How depression has affected me
Faked self harm
I experienced a lot of bullying growing up, both racist bullying and because I was a bit ‘different’ through liking reading and learning. I also got a lot of pressure from my parents. By the time I was at college I was I was constantly feeling depressed to the point that I once faked self harm. I was agitated after I’d had an argument with my mum and I put some fake blood on my wrist and on a craft knife and my mum came in and thought I had cut myself. I really wanted some one to wake up. Basically it was my cry for attention, for help.
Needing recognition of unhappiness
Partly I think it was also revenge. I wanted to get my parents back and give them a good, sharp shock. I wanted to shake them and say “Look, I’m not just being your normal miserable teenager. I have real genuine problems and no-one seems to be giving a damn about me. I’m really worried about this for myself and will someone just come and help me out please.”
Thinking about death and suicide
There were times and days, as there sometimes are now, when you just think “I can’t cope with this any more, or I don’t want to cope or life is a load of pants and I can’t stand it and I just wish I was dead.” There have been times when I have just wanted to start my life over again. I would never actually commit suicide. I’ve thought about it lots of times but I wouldn’t actually do it, because I hate pain.
I took a year out after college and started working doing jobs here and there. While my parents were away on summer holiday I found a flat and moved out. I left them a letter saying I’d had enough of living under their rules and regulations. I didn’t give a damn about my parents and relatives and I still don’t because of the way they treated me in upbringing. I’ve detached myself from them.
Going to pieces
In that year when I was 18, things went to pieces completely in my life. At first being able to come and go as I pleased was wonderful. But then I got into money problems – I couldn’t afford the rent; had the landlord on my back; had to worry about council tax and housing benefit and all these kinds of things.
Caught for fraud
It got so bad that I did something illegal. It was stupid but I did it because I was in desperate need of funding. Anyway the police cottoned on and I immediately owned up. Even though there was mitigating circumstances, the judge decided he wanted to make an example of me and sentenced me to 3 months in a young offenders’ institution.
It was a complete shock. When you’re sentenced you get taken away there and then. I was crying. I did six weeks and it was the longest six weeks in my life. I hated every minute of it. I found ways to occupy the time, but during those six weeks I decided that I wanted to get out of Cornwall; leave it all behind and have a new start.
My parents tried to dissuade me, so they could keep tabs on me, but I moved to London and immediately felt more at home than I had ever felt in Cornwall. But it was still difficult. I did temping jobs and at one point moved into a young people’s home. I found it difficult to live on a small income, with or without a job, and it was depressing. I was living day to day, hand to mouth, for a long time.
Going to university
I then decided my jobs and life were boring and I needed to be intellectually challenged. I chose a degree that interested me, rather than something that would look good on my CV. I was able to apply as a mature student and got accepted via interview. I enjoyed the three year course very much and was pretty much on an even keel during that time.
But then afterwards, I kept coming up with boring dead end jobs that I could have done if I hadn’t gone to college. I had menial, low-paid jobs and despite working a 35-40 hour week including night shifts, was getting into debt. The feeling of not being mentally challenged as well was just depressing me more and more.
My mood swings were becoming erratic and I wasn’t eating well. I was feeling lousy to the point where I didn’t want to get up in the mornings. I would spend several hours in bed. I would ignore problems and issues and generally wanted to give up again. I also had problems with my landlord, who threatened to kill me. I ended up having to go back and live with my parents for a while.
It was very depressing being stuck back with my parents. They were giving me ultimatums to get me to do something, thinking I was sponging off them. I felt just like I had when I was young – that I had no control over my life, that I was worthless and nothing in their eyes.
Decided what I wanted
However, in that year I decided what I wanted to do with my life. Up until then, I had no real clue what I wanted to do as a career. Now I am at university again, studying to be a teacher. I can see myself waking up every morning and doing that. The course is tough going, but I’m enjoying it on the whole.
I have suffered from depression since about the age of 13 or 14. It all started from being a black boy brought up in Cornwall, which is one of the least culturally-diverse parts of England, with a big age difference between me and my parents compared to other normal, average families.
Only non-white person at school
At the local primary school I was the only non-white person out of 60 odd pupils and three teachers. Then at the local high school, I was one of two black children among 800 people, so instantly I stood out whether I wanted to or not.
Don’t remember much
A lot of my childhood is a blank. Partly deliberately, I think – as a coping mechanism. I suffered from years of bullying, mainly name-calling and racial taunting, plus some physical attacks. I tried telling my parents and teachers about it, but all to no avail.
I was bullied mainly because of my skin colour, but also because I was different. I didn’t fit in as a normal, standard, average child. I kept myself to myself. I didn’t have huge numbers of friends and I was quite quiet and quite mature for my age. I used to get quite good grades and I was the nerdy type of person. So that was also a lot to do with it.
Worse at high school
At high school the bullying got worse. It wasn’t physical then; it was mainly name calling and picking on me, making me stand out for some reason or using me as a joke. By the final two years, when I was 15 and 16, my work had also all gone to pot. It was partly rebellion, I think.
I was very, very low at high school. While everyone else was out at lunch break I would just sit in the classroom and bawl my eyes out. I would just sit there alone, wondering about life, about myself, thinking “Why am I like this? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with the world?” Then I’d pretend that nothing was wrong with me when everyone came back.
It was a very isolating, very depressive, very introverted life. I really didn’t feel I had anyone there who I could trust. I’d tried discussing the issues with teachers and parents and other people and it hadn’t worked out. I decided that no one was going to look out for me, and the only person who was going to offer me any help would be myself.
After school I went to the local college, where I thought people would be more mature and sensible and I wouldn’t have the bullying. Unfortunately, one guy on my course was a complete bastard and he made my life a living hell. Not just a bit of bullying, but physical stuff – punching me on the arm, shouting at me, tripping me up. Again, I think he was picking on me for no other reason than I suppose I was an easy target for him, either my colour or intelligence or whatever.
I complained to the teachers at the college, and other students knew that he was picking on me. Eventually it came to a head and one of the teachers said, “There’s nothing we can do; you and the bully should go for counselling.” At which point I laughed and walked away thinking how ironic that this was the best they could come up with.
I thought 16 and 17 year olds would be more mature and how wrong I was there. It was so depressing that I was still being bullied and victimised at that age at college. No-one seemed to give a damn. I didn’t have friends I could trust. I was still living at home with my parents in a small little village where there were no buses to get out.
Parents also victimising me
It also felt like my parents were victimising me, in a way. They wanted to control me. They had ideas of the kind of person they wanted me to be and if I didn’t fit into that, that was wrong. I think most parents would be reasonably proud of and happy with what I was, compared to other teenagers and adults at the time, but my parents weren’t happy.
Asking for help
I can still picture, as clear as day, sitting in my geography lesson one Thursday morning and noticing a poster on the classroom wall advertising a local youth counselling service. It said “Are you being victimised, bullied….whatever?” I thought I’m the kind of person who won’t walk into a shop and then wander round for ages looking for something. If I need help I’ll go up and ask someone – I won’t mess about.
Help from someone neutral
I didn’t want anyone knowing about it – that was a very important point. Just because of the kind of person I am, but also I don’t feel the need to have everyone – even family and relatives – knowing my every move. I find that really frustrating and annoying. If they don’t need to know, then as far as I’m concerned they don’t need to know and that’s it, no matter what.
I needed to go somewhere I could go without anyone knowing, so I went to this place in the advert. Luckily it had sessions on Saturday mornings, so I could say to my parents “I’m going to town to go to the library, or the shop, or whatever…” and they’d be none the wiser. Having the chance to have just one person listen to my feelings, and not have them prejudge me, was a big boon in helping me through my traumatic childhood.
I’ve had counselling pretty much since 13 or 14 years of age, almost constantly. Counselling has helped a lot, but it hasn’t ‘cured’ me. It’s a case of wanting someone I can talk to without fear of having that information told to other people. And it’s a cathartic exercise in just letting out all the garbage stored inside me. Being acknowledged and having someone understand what you’re saying and be a sympathetic, listening ear.
I can still to this day remember my first counselling session, aged 13, and so desperately unhappy. By the end of the session I was crying and saying, “You must think I’m stupid” and the counsellor put her arms around me. I just completely broke down in tears at that point and that was the first time I remember feeling comforted and supported. That will always be a very strong and potent memory for me.
After a few years, my second counsellor suggested that maybe having an antidepressant might be helpful. She didn’t say it was the answer or that I must try it, just that it might be helpful. At the time I didn’t know anything about antidepressants, except a bit about the ‘happy pill’ in the media. I trusted my counsellor and thought it was worth trying. The worst that would happen would be me saying “I’ve tried it; I really don’t like this, or it’s reacting to me or changing my mood swings or whatever.”
So I tried them and it seemed to go okay. I didn’t have any major side effects, even in the early weeks. It was like taking a vitamin A tablet or eating a smartie; it wasn’t a big deal for me. They did help stabilise my moods. I took Prozac (fluoxetine) initially and was on that for quite a few years.
Changing medication type and dose
At some point, when I was in London, I felt like I’d been on even keel for quite a while and I tried to come off the medication with my doctor’s and counsellor’s approval. But my mood dipped again, so we knew that they were doing something – they were levelling out my mood and stopping me from getting worse, but it wasn’t improving. So I went on to Seroxat (paroxetine) instead, with a higher dose, and it seemed to help.
I had no problems with my doctor because I’ve always gone for lady doctors. Because of the bullying and victimisation which has always been from men and boys, I’ve grown up with an aversion to talking to men in any personal situation. So I’ve always asked for a female doctor and there’s been no problem with that. I’ve been able to talk to them openly about whatever I needed to talk about, and they’ve always discussed the options with me.
The bullying in my childhood has turned me into a very introverted man. I live on my own and only have one genuine friend. This friend I’ve known since I was about 15 and we just clicked, but it wasn’t ever a boyfriend-girlfriend thing. She’s had her own stuff in her life, but has been really supportive and nice and helpful. At one stage she was the one thing in my life which made me not want to commit suicide, because I didn’t want to hurt her.
Range of support
Over the years, I’ve had counselling and support from different places – youth counselling centres in Cornwall and London and various other agencies, like the Brook Advisory Service, as well as from the counselling services at my two universities. Normally it’s been about me talking and the counsellor listening and then discussing things.
New type of counselling
The counselling I’ve just started at my new university is a different type of counselling. This lady is actually going right back to when I was born and how everything affected my life, why I am the person I am and that kind of thing. It is completely different and quite tough – I’ve blanked out a lot of my childhood because it was so horrible.
What I’ve learnt
It’s not my fault
Counselling has helped me accept that it’s not my fault that I am the person I am. It wasn’t my fault that I was black, and brought up in a predominantly white area of the country. Nor was it my fault that I was different to other children.
When I first went for counselling, all I wanted was for someone to listen to what I was concerned about, and for them to try and help me. I didn’t expect them to necessarily understand everything, nor to agree with me all of the time, but to simply listen and acknowledge that I was in deep emotional pain. I would certainly recommend that anyone who feels that they have no one to turn to, to seek out a counsellor. Sometimes just talking about the issue or problem can be half of the way to solving things.
Resist the stigma
For me, there’s nothing wrong with suffering from depression. I think it’s far better to admit you’ve got a problem and go and speak to someone. It was a big help having someone say “You’re okay. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re not mad or stupid. You’re a normal human being, you’ve just got a particular illness.”
The support was the main thing for me. Having someone listen without necessarily being able to fix it, but just to say “Yes, I understand.” Open up to one person that you genuinely trust, whether it be a friend or relative or lecturer or whatever, and then try going to counselling. Sometimes people think there is a stigma to it, but it’s just two people sitting in a room discussing you, and that can be very beneficial.
Keep working on it
I’m still finding life difficult. It’s a big change being in a new place again, and doing a difficult degree. It’s stressful not having much money. But I do now know what I want to do with my life, and I’m going to keep working on things in counselling.