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Content warning: This article discusses depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
I feel it is worth mentioning to begin with that I have come out the other side of my battle with depression. Don’t be fooled into believing this means my war is over, as I still have tough times and depression is an ongoing fight. But I like to think I have a more organised army fighting my corner, these days, when depression rears its ugly head.
To fully understand my story, I feel it’s best to reflect on a time before I suffered with depression. When I lived at home, I was always aware of depression because my mum has suffered with it throughout her life, and I’m sure she would have no issue with me admitting that I have seen some of the worst sides of depression due to this.
I also believe my nan suffered with depression, so I’ve always known that it could be hereditary. I’ve very much been brought up in a household with a policy of openness and this meant my parents discussed such things with me. It was only later when I first began to suffer from depression that I truly appreciated the value of this.
So now we fast-forward to my time at university, here in Lancaster during my second year. I was 19 at the time and it’s fair to say that it was by no means my best year. At the beginning of February, I broke up with my boyfriend of nearly three years. It hurt a lot, but it was mutual and after the first week I dealt with it fairly well.
Quite a few friends later went on to question whether this was the initial cause of my depression, but I am fairly certain it wasn’t. In fact, after a few weeks I felt amazing. I had gained a new level of independence I hadn’t before felt, and my friendships seemed closer than previously.
It was probably a week into March things started to go downhill. It’s very hard to describe how it felt, but the best description I can give would be that it felt like a weight was pressing down on me constantly: making everyday life a struggle. At first, I wondered if it was a sort of delayed grief for my break-up, but I couldn’t shake it.
I went home for Easter around mid-March and hoped this would help shift the worsening sense of gloom that seemed to be taking over my life. Sadly, this wasn’t the case: I slowly got worse over the two weeks I spent at home, but for some reason chose not to confide in my family. I to some extent regret this now, but at the time my mum was in a bad place and I didn’t want to add to her burden.
I returned to Lancaster two weeks prior to term starting, knowing that I had six exams that I had to revise for. My motivation was at an all-time low and even getting out of bed was hard. I went through different phases with my eating pattern, where one day I would have no appetite and the next I would want to eat everything that was in sight. My memory was also being badly affected, hindering my revision.
At this point I didn’t particularly feel low. It was more generally a case of feeling nothing at all, which I was shocked to discover was worse. I did still have moments of feeling extremely low and this led to a few times where I “blacked out” and on a couple of these occasions I self-harmed. My closest friend at the time persuaded me to go to the doctors, swearing he would come with me which he did.
This took a lot of courage on my part because even though deep down I recognised aspects of my mum’s depression in myself, I still thought I was silly and that the doctor wouldn’t be able to help. The week leading up to my appointment I made lists of the bad thoughts I was having and my unusual tiredness and fluctuating appetite. I have never been one for talking about problems, so felt it would be easier to show the doctor a list. This also meant I couldn’t forget anything.
I very vividly recall the morning of my appointment. My friend came round a couple of hours prior to my appointment to try and keep me distracted. I remember him getting me to play on my Wii: he beat me at everything because my mind was elsewhere.
We walked to the doctors and sat in the waiting room together. Appointments were running late, and I was shaking and very uncomfortable. I felt like everyone in the waiting room was watching me. Paranoia was another unfortunate side effect of my depression at this point and sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting to discuss how I was feeling only heightened it.
I finally went in, and it was fortunate my friend was with me because when I froze up, not knowing what to say, he prompted me. I gave the doctor my list; she made me show her where I had self-harmed. I think I was in my appointment for 45 minutes and I came out with a diagnosis of depression, leaflets, a prescription for anti-depressants, information on counselling services, and another appointment booked in a month’s time with the same doctor.
This was the point at which I told my parents what was happening. I’m not going to pretend like they weren’t disappointed I hadn’t spoken to them sooner, but all in all they were hugely supportive. This point was about a week before my exams, and my mum tried to persuade me to put off my new pills until after my exams because of the effect they can have, but I foolishly thought she was exaggerating. She wasn’t.
I still can’t really remember my two-week exam period. I know it was the worst two weeks of my life, as anti-depressants truly do make you worse before they make you better. I know I suffered with frequent suicidal thoughts and a very poor memory, and my revision was going awfully.
An unexpected side effect of my tablets was the high that followed the low. I did eventually level-out and feel normal, but I experienced both extremes of the emotional spectrum before this happened.
Thankfully, my mitigating circumstances were recognised which was a blessing when I failed two of my exams and had to re-sit in the summer. But by the summer holidays I was finally starting to see the positive effect of my tablets and the counselling I was receiving from the University. I felt like my life was slowly getting back on track and more importantly that I recognised the symptoms.
Probably the most foolish thing I did when it came to depression was stopping counselling after a few sessions because I felt “better”. In my third year at the University the same symptoms of depression reappeared. When I did restart counselling I gained some useful skills for dealing with depression and also upped my tablet dosage. I remain on this new dosage at the moment and my mood in general has been uphill.
Remember that I was fortunate enough to recognise the symptoms of depression due to my mum’s experience and also because I had close friends who helped me. There is no shame in seeking help for mental illness and talking about it: people aren’t going to think any less of you, and in my opinion talking about mental illness shows true strength!
I lead a very happy life now, have amazing friends, and gained a 2:1 in my undergraduate course, allowing me to go on to study a master’s!