“OMG he’s so OCD,” is a phrase we’ve all heard, and probably used at one point or another to describe someone very clean, tidy, or scrupulous about a certain thing. Like writing their headings in a certain colour pen, for example, or being on time.

We say it without thinking, just as we say someone sad is ‘depressed’ — but like depression, OCD has this whole, big, messy OTHER meaning to it… which, if we knew more about it, might make us think twice before bandying it about the place like any old word.

What does OCD look like?

OCD is a disorder: specifically, an obsessive compulsive disorder, in which a particular pattern of thoughts and/or behaviours occur to you again and again. Imagine the repeat button on your iPod getting jammed on, say, Rebecca Black’s Friday, and you’ve pretty much got it – except of course, that is happening in your head, and there’s no way of pulling the plug.

So what are the symptoms?

‘Obsessions’ are distressing – even disgusting – thoughts or images which keep appearing in your mind, no matter how many times you try to think of something else. Sure, that can seem pretty common  (who doesn’t feel like they think of their crush every waking second of every day?) but this is next level repetition: it’s not obsessed as in ‘I am ob-SESSED with Grace and Frankie’, but upsetting, occasionally repulsive and often unlikely thoughts – your crush, friends and siblings all dying in a flood you’ve caused, for example – which arrive without invite, complete with a supersized dose of anxiety.

OCD UK has a really extensive (but by no means complete) description of the kind of thoughts an OCD sufferer might have.

‘Compulsions are the behavioural part of the deal – the actions someone takes to combat, control or relieve the unwelcome thoughts. They can be related to the thought (checking the taps constantly, for example, if it’s a flood scenario you’re obsessed with) but they can often appear irrational. They offer a relief from the anxiety, and that’s what results in an urge to perform them again and again – but like squeezing a spot, the relief they offer is usually pretty shortlived.

TL;DR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which means a distressing pattern of thoughts and/or behaviours occur to you again and again. And again. This DOESN’T always mean hand washing or tidying up – and nor does a tidy person who washes their hands a lot necessarily have OCD. We don’t know what causes OCD, but it’s thought to be triggered by trauma, stress, and/or a genetic predisposition to the condition. Treatment is easily accessible and, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), really effective. If obsessive thoughts or behaviours are taking over your life, you should definitely talk to someone and seek help.

Cleaning and handwashing ARE common compulsions, but they are not the only ones – and someone who washes their hands a lot doesn’t necessarily have OCD. Ditto tidying, hoarding, checking things, arranging and rearranging things and other everyday behaviours (you can find out more on that here) which tbh mostly sound like habits your parents could do with scaling back on. Only if they occur repetitively and as a result of obsessive, upsetting thoughts could they potentially indicate a more serious issue.

So how do I know it’s OCD?

When it is taking over your life, at the expense of anything else you might need or care about. Let’s go back to the crush example, shall we? Dreaming about their dimples is delightful, and probably doesn’t make you late for school every day. You can dismiss the thought if you have to. and focus on the task in hand. We’re talking about a level of obsessive thinking and behaviour that consumes and distresses you and your loved ones in much the same way as a serious addiction: impacting your work, home and social life and taking up an excessive amount of time.

When I had Compulsive Skin Picking – a form of OCD that takes picking your spots to a whole new level – I was known to spend almost over an hour in front of the bathroom mirror, picking and peeling away. That, my friends, is obsessive compulsive disorder; not a 60-second pus fest.

What causes OCD?

Annoyingly no one has managed yet to pin it down to any one cause in particular. It’s believed to be down to one or more factors which kickstart the disease – you can read about these in detail here, but they can be genetic (often conditions like OCD and anxiety or depression can run in families), psychological (sometimes a previous mental health problem can lead to OCD) and environmental (the result of external stress or emotional trauma in childhood or later on).

OCD has no age-limit, and it isn’t confined to one gender in particular. There are still many questions to be answered about what brings it on.

Is it treatable?

Absolutely! CBT — another acronym, but a nice one — stands for cognitive behavioural therapy, and is your best friend here. At its most basic it means rewiring your brain, to help it avoid negative trains of thought and choose more positive ones instead. Don’t panic: it doesn’t involve actual wires – just talking to a CBT-trained therapist who will help to understand, challenge and avoid the obsessive thought processes.

You know how there are some routes you really should know by now, but somehow you always go wrong on? These guys will point out the signpost you’ve missed, and the garden with the gnomes which reminds you it’s the next road on the left. Metaphorically speaking. The most common problem with OCD is that people suffer for ages before seeking help. You can, and should, read more about treatments here.

@clare_finney

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It’s perfectly natural to feel panicked in certain situations. Sometimes life can be a bit panicky. When you’re late to an appointment and there’s a red light; when you can’t remember where you put your mum’s favourite necklace; when you are watching literally any episode of Pretty Little Liars.

But a panic attack is something else, something next-level – a very real, physical reaction to what’s going on in your mind. Put simply, panic attacks are when that feeling of ‘Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,’ spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.

What do panic attacks look like?

During a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breathe or you are going to be sick. Some people describe feeling like they’re having a heart attack, or the frantic need to escape whatever place or situation you’re in.

Physically, you might feel like your heart is beating weirdly or really fast. You may also feel hot and sweaty, or shaky and weak in your legs. Some people experience blurry vision, or a sensation that their surroundings feel strange and distant.

Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is how quickly they come on and how intense the symptoms can feel. However, it’s important to remember that panic attacks can’t cause any physical harm. We’ll say it again: they can’t cause you any physical harm. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Panic attacks are when that feeling of “Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,” spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.
  • Symptoms include: feeling sick or short of breath, feeling like you're having a heart attack, feeling hot and sweaty, shaky or weak in your legs, blurry vision, feeling the need to escape, or the sensation that your surroundings feel strange.
  • Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. The symptoms can feel intensely real and scary, although they can’t actually cause any physical harm.
  • Breathing exercises, listening to music, exercising or keeping a diary can all help, and so can talking to your doctor.

What causes panic attacks?

The exact cause isn’t understood. Sigh.

For some people, there are places or situations that can trigger a panic attack, whereas other people will experience them at random. They go hand-in-hand with anxiety, although not everyone who has a panic attack has anxiety disorder, and vice versa. But whatever the cause, they’re common. About one in 10 people experience panic attacks, and they effect twice as many women as men (cool thnx, patriarchy). 

Are they treatable?

Yes. The worst thing about panic attacks is that you can talk and think yourself into them – but that’s also kind of the best thing, because it means you can talk and think yourself out them too.

Obviously, this sort of mental gymnastics can be incredibly difficult, but it’s definitely possible. There are a lots small things you can do that can make a huge difference; talk to someone you trust, try some breathing exercises, listen to music, exercising or even keeping a diary. And beyond that, talking therapies with a mental health professional can give you coping strategies to keep panic at bay. 

When should I go to the doctor?

If your panic attacks are frequent, linked to general feelings of anxiety, or just making life difficult, it’s always a good idea to have a chat to your GP about what they recommend.

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Image: Hailey Hamilton

When Zoella recently revealed that she turned down the chance to have afternoon tea with Prince Harry due to her struggle with anxiety, everyone was surprised.

Everyone, that is, except anxiety sufferers. We all got it. Many of us would have done the same thing. Because anxiety makes no distinction between a bog-standard Tuesday and a date with royalty. You can’t postpone it, or save it up for a better day, or talk your system out of it because OMG a PRINCE is offering you a cucumber sandwich.  

The other fun thing about anxiety is that it affects everybody differently. For some people, panic attacks feel like a heart attack, or drowning. They can make you giddy and breathless, or sweaty and shaky. Some people’s face and fingers go tingly and numb, others feel like they’re choking on thin air.

Me, I feel sick. I get dizzy and breathless too, but nausea is my anxiety’s special signature move. Its personal brand. And despite the fact that not once in my whole life have I actually thrown up during a panic attack, anxiety is such a wiley trickster that I still end up convinced I will – and so, the only logical thing to do is lock myself in a toilet until it is over. Any toilet. 

I’ve spent quality time locked in toilets all over the country. In cafes and restaurants, service stations and tourist attractions. Sometimes I’ve spent so long locked in there, waiting for the panic to pass, that I’ve started thinking about how I might decorate the cubicle (IKEA would deliver to a toilet, right?).

Over time I’ve almost begun to feel affection for my tiny offices of turmoil. And while they vary in size, location, smell (ick) and luxury amenities, they all have at least one thing in common: I’ve left them, eventually, and got on with the rest of my life. Because that’s the other thing about panic attacks – they might throw a spanner in the works, but they never win in the end.

Here are some of my most memorable loos of doom.

Toilet at a restaurant, Derby

I was seven, and out with my family at a restaurant that my dad was reviewing for free for a newspaper. Most people’s natural response to a free slap-up dinner would be something along the lines of “Hoorah! I WILL HAVE THE LOBSTER AND ALL OF THE PUDDINGS!” – but instead, my brain and physiological system got together and decided a more appropriate response was to freak out before the starters even arrived. So I ended up trapped in the loo with my mum for the whole meal while my brother demolished a hot fudge sundae. At least we had plenty of notes on the toilet decor for Dad’s review, though.

Toilets at the Hawth Theatre, Crawley

I don’t know what it is about theatres that sends my anxiety into overdrive – maybe the tiny seats or the knowledge that if I need to suddenly rush out of the auditorium, I’ll have to climb awkwardly over a row of 15 people to do it – but some of my most prolific panic attacks have happened in the middle of shows. This one, the regional final of Global Rock Challenge school dance competition, seemed especially illogical as I’d actually danced on stage in the competition itself for two years beforehand with absolutely no bother. But hey, nobody likes to be predictable!

I spent a peaceful 45 minutes in the toilets nibbling a ginger biscuit and trying not to vom, while guessing who had won what by listening to the applause through the wall. Love a bit of culture, me.

Toilets on a P&O Ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea

To be fair, locked in the loos on a ferry while crossing the famously rough Irish sea is a pretty natural place to be. It certainly makes more sense than being in the cafe eating a tuna baguette, or in the duty free perfume shop dousing yourself in Britney Spears Fantasy – both things I did on this fateful journey, just before the floor started lurching, my little brother turned green and my brain/stomach double act banished me to spend the rest of the journey in my safe space. The loos; breathing deeply, re-reading the ad for incontinence pads on the back of the cubicle door until Dublin appeared on the horizon. Not so smooth sailing. 

Toilets at fashion magazine offices, London

When you’re a 17-year-old living out your Devil Wears Prada fantasy as an intern at a terrifyingly chic fashion magazine, the panic potential is high. When you spend the whole of your first morning collecting newspaper clippings, inadvertently cover your whole face in grey newsprint smudges and don’t find out until you look in the toilet mirror at 5pm, it’s basically inevitable.

On the downside, they didn’t hire me as the youngest ever junior editor but instead sent me back to Sussex after two weeks. On the plus side, they were pretty fancy toilets.

Toilet on a plane, somewhere over the Atlantic

You know when you’re on a plane and you start thinking about how gravity works and then immediately start thinking about the plane falling out of the sky, and end up locked in the teeny tiny plane toilet for so long that you miss the free biscuits being handed round? No? Well, it’s even less fun than it sounds.

Toilets at a Mexican restaurant, Christmas party

‘Tis the season to be anxious, fa la la la la la la la la! All that eating, drinking and merriment means that I spend more time in toilets at Christmas than Santa does in chimneys. This was a particularly memorable session, partly because it involved me hiding in the loos for so long that everyone assumed I’d snuck out and gone home before the karaoke started. But also, because I bravely rode through the panic and ended up totally fine again, belting out Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. A festive happy ending!  

Toilets at Caffe Nero, Covent Garden

The good thing about having a panic attack in central London – rather than, say, in an empty field in Somerset – is that there are loads of loos to choose from. The bad thing is that there are loads of people, also trying to use those loos. Potentially about 4.3 million. Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s how many paraded through the toilets at Caffe Nero, Covent Garden, the day I had a colossal meltdown and spent a full hour sat in the world’s smallest cubicle, breathing slowly and trying not to gag on the combined smell of wee and hazelnut lattes.

Every couple of minutes someone would come in and bang on the door and I would stay silent, hoping they wouldn’t assume I had died and try to kick the door down. Eventually my boyfriend came to rescue me, at which point I immediately felt better and went for a huge pasta dinner.

Part of me feels there should be a blue plaque in that cubicle, for historical significance. ‘Lauren Bravo panicked here, 2016’ it would read. ‘But she was totally fine in the end’.   

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Image: Hailey Hamilton

“You have major depression,” the doctor told me, her eyes kind and thoughtful, like a basset hound.

“There are loads of things we can do. We can get you into therapy and put you on some anti-depressants,” she continued. “You will get through this, Lily,” she said, taking hold of my hand and squeezing it tightly.

I closed my eyes and cried – not with sadness, but relief. Finally, an answer. There was something wrong with me, even the doctor said so. This wasn’t me being melodramatic, this wasn’t me being ridiculous, this wasn’t just how growing up felt. This was a real, medical problem. There were things that could be done.

But the best thought of all was: maybe I won’t always have to feel this way. And for the first time in a really long time, I felt the clouds in my brain shift, just a little, and I could see a glimpse of another life. A life where I was happy.

Strangely, I had never really noticed I was happy – until I wasn’t. It’s so easy to take happiness for granted because a lot of the time, happiness is nothing more than a gentle hum in your chest, or being able to fall asleep the moment your head hits your pillow. Happiness can be smiling to yourself on the train, or going a whole day without thinking a single negative thing about yourself. These were luxuries that I took for granted, because I had no idea how it would feel when they went away.

I didn’t know that the gentle hum in my chest could be replaced with a tightness that made it hard to breathe, that there would be nights where I lay awake, convinced I was utterly worthless as a person. That my smile would be buried somewhere at the back of my throat or that I would begin to hate the very essence of who I was.

* *  *  *  *  *  *

One of my mentors once told me: “You’ll never get anything if you don’t ask for it.” Over the years I’ve repeated this advice to myself in a million different situations, and each time, it has let me tap into a deep reserve of bravery that I didn’t know I had. It was this advice that I drew upon last time I had a depressive episode. I knew that help was mine for the taking and that all I had to do was ask.

But, of course, the asking is the most difficult part. Vocalising that you think something is going wrong with the inner workings of your brain is incredibly hard. Forcing the words, “I need help,” or “I think I’m depressed,” or “can you please take me to the doctor,” up your throat and out of your mouth can feel as impossible as breathing under water.

It was for that exact reason that I ignored my depression for a long time. I had my first depressive episode when I was fifteen, and at the time it was so tightly woven into my anorexia that it was almost impossible to work out where one ended and the other began. The side effects of anorexia were obvious in my baggy clothes and the sunken shadows under my eyes. But depression hides inside your brain, revealing itself only to you, like the invisible friend you had as a child.

I suppose the real reason I ignored it was simply because being a teenager is confusing. Your body has morphed into one you don’t recognise and spots are erupting like volcanoes on your face and your moods change with the wind. Hadn’t my teachers and parents and textbooks explained every change in my life with a one single word: hormones? Hadn’t every book I’d ever read, every song I’d ever listened to, every movie I’d ever watched, warned me that growing up was meant to be hard? That teenagers are meant to be full of angst and to feel like no one understands them? And so, I told myself, maybe that’s all this was.

And after all, what did I have to be depressed about? Me, with my loving family and my nice house and my top grades. Me, with my loyal friends and my supportive parents? There were people in the world who were starving. People who were homeless. People who had lost parents or siblings. People who had lives that I couldn’t comprehend in my privileged bubble.

But none of these things stopped the neurotransmitters in my brain screwing up. None of these things ever have or ever will be enough to stop mental illness. Anxiety has never looked at someone and gone, “Gee, you know what? They have a really sweet family, so I’ll just leave this one be.” Depression doesn’t give two hoots if you make Head Girl or the hockey team. OCD doesn’t decide to skip someone because their parents are rich. I know these things now – but at the time, the fact that I had every opportunity in the world and was still depressed only seemed to prove to me that I was a terrible person.

For a long time, I believed that my mental illness made me weaker than other people. I would watch my friends swing between happiness and sadness with ease. I would wonder why I couldn’t be more like them. Instead, sadness seemed to cling to me like an ex who just won’t take the hint.

But it turned out that my brain just needed a little more help that other people’s. The same way you need to throw a kite into the air a little, in order for it to take flight. With the right medication and the right therapist, I was able to claw back parts of my life that had withered with neglect. And you can too.

It’s like Dumbledore said (kind of):

“Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Once you ask for help. Once you confess your worries to a parent. Once you say the words aloud to a doctor. Once you confide in a teacher. Once you let the words out into the world, things can start getting better.

To all of you out there struggling silently with depression, I promise you one thing: it doesn’t have to be this hard.

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Yes, it’s freezing outside and no, the day isn’t quite over but no matter how your day is going, spare a thought for the team of people who will have five hours to move the Obama family out of The White House and the Trumps in. It turns out no detail is too small for this team to care about – even the room temperatures and humidity levels in the house are changed to suit the new family’s preferences (who knew people had humidity preferences?)

Here are some of the other things we’ve been reading, watching and loving this week.

#WhyIMarch

On Saturday, an estimated 1.3 million women in 616 locations around the world will take to the street for the Women’s March. The aim of the march is basically to send the message to political leaders (*ahem* some newer than others) that women’s rights are human rights too. Or, as its Facebook page explains: “We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognising there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

If you want to attend a march, visit Women’s March to find the one closest to you – and get your walkin’ shoes on.

 

Bond, Jane Bond. 

Do you always hesitate when people ask what you be when you grow up? Well, we’ve got your back. GCHQ’s (that’s the Government Communications Head Quarters) new National Cyber Security Centre has invited teenage girls to enter a competition that could reveal the cyber spies of the future. And yes, it’s exactly as cool as it sounds.

Teams of four girls aged 13-15 can enter the CyberFirst Girls competition, where they’ll have to complete a series of online challenges. The top 10 teams will progress to a national final in London in March. Plus, the winning team will all take home individual prizes and their school will receive £1000 of IT equipment.

We imagine it will be exactly like Spy Kids, but, you know, set in 2017.

spy-kids

Can’t sleep? It might be Instagram’s fault. 

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling in your stomach that no one will like your latest Instagram? Well, you’re not alone. According the Science of Us, a new study was released that found a fifth (or 20%) of teens regularly wake up at night to check their social media. The study showed that those who woke up in the middle of the night for a sneaky Snapchat session were THREE times more likely to say that they constantly felt tired at school, and were less happy than their better-rested peers. So if you’re reading this after 11pm, go back to bed! Like, now.

snoopy

How to be flawless in one easy step

Anyone who’s ever taken a selfie knows it’s all about the angles… but fitness model Anna Victoria stepped it up a notch when she posted this image on her Instagram this week, to show how misleading social media can really be. While Anna looks ridiculously 🔥 in both pics, she wanted to send a message to her fans about body image: “I will not punish my body I will fuel it I will challenge it AND I will love it,” she says. Flawed? More like floored.

Me 1% of the time vs. 99% of the time. And I love both photos equally. Good or bad angles don't change your worth ❤️ I recently came across an article talking about how one woman stated she refuses to accept her flaws, because she doesn't see them as flaws at all. I LOVED that because it sends such a powerful message that our belly rolls, cellulite, stretch marks are nothing to apologize for, to be ashamed of, or to be obsessed with getting rid of! As I'm getting older, I have cellulite and stretch marks that aren't going away, and I welcome them. They represent a life fully lived (for 28 years so far :)) and a healthy life and body at that. How can I be mad at my body for perfectly normal "flaws"? This body is strong, can run miles, can lift and squat and push and pull weight around, and it's happy not just because of how it looks, but because of how it feels. So when you approach your journey, I want you to remember these things: I will not punish my body I will fuel it I will challenge it AND I will love it 💗💗💗 If you're following my page, you're a part of helping me spread this message and creating this movement – thank you. #fbggirls #realstagram www.annavictoria.com/guides

A post shared by Anna Victoria (@annavictoria) on

 

Royally good news! Prince William gets serious about mental health 

This week, Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry appeared at a Heads Together event to urge people to talk about their mental health. Prince William encouraged people to not ‘keep quiet and carry on’ but to open up to a friend or family member about any mental health challenges they may be facing. Good work, Will.

If you’re worried about your mental health, visit Childline for more information.

In need of some LOLs? 

If you haven’t already watched Raised by Wolves, you should really get on that asap. Written by hilairo author and all-round Shero Caitlin Moran and her sister Caz, the show is based loosely on their own childhood growing up home-schooled in Wolverhampton. Despite the show finishing mid last year, Buzzfeed reminded us of its awesomeness with this week’s round-up of their fave moments – and the main character, Germaine, is just as fist-bitingly hysterical we remembered.

raised-by-wloves raised-by-wolves

 

One of the biggest mysteries of all time has finally been solved

No, not how they built Stonehenge. The other big mystery: are all the Pixar films related somehow? Well, there’s some good news for all the animation-lovers out there – Disney has finally given us an answer. Get ready to have your mind blown.

To infinity and beyond… or, you know, Monday.

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I was fifteen when I was diagnosed with anorexia.

I had never kissed a boy, or a girl for that matter. I had never had a pint of beer or driven a car. Yet, somehow, I had decided to fight against the most basic of human instincts: that you eat to survive.

Anorexia is a difficult illness to explain because even when I was firmly in its suffocating grasp, I was aware that I was sick. Not in a hand-on-your-forehead, take-a-paracetamol, have-a-good-night’s-sleep sort of way. But sick in a Saturday-morning-weigh-ins, every-meal-dissolving-into-a-fight, missing-entire-weeks-of-school sort of way. In fact, I was the type of sick that would come to define the next few years of my life.

The only way I can attempt to explain my anorexia is to say I felt that I was both too much, and not enough. I was too loud and too enthusiastic. And also, not smart enough or pretty enough. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life, and that frightened me.

All I knew was that I wanted to be perfect.

I felt like people had expectations of me – some real and some totally imagined – and I felt I could never meet them all. Somewhere along the way, I got confused. I forgot that my happiness was more important to anyone than the grades I got or the way I looked. Instead, I began hating myself for not being the Lily I thought people wanted me to be and so I took it out on my body. I wanted to shrink everything until I became invisible.

It wasn’t even so much about being thin – it was about what being thin represented. To me, being thin showed that I was the type of person that exercised, the type of person who ate salad, the type of person that always submitted her homework on time, and always made the honours classes. Somehow thin, to me, had come to mean clean and disciplined and healthy.

But of course, I wasn’t healthy at all. I was starving myself, I was depressed and I was falling behind at school because I no longer had the energy to raise my hand in class, to do my homework, to keep my eyes open while the teacher explained the fall of the Roman Empire (to do this day, I still don’t really know what went down back then).

The thinner I became, the more I hated myself. I pushed my friends and family away, convinced they couldn’t love a creature as awful as me. I felt like I’d trapped myself in a nightmare that I had quickly lost any control over and I was really, really scared.

Of course, I knew something was wrong. My family had tried to talk to me. My teachers had pulled me aside after class. My friends had asked if I was okay. I knew that all the things that were happening to my body were not the signs of a healthy 15-year-old, but part of me thought it would be arrogant to ask for help, to assume that this thing, whatever it was, was a serious mental illness. That a doctor would take one look at me and laugh and say, “What are you talking about? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.”

It wasn’t until I read a book about anorexia that I was able to finally able to ask for the help that I so desperately needed.

One night, I emerged from my room, crying. My mum was watching TV and I curled up next to her, ‘Mum,’ I said quietly, ‘I think there’s something wrong with me.’

I know those are the exact words I said because they are seared into my brain. After I uttered those words, my life took on a different trajectory.

There were years of therapy. And then some more therapy. There were anti-depressants. And then more anti-depressants.

There were screaming matches with my mum, who believed that my life should amount to more than knowing the calorie content of every food in the supermarket.

There were some appointments where both my parents, one of my brothers and his wife would turn up to support me and we had to nick some chairs from the room next door – because how many people are lucky enough to have four people who will turn up to what is, quite frankly, a long and harrowing doctors appointment?

There was a teacher who let me sit with him and talk about US politics when I wasn’t up to going to class. There were my friends who kept turning up, no matter how awfully I treated them, which is pretty much all I ever needed them to do.

None of these people needed me to be perfect; they just needed me to get well. And so I did.

Even so, it took years of therapy before I became even a shadow of my former self. Years before I accepted my personality and stopped confusing my weight and my self-worth, as if they were almost the same thing.

My desire to be perfect nearly ruined my entire life because I am so massively imperfect (so much so that I just had to ask a colleague if it was imperfect or unperfect). I am consistently seven minutes late. I knock over my water bottle at least once a day and every time my editor bursts out laughing. I get really obsessed with crafting projects and then abandon them three quarters of the way through.

And all that is fine, because it’s who I am. The most important thing I learnt from those years? That the moment you let go of trying to be perfect and you learn to forgive yourself for all the ways in which you screw up, you get to be happy.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Depression is not a bad mood.

Let’s just get that out of the way, right at the beginning. It’s not a matter of feeling sad for a few days. It’s not something that you can ‘snap out of’. And it is absolutely NOT a sign of weakness.

Depression is a very real illness, with very real symptoms.

But with the right treatment and support, it doesn’t have to take over your life either. Some people with depression will make a complete recovery, others might find themselves managing their symptoms on and off their whole lives. But either way, it is always possible to feel happy again. Pinky promise.

What does depression look like?

Part of what makes depression so difficult to understand is that often, there isn’t anything to see. It’s not like a broken arm or a bleeding toe, something you can point at and say “here! This is where it hurts!”

But when you think about it, there are heaps of things we can’t see. Love. Gravity. Farts. Pokemon. We still believe they exist.

However, depression can come with physical symptoms too. Some people find that they constantly feel tired, others have trouble sleeping or sprout various pains and aches. Some people lose their appetite while other people find that their appetite has quadrupled overnight.

Emotionally, people with depression may find that they have lasting feelings of sadness or hopelessness and that they don’t find happiness in things they normally enjoy. Such as hanging out with friends and family. Puppies. Chocolate milkshakes. It’s also common for people experiencing depression to have symptoms of anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that if you have depression you’ll also have anxiety, or vice versa.

TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
  • Depression is a mental illness but it can have physical symptoms too, such as fatigue, pains and aches and a loss of appetite.
  • There are loads of reasons that people develop depression; sometimes there is a trigger and other times there seems to be no reason at all.
  • Depression is treatable. Treatment often involves talking therapies, and medication such as antidepressants.
  • It’s totally normal and ok to be sad sometimes. But if you’re worried your sadness might be something more serious, talk to your GP or an adult you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.

It’s perfectly natural to experience feelings of sadness or anxiety at certain points in your life – especially during puberty, when often it can feel like your brain and body are running in two different races at the same time. This is part of being a human, and usually nothing to worry about in the long term.

Even though they might look similar from far away and are often mistaken for each other, when you get close up, you realise that depression and sadness are completely different things.

What causes depression?  

There are loads of reasons that people develop depression – and sometimes, no obvious reason at all.

Sometimes there is a trigger, such as parents splitting up, being bullied, or losing someone close to you. Some people might just be more prone to depression than others. Every family gene pool is a lucky dip of quirks and conditions that might be passed down – from heart disease and diabetes to pointy noses, and sometimes, yep, depression or other mental health issues.

But having a history of depression in your family doesn’t mean that you will get it, just as no history of depression isn’t a guarantee that you won’t. That’s the thing about a lucky dip: no one quite knows what they’re going to get.

Is it treatable?

Yes, a million times yes. Treatment for depression often involves talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you tactics to help you cope in certain situations and strategies to avoid triggers.

There are also medications such as antidepressants, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.

When should I go to the doctor?

It’s always best to be on the safe side, so if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it might be a good idea to head to your GP for a chat. You can also find lots of helpful info on Childline.

Remember, it’s totally normal and ok and fine to be sad – that’s what we have Weepy Girls’ Corner for. But if you’re worried that your sadness could be depression, talk to someone. It could be a teacher, a parent, a doctor, an older sibling, a synchronised swimming instructor… basically, an adult you trust.

Because however difficult things seem, you never have to suffer in silence.

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Image: Getty