for better mental health

How spreading happiness helped me out of my depression

Tuesday, 14 January 2020 Florence

Florence blogs about how designing cards to make people smile helped put a smile back on her own face.

My depression has never been what is considered ‘typical’ by society, which is why it took me so long to do anything about it. I’ve never enjoyed being by myself and the idea of shutting myself in a room to be all alone is my idea of hell.

Everything I’d heard about depression suggested that what you should feel is a need to be far away from other people and to disengage in the world around you. I know now that there is no typical depression, but before it meant that I never considered there was anything wrong.

I simply wondered if this was it and accepted that maybe I was just someone who found life dissatisfying.

Everything that I had planned for my future seemed frightening and achievable.

In January 2016 I reached rock bottom. I couldn’t distract myself from the pain in my head.

I was in the middle of my second year of university and suddenly my world came crashing down around me. Everything that I had planned for my future seemed frightening and achievable.

When I saw a doctor, it was only in passing that I mentioned how I felt as I was there for something else. I was lucky enough that she knew me well enough to notice something wasn’t right and diagnosed me with depression and anxiety on the spot. My reluctance to take any medication stemmed from the thought that it was like admitting something was wrong and accepting that I couldn’t help myself. The side effects seemed awful and I didn’t need any more problems to add to my list.

It doesn’t sound that impressive to be able to go to the shops by yourself, but at the time it felt like I’d conquered the world.

I quickly realised that taking medication would give me the boost I needed to get myself out of this seemingly dark and bottomless hole. It took several months and a number of different pills to find the right ones, but once I did things started looking up. I could spend a few hours at home alone or manage a quick trip to the shops without crying. It doesn’t sound that impressive to be able to go to the shops by yourself, but at the time it felt like I’d conquered the world.

In late 2017, with life feeling a little more stable, I decided to go back to university to become a nurse. I figured that a job being around other people and on my feet all day would be just the thing for me. However, four months before the start of my training, I was dealt another blow. I had damaged one of the discs in my back and needed surgery to fix it. Exercise was the one thing that kept me going and helped me clear my head. Suddenly I was lying in a hospital bed unable to even go to the loo without help.  I realised that I needed another solution to help my mental health. Relying on exercise wasn’t going to be enough and I’ve never been able to sit still long enough to meditate.

With the help of some friends I handed out my first few cards. I started to get into the swing of it and slowly it became easier.

From my bed I decided that the world needed more positivity and happiness. I started the project Spread Happy. I designed small cards with different positive statements that people could hand out to make other people smile. At first, the thought of approaching strangers made me incredibly anxious. With the help of some friends I handed out my first few cards. I started to get into the swing of it and slowly it became easier. I still have difficult days where the thought of trying to be the happy person handing out cards is far too much. I’ve realised that that’s ok, there are plenty of other days to be that person. Sometimes life calls for a duvet day and cuddles with my cat.

If you’re wondering whether you’ll ever manage to dig yourself out of a depressive hole, I hope you’ll think about my story. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I couldn’t leave my house without my mum, and even then I would be crying. I couldn’t decide what to eat, what to wear or even what to watch on TV. Three years to the day that I was diagnosed, I signed up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Mind.

Be patient and take small steps because in three years’ time you could be climbing mountains

Life can be unfair and unkind, but it can also give you incredible strength that you didn’t know you had. Be patient and take small steps because in three years’ time you could be climbing mountains, having a family or getting your dream job. You never know what’s around the corner – good or bad, you will learn to cope and come out the other side a stronger person.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is never to ignore your body or your mind. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t settle for feeling low because I promise you, there is more to life.

Find out more about Florence's work at spreadhappy.org

Find Florence on Instagram at @happy.spread

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