How depression has affected me
Low moods vs depression
I frequently get low moods to be honest, but I don’t class that as depression because it is quite easy for me to differentiate between them now, having experienced the two different things.
First depression in 6th form
I first experienced what I knew was a form of depression in my second year of A-Levels when I was 17. During this time I meditated suicide regularly, however never actually attempted it. I was feeling extremely low for long periods of time and although I still attended work, both academically and a part-time job, I had very little motivation and my performance levels dropped considerably.
Worthlessness and paranoia
I felt quite worthless and really paranoid. It was odd; I used to think that people were talking about me which was just completely irrational. Like we’d be sat in lessons and if there were people in front of me talking and I’d assume they were talking about me.
I used to go for walks at night and I used to sit on a little train bridge and think about falling off. Not jumping off, just letting myself just drop into a train. I never really seriously considered it, I guess I thought about it but never really thought about going through with it. I think it just reminded me that I could escape it if I wanted to, but something stopped me.
I felt very much inside my own head. When I walked down the street or at college, I felt everything was just passing me by and it was quite meaningless. I felt I was the only one having these thoughts about life – the pointlessness of it. Everyone else seemed quite happy in their education and aspirations, but I couldn’t really see the point. At the time I didn’t really have anything to look forward to or enjoy.
Others noticing changes
It never really clicked until other people noticed the change, because I didn’t really even think about it. I had this one specific day when my work supervisor had said “What’s wrong with you today – why aren’t you smiling?” I thought that was quite odd because I didn’t feel any different inside to normal but outwardly I was obviously projecting a completely different impression on people. Then one of my friends at work said almost the same thing and then the next day my teacher noticed.
Teacher talked to me
One of my 6th form teachers kept me behind after a lesson and I thought I’d done something wrong but she was just checking if I was all right, and it just didn’t occur to me that anything was wrong. Then I thought about it and I realised that I wasn’t really myself, because I didn’t care about my course and I didn’t really care about life and when I thought about whether I wanted to go to university I just didn’t care what I grew up to be or what I wanted to do. My mum was constantly asking me and I just used to tell her I didn’t care.
Realising from diary entries
I remember writing in my diary that loads of people had noticed that I wasn’t feeling too bright and I went over my diary and thought “Yeah, shit; this isn’t good!” because it was quite depressing reading what I’d wrote. I realised then that I was probably ill – that it wasn’t normal for people to feel that apathetic and useless.
Better for a while
Upon realising that there was in fact a problem I began dealing with it, though I didn’t go to the doctor or anything. Meeting my girlfriend at university changed the way I thought about there being nothing good in life, and for a while things were better. But since then I have experienced something similar a few times at university…
Not getting out of bed or eating
At one stage, I couldn’t physically bring myself to get out of bed in the morning. I also stopped eating for a long period which in turn lead to me having less overall energy thus more time in bed. This ultimately meant that rather than moving forward I ended up simply lying in my room thinking about how pointless everything was.
Split up with girlfriend
I was probably depressed at the time that I split up with my girlfriend because I think I was just pushing her away really. I don’t really know why I was pushing her away but I was definitely doing it consciously and once I’d split up with her I had two weeks of feeling quite happy because it was like a load off my mind – I have her noticing my moods, so I could pretend they weren’t there I guess.
Then two weeks later my nan died and the month after that was really bizarre, but I don’t really remember a lot of it. I smoked quite a lot of cannabis and I think that has probably affected my memory of that time. I know I didn’t go to many lectures and I missed a couple of my course work hand-ins. I locked myself in my room quite a lot of the time which is really odd for me because I’ve got very close friends at university who I see on almost a daily basis.
They were pretty worried about me, but I don’t think they knew the extent of how bad I was, because I didn’t tell them. When I did see them I made sure I was in some kind of level mood; not when I was really down. A couple of my flat mates saw me when they walked into my room without knocking and I might be crying or smoking on my bed or just doing nothing.
I just felt quite dead. I had a room with a window like that which opened fully and I used to sit on the edge of it, not thinking suicidally, but I just used to sit there and let the breeze hit me and listen to the birds and the wind in the trees and would just shut my eyes. I felt quite numb I suppose, even though I could feel all this stuff around me. I didn’t feel like I was part of it.
I was contemplating dropping out of my course, thinking about whether I could have done anything differently in terms of breaking up with my girlfriend and thinking about death – not suicide but death and what happens. That was probably triggered by my nan’s death, but the sequence of events is a bit hazy.
Starts way back
My parents had been divorced since I was about 6 months old. I’ve got an older brother and sister who have a different dad. They were at home til I was about 12 and then they both went to university, and so it was just me and my mum. For two years she was at home quite a lot and that was really nice, but then she got these boyfriends and she was out in the evenings especially.
Left alone too young
At 13 or 14 I was basically living on my own at home and cooking for myself. I had a lot of time on my own which I have always liked having, but only when it’s my decision. When you are that age, you feel quite old, but when you reach 19, 20 and you see a 13 year old, they look really, really young. At 13, even though you’ve got some chance of independence, you’re still pretty much a kid.
Not getting on with mum
I used to get on really well with my mum, but then when she had this string of boyfriends that were not that nice I didn’t really get on that well with her anymore. She stopped taking as much of an interest in what I was doing. During that time I did quite a lot of significant things – like relationships, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, key elements in a teenager’s life – and it went unnoticed a bit. So by the time she actually realised I was depressed I didn’t feel like I could confide in her.
Home like a hotel
I went on holiday at some point during my adolescence and my mum and my sister redecorated my bedroom. It was supposed to be like a surprise thing, but I was really upset. My bedroom has always been to me like where I spent quite a bit of time and I liked personalising it with posters and stuff. It was really, really impersonal and bare and it made me feel like I was staying in a hotel all the time. It added to my feeling isolated and alienated, which then probably led to the depression.
Stayed away a lot
Then my mum’s boyfriend used to be at the house a lot and I just didn’t get on with him at all. I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house, but it made me feel a bit useless because my house was somewhere where I should have been able to spend most of my free time and I didn’t really spend that much time there.
Needing someone to rely on
Deep down, at some level, I wanted to have a purpose, but I didn’t have anyone to tell me what it was. That person would have been my mum, but then she sort of abandoned me when I was 14 or 15. I think I was at a stage in my life when I was in limbo between reliant on my parents and becoming independent. I didn’t really know how to make decisions for myself – genuinely serious decisions like whether to go to university, and I didn’t really have a clue. In the end I went to university because I didn’t want to get a job at the time.
First year at uni
The first episode of depression at uni was in the first year directly after my girlfriend had been depressed. I’d basically looked after her for two months and she was really bad. It left me completely drained and as soon as she got better, I got depressed.
Niggling thoughts about childhood
I’d talked to my parents about why they divorced when I was young and they basically said “You weren’t planned and we weren’t happy before you were born, so we thought it was better.” I felt a definite sense of annoyance at the fact that I wasn’t planned when I was so unhappy, because I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here anyway. I had that sort of preying on my mind a lot.
Then later when I experienced the break up with my quite long term girlfriend and also the death of my nan within about two weeks of each other, I just gave up for a month basically.
What stopped me acting on suicidal thoughts
I think because naturally I am quite an unselfish person, I didn’t want to leave all my friends and family, especially my grandparents. I’ve always got on really, really well with them and I know that they’ve always loved me a lot. It’s almost like betraying them if I’d killed myself because they would have felt terrible. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I never really considered it seriously.
When my 6th form teacher kept me back to talk about what was wrong, she seemed to understand what I was talking about. Later, my girlfriend helped immensely, encouraging me to get up and talking to me even if I didn’t see the point in anything.
During my first bout of depression I began writing a diary which eventually gave me some perspective on my problems and also allowed me to better recognise them, though I also think diaries can be quite unhelpful…
Talking to my mum
I don’t really remember what helped the first time round. I didn’t go to the doctor or anything. I remember my mum had a conversation with me about it. She was crying and I was quite emotional and the fact that she then knew that it was somehow her fault almost made me stop feeling as bad. At some level it was quite an attention seeking device for my mum to take notice and try and help me.
When it was quite bad in the first year at uni, I realised I was drinking too much and that it was bad for me. I was on a night out and I remember feeling like the thoughts I was having weren’t my thoughts – they were quite manipulative and nasty towards other people and it just wasn’t me. At that point I stopped drinking for about three months and noticed the difference.
My girlfriend encouraged me to go for counselling because I told her about harbouring resentment with my mum and the issues I had with my parents for getting divorced when I was so young. She said I should talk it out. Then shortly after I started going my nan died and so I ended up talking a lot about my nan and general trust issues I had with women based on my mum’s relationships. All sorts really, but it’s helped no end with me realising what I need to do when I am depressed. I don’t have the same problems with trusting people that I did when I started going.
Talking to friends
My friends are quite a close network of really, really good friends and it helps no end to have people like that to talk to.
I’ve also since found that physical exercise plays a massive role on fighting low mood and depression. Not only does the exercise affect your serotonin levels but I also find that if I go for a run each evening it gives me a chance to get my days thoughts into some kind of coherent structure. It is perfect for getting everything out of my head from the day and discarding the things that are rubbish and that I’d otherwise think about too much. Then it makes me sleep better.
I had a kind of religious experience at my nan’s funeral. It changed the way I thought about death and I decided I needed to change some aspects of my life. I became a Christian, having been an atheist. At the moment I am not sure if I am a Christian or not – but I am definitely religious and it has definitely helped.
What I’ve learnt
Going to university can be life-changing
Being at university has been a complete life changing experience. It’s easily the best thing I’ve done in my life, to make that decision, but I am not really sure what made me make it. I think it was my brother telling me that I didn’t have to go. I think that made me feel “You are right; I don’t have to go, but I want to go.”
Alcohol is terrible for depression
When I went university I exercised less and started drinking a lot more and I found that alcohol is terrible for depression. In the short term it makes it seem better but it makes it much, much worse long term.
Counselling a revelation
Whilst at university I’ve used the counselling service to help me get to the root of my problems and have found this service to be a complete revelation after my huge, initial scepticism. It helped me realise exactly what helps me to be in a good mood because I was talking about my moods every week – it was like self assessment and that was the most useful service I’ve used at university.
Be careful about the music you listen to
I love music and I listen to what most people would term depressing music but I don’t normally find it depressing; it connects with something inside me. But the one thing I would say to people with depression is to change your music listening habits if you know you are depressed because the music that I normally listen to takes on a completely different meaning when I am depressed and then it is depressing music. It is important not to listen to that kind of music when you are depressed because it encourages you to do nothing and mope.
Don’t shut out your friends
It’s important not to shut your friends out of what is going on with you. If you’ve got friends you know you can talk to, it is important to use them rather than pretend to them that you are ok. They are not going to be able to do anything to help you if they think you are fine, whereas it can be a massive help otherwise. It almost acts as a free counsellor I suppose having a decent friend, but obviously you don’t want to over-burden them.
Be careful with diaries
I symbolically burnt my diary and I wouldn’t recommend a diary, to be honest. In some contexts I’d say it was alright but when you are depressed, it is better to talk it out with another person rather than with yourself. If you are in the wrong mindset then you are going to evaluate everything you are saying in a negative way and it just leads to the most depressing book you’ll ever write.
Difference between low mood and depression
I think low mood is something that everybody gets and it’s something which you just have to get on with. What I consider to be low mood is more what is influenced by circumstance – times, especially at university, when you’ve got exams or too much work or relationship problems, when you are going to feel in a low mood because of the circumstances. Rather than just depression as an illness, because my experiences of depression, the two main ones, have happened for ‘no real reason’..Well, there is a reason obviously, but I’ve only found that out from deep analysis of my childhood and that kind of thing and I don’t think that’s the first thing you think of when you are thinking about why you felt depressed.
Depression is still misunderstood
I think that although today, more than ever, depression is being put in the media spotlight, it is still grossly misunderstood. I have had people talk to me about depressed people they know and describe them as pathetic or simply feeling sorry for themselves. This kind of attitude make me quite angry.
Education about depression is vital
I think it is equally important for people to know what to look for in a close friend or boyfriend or girlfriend, rather than leaving it down to the person who is depressed to look for advice. In my experience, if I was depressed, I would not look on the internet for advice; I’d probably just do nothing about it. It’s much more likely that a friend or partner would look for that kind of thing. So I think it’s important to explain to them depression as an illness rather than being pathetic.