How depression has affected me
Moving away from home
I started to experience a persistent low mood around a month after moving to university. I elected to move away from home to study, because I wanted to experience life outside of family and gain independence. However, things didn´t quite pan out as I´d planned.
Hard to make friends
I had very little contact with the others in my flat in halls of residence, as two of them were international students from Spain and mostly socialised with other Spanish students and the other guy was hardly ever there! This left me feeling very isolated, and struggling to make friends, especially initially.
I am a shy person as it is and struggle with making friends. I always think if I was in a crowded room, I´d quite happily sit in a corner and watch them all rather than talking to them. I don´t think it´s that I´m anti-social; I think I am just introverted.
My course was pretty full on. Once I´d started lectures and practicals I was pretty much in 9 to 5 every day and I struggled to make friends on my course. I didn´t think I had much in common with them; I didn´t feel they were interested in me.
I am part of quite a close-knit family, and this feeling of isolation and loneliness caused me to miss home life even more as time went by. Often, I could go for days without having a conversation with anyone except for my mum, who I rang sometimes three times a day because I just wanted to communicate with someone.
Alongside this, my long-term girlfriend had gone to a different university. We´ve known each other for over a decade, and lived five minutes apart at home, so going from this closeness to being a three-hour train ride away was another stressing factor. I was also jealous that she was having a good time and I wasn´t.
My girlfriend is visually impaired, so our relationship has always had obstacles to overcome. The main one with being at university is that she can´t come and visit me without it being a massive hassle, so it is always me who makes the long round trip to visit. Coming home from having a good weekend with her, to a quiet and lonely flat, is probably one of the biggest causes of low mood I´ve had.
Everyone else having fun
I was hearing from friends at home who´d started at uni and were having a great time and had all these friends and I felt my university experience wasn´t proper in a way, because I hadn´t done all these things that everyone else had done.
Contemplated dropping out
I really struggled and strongly contemplated dropping out. That almost caused more problems than it would have solved because if I´d have dropped out, I might have been happier but I would have felt a failure and that´s something I hate. It would have been admitting that this wasn´t right for me; this situation hasn´t worked out for me.
Cut myself off
I felt cut off and so didn´t make much effort to integrate myself. I am not one for going out and drinking liberally and partying til 4am. I went to university thinking I don´t like that kind of thing but I´ll give it a go and may enjoy myself. But when I was invited out, I´d make up an excuse not to go because I thought I wouldn´t enjoy it.
Loss of pleasure
I felt there was nothing I wanted to do. Nothing felt like it would be any fun. I couldn´t really throw myself into anything and that felt strange. Even things I´d previously enjoyed – going home to watch football with my dad say – I couldn´t get into. I didn´t have the same passion or enthusiasm for anything.
I couldn´t sleep and when I could sleep it was like 3pm. I thought I´ll just sit in my room and read a book or watch a film or go to sleep. It was like there was no point doing anything so I cut myself off like that.
Nothing felt real
Nothing felt real. It must sound silly. Nothing tasted the same or felt the same after my A level results and going to university. I thought it was rubbish and I didn´t see the point in anything, but I´ve got better in that respect.
Some suicidal feelings
I guess there were times when I felt suicidal but would never go past the feeling of `there´s no point in me being here´, because I almost know the value of life now after nearly losing my sister. So, I guess I had suicidal thoughts but I felt guilty about feeling them and wouldn´t have taken it further than just a feeling.
Taking it out on others
By November I was under a lot of pressure from mock exams and I was really struggling. It was being passed on to my girlfriend – I´d lash out at her when I was feeling bad. My mum rang me every day and she´d hear there was something wrong and try to talk to me about it, but I´d be short with her and that would upset her and me.
Very low energy
At my worst stage, I was in such a low mood I hardly left my flat for a week, only going out to buy food. This was just before exams, and I could hardly find the energy to get out of bed. A dark time!
It was a big downward spiral, but I put it down to being a bit moody, a bit homesick. I didn´t see the link between my unhappiness and a condition. I wanted to pull myself together; wanted to think it was just me and I´d be alright tomorrow, but after a lot of bullying from the parents and girlfriend, I went to see my GP and was diagnosed with depression.
I´m the oldest of four, with two brothers and a sister, all quite close in age. My little sister was diagnosed with cancer when she was 4 and I was 9; and as a result, we are one of those families where we know everything about each other because in the bad times, we had to know. We pulled together proper style. She got better but we are really close.
Impact on my personality
I wouldn´t say my sister´s illness moulded me into who I am, but a lot of my personality traits come from the way life was when I was 9, 10, and 11. It was very hard on all of us. Me and brothers had to learn to take a back seat almost and that´s hard when you are young, to feel not as important.
Birthdays, Christmas and summer holidays aren´t the same when half your family isn´t there or you´re spending all the time in hospital. But then you almost feel guilty if you complained about it.
Fitting in with others
I think that shaped a lot of things. I find it hard to prioritise myself in life now and making decisions has always been difficult because I always want my decision to fit around everyone else before it fits around me. The last person I consider is myself.
Formed a dream
When my sister was ill, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. It sounds daft but ill people go in and well people come out and I thought they were great. They´d given me my sister back and I wanted to do that.
Sense of failure
I had always wanted to do medicine but didn´t get the AS grades to make it a possibility. That was quite a killer; at 17 to think `I know being a doctor will be hard, but I am clever enough to do it´ and then getting those results back. It was quite a shock and I guess I am still not over that.
I had to scrabble around for another course I could do and stumbled into biomedical sciences as the next best thing. I have struggled to find any passion for the subject matter, and am not sure whether it´s the career I want to follow into the future. Then I didn´t get the A-level grades I needed to get my first choice of university either.
Lost my way
I wanted to be doing something for other people rather than myself. Having had that kind of goal for so long and to have it taken away by a piece of paper with some letters on it made me feel lost. I didn´t know where I was going and I still don´t.
Loss of purpose
I´ve lost my purpose; I am going through life, but not really living it. It´s like I am watching myself go through it; doing things but not taking part almost. I am not getting into it because it´s not what I dreamed or envisaged I´d be doing and I find it quite hard to readjust I think.
Depression in the family
Depression runs in my family. My dad is being treated at the moment and my mum was. I don´t know if it´s better but she is out the other side, but my parents knew all about it and so they recognised it in me.
Overcoming resistance to getting help
I had a big fear about going to the GP and him saying `Cheer up; you´ll be alright next week.´ I felt weak and silly that I couldn´t sort it out myself. I wanted to be able to deal with it myself and not have to hassle anyone else.
After crying for two hours when someone turned off an oven I had wanted to preheat, it tipped me into thinking I had to get some help. I realised that wasn´t normal and knew I couldn´t go on like that. I had tried everything I knew and short of dropping out of university and running back to my mummy, I didn´t know what else to do. I felt I owed it to myself to try and see what help I could get.
Seeing a doctor
When I finally went to the GP, he asked me lots of questions on a kind of survey and he said it looked like I was depressed, put me on antidepressants and referred me to the university counselling service
Initial counselling appointment
I had an appointment the next day at the university counselling service, and I spilled out all this stuff out that I had inside and all the problems I was having. How I couldn´t see how things were going to get better. We scheduled regular appointments.
I guess that diagnosis, or acknowledgement, was almost the lowest point – having to admit to myself that there was a weakness which meant I had to get help. I didn´t want to be `depressed´; didn´t want to have the label.
It took me a long time to accept the acknowledgement and the treatment; the medication and the talking. Now I feel like it´s a thing lots of people go through and it´s perfectly normal to feel like I feel. Now I have come to terms with it and accepted I´ve got to deal with it because I want there to be an end.
Being proactive in finding strategies
Though there are no quick fixes, and I know this, I am fighting my depression. Despite anti-depressants, my mood is consistently low, but I am learning how to get around it, and keep proactive to try and overcome it.
Talking to others
I´m lucky in that I have really understanding parents to discuss my problems with, and my girlfriend is always happy to lend an ear. I wish I had had someone close enough at uni I could have talked to – I didn´t let myself talk because I didn´t want them to think I was making a fuss over nothing.
Understanding myself better
My counsellor tells me that as a result of comparing my problems to my sister´s when I was younger I always think everyone else´s problems are far more important than mine and that I can´t see that everyone needs help. I really struggle with going to my appointments because I sit in there and can´t concentrate often because I am worrying that I am taking up time that could be used on someone more important.
My counsellor has been brilliant for me. She can offer a perspective from outside, and helps me assess what I feel and come to my own decisions about moving on.
I joined the rugby league team at uni. Despite being not very good at it, it´s been the best thing I´ve done in terms of self help. To get out on the pitch and work really hard for an hour is brilliant for taking your mind off things, and makes you feel good about yourself. It´s also been a great chance to meet new people, and make new friends.
I feel silly admitting it, but the best distraction for me is romantic comedies. When I´m in a low mood, I often put a happy film on, and the happy feeling I get from that will often help me through. Going to visit my girlfriend for the weekend also helps distract me from bad feelings.
Early on, I found drinking lots only makes things worse, especially on your own.
I think finally I am coming to terms with the fact that I am not going to be a doctor and there are times in life where you´ve got to say `I missed that train; I´ll get on the next one´. I want to try to make the best of what I´ve got now rather than chasing a dream.
Support from others
I am lucky that I´ve got the right people around me. The feeling that I am not alone has helped me the most. That I´ve got these key people who understand that it is important to talk about it and who can help me find ways of coping, overcoming difficulties and moving forward.
I hope that writing down how I feel in my blog will be a good way of channelling my feelings, another way of talking to people. I also hope it will help others – I wish I´d had something like that to have identified with and to have felt justified in my feelings.
What I’ve learnt
How I understand my depression
To me it is a culmination of circumstances that´s given me these issues. I just want to be myself again – who I think of as me. There is something stopping me being me and I think it can be overcome and I am working towards that. If I sit and do nothing then I am not going to feel better.
Find good strategies
Some of the things that particularly work for me are: talking to people, especially someone impartial, like a counsellor; exercise; distraction – knowing what you enjoy and doing it when your mood is low; and avoiding alcohol. My advice to someone in my position would be try these out, but ultimately, it´s best to find things that work for you.
Choose carefully who you tell
I did eventually tell some people at university and got a bit of teasing about it from other students. I don´t think it was because they wanted to hurt me; I think they just didn´t understand what it meant to be depressed. That fuelled my feelings that I shouldn´t be seeing a counsellor. I didn´t want to be secretive about it but then I found I was too open about it and so had to be careful who I told because the wrong reaction would upset me and set me back a bit.
Depression should not be trivialised.
I want other people to understand that it is beyond my control. I have ended up in this place with the depression and I don´t want people to trivialise it or think I am just making a fuss. I don´t want to make a fuss but at the same time I don´t want to ignore it.
It can be beaten and it´s not your fault
I want people in general to understand too. By blogging about it, I almost want to talk to myself a year ago. There must be people in a similar situation out there and I want other people to understand that it can be beaten and it is not their fault. For so long, I thought it was my fault because I wasn´t strong enough to pull myself out of the hole I was in.
Young men get depression
It was almost like “19 year old males don´t get depression – a 19 year old is supposed to do no work, play football and go out drinking”, and that was a lot of my problem, coming to terms with it. I felt I was in the wrong category to get it. Now I know there is no category. It can happen to guys like me.
Don´t be too proud to get help
For me, a lot of the work in counselling was coming to terms with the fact I needed help and couldn´t deal with it on my own and the idea that I should be able to. I almost felt that socially I shouldn´t be going to see a counsellor because I am a 19 year old bloke. Don´t be too proud to get help or to talk to somebody. You don´t have to be the big blokey bloke. Men go through this.
Getting help is a strong thing to do
It is not a weakness to go and get help. It almost the other way around I think. When I first went to see my counsellor, I felt weak for needing to go. Now, I feel strong every time I go because I know it was such an effort for me to have to go; it is quite an achievement to have gone. Without having done that I couldn´t be on the way to sorting stuff out.
You are not alone
I know how invaluable the feeling of not being alone can be. I hope that by participating with something like this, I can help someone in the same position as me to feel they´re not the only one going through this, and maybe offer them reassurance, if not support, for how they´re feeling.