Depression and Anxiety is Balls – Jonathon Hagger and Fleur Pepperell-Roberts

Community is defined as being ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’. For those of us who live with anxiety, depression and mental illness it can be difficult to find people who feel the same way and understand the issues you are going through.

Depression and Anxiety Is Balls is the name of our Facebook support group that started with one person’s question – do any of my friends experience what I do? As a group we have all discovered that the answer is yes. Yes there are other people who struggle with depression, are held prisoner by their anxieties, and who are also looking for constructive ways to get through the day.

Fleur, the glue that brought us all together, has battled with depression and anxiety for many years. A few months ago, while mountain biking, Fleur sustained a head injury that really brought her struggles to the fore. Prior to the group starting people would comment on her posts, which were always happy and cheery, which it turned out was actually a front for a young woman whose inner being was anything but.

“I always thought depression was something I developed in my recent adulthood, but the more I look back on my 20’s and how shitty bullying was for me in high school – I realise it’s something I have struggled and lived with for more than half of my life.
My coping mechanism has always been to be the loud, joke cracking, inappropriate and offensive human being you see today. This is the real me – the Fleur that I spent a long time discovering. Underneath is the anxiety, which I’ve always hid well from friends, family, loved ones. Why? Because I felt I had to.”

 The group is an open environment that allows anyone in the group to post anything that they are experiencing, at any time, and know that someone will comment, reply or like what they have said. The group is closed from public view so that members can freely express their fears and the situations they may be working through. The group was founded with specific invites to persons who we felt would benefit from social interaction and we have continued to expand with approved members joining from many different locations.

“When I read about this group I thought, surely people can’t be like me, struggling with anxiety, loneliness, and needing encouragement? But, when I read that someone had the same feelings of doom in the pit of their stomach that I have, I read, HOPE! When another person reaches out at 3 in the morning in a state of panic, I think: that’s ME! It’s good to see I’m not alone, that here are people who get me. And maybe, when the psychologist visits are done and there’s no more help, I will find it in this group, I hope. And maybe, I will be able to do the same for someone else!”

Having the ability to reach out and know that someone is going to answer is hugely comforting. Some members of the group have posted in the middle of an anxiety attack. Others have asked about medication recommendations or holistic treatments. Every person is valued and given an opportunity to speak about their trials and tribulations and know their words will be valued and understood.

“In the last 12 months I’ve faced my demons more than I have in the rest of my lifetime, which has made me realise – what good is it for me if I keep my pain and suffering to myself? What if there are others out there feeling the same way but staying silent, because they too feel like they should cover it up?”

Hosting a social media community where people share their experiences and struggles can be both a blessing and a struggle. Having been a part of larger groups in the past some of our members felt the volume and situations described in posts was just too much to handle. So, for our own emotional and mental health, we opted out.

In a smaller group the interaction is more intimate and there is an opportunity for people to build up a picture of others and what they are experiencing. The key benefit of this is being able to quickly and effectively support someone else using a comment that means something. Over time we get to understand what each other is experiencing helping us to be more supportive when we say “you’ve got this”.

In our little group of 70 people, we have a full spectrum of people’s experiences. Depression through grief, high functioning anxiety, and it seems we all have similar experiences working through the health system –

“The truth is, people who don’t suffer anxiety or depression will never be able to understand how it feels, the best thing they can do is support us and show compassion”.

 “I’ve come to realise we actually help each other. I still feel alone sometimes, but now I have these guys, I know they understand and have been/are going through depression also. No matter the time of day I know, whenever I need to, I can vent, I can yell (in caps LOL), I can cry, I can curse till I’m blue in the face or just share a meme because it makes me laugh. NO ONE will judge you here. The group is a safe place”.

One member spoke of struggling with trusting others. Her experience of being part of the group helps her to understand that “I’m not alone”. The feeling of belonging makes all the difference. “Someone will post a meme to our group that makes me smile. Someone will reach out for a hand and I can be that hand. That’s what our group is to me. More than a group, but a family of crazy people on a funny farm. These people help me through every day and I’d be there for them in a heartbeat”.

To help foster interaction there is no pressure on anyone to post or interact. Members can quietly participate through viewing others posts and that’s okay. Sometimes a comment is made that strikes a chord with someone and people whom we haven’t seen post before offer absolute gems of wisdom and insight.

“That’s why I post about my own struggles with mental illness. Not for sympathy or attention, but to show others that it’s ok to not be ok, to recognise there’s a community of like minded people here to support you.”

And our little group even has ‘normal’ people too! A person who hasn’t suffered from depression, who has had to cope with an anxiety attack or survived an attempt to take one’s own life doesn’t have the same insight that those who have do. “I just wanted to say that sometimes I find it really hard to understand depression and anxiety but the posts on here help me to do that. Thanks everyone, all I can do is listen and learn and appreciate what others are going through”.

A group of friends who support each other isn’t going to ‘cure’ any of our ills. The group is not a treatment. What it does do is “help us to regain some semblance of normal, although things will ever be ‘normal’ again”.

“Joining this group was the best thing I could’ve done. Though I’m on anti-depressants and sleeping pills for insomnia, it’s helped me regain some semblance of normal, although I don’t think things will ever be normal again. And then a couple of months later, after the amazing Fleur reached out to me privately after seeing a post from me on FB, which I now recognise as me reaching out for support from friends, and she invited me to join this group so we could be closer together”.

Yes, there are both positives and negatives about being part of virtual support group but we feel that the positives greatly outweigh any negatives. The positives are the connection between people in a very real way. In all honesty our group hasn’t had any negative aspects yet and maybe that’s due to the understanding of all the group members that everyone is fighting their own battle – so be kind, be encouraging, and bring the love.

“I’ve come to realise we actually help each other. I still feel alone sometimes, but now I have these guys, I know they understand and have been/are going through depression also. No matter the time of day I know, whenever I need to, I can vent, I can yell (in caps LOL), I can cry, I can curse till I’m blue in the face or just share a meme because it makes me laugh. NO ONE will judge you here. The group is a safe place”.

Here are the steps we took to get our group started –

  1. Be honest. Tell people you’re having issues and need help.
  2. Ask others. Does anyone else feel this way of struggle with these issues?
  3. Establish a presence. Your group may be you and one other person sharing. And that’s enough. Or your group may be larger to the point where it becomes a community.
  4. Build trust. Be open and honest with what you’re posting. Don’t sugarcoat your struggles.
  5. Encourage and participate. When someone else is vulnerable and opens up, then like – comment – and encourage them to know they aren’t alone and that things will be okay.

The ultimate summation of the power of having a strong support network and belonging to a strong community is best said by one of our newest members –

I want to live!

I actually WANT to live!

For the first time in my life, I’m able to say I don’t want to die yet.

I told my youngest sister and she was like “um, ok?”

I told my psychologist and she cried!!

I just wanted to share this because, at 38, I have battled depression and anxiety since around 7 years old. This has been a lifelong affliction filled with very VERY dark days. I first tried to commit suicide when I was 10 years old.

Up until last week, I had just been existing. Staying alive to make others happy, rather than because I actually wanted to.

Good things CAN and DO happen. Keep holding on. Please. I believe in you. x

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