Depression culture – Why my mental illness is not your quirky little aesthetic

A few years back, while I was studying to become a geriatric nurse, we talked about the subject of mental illness in class. This was supposed to be quite a big part of our curriculum as the nursing home that we all worked in also had a psychiatric unit, housing patients with various forms and degrees of mental illness. I was excited to be able to learn more about something that I was already passionate about and I was glad that we would be having lessons about the subject in class. During the first lesson the teacher handed out a sheet of paper which was supposed to have definitions and symptoms of a few of the most common mental disorders on it. It is safe to say that I was quite shocked when I read it. It read something roughly like the following:

  • Depression: When someone is feeling a bit low or sad
  • Anxiety: When someone is feeling nervous
  • Bipolar Disorder: When someone has a lot of ups and downs
  • Schizophrenia: When someone has hallucinations

Now, not only does that leave out a multitude of other mental disorders that should have been mentioned. It also generalises and downplays the severity of those disorders to a point where, reading it as a person who has experience mental illness first hand it is quite frankly infuriating. Now as much as I wanted to give my teacher the benefit of the doubt, thinking he may just not be educated enough to accurately teach on the subject, it turned out that he actually was a trained psychiatrist, which just made me even angrier.

So what happens when we teach and/or spread information like this? Well first of all, by doing this you are essentially invalidating and downplaying the experiences and the trauma of those people who live with an actual mental illness. Mental disorders are so much more serious and complex than can be put into one sentence. They are also highly subjective, meaning that certain people may experience different symptoms than others. Regardless of that however, a mental illness is something that is very scary. It’s confusing, it’s debilitating – it’s a lot more than just being a bit like this or that. It can have serious effects on a person’s well-being. It ruins relationships, jobs, ambitions and so much more. If you are saying and teaching something like “Depression being a bit sad or down sometimes” you are discrediting every single person that has ever lived with this condition. And for a person suffering from mental illness, this is infuriating.

Another thing this ultimately leads to is the misuse of descriptors such as “depressed” or “anxious”. All of a sudden every person you know is depressed. Everyone’s got anxiety and surely everyone’s got OCD as well because they organise their skittles by colour. Our society is becoming one big mental illness and as much as I would like to put that down to lack of knowledge or education, a lot of it is just sheer ignorance. And it’s in no way fair on those who actually do suffer every single day. Those who have to live with debilitating mental disorders and have to fight their hardest just to get through some days.

When I see people say that they have social anxiety when they may in fact just not want to go out or are just a bit awkward, it makes my blood boil. I’d love to scream at them, I’d love to make them live one day of my life and see how they like their social anxiety then. Because it’s not just not wanting to go out, or feeling a little awkward. It’s knowing every public toilet in a 2 mile radius because you know your IBS will act up in public. It’s throwing up before meetings. It’s cancelling plans last minute because you got so overwhelmed. It’s never making phone calls, regardless of how important they may be. And never answering the phone and then pretending that you were out of signal, so people would text you instead. It’s excessive sweating, shaking and hiding in toilets to escape social events. It’s not an aesthetic, it’s not something quirky you can say to get some lad to like you better.

Mental illness ruins lives. Daily.

So please, unless you have experienced mental illness first hand, refrain from using those descriptors for yourself. Feeling invalidated and not being taken seriously is one of the worst feelings a person can go through. You are not doing anyone a favour when you use those words so liberally and you are most certainly not funny or quirky. All you are doing is effectively adding to the already existing stigma that surrounds t mental illness. Mentally ill people struggle enough as it is, you don’t have to take their validity away by glamorising life threatening disorders. It’s not cool.

Please be mindful and have a think about what you say about yourself and others in the future.

Much love,
Kerstin

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“I’m a people pleaser!” – How to set healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships

I am a people pleaser. Since I can remember I have always gone out of my way to help other people. I have worked jobs with ridiculous hours, for little to no pay. I have pushed myself to meet people or do tasks for them even when I knew I didn’t have enough time or when I felt uncomfortable. I have engaged in conversations with people that made me uncomfortable, smiled when I wanted to shout. Laughed at jokes that I didn’t find funny. Said yes to things I didn’t want to to.

Why did I do all this, you may ask. I don’t think I was ever really taught how to say “No.” properly. I have never been taught that being asserting and having boundaries is perfectly fine and incredibly important in interpersonal relationships. I grew up living my life with a constant thought on my mind.

“What will people think of me?”

And naturally I only wanted people to think positive things about me. When I was bullied during my school years I yearned for nothing more than to be accepted by my peers and I would do absolutely everything to get that acceptance and validation. I worked on entire group projects all on my own, did homework for other students, agreed to just about every task that was asked of me, even if I really didn’t want to do it. People, for some reason already didn’t like me – so I did everything I could to prevent this dislike from spiraling further.

I volunteered in church, despite knowing from a very early age that I wasn’t religious, I started playing accordion at age 10 because my parents wanted me to and I didn’t want to disappoint them and even though I didn’t like it I was too afraid to tell my teacher or my parents that I wanted to stop taking lessons until I was 17. Later on, when I started my work life, things didn’t necessarily change. The first job I ever had was an apprenticeship in which I worked 40 hours a week for 300€ a month. That’s approximately 1,80€ an hour. Nowhere near minimum wage. Yet, I took that job and stayed in it for a year. Why did I do it? Again, I didn’t want to disappoint my family. After leaving school I was bombarded with expectations. I was expected to get a job, earn money, live independently. And I was determined to make people proud, no matter the cost.

Little did I know how much my mental health would be suffering from this. It still does to some extend.

Only recently I have started to learn that saying “No” to things that I don’t want to do is perfectly fine. I have learned that you cannot please everyone and that there will always be someone who might not like you. It took me years to unlearn behaviours that I had ingrained into my brain so deeply, it was almost like learning to walk all over again.

Through a lot of reading and a few very educational accounts on various social media platforms I have slowly learned that I am in fact enough. That whatever I may be doing is enough. That my efforts are enough and that I do not need to work myself to complete exhaustion and mental burnout just to please other people. It’s a long process learning these things and, most of all, internalising them to the point that I can now comfortably said “No” to people or things that I feel don’t benefit me. It comes with a lot of insecurity and hurt.

I had to learn to make my own mental health and sanity my priority and look out for my own comfort, not someone else’s. This process is slow and takes a lot of baby steps. One thing that has helped me was disconnecting from people that I did no longer benefit from. Unfollowing people, deleting emails and messages. Another thing was to go through various message requests on my social media and tell people quite plainly that I wanted nothing to do with them. (Mind you, most of these requests were men looking for a hook-up, but just learning to be assertive in a situation like that has helped me do the same with people in real life.)

Now instead of thinking “What will other people think of me?” I ask myself

“How will this benefit me? Am I comfortable doing this?”

And I would encourage you to do the same. Ask yourself, does this task compromise your standards or comfort in any way? If the answer to that is yes, then it is almost always not worth doing. And I understand that some things have to be done, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be. I understand that overcoming fears is a big part of our growth as an individual, but that’s not the point of this post. What I’m trying to say is, that you as an individual are more than enough – you don’t have to bend over backwards for the sake of someone else’s comfort. That’s their own responsibility.

Learn to make yourself a priority!

Setting healthy boundaries is important and doing it can greatly improve your mental health. It’s nothing to do with being mean or lazy or rude. It’s there purely to protect your own energy! Setting boundaries is an important form of self care that everyone should learn and practise.

Remember, you cannot and will not please everyone – and that’s OK! The people who truly care for you will understand this, and the ones that don’t are quite frankly not worth your time.

Be true to yourself and don’t compromise yourself for anyone. You are enough.

Much love,
Kerstin

Let’s talk about Misophonia – On why certain sounds make me want to punch a wall

Misophonia, quite literally, means “hatred of sound”. It is a condition where a set of negative emotions, thoughts and/or physical reactions is induced by the person hearing a certain sound or multiple certain sounds. These are often described as “trigger sounds”.

These sounds are often related to the mouth, as in chewing, slurping, whispering, popping gum etc. and most of them are repetitive. Sounds that, for any other person, wouldn’t even be worth mentioning as they are techincally sounds that we all hear on a regular basis and should be well used to.

For me, and other people suffering from misophonia, these sounds however can trigger a severe emotional or physical reaction. Such as, aggression towards the source of the sound, intrusive thoughts, withdrawing from the situation, suffering in silence, irrational anger etc.

The “worst” sounds for me would be chewing and slurping. But on occasion also sounds like keys on a keyboard or the repeated tapping of fingers. I don’t think I can accurately describe what goes on inside my head when I hear those sounds. The closest I can come to describing it would be that there are certain stages of annoyance that I go through.

In the first stage, I usually acknowledge the sound and I know that is bothering me, but still hoping it will go away soon enough and things are back to normal. If the sound persists I will start to feel agitated, I may try to remove myself from the situation but at this point I have to try very hard already to not just snap and shout. Entering the third stage I am just about ready to punch a wall or person for that matter. Now, while I don’t do that, that is what I FEEL like doing and nothing can stop this feeling of pure anger and frustration, unless the trigger sound stops.

If you are left a bit confused as to why I experience such intense emotions from merely hearing a sound, I get you. Misophonia is a condition that isn’t really known or spoken about, mainly because there has been very little research done into it.

Before I knew about Misophonia, I thought I was weird for feeling the way that I do about certain sounds. I thought I was feeling these irrational things that just couldn’t be normal. I thought I was a freak for getting so hung up about sounds.

Turns out that quite a few people suffer from this condition. And I am indeed not weird for feeling the way that I do.

Sadly, as of now there is no real treatment for this kind of condition. It is suggested that Misophonia can coexist with a variety of mental illnesses and can be made worse by hightened stress levels. So trying to reduce those would be beneficial. Apart from that avoidance and learning a few coping techniques are the only ways to deal with misophonia as of right now.

How does this condition affect my day to day life then, you may think? For a start is has made social situations a lot harder to deal with. I already suffer from social anxiety, so on top of everything that brings with it, certain situations, such as eating out in a restaurant, are now made ten times worse. Having to sit in silence, suffering, while people are eating their meal, it’s infuriating. I want to scream in their face, throw their food off the table – but I can’t. It’s not their fault, and reacting in that way would not only be unfair but it would also impose a massive strain on the relationship I have with them. Sometimes a situation as nice as sitting in bed next to my boufriend can be ruined, simply by him typing something on his laptop and those sounds making me quite literally want to punch holes into the wall next to me.

It’s simple, everyday situations like these that are ruined for me. Situations the average person wouldn’t think twice about.

I now have a pair of earplugs with me constantly, I often have to excuse myself to go to the bathroom when I am out with people just to catch a break for a few minutes.

Sometimes the sheer sounds of people talking can agitate me so much, I have to leave the room. Trying to explain this to another person, without upsetting them is hard. Because it is by no means their fault, yet here you are trying to explain how some sound that they are producing is making you feel awful.

I am hoping that in the future there may be some more research done into Misophonia, its causes and possible treatments.

Are you familiar with this condition? Do you or someone you know suffer from it? How do you cope? Let me know in the comments!

Much love,

Kerstin

Boring Self care – How doing the most mundane tasks can have a positive effect on your mental health

Self care, as often portrayed on various social media platforms, is all about treating yourself, having a spa day filled with face masks, ice cream, netflix and more. Dedicating a few hours, even a whole day to yourself, and yourself only.

It’s a great way of showing yourself some kindness and compassion. And who doesn’t like to feel amazing every once in a while?

As much as I love treating myself and having a day full of pampering, the reality of being depressed is, that sometimes these days are simply not possible. Sometimes it’s hard enough to just get out of bed and get through the day, let alone have a self care day.

This is where the term “Boring Self care” comes into play. You see, self care doesn’t exclusively mean going all out on pampering yourself. Sometimes selfcare can mean doing tasks that would be considered mundane or boring.

Tasks such as:

  • Putting on a wash
  • Washing dishes
  • Vacuuming the floor
  • Folding and putting away clothes
  • Wiping counters and work tops
  • Tidying the bedroom
  • Changing the sheets
  • Changing the bins
  • Cleaning the bathroom

Yes, this may sound just like your boring old list of household chores. But for me these tasks mean a lot more. On some days I don’t have the energy to do any of these, things pile up, are left unclean and I can notice how much of a bad effect these things can have on my mental health.

So, instead of having a full blown self care day, I usually decide on doing one task that needs to be doing. I get up and I push myself to do one single task. It usually makes me feel a lot better already and if I then feel like it I may do another task, or even two. Often I even get motivated enough to do all of the jobs that need to be done still. And what I end up with is a clean house and a much better mind set than I had before!

So, the next time you feel like you just don’t have the energy to do some proper self care, maybe start tackling just one little task around your house and see how you feel. For me, my surroundings always have a massive effect on my mental health, as much as they sometimes are a pretty good represantation of my current mental state. Getting things tidied and in order has always helped me feel at least a bit better. It helps me focus and leaves me with a sense of accomplishment.

When you are depressed or otherwise mentally or chronically ill, often you already feel like you are behind everyone else, that you’ve accomplished nothing. Managing to get one thing done, or maybe more, can help you get out of this mind set for at least a little while.

And remember, it’s okay if you’re not where everyone else it at. We all are on different journeys and if all you did today was managing to stay alive, that’s still amazing and you’re pretty badass! Don’t ever let some capitaliat ideals tell you that you have no worth if you can’t work or go to school or be productive. Your worth is much much more than that.

What boring self care have you done lately? Let me know in the comments below!

Much love,

Kerstin

“You need to open up more!” – On why I don’t talk much despite having a lot to say

I don’t talk a lot. In the past people have described me as quiet, shy, introverted – stupid even.

If you’re not familiar with the educational system in Germany, there is a thing called “oral grades”, which are in essence grades formed on the basis of how much you participate in class, how often you answer questions, how much you raise your hand. As you can probably imagine I didn’t necessarily participate much in class. As a teenager I put that down to just shyness, as an adult I know now that that was my Social Anxiety slowly making its way into my life. So me not talking and not participating as much in class as my fellow classmates led to a whole year long spiral of teachers either forcing me to participate or trying to give me unsolicited advice on how to do so.

None of them ever bothered asking why I didn’t talk much. And there were many reasons as to why I was silent. The first one being that I was absolutely terrified of messing up, of saying the wrong thing, of mispronouncing a word, of possibly voicing a different opinion. I was fixated on what people thought of me, I was afraid of being laughed at or ridiculed. So in my mind, it was best not to give them any more reason to do so than they already had. Asking for help or assistance or even for someone to do me a small favour was another thing that I did not do, and still struggle with today. For me, asking for help always made me feel extremely low, like I was nothing but a burden. I simply didn’t want people to be tasked with the extra pressure of helping me as well. I now realise that asking for help is absolutely fine, and that most people are glad to help you in fact. However, at times I still try to do a lot of things on my own, that I know I can’t manage by myself. There is a lot of stigma and guilt attached to asking for help or guidance in today’s society. Everyone wants be strong, manage on their own – asking for help is seen as a weakness. A mindset that I had ingrained in my head for so long that it literally silenced me.

Another reason is that I simply don’t enjoy talking which has a lot to do with my ears being hypersensitive to certain sounds but also, I really don’t enjoy small talk or anything like that. I don’t know where to begin, what to talk about and if I do I immediately start to over analyze every sentence that leaves my mouth. Talking, for me, is a very tedious task and most of the time I’m extremely uncomfortable when I have to talk to other people.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy having a conversation or discussion, but most of the time I simply prefer to be left alone with my thoughts. It’s a lot less stressful. Conversations always have an element of surprise to it, since you never really know what the other person is going to say. And that alone scares the living hell out of me. I like things to be planned, down to every single detail, and the second something slightly unexpected happens, it will stress me out more than I can say.

Probably the biggest reason why I don’t talk a lot is a whole array of bad experiences. People love to tell me that I “need to open up more” or that I should talk about my feelings more and the like. Yet, so so many times when I did just that I was either invalidated, laughed at or whatever I said was then blatantly used against me. Regardless of whether that was by friends, family or strangers, it’s experiences like this that make you shut down. You sit and wonder “Why did I even bother?” – I closed off every single part of myself that could possibly make me vulnerable to another person’s judgement. Now, I realise that this kind of coping mechanism is probably far from ideal, yet it takes years to unlearn things that have brought you comfort in one way or another. Even talking to people online, on a big platform or in private messages sometimes still feels overwhelming. It’s in one way easier to open up about certain things, since I do know that there are people out there who are genuinely interested in what I have to say and who care, but at the same time you are making yourself all the more vulnerable to people who are out to hurt you.

Not to forget that there are some situations that simply do require some talking. I hate them. They’re uncomfortable, they’re scary – yet they are necessary. I often find myself imitating another person’s way of talking, their accent, their slang words, their sentence structure. It’s one of those things that I do that help me feel somewhat more comfortable in talking to people.

Personally I think that I have made a lot of progress in getting to talk to people more. It’s hard and to be very honest, I would prefer silence over some senseless chatter any day. However I know that talking itself isn’t such a bad thing at all. After all, it is a vehicle for me to get my message out there.

I know my silence is comfort, it is a way to protect myself, something I have internalised for so many years that I now find it extremely hard to do what’s most uncomfortable for me – to speak, to open up. But I guess that’s what growth is all about, challenging what’s uncomfortable, learning from it, changing, reflecting. I’m working every day on finding ways to challenge what feels most uncomfortable for me, simply because I realise that it is necessary in order for me to progress on whatever path I am on right now.

How do you feel about talking? Do you enjoy small talk? Or are you happy just being silent with your own thoughts? Drop me a comment below, I really appreciate it!

Much love,
Kerstin

“I’ve unfollowed my best friend” – How decluttering your social media accounts can help improve your mental health

Every now and again I sit back and have a look at my various social media accounts. In this day and age most of us have several – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter … you name it. And most of us are most likely following a lot of people too, leading to an abundance of images, tweets or status messages flooding our screen every single day of our lives.

I have made it a habit in the past few months to clean out and declutter my social media accounts every few weeks or so. I delete old posts on facebook, that have no real meaning for me anymore. Most likely things that were posted as some sort of cry for attention, or validation. They served no real purpose at any point and may have felt like a great outlet at the time of me writing them, but now they were nothing more than an annoyance to me.

I also habitually delete or unfollow people. That is not because I don’t like them or anything. In fact, some I may know quite well or I might have gone to school with them or met them through someone. I do this because a lot of times I would have found myself looking at their page and instantly compare myself to them or their situation, wishing I had what they have. I figured, it’s extremely destructive for my own mental health to continue following people that make me feel that way. And understand this, me unfollowing someone has nothing to do with me not liking them, but it has everything to do with me protecting the state of my own mental well-being. I am now very cautious with who I follow and for what reasons. I don’t think it’s good for me, or anyone, to have a feed filled with people that I can’t relate to or that don’t inspire me in some way. In the past I have found myself getting so caught up with other people’s lives that I forgot that I had one too, which should have always been a top priority to me.

Another aspect of social media is that nowadays it is extremely easy to get sucked into this pattern of thinking that we always have to achieve perfection. We have to look like the girls on instagram with the 1 million followers, and we have to go on the most expensive vacations and eat in the fanciest places. We have to take that perfect photo, get the most likes – get that validation one way or another. In reality, all this doesn’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. The things we see online are so often only a fraction of what is actually going on in a person’s life. It is extremely easy to get lost in this endless downward spiral of trying to achieve what is deemed to be perfect and I cannot begin to describe how much of a negative effect this can have on a person’s mental health. It gets very easy to believe that you are worth less simply because you don’t have what is portrayed as “the perfect life” or the way things should be.

I have made a point of now only following people who I either connect with in someway or people who inspire me to be better and do better. People who encourage me to think and to question as well as people who affect my mental health in a positive way. I don’t follow people for the sake of doing so, or because I have known them for years, I don’t follow them to get a follow back, it’s not about the numbers for me – it’s never been that. I follow them because I feel like I can truly benefit from doing so. If something or someone turns out to be anything but that I will hit that unfollow button quicker than I could say the word.

Yes, you may think this rude and I get you. But sometimes you have to do things that other people may not like in order to protect your own energy and sanity for that matter. Some people, as much as you may like them, simply aren’t good for you. And it takes a lot of time to be able to understand this and understand the fact that this is absolutely okay.

I enjoy being on social media and connecting with people as much as the next person, but habitually weeding out some of my profiles has helped me focus more on stuff that’s important to me. Like any good clear out in your home, I believe that it is equally important to go through your social media accounts and get rid of what you no longer benefit from.

Think Marie Kondo – Does this spark joy?

Do you benefit from following this person – or do you feel worse after looking at their feed or reading their posts?

Have you ever done a social media clear out? If you haven’t, I’d absolutely recommend doing so! Sometimes you only really see how much a person or source of information is affecting you when you don’t have to look at them on a regular basis.

Let me hear your thoughts!

Much love,
Kerstin

“You don’t look depressed!” – On being high functioning and why any mental illness should NOT have a look.

One of the many phrases that I hear people say when I tell them that I suffer from depression is “You don’t look depressed!”. And although sometimes well intended, this is NOT a compliment for me. If anything it makes me think about why there is such a big misconception of mental illness having to have a certain “look”. Why do I need to look depressed to make you believe that I actually am? And most all, what is this “look”? Is it smudged makeup from crying, ruffled hair and bags under my eyes? Or a certain way to dress?

In all honesty I don’t know. Because yes, some days I do look exactly like that and other days I don’t. The pictures above were taken on the same day, within a time frame of maybe 8 hours or so. In the first one I am smiling, well dressed, makeup on ready to go out and do things. In the second one I had just finished crying for a good two hours or so, for reasons that I don’t remember anymore. Fact is, that in both pictures I am equally depressed. Me looking “proper” doesn’t take away a whole bunch of feelings underneath.

I spend a lot of my teenage and adult years being high functioning. Meaning, that I was going to school fine, I was showing up to work on time and left when I was finished. I went out, got my groceries done, rarely took a sick day off anything. I was still suffering during those years, I was still majorly depressed. The only difference being that I somehow managed to get stuff done.

A lot of people seem to think that just because you can hold down a job, or do well in school, that you can’t suffer from a mental illness too. A lot of us are suffering, yet they still go to work everyday. Those two things don’t exclude each other, they can coexist side by side and it is often very hard to get help for yourself or to be able to reach out to someone when they only see your functioning side and base their whole opinion of you solely on that.

It’s quite sad actually that people are in fact being refused help, because they don’t fit into a certain image that people have of them. Mental illness shouldn’t have a look, it shouldn’t be judged on that. So many of us are making it through their daily lives, looking fine, you wouldn’t suspect a thing – when inside they may be screaming, yearning for help. Being reduced to your looks makes reaching out for those affected even harder. It automatically makes you think – wait, maybe I’m not feeling that bad after all, maybe I don’t deserve help. It makes us isolate ourselves, get on with our lives unable to find comfort in being able to speak openly about our struggles. When everytime that you dare to speak up, your emotions are invalidated by something as seemingly small as looks, at some point you just don’t talk about it anymore.

It is a shame really, that even health care professionals often enough will reduce you down to the way you look, rather than listening and believing you. It’s a massive kick in the guts to be told that you don’t look “bad” enough to deserve treatment. Why is it that we seemingly have to hit rock bottom first to be able to access the help we may need? Why do we have to break first before we are deemed worthy enough of help? Would it not be better to offer help regardless of whether or not our situation was “bad” enough, so we wouldn’t have to feel that low in the first place? How is that such a alien concept?

A lot of the times when I didn’t seek help, it was mainly because I felt like I was not deserving of it at all. I didn’t feel like I was feeling bad enough to go and ask for it. After all, someone must have had it much worse than me. I was living in the belief that as long as I was working, and achieving something, no one would ever believe me when I would tell them how I really felt.

I truly hope that in the near future our health care system will change into something that is more based on empathy, rather than wanting people to fit into certain “categories”. There is still a long way to go, but I do believe that open discussion about these issues and speaking up about them relentlessly will help end this stigmatisation in the future.

If you ever have been told that you don’t look “bad” or “ill” enough when you decided to reach out, whether by friends or health care professionals, I truly feel for you. Please don’t let their misinformed opinion discourage you from speaking up about your truth and seeking the help you may need. Your feelings are 100% valid, always.

Much love,
Kerstin