My first experience of depression and anxiety was my own as a young adult. It was a while ago, but I remember that there was nobody to talk to, no help to reach out for. It felt very lonely. In a quite natural way, I got drawn to Yoga, religion and to nature, where the healing moments helped me see hope and gave me strength to pull myself out of my low moods and low energy levels.
More recently, during my work at the University, where I was teaching Undergraduate students, I realised how wide-spread mental health issues are today and how many students I was seeing on a daily basis struggled with anxiety or depression. I remember one bright and lovely female student, who was in my class last September. She came regularly and although she was rather quiet, she managed all coursework well and visibly enjoyed the seminars. After the first half of the semester, she suddenly stopped coming to class. One week, two weeks, three weeks… This is when Student Support start checking what may be the reason for longer absence. I was told later that the student had mental health problems and paused her studies. My initial thoughts were: could I have done anything more to help, could I have shown more interest in the student, engaged her more in class discussions, boost her confidence? It is a difficult call. There is a very fine line between encouraging a student to participate and making them too scared about being called out to come to class. This delicate balance is what we try to find with every group. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Half a year ago, a member of my family has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a neurological condition, for which there is currently no cure or medication. Amongst the symptoms is severe pain all over the body, a pain which is not real, but seems real. It is caused by a malfunction of the central nervous system. As if this was not enough, my daughter has developed a health-related anxiety. Living with fibromyalgia means that it is difficult to tell if the pain is “real” or “fake”. As a result of the uncertainty patients are often anxious that there is something seriously wrong with their health, to the point of fearing for their life. Trying to help my daughter manage the pain and find a way out of the anxiety she is experiencing due to the long-term extreme physical symptoms, we have discovered numerous mindfulness apps and methods, learned about neuroplastic pain and somatic tracking, explored pain management methods. As much as I wished that my child did not have this condition, I give her a huge credit for courage, optimism and drive, which I see in her every day.
There is no denying that many of us will experience anxiety or depression in one form or another. Sometimes it affects us, sometimes our loved ones or friends and colleagues. There can be many sources and triggers. One thing I know for sure is that it is in our power to train our brain to overcome these issues and that there are many ways to find hope and help.
I recommend to read “The Way Out” by Alan Gordon to see how to deal with chronic pain and “Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett to find out about the fascinating history of our brain and how it works and interacts with our body.
Dr Beata Kohlbek
(former DELC Teaching Fellow, currently director of an online tuition centre: https://bktutoring.co.uk)