How depression has affected me
I was quite happy at university until my third year, which I spent abroad in America. The experience was very different to how I imagined it would be – the study methods were very different and there was no campus life.
Isolation and loss
Having reluctantly left behind my group of friends at uni in the UK, I found myself feeling extremely isolated. There was no central campus or designated area for students to congregate outside of class, and I found my housemates very distant. Then after New Year I received the news that my grandfather had died back home.
I became less interested in studying. I knew the year wouldn´t really count towards the final grade. I gave up on a lot of the pastimes I was interested in as even listening to music or reading comics on the internet seemed hard and unrewarding.
It became harder to enjoy things or find the time to do things. I was probably sleeping a lot more and getting out of the house less; showing up to class less and becoming withdrawn.
I was reacting to things less – finding things less interesting and not laughing as much at a comedy or getting as sad at a sad story. Everything seemed to become less substantial; less worthwhile.
No contact with university
I stayed there until the end of the term and came back in July. I doubt I passed, but I didn´t have any contact with the university, so I don´t know. It was very different: clinical, with much less interaction and warmth.
Dealing with the loss of my grandfather was harder than I´d let myself admit. It took coming home and realising he wasn´t around and I wouldn´t be visiting him again to accept that he had gone. By the time I got home everyone else had become accustomed to the fact because they´d had 6 or 8 months together grieving.
It was very hard to communicate how hard everything had been. It would have been a disappointment to my parents to say “Thanks for the wonderful opportunity. I experienced the culture but I´m coming home miserable.”
Then back at university for the final year, all my friends had already graduated and were now spread around the country. I was hoping to get university accommodation but ended up renting a place, living with strangers who had their own lives outside the house.
Then when I went on line to register, it wouldn´t let me log in and choose classes. It seemed like a terrible thing and I couldn´t deal with it. I had a real serious panic attack. I remember having to pace about my room with my hands on my head not knowing what to do and I think I might have passed out.
Paralysed by fear of rejection
My dad called me later that night and I told him I had registered because I didn´t want to worry him. I realised there was something wrong with the system. I remember walking up to the university gate and not being able to show my ID card. I was too scared of the possibility of being told I´d been rejected or they didn´t want me back or something.
I think I would have fallen apart if I´d been told I couldn´t study. I wouldn´t have been able to deal with it; it would have been too huge. I tried the computer a couple more times in the next fortnight and it would never work.
Then the registration period was up and I realised I´d have to go into university and say I haven´t registered on time and that seemed like a really hard thing to do. I kept finding it too hard to go in. I kept making excuses, thinking I´d go in another day when I felt more confident; more able to do so.
In the house I was in, people quickly gave up on the cleaning rota and so it got very dirty. I was the one who always realised we were out of kitchen roll or whatever, go and buy it and then I´d have to chase people for money. The kitchen got so dirty and people used my stuff without asking.
My behaviour was very much influenced by the environment. In the end I stopped eating hot food. I´d buy stuff to take out of the fridge so I could avoid using all this dirty stuff and wouldn´t have to deal with the other people in the house. I became very withdrawn.
I´d go grocery shopping at night so I could come back and put stuff away without bumping into people. I´d fill up empty bottles with squash so I wouldn´t have to come down during the day.
Called in by senior tutor
In the November I had a letter saying I had to speak to a senior tutor which was a relief because it was a definite course of action I had to take. I knew who to talk to and she could see how anxious I was. I was trembling and having difficulty speaking. She recommended I go to the counselling department. I was told by senior staff that I could come back, but I didn´t feel I could do so.
It had become an unplanned year out, but my parents didn´t know. I was getting help with medication and counselling, but in the April and May I had some sudden episodes of self harm. I cannot explain why I did it or what rationalisation I had, but I attempted to sever my hand early one morning.
Frightening state of mind
I got into a very strange state of mind where I seemed like a different person, like a different person was operating my body. I am scared by the thought that I can enter such a state of mind with no warning. I damaged myself pretty badly, but I managed to convince my housemates and parents that it was an accident.
Cry for help?
The only justification I can give to it is that I was in a pretty bad situation and maybe I was just trying to change where I was or change my situation for better or worse. Other than that it´s just madness really and scary as well. Like it comes from outside me or from some very strange place inside myself that I am not in tune with.
I had a bad episode where I cut myself superficially but a lot, all over my body; everywhere. My face, hands, arms, legs, chest, back and some of my neck. That really came out of the blue. I´d been happy – I´d been to the cinema and was reading a new book – two things I´d put on hold for a long time. I´d been having a good day. It was like I zoned out.
Wake up call
I ended up doing a lot of damage to myself. I had been drinking but I´d been drinking to make it easier to cut myself. I realised I was in a bad, bad place and needed to get out of it I guess; bring other people´s attention to it……or something.
Following parents´ agenda
I guess my parents were quite excited about the idea of me studying abroad and I thought it could be a good thing when I was looking at different universities to apply to. When it got nearer, I didn´t make much effort to contact the study abroad office or look into it too hard so really I don´t think I was too keen on going.
Not wanting to lose friends
I was pretty happy, making friends and going to classes and working, in the first and second years and doing pretty well. I thought it´d be nice to get the degree and just get on with it. I had a pretty good circle of friends and they weren´t taking a year out and I felt if I did do that I´d lose contact with them.
Unsure about making new friends
I was lucky because I´d never had to pursue friends. I didn´t have to make a lot of effort to fit in. Growing up I´ve generally been lucky that way. Now I´d have to start from scratch.
Not wanting to disappoint family
I guess my family thought I was more interested than perhaps I really was. It was a unique opportunity to experience new things and it was something I´d expressed an interest in before. No one in the family had spent any time abroad and my grandfather was very excited about the idea, which was nice.
But when I got out there, I found I was very isolated. There was no real central student accommodation, so there was no real opportunity to form relationships outside classes and no real student hang outs like student bars or coffee shops. I found a convenient, cheap house but the people I shared with had their own social groups outside the house and were quite happy doing their own thing.
I found the study methods very different to the UK. There was very little discussion or exchange of ideas between students. It was all transcribing teachers´ notes or just reading text books, rather than participating. One module in particular was taught with completely irrelevant examples and I dropped out for a while because I felt it had been advertised wrongly.
I was finding it really difficult out there. My parents came out for a visit over Christmas and that was nice, but then my grandfather died soon after Christmas and I found it very difficult to accept or come to terms with. It seemed so strange a concept that I´d never see him again.
Couldn´t properly grieve
I guess I was still looking forward to showing him my photos and telling him the things I´d done and seen. I knew he would´ve loved that. I was out there not properly grieving or processing those feelings. It was very hard.
I guess I´ve always had a problem saying no to my parents… quitting things they´ve pushed me towards. It was all very hard. Then I felt I couldn´t tell them what I was going through when I had the problems registering either.
When the senior tutor recommended counselling, I made an appointment for the following week, and that turned out to be a really positive thing. I started talking through some of my problems and carried on seeing the counsellor for the rest of the school year.
GP and psychiatrist
I also contacted my GP and began taking prescribed medicine to deal with anxiety, which I am still taking. I was not diagnosed with depression until the summer term. I was referred to a psychiatrist to learn more about my condition and learn what treatment I should consider taking.
Things coming to a head
When I cut myself the second time, I woke up and I called the medical centre and the counselling team and made appointments for that day. The medical centre got me a taxi to A&E at the local hospital where I saw the on duty psychiatrist. She got in touch with the local crisis team and someone called the landlord and they called my parents.
Opening up to parents
My parents came to the hospital while I was there and I told them I´d hurt myself. We spent the night at a travel lodge, away from the accommodation, and I opened up about how I´d been feeling and that I hadn´t been going to lectures and stuff. They were very supportive and understanding.
It was a relief for me and it was a relief for them too really. They wanted to take me back home, but I said I wanted to go to the counselling team again. The next day when we packed up all my stuff was when I really did realise, once my stuff had been taken out and I´d handed my keys in, what a bad environment it was.
Getting a diagnosis
The depression diagnosis came as a surprise to me as I find it hard to evaluate my own feelings. However once the condition was explained to me I identified with many of the symptoms and acknowledged that I do indeed suffer with depression. I hope to be able to find new ways to move on now that I have been properly diagnosed and realise that I have a problem. I guess acknowledging the problem has been a huge help in itself.
I´ve had contact from a senior tutor telling me they´d be more than happy for me to come back and pick my studies up again. They suggested they could find me some university accommodation if I wanted it and that I get some part time work with the university as well. So that´s all pretty positive for the coming year.
I´ll have behaviour therapy sometime in the summer and I fully intend to go back to the counselling team at the university. They´ve been a real help for the last couple of terms.
I´ll go back to the group therapy as well, that I started last term. I am hoping this form of therapy will be helpful to me and that I can help others in the group.
I also find that I feel better if I can keep myself distracted, and am virtually always listening to music or watching my favourite TV shows on DVD. I find listening to music and light entertainment type stuff helps me relax or focus out.
The other thing I found really helpful in America was going to stand up comedy – it´s good to laugh but it´s also seeing people express their frustrations and problems and be honest about their lives.
Having family understanding
Although there´s a strong feeling of guilt and embarrassment, my parents have been so supportive and it´s a relief that they understand.
Techniques to combat self-harm impulses
Since I was last tempted to self harm I have been given a few techniques which I feel may be useful in combating these negative feelings, such as writing down what I hope to accomplish with such an act or making a list of pros and cons in order to get my reasoning faculties working more efficiently.
Working to understand self harm better
Looking back on the self harm it seems very distant – like looking at a photo or home movie when you were 5 or 6 or something, thinking “I can´t believe I was ever that person.” You know you were but it seems very alien. I have to associate those actions with the person I am and understand them better through counselling.
I also feel that discussing my feelings and experiences anonymously I may gain the confidence to discuss my problems with people from my daily life, especially my parents.
What I´ve learnt
Check the warning signs
The main problem I faced was failing to realise that was I suffering with depression, and consequently doing nothing to combat it. I would hope that by blogging about my feelings I could help someone else suffering realise that they may need help too.
Challenge barriers to seeking help
Ultimately I would hope that by blogging regularly I may help someone realise that counselling or treatment can be extremely beneficial and that it is possible to change the way you feel and control the negative thoughts you have.
Realise you can move on from depression
Depression is almost like picking up a pebble every day and you suddenly realise you can´t drag this huge weight around any more. You need to realise that you can put it down I guess. It was very cathartic to leave; to see the room empty of all my stuff; to just get out of there.
“Just talk to someone”
I would advise anyone who even thought they may have a problem to talk it through with someone they feel comfortable with, be it a friend, family member, counsellor or GP. I found it hard to talk to my parents and my family until just recently but I found the counselling to be very helpful; just to have some contact with other people. Any human interaction is better than none.
Counselling helps you understand things
I have been amazed at how useful the counselling centre at the university has been. I wish that I had the insight or initiative to visit at the beginning of the academic year rather than needing to be sent there by my senior tutor. By talking through my feelings I have acknowledged that I do have some problems and that I find some things, such as interaction with others, harder than most other people seem to.