Fighting My Corner ||Issy Grainger

It started off with staring out of a window in History class.

I was thirteen and, little did I know, that small moment would come to define the next fourteen years of my life.

There was a dragging sensation in my chest I hadn’t felt before, like I had a hidden handle inside that was being slowly pulled to the floor. I tried to concentrate (I really did!) but every word the teacher said had to fight through the intense fog in my head.

There were some dark thoughts in there that definitely weren’t there before.

No-one was worried; it’s hormones! She’ll grow out of it. Cheer up, love – give us a smile!

Happy childhood? Tick. Loving family? Tick. Doing well in school? Yep. On the surface, I had nothing to be sad about, but that’s not the definition of depression.

Mental illness can hit people at any age, and for some it can start young. Depression can manifest itself in chest-shaking sadness, not leaving your house for days on end and a myriad of other changes to your life, including severe weight loss or gain, obsessive thoughts and losing your friends.

Over the years I’ve seen six different therapists, Crisis teams, a clinical psychologist and, in recent years, had a few too many trips to A&E. My illness has been a part of me for over half my life.

Taking the reins

But towards the end of 2017, when my symptoms were the worst they’d ever been and I began taking Sertraline after years of saying I’d never resort to medication, I decided that I couldn’t stand feeling sad any more. I was so much more than just sick of it all. I decided things would be different.

The idea of fighting this thing inside me was simultaneously releasing and terrifying. I felt like I almost had to redefine myself. I’d always assumed that I would have to keep making short-term solutions to the issue – staying in with Netflix when things were difficult to weather outside – and never truly get better.

No more of that – this was possible. 2018 was the time to take action!

But how?

Changing your state

I began to put small things in place: I made coffee dates with amazing people, set achievable career goals and bullet-pointed how I was going to reach them, but most importantly, I changed my outlook.

I sat myself down and told my brain that I was going to become a positive person. The small daily inconveniences that my brain blew out of proportion had to stop. I had to teach myself that nothing is permanent, everything can be repaired and there is so much to look forward to in the world.

Now I wake up and deliberately find something to smile about – the sound of birds, the promise of seeing my friends at work. I try to infect others with my new-found positivity, making the effort to always stick to plans with my mates (which I had been bad at before) and exercise if I feel low instead of eating the entire contents of my kitchen cupboard!

Doing yoga has helped to clear my mind and letting my workplace know about my recent struggle has been a huge help as I now feel I have the support I need during the day as well as at home. I’m still on medication but am weaning myself off it very slowly and hope to be off it completely in about three months. Of course there’ll be down days ahead, but I feel so much more prepared to kick them up the bum!

We might only be just over a month into 2018, but I’m already feeling like a new person, and I’m going to keep it that way!

Here are my top 5 tips for getting your mental health back on track:

1. The 1,001 day plan

Not as scary as it sounds! A few years ago, I read a blog where someone had created a list of 101 things to do in 1,001 days. The tasks could be large or small – anything from publishing a novel to learning to juggle. While I’m still to master any circus skills, the list has been a fantastic opportunity to try out some achievements that I would never otherwise have done. So far, I’ve swam under a waterfall, started yoga and done a bungee jump. With each new tick I was flooded with happiness and a little bit of pride. It’s a fantastic way to kick-start yourself into action.

It's hard not to feel positive with this cutie around!

2. Furry friends

Last year, my partner and I decided to get a cat and it was the best decision I’ve ever made! Getting a pet allowed me to think about something other than myself. Feeding, changing the litter, playing, petting – these are all things that I now needed to fit into my day. I replaced my frown with a fluffy new pal.

3. Digital Detox

This is arguably the most important. Since deleting Instagram and Facebook from my phone (the apps, not my accounts) I have been so much happier in my day-to-day life. I make a conscious effort to not look at my phone while I walking anywhere or while eating dinner and found my mind more relaxed and more focused on the world around me. This most certainly helped with tip number four…

Getting out and about in nature has really helped my state of mind.

4. Nature is nourishing

I’m lucky enough to live close to a large park packed with wildlife and winding pathways through the trees. Now that I’ve deleted the apps I used to constantly be checking, I can now walk without my head clouded up with other things and finally enjoy the beauty of what is around me. It’s very freeing.

5. Put it in your pocket

Having a physical reminder of your positive state close to hand is a really great trick. I carry a semi-precious stone with me – a piece of green calcite – as I find it’s filled with positive vibes! I only have to give it a quick squeeze inside my coat pocket and I’m reminded that my head can be clear from sadness and that I have so many reasons to smile.

Written by Issy Grainger

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