in the sense that sufferers believe themselves to be thin and feeble, when in actual fact, they are muscular.

Who’s Affected?

Bigorexia affects around one in ten men in the UK alone. The figures could be a lot higher than this, due to the condition not being commonly known amongst non-professionals, leaving many more sufferers undiagnosed.

Sufferers are most likely to be gym goers, bodybuilders and those who weight train.

What Causes Bigorexia?

As with all forms of anxiety and body dysmorphia, Bigorexia is caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Chemical imbalance of the brain
  • Traumatic events, such as bullying
  • Pressure from society, to look a certain way; in order to be perceived as a strong masculine man

How Serious Is Bigorexia?

It’s deadly serious. When I use the term “deadly,” it isn’t an over-statement, it’s a fact.

In the same way that sufferers of Anorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them thin; sufferers of Bigorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them bigger.

Abuse of anabolic steriods and high protein supplements, can have catastrophic consequences on the sufferer’s health. Most of us know that steroid abuse can lead to heart attacks, but there are also some other very worrying effects of abusing steroids, including:

  • infertility and reduced sperm count
  • increased risk of prostate cancer
  • erectile dysfunction
  • baldness
  • breast development
  • acne
  • stomach pain

In addition to all of this, sufferers of Bigorexia are at an increased risk of developing depression. This can in turn, lead to suicide.

How Can I Tell If I, Or Someone Close To Me Has Bigorexia?

Sufferers of Bigorexia display the following symptoms and behaviours:

  • Compulsively exercising
  • Looking at their bodies in the mirror for long periods of time, or excessively
  • Abusing steroids and protein supplements, such as protein shakes
  • Dramatic changes in their muscle tone and build
  • Depression
  • Extreme changes in diet
  • Forgoing their usual activities, in order to spend more time in the gym
  • Verbalising their perception that they’re not big enough, or muscular enough
  • Becoming anxious or agitated, whenever they’re unable to exercise, or go to the gym

How Is Bigorexia Treated?

The usual course of treatment for Bigorexia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, alongside a course of anti-depressant medication.

If a sufferer has developed a steriod addiction, they will be placed on a drug rehabilitation programme, which includes drug counselling.

What To Do If You Suspect Someone Close To You Has Bigorexia

As with all mental illnesses, the first thing you need to do, is try not to rationalise it. Many mental illnesses occur without a tangible, or logical reason. Laying blame, or demanding answers from the sufferer, will only cause more harm.

Get as much information and support, as you possibly can. Consult your doctor and the organisations listed at the bottom of the page.

Understand that there is no one-size-fits-all quick fix. Everyone is different, and what may work for one sufferer, may not work for another. Recovery is a long process, which requires a lot of patience and empathy.

Where Can I Get Help And Support?

There are many sources of support available to you. I’ve listed some helplines and organisations below, who offer help and support to sufferers and their families.

Sources of Support In The UK

Mind Charity: 

Telephone: 0300 123 3393

Email: info@mind.org.uk

Anxiety UK:

Infoline: 08444 775 774

Email: support@anxietyuk.org.uk

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation (BDD Foundation)

There is a wide range of information, and details of online and face-to-face support groups, on their website.

The link is: BDD Foundation

OCD UK

As with the BDD Foundation, their website is a good source of help and support.

The link is: OCD UK

Narcotics Anonymous

For sufferers who have an associated addiction, Narcotics Anonymous can offer help and support.

Telephone: 0300 999 1212

Sources Of Support In The US

Reach Out

Telephone: 1800-448-3000

Website: Reach Out

Narcotics Anonymous World Service

Again for those who’ve developed an associated addiction, the link below offers information on drug rehabilitation treatment

Narcotics Anonymous World Service

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Anxiety and Depression Association of America Website

 

This list is not exhaustive. Your doctor may be able to help you access other sources of support and help. If you live in another part of the world and are affected by Bigorexia, I will be more than happy to help you access sources of support in your area.

Photo by Christopher Campbell, courtesy of Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I Wrote A Piece For Dropping Keys….

 

A couple of months ago, I submitted a piece of writing to Dropping Keys. I didn’t hear anything from them, so I assumed they weren’t interested and forgot about it.

Last night, I came home from work to an email from an editor at Dropping Keys, informing me that my piece had been published. Yay! I excitedly opened the site up on my browser, and found my submission.

Seeing my name on a published article, gave me goosebumps. I wonder if published authors ever get used to seeing their names in print? Feeling a little giddy, I scrolled down to read my work (I’d forgotten the exact words I’d written) and my excitement fizzled out. It has to be one of the worst pieces I’ve ever written. I’m very disappointed with myself.

Deflated, I sought two separate, albeit subjective opinions. I showed the article to my husband, who read it and made all the usual encouraging sounds. That’s what I love about him: I could write two words on a sheet of paper and smear dog poo on it, and he’d still think it was Man Booker Prize worthy.  

I sent a link to my Sister, who responded with “good job Sis! A nice simple piece, that gets the point across.” Now my Sister is a little less convinced that I’m the next Charlotte Bronte. Don’t get me wrong, she thinks I’m a capable writer and she encourages me; but she’s also brutally honest.

If I’m unsure of a blog post, I send her a copy to proofread. She then gives me some feedback – cut that out…keep that in…elaborate on this….rethink that. So to have her say that the article is good after just one read, is a rare moment. But I’m still not happy with it.

I feel that I rushed it a bit. The result being, that the pace of my article is quite fast and scatty. That’s what I think, anyway.

I spoke to some of the lovely members of a Facebook  writing group, I’m a member of and the general consensus is, that my feelings of disappointment aren’t uncommon. They all feel that same way, whenever they read an article they’ve published. They gave me some great advice, and put my mind at rest. If any of you are reading this, thank you.

If you want to read the article, here’s a link: When Depression Came To Stay

If you do read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.