Journals: Good or Bad?

Journals: Good or Bad?

I saw something on television today about how keeping a journal is potentially harmful because it makes you stew in your own feelings and accept negative emotions rather than confronting them and changing it.  It was all about how writing about your feelings and emotions doesn’t actually affect them and that there is no advantages of writing about your misfortunes.  While I accept that opinion, I don’t agree with it.

I started writing in my first journal when I was 12 years old and I have every journal I’ve ever written in, saved on my bookshelf.  At first a journal was just a way for me to express my frustration and feelings during my teenage years and moaning about school and friends, talking about who I had a crush on and how I planned to make them marry me.  It was immature fun and it gave me an outlet, I didn’t have many friends as a teenager and my journal was in a way, my best friend.

As I got older my writing became more serious and reflective, it was about expressing feelings that I couldn’t express to people, talking about my worries and fears, and my dreams and hopes. I felt lighter and free after writing about my feelings, it made things easier for me.

Now, reading back through my journals has proved really useful, not only does it remind me of little happy moments I’d forgot about, it showed me how depression entered my life.  I was diagnosed with depression at 18 and I’d always believed that it had started at 16 after my parents divorce and after I’d been through some bullying.  Looking back at my journals though, I can see now that it affected me long before I realised.  When I was 13 years old, I wrote about killing myself for the first time and periodically after that, I mention not wanting to live and wanting to give up on life.  I wrote more often between the ages of or 12 and 15, and it was all very depressing and now I’ve come to identify my depressive behaviour, I can see that I was depressed long before I realised.  It wasn’t just normal teenage hormones and mood swings, it was a constant feeling of darkness and I described it in my journals as this blackness inside me, that tried to ruin any happiness, I wrote about not enjoying life and feeling not well.

Reading back has helped me, it’s showed me that my depression isn’t because of my parents divorce or being bullied, it doesn’t come from a negative or traumatic experience, it just is.  I didn’t believe in depression as a biological illness, I always thought it was triggered by trauma and I felt guilty for having depression when I knew that some people had experiences a loss worse than mine, people have it a lot worse than me.  Now I think that maybe depression was just always there in me, maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about feeling the way I do when I have so many good things in my life.

Reading back through my journals has also helped me understand where my anxiety stems from, I was always a shy child and I preferred books to people and I enjoyed learning new things, which made me different to other kids and kids can be cruel to someone who is different.  I let classmates walk all over me, I let them say mean things and laugh at me, and I did it because I wanted to fit in.  I tried to follow the trends and change myself to be more like my peers but it never worked, I was always still singled out and it caused me to sink into myself and choose to avoid rather than confront.  I started to run away from situations instead of standing up for myself and that’s why my anxiety has come to be as bad as it is.  One of the things that stands out most to me in my journals is the days I would fake being ill to get out of school because there was a presentation that day or a group project and I was terrified of being humiliated so I did whatever I had to do to fake sickness and get the day off.  I wish that I could go back now and just face my fears because by avoiding them, I never gave myself the chance to prove I was good enough, I made it impossible to build my self esteem and confidence because I found it easier to hide away.  It’s really sad to think that I was so terrified of my classmates opinions and actions towards me and I wish that I had been stronger and stuck up for who I was instead of hiding and trying to change myself into someone else.  I’m 23 now and ever since the age of 12, I’ve avoided any experience which I thought could cause me humiliation, and by doing this, I’ve never given myself the chance to prove my fears wrong.  Just because some kids at school laughed and said horrible things, doesn’t mean everyone is going to do the same and even though I can see that logic, it doesn’t help me because I’m too used to thinking that people will dislike me, so I avoid people and situations where I could be vulnerable.  Just being in public makes me panic, because I have so little confidence in myself and I see people laughing, and think they’re laughing at me, I see people talking and automatically think they are making comments about the way I look or behave.

My journals have shown me where I went wrong, they’ve shown me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being depressed when I’ve had a much better life than some.  They remind me of better times and make me proud of some of the things I’ve overcome. That’s why I think journals are beneficial, especially when you suffer with a mental illness because you can track your mood and identify triggers and behaviours that may signal a relapse.  It’s like writing this blog piece, it lifts a stress from my shoulders and allows me to say what I want to say without that face to face fear of judgement.  It allows me to reflect and think clearly which is really helpful.  I don’t know how I would have got through most of my life, if I didn’t have a journal to write in.

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Criticise

Criticise

I noticed that today’s word prompt is Criticise which is a term I know well.  To criticise someone is to indicate fault or express judgement.  Mental illness unfortunately invites criticism more than most.  Nobody likes to be criticised but when it happens in relation to something you can’t change then it’s even harder to deal with.

“Why can’t you just be happy?”, “Can’t you just snap out of it?”, “You should try thinking of good things instead of bad things”, “Just don’t let it beat you”, “Can’t you see what a good life you have?”, “Take up a new hobby, you’re just bored”, “You’re not ill, you’re just tired”, “Don’t be anxious, there is nothing to worry about”, “You can’t let your problems stop you doing things”.

It’s all words I’ve heard since being diagnosed with depression.  As if it isn’t hard enough fighting your brain constantly to carry on, people think that making criticism or judgement will help.  There is offering advice and support and there is criticising someone for the way the live with illness.  I hate being told to just smile and get through it, to snap out of depression and stop letting it effect me so much.  I don’t have a say in how my depression affects me, I can’t just wake up one day and say “Today I’m going to be happy and depression is in the past” and that’s what makes an invisible illness harder, having people criticise and judge you because physically you appear healthy.

Even worse is the people that criticise when they have no experience in the matter, people who have never been affected by depression will criticise the way I handle it, they will tell me I’m dealing with it in the wrong way, that I’m not trying to recover properly.  It’s one of the main reasons I don’t think CBT worked for me, I went through three separate courses of the therapy and it was degrading being told I wasn’t putting enough effort into getting better, that I wasn’t trying to change my life when every day it was a struggle to get up and carry on living.

I spend most of my time at home, my anxiety limits my activities a lot.  It makes me feel isolated and weird because I don’t react the same way as others to situations.  I can’t just get up and go out shopping, I can’t go to concerts or to a place with groups of people.  Then people come along and say “But what are you worried about? nothing bad is going to happen” and expect it to fix everything, they expect that if they tell me not to worry then all of a sudden my anxiety is going to just turn itself off.  When it continues they get angry and frustrated at me because what they’ve said has had no effect and they criticise me for not trying.

CFS means my body is aching and sore all of the time, I am in a constant state of exhaustion and need roughly 14 hours of sleep to function for just three hours, then I need to sleep again.  Yet sleep doesn’t refresh me, it doesn’t make me feel better, it just charges my body enough to do the bare minimum and some days I can’t even do that.  “You’re just lazy” ,”You just need to sleep better”, “Go to bed earlier”, “Do more work and then you’ll wake up eventually”, “You’re only tired because you’re not doing anything or going out”.  It’s amazing that, for a condition with very little research or treatment, that some people think themselves experts and think they are in a position to criticise.

Criticism can be a good thing if it’s constructive, if it’s advice or a suggestion to help.  Criticism that just aims to judge and point out failure is not helpful, it’s harmful.  I have to listen to it everyday in some form, sometimes from people who love me and don’t realise what they are saying is hurtful.  People with a chronic illness have to deal with enough, without people adding judgement and criticism to make them feel even worse.  Everyone you meet may be struggling with something and unless you know their situation and how they feel inside then you have no right to judge.  It’s hard enough fighting something that I can’t see, I don’t need to be criticised and judged for the way I fight it.

Guilt and Shame

Guilt and Shame

Having an invisible illness brings a lot of judgement and opinions from others and a lot of time it’s negative and hurtful.  Living with Depression and Chronic Fatigue is hard enough as it is without other people making me feel worse about something I cannot change.

Before my Fiancé met me, he had never met someone affected by depression and anxiety and I think it shocked him to see how much it affected me.  He didn’t understand Depression and it took a while for him to get used to the condition but he made the effort to learn about it and support me as much as possible.  The anxiety was hard for him to deal with because he is such an outgoing person who loves to socialise and it caused a lot of stress in the relationship but we both eventually learned how to compromise and he learned my boundaries and respected them. The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome took a long time to diagnose and frustrated him to no end because he could see how my life was so negatively being impacted and it seemed like doctors just fobbed me off,  but he supported me through all of it, and he’s still supporting me even though he doesn’t understand how something you cant see can be so life changing.

Some people though aren’t as supportive and understanding, they have the impression that Depression is something I choose to live with and the Chronic Fatigue is just tiredness which I should get over.  I don’t currently work, I have done in the past and I would love to again, there is nothing more fulfilling than earning money for your future.  To others though, I choose not to work and am lazy, they see me sitting at home all day earning no money for my household and putting all the pressure on my Fiancé.  It makes me feel ashamed and I start to doubt even myself, am I weak? am I lazy? Could I do more?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is hard to explain and when people just accuse me of being tired and lazy it hurts me so much because I’m 23 and if I could I would be out there in the world preparing for my future and socialising, doing all the things a young person would do.  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome isn’t just feeling tired, its feeling mentally and physically exhausted.  People take for granted waking up in the morning and feeling refreshed and ready for the day.  When I wake up in the morning, I feel nothing but exhaustion, I’ve slept all night but it’s not helped me, it’s not refreshed me, I feel just as tired as I did when I went to bed.  Then there is the constant aches in my muscles, it feels like I’ve run a marathon when all I’ve done is had a shower.  My joints are stiff and my temperature all over the place, I’m sweating one minute and the next I’m freezing cold.  I can’t concentrate for long, my mind feels foggy and I forget things so easily. When I sleep I have such vivid disturbing dreams that it’s surprising I sleep so much. I get up at 11am and by 3pm I need to sleep again, but I fight it because I feel so ashamed, I shouldn’t be tired because I haven’t done anything productive.

So it hurts when people think I am exaggerating or making my condition up, it hurts when people say I should be out working like everybody else because its just laziness.  It hurts when I have to fight for my benefits because Chronic Fatigue and Depression are not classed as long term illnesses.  I shouldn’t have to prove myself.  I have two illnesses that can’t be spotted physically but it doesn’t mean I’m not really ill, it just means I have to try harder to fight.