How depression has affected me
That flat feeling
I’ve had low mood and depression on and off since I was about 10 years old. When it’s affecting me, I just have that flat effect. Life is just happening and occasionally I get involved in it, but it’s just ‘there’. Like life is just happening and you’re going along for the ride. Questioning is this really your life that you’re living.
Anxiety with depression
In more recent years, I’ve noticed that when I’m depressed I have a big problem with anxiety. It’s not just a social anxiety, but more like paranoia. I can easily believe that people are ‘against me’ or are deliberately trying to make my life more difficult.
Anger and frustration
I’ve also had a lot of anger and frustration in my life. There’ve been many contributory factors, but only recently I was diagnosed dyslexic and dyspraxic, with a short term memory deficit and an auditory processing deficit. So those learning difficulties have obviously always been affecting me, though they weren’t diagnosed until 3 years ago.
I’ve noticed that winter was always harder than summer. In summer I would still get depressed, but maybe not as much. Of course most of the university terms are during winter, so that made it difficult.
Anxiety at uni
Looking back it’s always been there, but I’ve noticed the anxiety more at uni. For example, I had some time out and then on the day when I was going back in I felt incredibly anxious. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and could barely get myself to where I needed to go and do what I went in there to do. I did manage to stick it out, but it was a really high level of anxiety.
Failure, re-sits and repeats
I love studying, but I’ve never been any good at it. I failed my way through school, but I always loved studying. I just hate being taught in the way we’re taught. I can’t learn to be taught – I just go away and read for myself. I’ve repeated 2 years of uni, so for a 3 year course, I would have been there 5 years, and I’ve had to consider whether or not to carry on. It’s been really tough at times.
Staying in bed
In the first few days and weeks of uni I felt almost euphoric – getting out and meeting new people, excited about all that I was going to learn. But once it settled down it didn’t feel as much fun and it started being a trudge to just get out of bed. Usually I didn’t get out of bed.
Guilt and games
I’d feel really guilty, not being in uni, so I’d start playing games with myself. I’d think, I’ll stay in bed now but I’ll go in tomorrow, and it won’t be a problem to just miss a day. Then it gets to tomorrow and you do the same, so you think ok, I’ll start next week properly. On Monday morning at 9am, I’ll sort everything out – speak to the lecturers, they won’t mind a couple of days. It gets to Monday morning and you think well, I didn’t get much sleep on Sunday night so I’m not going to be my best so there’s no point in seeing my lecturers so I’ll just put it off until the afternoon. And in the afternoon you just go home and go to bed instead.
That’s how the cycle continues. When you start getting low, you get into the cycle of feeling low and doing low things. It’s easy to think that people really don’t like you, you are a nuisance, can do nothing right, don’t want to get up because you’re tired, don’t want to go out and mix with people… and so it goes on.
Suicidal at exam time
One year I was on the bus returning from an exam, and I had another one the next day. Sitting on the bus trying not to look like I was crying, I started wondering whether if the bus crashed and I died anyone would notice. No one at uni knows my family or how to contact them – and no one in my family is interested anyway. So then I started thinking about if I chose to die, what would be the best way so no one even noticed.
Then it got scary because I realised that one of the things I’d come up with required no pre-planning, no escape routes and just two spare seconds. I felt like I had already justified it to myself and couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t do it. It was scary to feel that these thoughts were just taking over in my mind, without me even trying.
Seduction of suicidal thinking
That’s just an example of one occasion. I have made very elaborate plans to die in the past. Suicidal thinking is very seductive. When you’re thinking about ways to die, it can feel like you’re doing something because you’ve chosen to – it can seem like a way to be in control. You can feel very creative, really letting your imagination go.
Excitement of the taboo
It can be quite exciting. You feel like you are thinking of something that maybe no one has ever thought of, or certainly nobody else would ever talk about. You’re aware that you’re thinking about things you shouldn’t be thinking about.
Alcohol and drug abuse
It’s easy to think your life is pointless when you’re depressed and harm to yourself is justified. But being able to recognise this, when you’re in it, is very difficult. I’ve abused alcohol and painkillers, together and separately. I’ve messed up my life in so many ways and at so many times.
Being a psychology student
I’m a psychology student, so I know the theoretical approaches to depression. I understand what it is in chemical terms. It does help to know that it’s all a mess with chemicals in my brain and not some unknown illness that’s making me mad.
Lots of interweaving factors
There’s lots of interweaving factors in this. There’s no single cause for the depression. I think part of the problem is that there isn’t a single cause to treat. There isn’t just one thing you can look at and say right let’s work on that and when we’ve sorted that out, that’s it.
Effect of difficult early years
I know there’s a lot from what happened when I was younger. My mum had a nervous breakdown when I was 3, so me and my brothers went to live with my dad. My dad was violent to my mum, which is why they split up, and he was violent to me and my brothers. Now it would be physical abuse and neglect and he’d be put in prison for it, but in the late 70s and early 80s it was just swept under the carpet.
Truanting and going into care
My dad stole from work, got fired and lost the house, so we went back to live with my mum. As a response to all the crap I stopped attending school. I was a persistent truant and I ended up being put into care as a rehabilitation method. That was when I was 10, and I was in care for 2 ½ years.
First night in care
My first night in care I was lying in bed trying to think of how I could possibly get to sleep and a group of older lads came and beat the crap out of someone, just because they could. The next day one of the social workers asked me if I saw anything and I told her. The next thing I knew, someone walked passed me and said “Grass!”. There was real malice in it and it really scared me. You learn a lesson – keep your mouth shut. That was just the first night. It went downhill from there.
There are other things that happened in care that I am still working on. It is still affecting me in the present. Some of the staff from that time have been prosecuted and sent to jail for abuse, and I am still working on things I don’t want to remember from that time.
In bed a lot
I still didn’t attend school much and spent a lot of time in bed. There’s a contention whether children can get depressed or not but I would say I was depressed at that time. My friends used to call me a vampire because I’d be awake at night and sleep during the day. That can still often be the case.
With all this going on, I failed all the way through school. I failed my A levels, failed a GNVQ. I approached the school, when I was 16, because I knew I was dyslexic. They said they weren’t sure and got an educational psychologist, and she said she didn’t think I was. But obviously I am. My school messed up a big part of my life because I couldn’t study in the way that they taught. I just have to learn in my own way.
A few good years
From 16 to 18, I re-sat and failed my GCSEs twice, but those two years in the 6th form with my friends who were doing A levels, they were the most immense years of my life. We just did all the stupid, laddish things you can possibly do and that was just such a brilliant time. If I could go back to anywhere, I’d go back to there because that was the best time ever.
Psychology strikes a chord
Eventually I had to take different subjects and took GCSE Psychology. Having failed all my GCSEs, I got a grade B in that. Something just struck a chord there. It didn’t feel like I was working or learning – I was just interested. I’d never got anywhere near that before. Even though I wasn’t going to classes, I was still top of the class and that really annoyed the lecturers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stayed that easy doing psychology at uni.
I decided that I wanted to take antidepressants, so went and got some from the doctor in my first year at uni. At that stage, though, I just told him the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder because I didn’t want to go into the details. I took them for about 4 years and think they do have a role, but they are only part of the treatment, not all of it.
I’ve done support work, both voluntarily and paid, since I was about 20. I’ve worked with people with sensory impairment and physical difficulties, and with mental health problems. Most recently I’ve been working with people with severe mental health problems and drug and alcohol problems. I can separate off what I feel from what I do at work, because work is work, and that can help sometimes.
Knowing I had to do something
After that time on the bus, I went to the doctor because I realised I had to. I wouldn’t be living now if I kept going the way I was. If I didn’t kill myself intentionally, then just the way I was living… I wasn’t getting very much sleep, I wasn’t eating much and I wasn’t doing very much of anything. I knew I’d just fade away.
Finding the right doctor
Because of some of my experiences in care, I’ve had a great mistrust in the medical profession. Just because someone’s called doctor, doesn’t mean they know everything. It’s taken years of trying to find the right doctor. There’s some nice doctors and some horrible doctors. You just have to try and find the one who’s nice.
Now got a good GP
I think now I have got a good GP. He is very understanding and he makes time to listen to you even though we don’t talk about anything of any interest. He asks how you are and how university’s going and he’ll just talk to you. That makes it easier.
Referral to mental health unit
The GP gave me a general referral to the mental health unit to see a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist. I refused to see the psychiatrist point blank because all they’re going to do is say carry on with the medication and come back in 6 weeks. I’ve ended up seeing a psychotherapist, rather than a clinical psychologist.
Haven’t had to fight
From the referral from my GP up to seeing the psychotherapist, it’s been a nice easy process. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to fight to do. It was my fear that I’d have to really fight to get what I needed – against people that should know better.
I was very sceptical and critical about the psychotherapy, but I’ve been sticking with it. I think what’s useful about it is the free speech. You can just chat about nothing, but you know that it’s a time that’s for you and you can do whatever you want with it. I think that’s a nice thing to do. I’m not sure of its overall value as a treatment for depression, or any other illness, though. I might be proved wrong.
Coming off medication
I did have clumps of different side effects at different times from the SSRIs. At one stage I was having very vivid hallucinations, which I didn’t like. So quite recently I have taken myself off them. I did it properly, doing it gradually – and interestingly, I have never felt this happy during the winter in my life.
Writing things down
Other things that have helped along the way include writing things down. I’ve often done that when I’ve got really low – had to write it down or tell someone. I’ve used the Samaritans’ email service quite often for that purpose.
I’ve tried all sorts of things. Hypnotherapy was quite good. It can be beneficial in just helping you relax and think about what you’re doing. It helped me to make what I was thinking a bit more logical.
One of the things I did when I realised I needed to find something to force me to be happy was to volunteer for a skiing trip for disabled kids. It was really hard work, but also really rewarding. It was nice to meet some different people and to have somewhere where I wasn’t my ‘depressed’ me.
Starting to feel things again
Something about that really felt like it changed things for me, or maybe it’s a combination of things recently. I’ve noticed that I’ve started to really feel things – sad about sad things that were happening and good about good things that were happening. Not that flat effect anymore.
What I’ve learnt
Learn about depression
Find out what it is that’s making you feel the way you do. I know it was a great help to me that I got to do a psychology degree where I learnt about it anyway. Learn about what it is that’s causing the depression – the actual chemical problems in your brain – and why it’s happening. It helps to just see it like another part of your body that isn’t working right. That your brain is just a stupid thing sometimes, when the serotonin goes down, or whatever.
Medication plays a role
Prescription meds do help to make you more susceptible to other help but they are not the only treatment, only part of it. In my opinion, the press hysteria about SSRIs is amusing, but bears little resemblance to reality.
Recognise the destructive cycle and get help
Recognising and then interrupting the destructive depression cycle is very hard to do alone, and changing the depressed thoughts alone is impossible, in my opinion. Asking for help is difficult and there are some idiots that make it harder for you but once you get the right people involved it becomes much easier.
Hoping to have CBT
I wanted to see a clinical psychologist and have cognitive behavioural therapy because I know my thought patterns need changing and I need help to do that. I know that once I can do that, that’s going to change it a lot. So I’m still hoping I can do that.
Taking advantage of university policies
When I missed an exam and failed the course I wasn’t in a fit state of mind to tell them I wasn’t well, so I had to go through the appeals process. The policies are really easy. I basically recited their policies back at them and they had no choice but to put me back on the course, even against my course director’s wishes.
University isn’t everything
One of the things I have spoken about with the psychotherapist is the benefits of quitting university. I do think it’s important to realise that uni isn’t right for everyone. One can still study and find ways to do what you want even without uni.
There’s an analogy that I find useful: Your brain is like a donkey – the more bags you put on it, the more chance there is of it lying down and refusing to move. Sometimes you just have to take some bags off by telling someone.
Use the Samaritans
The Samaritans’ email service is a useful way to unload. It gives you the freedom to talk about whatever you want. Their address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you just write your email and they try to reply within 24 hours. They’ll respond to whatever you say. I would recommend that, but bear in mind you don’t keep up an ongoing ‘conversation’ with the same person.
Keep trying different approaches
Based on my own experience, I would say don’t give up on life, and don’t give up on trying to find something that makes you happy right now. Just because you can’t or haven’t found something, doesn’t mean you’re not going to. Just keep trying different approaches – try them all. Ten might not work, but one might.