How depression has affected me
I was diagnosed with clinical depression during my first year at university. My depression has gone from simply putting me off eating to thoughts and plans of suicide, resulting in a substantial amount of time taken away from university and a huge strain on relationships with friends, my partner and my family.
Vulnerable through low self confidence
I had really low self confidence in my teens and when I got to university and there was no family around to boost things, it tripped into clinical depression rather than low mood. I had had six months of persistent low moods; lack of interest in socialising, hobbies and studying and long periods of low mood which would reduce me to day-long crying episodes and withdrawal from everyone.
Sleep disruption and anxiety
I couldn’t sleep until very late at night, which was unusual for me, and I woke up at 6am every morning and couldn’t get back to sleep even if I was very tired. I was panicky; my heart rate was up a lot. I was sweating and clammy; headaches and general lethargy; couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings.
Parents noticed a difference
I went home at Christmas in the first year and my parents realised that something wasn’t right at all. When we got back to uni, my mum took me to the medical centre. The doctor made me fill in a questionnaire and asked me a few questions about physical and mental symptoms and put me on anti-depressants.
I suffered the side effects of medication. It did feel like I was spaced out for at least two weeks, and for the first two months of it I was unable to sleep properly and my symptoms worsened. I wasn’t any more miserable than I’d been but I wasn’t particularly happy either. They did give me a strip of sleeping tablets, to take one if I needed them, but not enough to build up a reliance on them.
But it was worth doing. I didn’t want to go on them because no one likes being put on pills, but in about six weeks I was getting back up. I was in a horrible relationship and it got me back to the stage where I realised it was horrible and he was horrible – it made me stronger and more self confident.
Improvement then serious relapse
I did come off them in the summer because they thought it was going to settle down. I was as happy as Larry and I was fine, but then over the summer I realised it was coming back again and got put back on the antidepressants. It got quite bad in about October or November. That’s when I started feeling suicidal and everything was pointless and I wasn’t going to get a job once I left university and no one would want to employ me and how was I going to find a house; there’s no point in any of it any way.
Not wanting to be a burden
I felt ashamed. I was in a new relationship with a guy I’d met at university. He was a very good friend and he’d been there when I was depressed the first time round, but I felt so annoyed about putting this problem back on him and my family and my friends. When you’ve got depression, it feels like you’re not going to come out of it. There are times now when I think it’s not going to stop, but rather than it being a fleeting moment, that feeling of me never going to get out of it lasted about three weeks.
I have often been prey to miscomprehension of my depression. I have been told numerous times to just “snap out of it” or “pull myself together”, even by friends. The fact that I could not do this and felt that I should be able to led to my plans of suicide – I stockpiled heavy painkillers and took a bottle of whisky from my parents’ kitchen. I was dead set that I was being logical and that topping myself was the logical thing to do; less pain for everyone all round and everything. It was on TV – someone committing suicide on some soap or something and I just thought I’ll go up to the top of my favourite hill and take something up there; they won’t be able to find me up there; it’s a long walk up.
Luckily I was at home when all this happened so my parents were able to keep an eye on me. Thanks to my family recognising signs that something was wrong, the plan never came to happen – not that I think I would have really been able to go through with it. Thankfully, I have now been placed on the right dose of anti-depressants and am improving steadily, thanks to medication, my doctor and the help of my boyfriend, family and friends.
A lot of the time, I haven’t coped with my studies. I couldn’t motivate myself enough to check up on things. If I wasn’t in a lecture and an essay was set, I didn’t know about it and so I didn’t do it. One term in my second year I didn’t do three essays which should have been assessed. Luckily the department was quite understanding and I passed and it was all fine.
Not popular at school
I wasn’t too popular at school, but I was ok. I felt a bit isolated from my peers though. I had a really close friend but not a lot of friends.
My family were massively important to me. My mum and dad broke up when I was younger, for about 11 months or so, but then got back together, but that’s still sort of an issue. In the back of my mind somewhere, I find it quite difficult to trust in relationships because of that.
Homesickness at uni
When I got to university, it was my first time away from home. I hadn’t had a gap year and so I got homesick. It was quite common; nearly everyone on my corridor was homesick.
I began a relationship with someone who I liked a lot and it turned out that he didn’t have as much respect for me. I found out he was cheating on me and it was awful and that’s probably what triggered it; it was a build up of everything. I had really low self confidence in my teens and when I got to university and there was no family around to boost things, it tripped into clinical depression rather than low mood.
My dad did have depression but I never really understood. One of my brothers also had it and I always thought it was just him being a teenage guy. My most recent doctor explained that seeing as my dad had it and my brother suffered from it, it was probably something genetic. She said that the way to think of medication was like insulin for a diabetic; just something to keep you stable.
Support from those close to me
The most important of thing to help me move forward has been support from my family, friends and boyfriend. It took me several months to disclose that I had been diagnosed with depression to anyone else but my parents; once I did, it made a huge difference. The sympathetic reactions of those closest to me were a huge boost to my self worth and made me realise my condition was not my fault, or something to be ashamed of. Those that knew of my depression were also able to make sure I wasn’t feeling too low, and kept my head above water.
The second thing I found invaluable was finding a sympathetic and friendly doctor who explained things to me step by step and helped me through difficulties with medication. She also helped me realise my negative thought patterns and change them. I have experienced doctors who were not unfriendly, but indifferent, having no more than five minute conversations with me and taking no time to get to know me personally. I thought all were like this until I moved area and into a new GP surgery.
Family kept me safe
When I was at my lowest, I was back home and went out with lots of walks with my dad. I spent a lot of time catching up with work – I was off sick from university but I was reading the books I was meant to read. I was trying to be normal really. It would have helped, if I hadn’t been in such a mess, to have been with my family but thank God I was. They cheered me up no more than anyone else would have at that point, but I just had to be with them for safety reasons.
Getting medication dose right
After that low point, my medication dose was doubled and that stabilised everything; stopped me being suicidal. They said there was a danger of it making me feel worse (sometimes citalapram can do that apparently) but fortunately it didn’t with me. It made me feel a lot better in myself.
Getting back into studies
Then I had to go back to university or I would’ve lost my place. I told myself that this was the second year and it counts and you are paying £10,000 a year to do this. My doctor told me I should only do one essay a week and so I thought “Ok, I’ll pace myself; I am not going to expect anything but this is what I need to be doing at the moment.”
When I was first diagnosed, my doctor told me I had to inform the department as soon as possible because you need to ask for help; you can’t just expect it to happen. I handed in a doctor’s note to the department and I went to see a personal tutor and told him and it went on my record so that if I didn’t turn up to class for a few weeks, it was because I was having a low period. I did feel nervous about going in because I didn’t think they’d take it that seriously, but luckily my personal tutor was such a nice guy and completely understood it all and they understood in the department as well.
I know one of the women up there by her first name now. Every time I see her she says “Are you doing ok? How are you doing?” If I miss something and I explain why there’s never been a question over it and they’ve always been really helpful. Though they are not always the most thoughtful about what is going to upset the depression, or make someone panic, it isn’t out of unconcern – they’ve never deliberately been angry with me or anything; always understood.
I did come for counselling in the first year and the counsellor was a great help. He helped me recognise if I was being stupid, saying things like “Don’t be silly; your friends don’t hate you. They wouldn’t be your friends if they hated you.” That really helped; talking to someone who is impartial. He was giving me advice that I wasn’t hearing from other people, but it also felt like that way I wasn’t putting such a load on family and friends, rather than concentrating on them to do everything. Then after about a term’s worth, I learnt to recognise those thought patterns and I didn’t really need any more after that.
Exercise really helped. It’s a pain in the neck but once you get going on a bike or walking somewhere, it gives you a natural buzz. It releases chemicals in everyone so good for someone with depression to do it. I’ve always found that when I get stressed, I go out on a walk.
Keeping a diary is good, but not writing about depression in it – writing about other things, like about your friends or something.
Having a structure really helped. I tried to find a job, but where my uni is that’s almost impossible. So I didn’t get a job but I read somewhere that having a structure was good, so I made myself get up at 8; eat at 9; eat at 12 and then have dinner and watch the same programme or do something. Sometimes I make a list. If I felt particularly low I’d get up in the morning and think “These are the things I am going to do today”. If I didn’t do them, it was fine, but aiming for them kept my mind off what I was feeling.
I just take one day at a time. I do plan things, like nice things; holidays. I make sure I am going to go home enough and see my family, but if there’s anything more than an essay deadline, I just don’t let it worry me.
Since coming out of the depression a bit more, I have got more confidence. I made a lot more friends who were just acquaintances before, but I have had the courage to say things like “Hey, I saw on your website you like Bob Dylan. I like Bob Dylan as well.” Finding out you can still do that and you are not in a bubble makes you realise you are not going to be in the same place for ever. And making new friends is always good; everyone likes making new friends.
Painting or other creative distractions
Another thing is that I used to really like painting. I did art at GCSE and I then lost interest but then one day I was looking through an old scrap book and there was a drawing in there that I’d done and I thought “I used to draw!” And so I sat down and did it and it felt like I was going back to the old me. Just doing something like that, even if you are not good at it – painting or doodling – is relaxing. If you are concentrating on a piece of paper and what is on it rather that what’s in your head. Good books are good as well.
Learning to be okay on my own
I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone with depression, but I found that I was relying a lot on people and I was getting annoyed with myself about that. I used to be quite independent. I didn’t like ringing someone every day or having to go to the shops with someone to talk to, so having things like painting, or even listening to music – buying a new CD every week – and spending time on your own where you know you can be on your own. In that way you don’t get so panicky, especially if you’ve been suicidal. You know that you can be on your own; you’ll be fine; nothing’s going to happen to you.
Moving on to more work
Because I was so involved with the drawing or poems – I used to write poems – I didn’t think oh God, I am on my own. What am I going to do? I just really concentrated on it. and that helps with studying as well. I can’t study if anyone else is there; it really distracts me. It’s like “Stop breathing so loud!” Once I realised that I could draw on my own and I could concentrate on that I thought there’s no excuse for me not to do this piece of work now. So I just did it and pulled myself up on to the next part.
What I’ve learnt
Find the right GP
I would recommend to any sufferer that if they are not satisfied with their GP that they ask for another, and keep doing so until they feel comfortable.
It goes without saying, of course, that I would advise any fellow sufferer to take medication. Depression occurs through chemical imbalance, taking anti depressants is no different to a diabetic taking insulin, but obviously, if the side effects are too bad or you think you are not taking enough then you need to tell the doctors. It worked for me; I was lucky in that the medication worked first time, but he did explain to me that it might not. Other people need to be aware of that and not expect it to work immediately. It is not a quick cure.
Talk to the people around you
I would say that anyone suffering from depression should speak to those around them, even if they think they will not be sympathetic. People’s reactions are usually much more positive and constructive than we believe they will be. Furthermore, explaining the reasons behind mood swings and withdrawal is only fair to those who have to suffer their effects.
Tell your department
It is definitely worth telling your academic department, even if they are unsympathetic. It’s hard to put up with people being nasty to you or not understanding but even if they don’t understand, you’ve got it on record that you tried and they have to accept that. If you’ve got a medical note, there is no way they can ignore it.
Recognise when people aren’t good for you
If you are in a relationship and you know it’s not making you happy, don’t cling on to it because you think it might do. Recognise that certain people won’t do you any good. Don’t cut them off completely, but if there is a friend who doesn’t trust doctors and is saying “Don’t take your medication,” you have to rely on yourself, but at the same time try and recognise the little bits of advice. It’s hard to do at first, but just through trial and error, you get used to it.
Don’t cut yourself off
Don’t sit in your room and sulk all day, even if you feel awful. I remember days when I just wouldn’t get out of bed and I could hear my friends knocking on my door and I’d just pretend not to be in. Eventually, I just went out and I realised that it goes away. As soon as you talk to your friends, especially if it’s a best friend or someone who makes you laugh, you tend to forget about it and if you don’t and you are with someone, you can always tell them that you are feeling like this. They are not going to go “How dare you! Piling this on me!” They are always going to help. People are generally nicer than people with depression think they’ll be.
Give yourself structure
At university, especially if you are the sort of person who is quite intelligent, and most people at university are, they need to be occupied, especially if you are doing a degree where there is not much contact time.
Alcohol doesn’t help
Don’t self medicate. Don’t drink to excess because it doesn’t help. It helps for a couple of hours or so and then you wake up and feel ten times worse. Make sure your friends know that’s why you are not drinking. Sometimes they’ll try and make you “Come on! Have a drink!” Say “No; it’ll make me feel bad.” It is sometimes difficult as a student because it’s such a big part of the culture.
There is still a lot of ignorance
Despite having received huge support from the vast majority of my friends, a small number of them, plus colleagues and students, have been dismissive and offhand about my condition. The media and the general public, I feel, are still largely ignorant about depression. Don’t expect everyone to understand, because they won’t, and don’t be offended because it is their mistake. Some of my friends have said “Depression doesn’t exists; people should pull themselves together,” and it is upsetting when it first happens but then you realise that they are not really getting at you; they are just expressing their view point and they are wrong – they obviously haven’t read enough medical research.
Link up with others
When I was going through depression I wished there was somewhere I could talk about things with other people going through it, and they could talk to me. Depression doesn’t have many uses but that’s possibly the only one it does is doing your best to make sure other people don’t go through the same as you in quite the same way. Saying, “You will come out of this and here’s how you can and I know it’s going to be hard but you just have to try; all you can do is to keep trying and you will get out of it.” Participating in the blog will help turn what has been a horrible experience into something which is of use to myself and others.