Gender Stereotypes & Mental Health

Okay… so this could be a tricky one. I’d like whoever reads this to keep an open mind, I am not trying to say my way of thinking is correct or that anyone actually has to agree with it, I just want you to try and keep an open mind. Also it is going to be a little stream of consciousness like so bear with me.

I have a lot of friends who are LGBT+ and I’ve had issues with my own femininity in the past. I’m cis gendered, which means I am comfortable with the gender I was born with but I don’t fit a lot of the stereotypes that come with my gender. I recently cut my hair very short and since then have received criticism and compliments both about my hair including insinuations that I must be a butch lesbian amongst other comments. Yesterday a tyre blew out on my car and I posted on fbk about it and I got comments about ‘girl power’ and how unusual it is for a girl to change their tyre. I admit I struggled getting the nuts off cos damn they are tight and had to call my husband for advice as he’d shown me what to do but I hadn’t done it solo before… but why does gender even come into it?

I’ve always been into things that aren’t considered girly, and if as a cis-gendered person I can be made to feel uncomfortable and question myself how hard must it be for people who don’t fit into that pigeon hole of ‘normal’. What is normal anyway? I am a gamer, I am into computers, I don’t do makeup or shave my legs and I don’t feel the need to jump up and down and scream at every exciting thing in life. I don’t sleep around, lead guys on or play games… flirting can be fun but only if both sides know that is all it is and if not its dangerous waters. (Note I’m married and happy with my partner at this point anyways).

This lack of girly behaviour made me unusual at my school were 3 girls dropped out pregnant, it also made me a case for sexual harassment from other students on top of the normal bullying, thankfully it never went far enough to be traumatising, just irritating.  Also being forced to wear skirts was a hell for me, I always wore shorts underneath to save embarrassments but I so wish trousers had been in. Apparently during primary school the other kids thought I must be a lesbian because I wasn’t interested in guys, hell I just wasn’t interested in anything until one particular guy got my attention in the final year of senior school, it just wasn’t on my radar. I know plenty of people who are a-sexual still going into their 30’s, there is nothing wrong with it. There are people who enjoy casual relationships but don’t need a partner and prefer it that way.

Being outside the ‘normal’ can easily feel persecuted and the need to hide the extent of your ‘wierdness’ can be exhausting. There is also the social pressure to fit in, that leads you to think ‘maybe I should try and fit my gender a bit more’. When you already live a life of anxiety and depression then societal pressures about gender and who you like so don’t need to be added on top. I have enough issues and my friends have a lot more from stereotypes to outright sexism or homophobia.

Why does gender matter? Why does who you fall in love with matter? Aren’t we all just people? I feel like life is too short to live with all this hate, how does the way we live effect you? Why do you feel the need to judge? Some people can take comments and brush them off and for some people it can be soul crushing and lead to a steep mental health dive. I have an anorexic friend who suffers the same issue of random strangers judging them and making comments that are either outright hurtful or that they think would help. It doesn’t even have to be gender issues, just anything visually unusual.

I am proud of who I am, I don’t feel like I should need to hide who I am or who I like but I also know that sharing information with the wrong people is still dangerous in this world. I love people, I don’t care what shape, size, gender, sexuality or religion they are as long as no one tries to pressure their views onto me we are all good. All I care about is that people are healthy and happy and so very few of us are. Modern society prosecutes and pushes us until we break, and there is no shame in breaking its only human. Hell 6 year old children are being treated for depression these days, mine didn’t hit until I was 16 with GCSE’s and my first death in the family.

You never know what someone is going through, how close they are to breaking. You never know where their insecurities lay. Some people will show it openly but a lot of people hide and have coping mechanisms so people don’t see. This is something I always try and consider (and don’t always get right) when interacting with people. Don’t hold bad days against people, don’t give up just because they are struggling because that is when they need you the most.

A friend once posted a quote “being well adjusted to a broken world is no good thing” so for those non-adjusted people amongst us, keep strong.

Meds and Tears

For those who don’t know: Citalopram is one of a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These medicines are thought to work by increasing the levels of a mood-enhancing chemical called serotonin in the brain.

So I had my appointment at the doctors. It turns out when I’d had chance to sleep on it I pretty much knew what I wanted. I wanted to get some extra help from medication while I sorted out my self care. I don’t want to sit through more CBT yet until I see where this journey takes me. So I have upped my dosage of citalopram with doctors approval from 30mg to 40mg with a review in 6 weeks. It would be great if at that review I can start reducing again.

There is a stigma around anti-depressants that even I as a 5 year participant can’t quite shake. Some see it as a weakness, some see it as a crutch, some people are just too scared of the addiction to try. I only ever wanted to be on them as a short term aid while I got myself right, but things are never that simple.

Sometimes our bodies have a genuine chemical imbalance that we have had since birth or due to influences in our life. I have at least one friend like this who knows she can never come off the drugs because without them her body doesn’t work right. I am dependant on mine, I’ve tried to come off and it’s horrendous. I don’t know if I am one of the people with a natural imbalance or if I just haven’t gotten myself to the right place yet. I have wanted to come off the drugs so I can ‘just be me again’ without some drug influencing my system… but I don’t know when or how this may be the cast and I have to make sure that when I try again it is for the right reasons.

I realised that the only one really applying any pressure to come off the anti-depressants is me. Work realise I need them, my husband and friends know I need them and not one of them is judging me for it… except myself. So, why am I insistent that I don’t want to be on them the rest of my life? Because… I am? I guess I worry that I’ve lost something of my personality with the change in how my mind works but I would say if asked that I feel normal and like myself… but its been so long.. how would I know?

When I first went on them I could feel fairly accurately what they were doing to me. I could feel the detachment and the numbness. It was like I knew that normally at this point I would be crying… but I just felt external to it. It is still harder to cry, I  can still get the feeling of frustration that I want to cry but nothing happens. But this is the low level frustration, the day to day stuff.

If I get a real shock or like the last few weeks get to a real breakdown point where I just can’t rationalise or cope anymore, then I cry. I also hyperventilate and go dizzy as it seems I can’t get a normal level of upset I go straight to anxiety attack. I can however bring myself back from this with a breathing meditation that has thus far worked every time. I let the tears happen and focus as much as I can on my breath on slowing it, counting as I breathe in and out and make sure the breathing out is slower than in. This in turns tells the body there is nothing to panic over, the short sharp breathing that can come with crying tells the body there is a problem.

Much like there is no shame in taking anti-depressants to help, there is no shame in crying or needing comfort either. 

I have tried to come off from the drug a few times over the last few years, I pick spring because it is sunny and warm and nature is coming back to life. Trying to come off in winter while it is dull lifeless and depressing just wouldn’t work. These attempts have however not worked out and in some cases take time to recover from. I have a 3 day limit before I hit withdrawal, I know this because I am forgetful and occasional have unfortunate gaps in my prescription over a weekend when I have forgot to check my quantities and renew in time.

I feel like a normal emotional human being, I can be happy and sad and all things in between but I think without the drugs I would just be sad.

Communication on Depression/Anxiety

Morning,

Random tips:

Couple of things have happened this morning (already I know) I’m up at 6am all week and my body clock just does not understand weekends, plus I only allow a ‘sleep in’ until 8am anyway so my body doesn’t lose track of when it needs to sleep again. So random self-care tip there for sleep pattern control.

  1. Found this website about high functioning anxiety and I hit all 12 markers https://goo.gl/1EaG5L
  2. I re-realised the importance of calm clear regular communication.

Communication:

It may sound silly or obvious but it is something that often gets shut down by depression and anxiety. Little things, ways of talking, unwanted reminders and a wide variety of other trigger can be left to repeat and fester. Or you can just sit and suffer in silence.

  • You don’t want to burden your partner or friends with your problems.
  • They won’t understand how you feel.
  • They may ridicule you.
  • What if it upsets them?
  • Maybe if you let it slide you’ll have worked out a way to deal with it before next time.
  • What if they become scared of upsetting you and end up feeling like they are on eggshells?

Been there, done that got the t-shirt. But do you know what happens when you do speak up?

  • You feel better
  • You get support
  • You find out that most of your friends feel the same.
  • The well meaning behaviour can be adjusted to not trigger you.

You don’t even have to shut down the behaviour entirely just, ask for a reprieve. You’ve opened the communication now and you both know that when you feel better, your less sensitive or over-reactive that you can handle it again, whatever ‘it’ is.

Even a little thing like a partner caring for your health in the wrong mindset can feel like so much pressure, and its not logical or helpful but it just does, doesn’t it? They may have asked you a month ago last how such and such issue is doing, but it feels like it was seconds ago. Brains aren’t rational least of all when your already in a world of pain and darkness (did I mention it can also make you over-dramatic?). When this kind of thing happens, don’t do what I often do and snap some kind of ‘why do you keep asking me?’ take a moment to sit back and think, ask for that moment if they look confused.

Knee jerk reactions are the scourge of anxiety, our brains make a leap to disaster before we’ve even finished listening to the question. It can be hard but taking those moments to think through what you are about to say can make the world of difference.

My experiences:

So I have a husband, we’ve been married just under year, together just under 8. We both have anxiety and depression issues and we both have been on anti-depressants in our lives. Our triggers and reasons are different, and encase you are wondering yes he’ll probably read this at some point. It makes the above so much more important however, in fact even if you are of good health and your partner isn’t this is one of the core parts of keeping your brain level (in my opinion).

You might not have a partner, but that’s what friends are for. If your anxiety or depression means you are low on friends then places like the Blurt Foundation, AnxietyUK or the Samaritans amongst others can be your form of communication. There is no shame in using these facilities if it stops you feeling alone and bottled up.

Back to my point, I know for a fact that when I am low he worries about me much like I always worry about him and what my illness is doing to him. Yes, this can go both ways. I also know due to my personality and the way I deal (or don’t) with my anger can lead to me snapping. For a person who doesn’t have anxiety they may be able to shrug this off, but for us my knee jerk reactions are a trigger. I know that and yet I let it happen, poor self care on my part and a lot of guilt. I’ve learned that when I can’t stop the knee jerk I have to resist my urge to go hide and feel bad about myself. I have to recover my calm with my partner, talk it through and explain the poor reaction. If I don’t then I have just triggered my partner into a bought of anxiety/depression that was completely avoidable and then left them to stew in their own juices.

This can go both ways, for example I have asked if I snap and then run off that my partner goes after me and confronts the issue. This wouldn’t be their natural reaction but it is a backup if my brain is in a bad enough spot that I lose sight of their feelings. We all do it, depression insulates us from the world and turns us in on ourselves. We can lose sight of how our friends and family feel and what we can do to help them. Or there is the opposite reaction where that is all we care about because looking at ourselves is too damn painful.

That leads me back to the start of this blog, self-care. Communication is a good part of that it helps us and people we deal with to look after ourselves. I am not asking anyone to become heartless and stop looking after their friends, but we always have to remember to look after ourselves too and realise that real friends and good family will understand.

The old adage, if they don’t understand then you don’t need them in your life, comes to mind.

 

Depression for Me

I probably won’t post this much in one day going forward but I guess at the moment I have time at it is at the forefront of my mind.

So I’ve already listed a few things but at the moment my core issue is my depression and the effect it is having on my work life and private life. I don’t know what depression feels like for other people but I’ve seen similar descriptions out and about.

What it feels like to me:

  • I want to cry… I can’t tell you why.
  • I just feel upset… I can’t tell you why.
  • I am angry at everything… I can’t justify it.
  • The thought of one more morning getting up and going to work makes me want to never get out of bed again.
  • I don’t want to look out the window… look at the news… ask how my friends are doing… encase it isn’t good news.
  • I have to work up to seeing my friends because I just know I’ll say something stupid, look like an idiot, say the wrong thing and upset someone, bring everyone else down with me… the list goes on.
  • Sometimes I just vague out and find it hard to focus on the things going around me, doesn’t matter who it is or where I am, I’ve just gone away for a bit.
  • I’m just an ugly noisy nuisance bumbling through life making everyone’s life harder.

What I want to do sometimes:

  • Stay in bed and not get out
  • Breakdown in a noticeable way so I can stop hiding it
  • Have an accident so I have an excuse to just stop
  • Leave my friends alone so they don’t have to put up with me
  • Scream and hit things
  • Just sit and cry without explaining it to anyone

What I won’t do:

There are some depths my brain hasn’t gone to yet though sometimes I wonder how I’ve kept out of that red zone. I’ve been congratulated for this in the past by other people struggling but it hardly feels like an achievement when I look at the list above.

  • I’ve never considered suicide
  • I’ve never cut myself

I maybe got close to the second in the last few weeks, I was on the edge of an anxiety attack and to distract myself I started pressing a screwdriver into my leg hard enough to hurt but not do damage. The shock of what I was doing actually gave me the break point where I knew I wasn’t coming back from it and found a safe place to have my anxiety attack.

What I do instead:

  • I get up, because what else can I do?
  • I go to work, because I need the money.
  • I hide away my anxiety attacks and cry in a private place (the people I trust know where this is).
  • I’ll make a joke or make light of something to deflect attention away, not always in a pleasant manner (i’m sorry if you’ve been on the back end of this).
  • I know I snap at people, I have anger management issues too, normally its things I would never say to someone. I despise hurting people but at our lowest all we want is to take the light of us.

There will be more than what I have put down here right now, some things slip the mind until they happen again. Eventually I want all this to go away but it is going to be a long hard journey… hell its already been 13 years even though I may have only realised this wasn’t a normal way to feel 5/6 years ago.

I think the start of this darkness was coming against death the first time in my life, I lost one of the people I cared for most when my grandmother died when I was 16. It made a lot of life’s dark places so much more real to me. I was hit again when I lost my aunt just a few years later. My final break point for going onto anti-depressants was my father-in-law getting diagnosed with cancer, I thank god he made it through and in remission but the effects will never go away again.

These events amongst others opened me up to a level of empathy which is both constructive and destructive for me. It means I can pick up on other peoples feelings to help them (although do I really, or do I just impose what I think they are feeling?). It also means I take a lot of other peoples pain into myself, even imaginary ones. I’ve cried and gotten upset over news stories, watching films or even anime. I have noticed a correlation between my levels of depression and how sensitive I am to this. Deaths in fiction never bothered me until I lost someone myself.

Well, that’s it for now I think.

Hello

Just to get the ball rolling, my name is Bex. I am a 30 year old electronic engineer who has been struggling with stress, anxiety, self esteem and depression since I was 17 to differing degrees. 5 years ago I finally decided it wasn’t normal and that I had a problem so I went onto anti-depressants, in my case citalopram. I got stress control classes and low level cognitive behavioural therapy on the NHS and tried to do mindfulness through webinars. These have all given me small boosts and ideas, ways and means but eventually everything seems to fall by the wayside.

I recently picked up a book called ‘The Self Care Project’ by Jayne Hardy and found out about the Blurt Foundation (https://www.blurtitout.org/).  Just reading the first chapter about the authors journey and why she was writing a book of self care moved me, in fact it brought me to tears. She started the Blurt Foundation to help others and make sure no one has to be alone.

So I am starting a new self-care journey and in the spirit of my inspiration I thought I would start this blog to catalogue some of my experiences for self reflection and so that someone else in this world can feel less alone.

https://www.blurtitout.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Free-Self-Care-Starter-Kit.pdf