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Mental Illness Looks Like: Jessica

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Do you struggle with mental illness? If so, what?

A: I have struggled with mental illness, historically. Mainly depression. That is not to say that I am now "recovered" from mental illness. I have vulnerabilities and some very low days – but largely, for me, it is a case of maintaining my mental health to avoid a spiral into a prolonged episode of depression again.

When did you first realize you struggled with mental illness?

I think I knew from the outset (age 15) that I was struggling, but I had no idea how to articulate that into words. I didn't understand what the pain was, what it meant. It wasn't until around the age of 19 that I felt more educated on my symptoms and understood it. It was a diagnosis from my doctor that helped me fully realise the extent to which I was struggling.

How were you diagnosed?

By accident! I went to my GP with a urinary tract infection and broke down into tears. My VERY intuitive doctor asked me lots of questions, actually took an interest, and we unpacked what was going on aside from the UTI. Very. Good. Work.

What does depression feel like for you? Describe your symptoms.

Depression for me is like seeing the world in black and white. On a sunny day, you KNOW the sky is blue, but you can't see it, you can't get the joy from it. It's losing the joy from things that you normally love to do. It's wanting to isolate yourself but also feeling lonely. It's a pain in my chest. I'm also a massive crier, and when I am depressed, I find myself crying at lots of random times in the day when it doesn't make sense – public transport, in the gym, on my own, in company. It won't take much to trigger the tears.

Is there a metaphor or an example you use to describe your mental illness?

Like having a permanent cloud of fog over your head. When you breathe it in, it hurts. It makes your ears teary, your head heavy, your visibility poor.

Do your friends and family know about your illness? If so, how did you tell them?

I am lucky to have the support of the @runtalkrun community who I feel I can be totally transparent with. With my friends and family outside of that community, I tend to describe my symptoms in terms of their physical form (e.g., I feel sick, or I feel tired) because I find that easier to articulate, and easier for them to understand too.

Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?

When I was in the throes of depression, 100% it held me back. Now that I am understanding ways of managing my depression, not at all. I wouldn't be doing half of the things I am doing (or know half of the incredible people in my world) were it not for my struggle.

What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggles?

I have set up a global mental health support community, which acts as ongoing support for myself too! I have run 5 marathons, an ultra-relay, and more half marathons than I can count. I have spoken to large audiences at some big events about my journey with mental health, and I have traveled alone in America (which felt huge for a shy Brit like me!).

Do you go to therapy?

I have been, but I don't necessarily think it is the best space for me, personally, to be vulnerable.

Do you take medication?

When I was very unwell with my depression, yes.

Do you do anything besides therapy or medication to manage your symptoms?

Running, strength training, seeking support from the Run Talk Run community. Taking myself in the outdoors when I feel my anxiety rising and walking lots more (instead of taking public transport).

Any stereotypes you'd like to address regarding the disorder?

That depression looks like staying in bed in darkness every day! People who experience depression who are high functioning and still go to work, and socialise, etc, can experience just as much pain.

Any books, resources, or influencers that have helped you?

@thephilmachine on Instagram helps me realise that I am limitless and can be a brilliant business-woman because of (and not "in spite of") my vulnerabilities. @hopevirgo inspires me endlessly with her campaigning for eating disorder treatments. Oh and there's this really cool account called @exposureprojectsf….

What do you want people to know about mental illness?

If you are struggling, just know that it can and will get easier. But that there are so many people who want to support you whilst it is not feeling easy.

Use three words to describe your experience.

Gritty, empowering, altering.

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