How depression has affected me
First depression in 6th form
I first realised I had depression when I was 17, at sixth form college, though I think I was depressed a long time before that. I hardly ever went to my lessons and never did my essays, most of my teachers didn’t know who I was. I was also drinking as often as possible. I was angry and withdrawn, I began to wish I was dead. It was so hard feeling the way I did because I was so young and thought that I would feel that way forever. Eventually I realised that I just had to help myself and got better on my own.
Depression back several years later
Then in before I started my masters course, I realised that I was depressed again. It started off quite small and then it got progressively worse and worse. In many ways this time was harder because I was so angry with myself for feeling this way again. I felt worthless, I had serious doubts about whether I wanted to do my course, I lacked energy to do anything and hated being alone. I’d cry to the point that I felt sick. On one occasion I cut myself again.
I noticed that I had no hope for anything. I started to think that anything I accomplished was pointless. I just felt what is the point? What is the point in going back to uni and doing this stuff? What’s the point trying to help anyone?
Work felt too demanding
Being a speech therapist seemed like the worst job in the world and once I was on the course the work was so demanding, it seemed like there was no opportunity at all to have any fun. I thought “This is going to make me worse” and I kept on crying about that, thinking that I wanted to drop out.
I was quite anxious all the time. I didn’t really like being in my own company, but I was alone a lot of the time and I just felt really anxious. I felt I had to get out of the house because I felt like the walls were closing in on me.
But it was worse still, because when I did go out, I’d just want to cry and go home and then I’d be annoyed with myself. I really didn’t have the energy at all. Something would just snap in my head and I’d just feel completely worthless.
On two occasions when I was 17 I used a razor to cut my wrists, but I never caused any real harm. I cut myself again on one occasion this time.
I recognised it as being depression, but it progressively got worse to the point that I was suicidal again. The feeling that made me want to kill myself was simply the thought that it was simply too much – I couldn’t take feeling like that again, getting better to just get worse again. I’d think about really horrible ways of killing myself like I never did before. I was quite scared of driving because if I got upset when I was driving I was very tempted to cause an accident.
Early experiences had a role
I think my first instances of depression were actually quite young. I grew up in quite a big family; I am the youngest of 6. I’ve got 3 big brothers and 2 big sisters. I know that the reason why I was depressed – although I didn’t have the word for it at the time – was because of a poor relationship with my dad.
Nervous around dad
I remember him being nice to me when I was quite little and he’s very nice to me now, but when I was growing up and becoming a teenager, he became very moody and didn’t seem to like me very much. He could sometimes be aggressive and he was like that with my older siblings as well, so that as a child I was always quite nervous because I felt that that was something that was going to happen to me when I got older, and it did.
Feeling ‘not good enough’
I had a very low opinion of myself because of how he was with me. I kind of put it down to there being something wrong with me and I was a bit on edge all the time. I was a bit fearful of him and I felt like I was kind of ready to run all the time.
Being called stupid
My mum had always been quite protective of me when I was at school, but when I started at 6th form I had more freedom and felt like I was quite popular. But I think in many ways that was a problem with my dad because he was somehow losing control of me, and he started to be worse with me. He wasn’t necessarily aggressive, but he just basically stopped speaking to me and some of the things that he did say just weren’t very nice. He’d call me stupid and things like that and laugh at me.
I just felt like I was a horrible person if my dad could be that way with me. I thought there must be something really, really horribly wrong with me and I felt really unlovable. I had a boyfriend at the time and I remember being really unconvinced that he loved me.
I became really, really angry and I kind of created a persona around me – being this really hostile, unapproachable person because I didn’t want people to know what was going on in my head or get too close because I was frightened that they’d hurt me. Obviously I’d let my guard down with my dad and if I did that with someone else, I’d kind of suffer the same kind of rejection. I didn’t like the idea of being weak and I had to be this strong person.
Self hating prison
I just hated myself. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror; I’d just think “You’re horrible; you’re hideous; you can’t do anything; you’re stupid; why are you here?” I was in a prison that I’d put myself in. I was so unapproachable, that I trapped myself in it.
The first time I was depressed, I spoke to a psychologist after the first time I cut myself and I was put on a counselling waiting list, but I never received an appointment despite me keeping asking about it. I remember feeling really, really miserable, but thinking to myself “Right I’ve had enough of this. No one is going to come along and make it all better; I need to do it myself.” And that seemed to be a turning point. I realised that I just had to help myself.
At that point, I gave myself practical stuff to do like going to all my classes and I doing all my work. I found it really helped to have goals and also because I was busy it meant that I didn’t think about things as much – it distracted me. I also realised that I was quite good at what I was doing and that I was getting quite good marks in my work.
Stopped getting drunk
The other thing was that I stopped getting drunk. I didn’t stop drinking because of the way my friends were, I just don’t think I could have been able to get away with it. But I drank only what I knew I could get away with and stopped getting drunk because I felt worse when drunk and it was when I was drunk that I cut myself.
I wrote poems, which at the time was the only way I could express my emotions.
Communicated with dad
The most important thing I did was talk to my dad about our poor relationship. My problems stem from me being made to believe that my dad didn’t love me, but I talked to him about it and he was so upset when he realised how much he hurt me. In time I forgave him and now we have a great relationship.
More social contact
As a result, I didn’t feel happy and I didn’t feel depressed; I just felt ok. It was quite confusing. Because I’d felt unhappy for so long, I felt that being ok was happiness, so it was a bit strange. People wanted to spend more time with me and this helped the thought that I wasn’t completely worthless.
Second time around different
The things that worked the first time didn’t seem to work this time. It was difficult to keep myself busy as before I started my course I wasn’t working regularly. Then on the course it almost made me feel worse because the work felt so demanding.
Overcoming pride to consider medication
I had to do the things I didn’t do last time. I liked the fact that I managed to get over it last time without having to take anything, but this time I felt so desperate that I was genuinely frightened that I would kill myself. I thought if it’s a choice between killing myself or taking some medication to stop me killing myself, surely it’s better to take the medication.
Aware of the effect on others
I felt really guilty as well because my boyfriend had to see me like that all the time and he knew there was nothing he could do. I could see it was affecting him so much that I felt I had to do something.
Overcome previous bad experiences with doctors
I knew I had to go and see a doctor, but I had a problem with that as well because my previous doctors were not very nice – they always looked at me as if I was making stuff up. They were not very understanding and I was never even offered medication before and the counselling waiting list I was on was never ending and I never saw one. But this time were really, really nice.
They immediately put me on anti-depressants and they put me on one with sedatives because I’ve had problems sleeping my entire life. I think the medication has helped. It took a long time – about 4 to 6 weeks – to start working, so in that time I felt really desperate. But they did help and they took me to not feeling great, but to feeling less bad. I’m now on a reduced dose.
The doctors also told me I was going to see a counsellor. I had to wait about a month afterwards, and she wasn’t a counsellor, she was a mental health social worker. She assessed me to see if I needed psychotherapy; we both agreed that I didn’t as I was feeling much better, but she recommended I see a counsellor through my university.
I started seeing my counsellor in the summer term. I saw her once a week for a while and then went to fortnightly sessions and it’s been going very well. I feel like I’m recovering, but know I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m also afraid of feeling that way again.
I started going swimming and felt that really helped as it took my mind off things for a short while. Even though I wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer, I felt like I’d accomplished something. I was trying to go once a week and I found that helps. Even though it’s such a small thing, you think “I’ve been swimming today and I’ve done something” and that makes you feel quite good.
I started running as well, and I recently did a charity run. I felt like that was a big accomplishment, just registering for it. I felt I need something to aim for that’s going to make me feel good, but also make me feel important in a way because I was doing it to help other people, so that made me feel really good. Also it made me set little goals like starting to run and training, and the ultimate goal was getting sponsorship. It gave me something to think about and something to look forward to.
Worked on being sociable
I made myself go out and meet friends even though I might not have felt up to it. I did small things like get out of bed before lunch time and made sure I got dressed. I was also honest with my close friends and family about my depression, not like last time when I kept it to myself.
Keeping a diary
For a while I kept a sort of diary for when I felt I needed to get things off my chest. It was quite helpful because it just gave everything I was feeling or everything in my head an ‘out’, but not off loading it onto someone else. I could also see any progress I was making.
Dark sense of humour
I think I’ve got a bit of a strange sense of humour and even though I was talking about quite unhappy things, I always managed to put some weird dark humour on it. It made me smile and it was kind of nice that I could poke fun at myself about it, even though I knew it was serious. Even though I knew it was nothing to laugh about, it was ok for me to laugh about it and it was ok for me to think “What you did was ridiculous and why were you reacting like that?”
What I’ve learnt
Counselling only works if you’re game
I think counselling only works for you if you are game. If you think ‘I don’t really want to talk to this person’ it won’t really work for you or it’ll take a lot longer, but for me, I think it works.
What’s needed to get properly better
When I started seeing my counsellor at uni and started to talk about things to her, I talked about a lot of things back in my childhood and with my dad. I figured out that I don’t think I really did get over things before, but papered over the cracks. I was so desperate to get better I just wanted to fix the practical things, but I didn’t really fix what was wrong inside of me.
It can take time
That’s something I am working on with my counsellor now. I still take a lot of responsibility for things that happened…I kind of feel that I’ll be there for ever because to try and tackle something that happened so long ago seems like a really long, long process.
Compassion for your child self
One good thing that my counsellor recommended doing was looking at a photo of me when I was a little girl and thinking about what it was like for me back then – trying to think “That wasn’t my fault. I was just a little girl and I couldn’t see things any differently from how I saw things.” And then try to think “She wasn’t so bad, she was just a little girl.”
However bad it feels tell yourself you will get better
You’re always going to feel alone with it, especially when you are really bad. You’ll feel like nobody else in the world can feel as bad as you do, but you’ve just got to force yourself, no matter how hard it is, you’ve got to use what little energy you have to tell yourself that that’s not true and you will get better. Even though you feel horrendous right now, you will get better and if you can keep telling yourself that, you will and it will be really hard but every day you do it and it gets a little bit easier to tell yourself that, then that means you are getting better.