How depression has affected me
‘Different’ at secondary school
Depression first became part of my life when I started secondary school – I was more mature than most of the people my age and had trouble fitting in. I started listening to ‘alternative’ music and dressing differently which highlighted my status as an outsider, and I got picked on for being different.
Coming to terms with being gay
Coming to terms with being gay, and coming out while still at school was another reason I felt like a freak. I felt like I was worth nothing and couldn’t see the point in being alive.
Friends also struggling
The group of friends I fell into as a result was made up of people who were just like me – they weren’t happy and a lot of them began to use drugs or self harm as coping strategies.
Daily self harm
I’ve never used drugs, but from the age of 11 self harm was something which I used to deal with my feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. I started cutting and burning myself on a daily basis and it became something I needed to get through the day.
Adrenaline or an illusion of control
When I was frustrated about situations I had no control over it gave me something I could control. I could focus on that pain and it calmed me down and momentarily silenced all the negative thoughts in my head. When I was feeling totally numb it gave me an adrenaline rush that made me feel alive, even just for a moment.
Going to A&E
My lowest point with self harm came when I had to go to A&E in my first year of university as a result of a particularly bad cut. I felt really ashamed because I felt that self harm was something I should have got over by the end of my teens.
The way people treated me because of my cuts and scars fed into my intense self loathing as a teenager. I was overweight and felt very unattractive. I wore baggy clothes to hide my figure and felt very uncomfortable when other people tried to compliment my looks.
Losing weight didn’t change things
At the age of 16 I compulsively dieted and lost 2 and a half stone and temporarily felt much more positive about my appearance, but I soon realised that losing weight had not made me ‘happy’ – it didn’t change the way I thought of myself and when I eventually put a lot of the weight back on I felt like a total failure.
Constant worry about failure
Failure is something I worry about constantly, I tend to over analyse situations and worry about tiny details to a degree that people find difficult to understand.
When I initially went to the doctor at 14 to say I was depressed and was thinking about ending my life, they also diagnosed me with anxiety, and anxiety has been a constant factor in my life, especially since I started university.
The pressure of exams and assessments causes a lot of physical symptoms – my asthma gets worse, I have anxiety attacks and I suffer from stress related IBS, which tends to flare up near essay deadlines and exams. As a result, I worry constantly about flare ups and the associated stomach cramps, which makes it worse because I am constantly fretting.
‘Different’ again at university
When I started university I once again felt like an outsider and I struggled to make friends on my course, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my housemates in halls found it funny to mock my accent and the way I dress.
At the beginning of my second year I was in a bad financial situation, and was feeling particularly low. I have always suffered from bad mood swings and tearfulness, but I found myself crying all the time and taking my unhappiness out on my housemates.
Struggling with academics
I was struggling to make it to class and couldn’t even contemplate the essays I needed to write, so I realized that I needed to seek help again because I could feel myself slipping back down to the point I was at in my early teens, but I became very frustrated because it took me months to access counselling through the university.
Physically and emotionally abusive father
I’ve had a very difficult relationship with my father since my teens – he had a troubled upbringing and as a result was physically and emotionally abusive when I was growing up. He didn’t hit us all the time but he would fly into rages and lash out when he was angry and often dealt out over the top punishments like shutting me in my room without my phone, stereo and light bulb when I argued with him.
Powerlessness and hopelessness
I’m the feisty one in the family – my mum and sister are less confrontational and I always felt that I had to protect them as well as myself. At times I was really scared that he was going to hurt one of us and I felt I had no one to turn to. Having to live in that environment made me feel powerless and hopeless.
My father used to tell me I’d never achieve anything and I had to fight against him to apply for university – he made it very difficult for me to submit my application and raise the necessary funds and told me it was pointless, which knocked my confidence greatly.
When my parents finally split up during the gap year I took to work to raise money for university, my mum left the family home and so I became the primary focus of my dad’s rage, and since then I’ve had to mediate between them while they sort out the terms of their divorce.
Parents unsupportive when I came out
I came out as a lesbian to my friends when I was 14, and my parents found out the same year. Initially my parents were not supportive, they told me it was a phase and that I was just trying to embarrass them.
Bullying at school
At school I became the focus of bullies and had graffiti written about me and threats of physical violence. My parents are much more supportive now, and I am always open about my sexuality, but coming out at school was a scary experience, I was made to feel like it was bad and wrong and I deserved to get picked on.
Lack of support for depression
When I first started experiencing depression at high school I felt a real lack of support – the teachers didn’t know how to deal with my moods or self harm and they ended up drawing more attention to it by not approaching it correctly. My parents also struggled, my mother couldn’t understand what I was feeling and why I was being so ‘difficult’, she couldn’t see why I didn’t want to spend time with her and our relationship has never really recovered.
Difficult first relationship
My first relationship, which was on and off from the age of 13 to 19, was with someone who had serious mental health problems and a drug problem which she struggled to keep under control. This put immense strain on me because I was dealing with not only my own problems with depression and self harm but hers as well.
I felt like I had failed her when she could not stay free from drugs. She was always very critical of my opinions and appearance, particularly my weight, which I know was because of her own illness, but it still hurt when she would lash out at me verbally.
Long lasting damage
It took me a very long time to realize that the relationship was stopping me from getting better and I finally ceased contact with her when we broke up in my first year of university, although I struggled with the guilt of what felt like giving up on her. The legacy of my involvement with her is that I still find it very difficult to accept compliments, even from my new partner who loves me just how I am.
Being a high achiever
I’ve always been a high achiever – I got the best grades in my school for my GCSE’s, and have had a similar experience through the first two years of university. Being ‘top of the class’ is something which causes me to put immense pressure on myself, I’m worried about not achieving as well next time or that I’m not as clever as people think. Sometimes I wish that I wasn’t such a high achiever because then I wouldn’t have as far to fall if I fail.
My sense of failure and not being good enough as a teenager was compounded by the fact that the university I attend is predominantly middle class. Coming to university was a massive decision for me and terrifying because no one in my family had been before. I’m painfully aware that most of the people there have lived very different lives to me.
It was daunting to arrive in a place where people didn’t take university as seriously and treated their student loan as pocket money when I was trying really hard to make ends meet. The financial stress caused by coming to university was huge, and I almost dropped out because I felt that I couldn’t continue in the financial position I was in.
Going in circles with medication hasn’t helped
I have had bad experiences with anti-depressants – I’ve been put on them several times (the first time when I was 14) and it’s started to feel like I’m going in circles. Whenever I come off them I feel optimistic but the low moods and anxiety always return and I find myself back in the GP’s office, getting told that they think I need medication again.
Coping without medication
The doctors have recommended anti-depressants to help level out my moods, but I am hesitant about trying them again – I’d like to continue without medication if I can. At the moment I’m trying to find other ways to cope with my mood and anxiety, and counseling is proving helpful.
Support from friends
First and foremost, the support of my close friends and partner has been invaluable – although I am not comfortable sharing my problems with everyone in my life, the friends I trust have been fantastic at helping to involve me in activities and getting me out of bed when I’m feeling low.
During the last year my new partner has been, and continues to be, the best form of support I could hope for. She is aware of my past and where I am currently in my recovery, and she doesn’t judge me for any of it. Although I do not like to rely on her support too heavily, I know she is always there if I need her, and that is a great comfort.
Encouragement to see alternatives
She is a natural optimist and helps me to see alternative ways of looking at problems without just panicking and giving up, and she understands about my mood swings and how I don’t mean some of the things I say when I’m feeling low.
Counselling has been a very positive experience for me. Although I deeply value the support of my friends and partner, I recognise the need for professional support from someone who understands depression and self harm, and whose judgment isn’t clouded by their personal relationship with me.
Supportive counselling as a teenager
I first entered counselling when I was 14 and saw a counsellor for 18 months. She helped me to think about how to defuse potentially dangerous situations with my father. She urged me to continue my education because it was the only way I would escape the financial situation I grew up in and without her I would never have applied for university.
Strategies for urges to self harm
She also taught me strategies to deal with the need to self harm – things like writing down the negative feelings rather than keeping them in my head and immersing myself in an activity that removes me from the triggering situation – such as going for a long walk with my MP3 player on.
When my low moods returned at university I requested counselling from the university service, and although it took a very long time to get an appointment, I am now seeing a counsellor who is helping me to establish when I am being unnecessarily critical of myself.
Keeping a journal is something I have done for the last several years and I’ve found it very helpful as it allows me to express and unload all of my emotions onto paper, something which I find beneficial as I can reflect on what I’ve written and refer back to old journals to see where I was at that point in time.
Music has also been a positive factor. I find music soothing and when I’m really frustrated I get pleasure from turning my stereo up and howling along to my favourite songs until I’m hoarse! My interest in particular bands also provides me with a focus.
Plan things to look forward to
I’ve always set myself ‘little goals’ to look forward to, things that keep me going through particularly low periods, things that will get me up the morning. I’ve found that gigs are good because they force me to plan things and give me milestones to look forward to, so I try to make sure I have a few booked for the near future at all times.
In a similar way, tattoos have provided me with little goals. Tattoos have become an important part of my life because they’ve allowed me to reclaim my skin. I’ve covered some of my scars with artwork and they have given me something to like about myself even when I am feeling particularly negative. I’ve put positive messages on myself, images and lyrics, which make me feel hopeful every time I look in the mirror.
Finally, the use of internet forums was a crucial form of support for me when I was younger, being able to share my thoughts and feelings with a supportive community was immensely helpful, because they understood my situation and could offer emotional and practical ideas for managing particularly difficult periods.
What I’ve learnt
Counselling is useful because it allows you a safe, confidential space to talk to a professional, they’re not going to judge you or repeat what you’ve said to the people in your life, so you can be totally honest with them.
Write it down
For people who enjoy writing, keeping a private journal is a good idea because it allows you to track your progress and express yourself on paper, and just getting the thoughts out of your head is very useful sometimes, once they’re on paper your feelings are validated and you can begin to reflect on ways to help yourself.
Connect up with others with similar experiences
Using internet forums is something I would strongly recommend to others, especially if they have no one in their immediate surroundings who they feel they can talk to, or want to remain anonymous. I suppose that’s why I was keen to be part of this project.
Love and accept yourself
I think the most important thing I’ve learned from my experiences is to try to love and accept yourself for who you are. I spent a lot of time being ashamed of who I was and now I can see how damaging that is – I can’t change my past or take away my scars, I have to accept them as part of my life experience.
Resist prejudice and judgments
I always try to be upfront about my past and my sexuality and opinions because I want people to see the real me. I don’t want to waste time on people who are prejudiced and judgmental.
Help others understand self harm
Although I have learnt techniques to stop me from immediately turning to self harm, it’s something I still think about a lot, and I find other people’s misunderstanding of it quite disheartening, especially because I have visible scars on my arms and legs and don’t want people to judge me on the basis of them.
Learn to spot the signs
I’ve become quite good at spotting the signs in myself when I’m starting to slip back into a downward spiral – I think it’s very important to keep note of my moods so I can work out what to do when things aren’t going well and I can’t get myself back on track.
Build a wide support network
It’s vital to know who to turn to when you’re experiencing low moods or suicidal thoughts – I know that my partner will support me and understand why I’m behaving differently, and if things don’t improve quickly I don’t hesitate to contact my GP. When I feel that my moods are affecting my university work, I know I can contact my tutor and ask for their advice and guidance as they understand my circumstances. The weekly sessions with my counsellor are also helpful as they give me the chance to evaluate how the last week has been.
Keep trying – there’s no quick fix
Finally, I’ve learnt that there is no quick fix or easy answer, and that it might take time to find the things that help you best. Everyone experiences depression and low moods differently, and therefore requires different support. But when you find the right thing for you it can make such a huge difference to your quality of life, so it’s crucial to keep trying.