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I have depression. I can see you rolling your eyes as you read it. Another drama queen, another excuse.
Depression is a debilitating illness. It changes your thoughts, your morals and your reactions. Nothing is straight forward. Where as you used to be able to absentmindedly choose your tea for the week ahead, now even the prospect of cooking is so exhausting, it’s easier to have none. That small nudge you get in Cuba may as well be a punch in the face judging by your reaction. Yet depression is viewed as a by-word for sad, for feeling down. An excuse for laziness. It’s an abused illness, plastered over the headlines and mutated into a redundant term; leaving those suffering ashamed, isolated and abandoned all over again.
When I was diagnosed I was initially relieved to be labelled. I wasn’t just being lazy. I wasn’t just being a bitch. There really was something wrong. But still I couldn’t speak of it; it became the ghostly elephant in every room. I was afraid of the reaction, being tagged ‘weak-minded’. Once on medication the path to recovery seemed clear. Pop the pills and feel happy. But it’s much more than that. The illness eats its way through your mind before you even realise, you have been altered without your consent.
After just three short months on my medication, I suffered an ‘episode’. Never have I felt that way before, never do I want to feel that way again and never do I want the people I love to have those thoughts. The need to stop feeling so worthless, low and ashamed was so great it had to come out. The acidic burn was beneath my skin, spreading from my mind and concentrating itself in my arms and sides. Armed with scissors I needed to release it. However, that method failed to yield the result I was searching for. I needed something to mute the feeling, to dampen the pain. Paracetemol. 7, 5, 6 or 8, I couldn’t tell you how many I took, neither the true figure nor that which I told others. It was only my best friend that stood on the other side of the locked door that stopped me taking more
I didn’t want to die. I’ve said that so many times, but I didn’t. Most people who harm themselves don’t either. It’s the release we seek. I just wanted it to go away, right then and there. I didn’t want to wait. Didn’t want to fight. Didn’t want to suffer then recover. I needed to get out.
After this I realised I needed to act to get better. It’s not a case of taking magic pills and waiting for them to work. You need to want it, like all good things. You need support. You need to cut things from your life that cause more upset than is necessary. Not cut out your life.
Due to my illness my university career has been destroyed. Once a promising student, I barely managed any work in this, my final year. When getting out of bed, showering and preparing a bowl of cereal seems like an unachievable task, you try and complete essays, do research and concentrate on something for more than 15 words. Also, keeping a reassuring smile on your face and a bounce in your step takes a lot of energy.
I chose to conceal my illness not just from peers, but from my family too. With the stresses of work, the recession and a younger sibling in his first year at university I couldn’t face burdening my parents with this too. If I’m honest though, I feared the disappointment, the lack of understanding, the unintentional punishment. It’s easier to tell them you are fine, make the phone calls, smile on visits and talk nonsense about your course. I know what they would expect too, and I simply can’t face redoing this year of university. There are too many bad memories; too much has happened in this one small year to wipe the slate clean.
Depression is still riddled with stigma. Morphed from one of fear and avoidance, into excuses and over dramatic drama queens. But it shouldn’t be. It is an illness. It disables you in invisible ways, constrains you mentally. The blockade that forms in your mind is impossible to overcome. You stand and suffer on one side, as friends, family and tutors shout from the other. Their disappointment and anger raining down on you. Don’t try to explain, they won’t understand.
The best I can hope for is that society will take our plight seriously. So you can’t physically see the illness, so we aren’t coughing blood, sneezing or growing extra body parts – its still there, infecting our vital minds. Healthcare professionals take it seriously, so why can’t you without making assumptions?
As for me? Well, my illness and I are at peace. It’s still there, but it’s subdued and snoring. Occasionally it’ll stir and mumble something in its sleep, but I can calm it now. I have a new start coming, an opportunity like gold dust that I fought for myself. I will not allow my future to be defined by how I have suffered. After all, it’s my life, not depression’s.