How depression has affected me
I have suffered from depression since I was 17/18, but there have been three times when it has seriously affected me. The first was when I was 18 and doing my A levels, the second was during my second year as an undergraduate and the third has been more recently soon after I started my doctorate. The second two episodes were much worse than the first one.
I first had mild feelings that I would now connect with depression when my parents divorced when I was 12. However, during my second year of A-levels was the first time I started to connect some of my feelings with the idea of depression. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and if I’m honest I still can’t quite identify its source, but it felt like there was something off in my life. Despite this I managed to struggle through my A-levels, finding solace in listening to and playing music.
Things better at first at uni
Not all of my story is doom and gloom. After A-levels came university. Admittedly, I didn’t get off to the best start. My current girlfriend dumped me on the first day of my fresher’s week, but I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, I used it as an extra reason to throw myself into every opportunity that presented itself, and I have to say it worked out very well!
Setback through illness
However, starting my second year at university I had some severe problems with flu and tonsillitis, causing me to miss the entire ten weeks of my first term. All I could do was lie in bed hoping it would go away, which, when combined with a fresh batch of family issues, led to my first serious bout of depression.
Loss of interest and isolation
I found that I lost interest in pretty much everything that I enjoyed. I spent most of my time in bed, often just lying there because I felt like I just couldn’t get up, often for several days. Even the thought of getting up to go outside made me break down into tears. I couldn’t face being around people, even my best friends and housemates, so I just shut myself away.
It seriously affected my work, and I would regularly miss days because I really didn’t see the point in getting out of bed and doing anything. Everything constantly felt like it was too much for me, and I would often feel really upset and cry for no reason, sometimes for long periods of time.
It was at this point that I started something that would stay with me for a long time; I started self-harming. I don’t really know why I did it; one day I just couldn’t take feeling like I did anymore, so in a moment of despair I grabbed one of my spare razor blades and slid it across my right arm. There was blood, a lot of it, but for some reason the adrenaline rush made me feel like I could cope, at least for a while. That night I had the first good night’s sleep I had had in weeks.
I used to self-harm as I found the physical pain much easier to deal with, but quickly, the self-harming got out of control. It changed from being a form of release to help me cope every now and then to a dangerous compulsion. It was an obsession I had to give in to every day, or I would have panic attacks and feel even worse. This has left me with scars on several areas of my body that I will probably have for the rest of my life.
Vicious circle of worsening despair
It was at this point that I reached a very low point in my life. My state of mind deteriorated and the feelings of depression and despair worsened. The self-harm towered over me, creating a vicious circle that I couldn’t escape, no matter what I tried. Eventually I just stopped trying. For the first time in my life, I honestly didn’t care what happened to me.
I was on strong painkillers to help with my tonsillitis, and one day I gathered up the remainder of the tablets, took them all at once (definitely not something I would ever recommend, nor would I ever do it again!) and went to sleep. Luckily this act of extreme desperation didn’t work, as evidenced by the story you’re currently reading, and I awoke an hour later in a large puddle of my own vomit.
Whilst it was fairly unpleasant, the evidence was easily showered away. To this day, other than counsellors and doctors, there are only two people who know what I tried to do that evening. It’s not something I’m proud of, and no matter how I feel in the future I will never attempt anything like it ever again.
My third year at university was fairly uneventful really. That is, unless you count being verbally and physically threatened by my dad’s wife on my 21st birthday after she decided to spend an hour calling me stupid, pathetic and a failure for no reason I can ascertain.
I was accepted into Cambridge to do a PhD, but once again things didn’t get off to the best start. I didn’t get into university accommodation, but after much searching I agreed to move into a house with one of my sister’s friends. She seemed nice enough. However, right on cue, things started to go wrong and she told stories about me to her parents, who asked me to leave, forcing me to move home to my mum’s house a month after I had started my PhD.
Work and relationship problems
I was really struggling to get settled into my PhD; I just was not feeling motivated enough to put in the work that I knew I needed to. I struggled to find a place to live while trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. If I’m honest it wasn’t going well. It constantly felt like I was the only one putting in the effort, and she would just call me every now and then when she fancied a quick chat about herself.
Depression triggered again
At this point I started to get anonymous emails from someone telling me that my girlfriend was cheating on me with someone she was working with. (Which was later confirmed to be true when I received some photographs that I did not really want to see.) Unfortunately I was not able to properly cope with this, and I started self-harming again.
Depression in the family
Depression is a word that gets thrown around quite a lot these days. I remember first hearing it when I was about 11 or 12, when I overheard my parents talking one evening. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, my dad was suffering from depression. He would spend a lot of his time in bed and often we wouldn’t see him for two or three days at a time.
Looking back, I think that the first time I began to experience feelings linked to depression, if only mildly, was when my parents got divorced. I was 12. As divorces go, it wasn’t the worst; but it certainly wasn’t the best either. Each parent did their fair share of shouting and door slamming. Now, I want to point out that I don’t think of my parents as bad people, nor do I blame them for how it made me feel; sometimes things just happen. It wasn’t until much later, I think, that they began to realise just how much I had picked up of what was going on. I remember being confused and unsure of what was happening, as well as not understanding why, although I did find out later the cause of their separation.
Anger at school
I started to lose focus at school and became quite easily angered, as I didn’t understand the feelings I was having, or how to deal with them. I have never had a tendency towards physical violence, so my anger took the form of a raised voice, or sometimes even just yelling and screaming at a wall. I did briefly see a school counsellor but I found the experience entirely unhelpful. This was possibly due to the fact that I was only 13, or because as far as I could see, the school counsellor never seemed all that interested in what I had to say.
Difficulties with father’s new wife
Anyway, I still managed to get my head down at school. My work improved, and by the end of 5th form (Year 11) I had gotten myself some pretty good GCSEs. Yet home life still wasn’t easy, and it was around this time that I started to have serious problems with my dad’s new wife. I’m loath to call her my ‘step-mum’, as that would imply she has at some point shown respect or care for my brother and me.
Aggression and rudeness
My brother and I both live with my mum, and when we were younger and my dad lived close by we would spend every other weekend at his house. Thinking back to it, I can’t remember a single weekend when his wife wasn’t rude, aggressive, dismissive, or a combination of all three. I very clearly remember one occasion where, after she had overreacted to a comment my dad had made, she locked herself in the bathroom screaming that unless my brother and I left she would kill herself. Our relationship was strained, to say the least.
The on-going problems with my dad’s wife and the fact that I never really fitted in at school were definitely contributing factors in my initial depression. I was into rock and metal music and wore band t-shirts and old jeans. I got my school suits from charity shops and from other people who had grown out of them, whilst other students wore Armani suits and silk shirts. These things set me apart and made me the subject of much ridicule and bullying throughout my school years.
I remember one instance where, after lessons had finished and I had changed into my own clothes, I was walking back to my boarding house wearing a Green Day t-shirt. (It was the ‘American Idiot’ shirt, for anyone interested.) I also wore a pair of black skinny jeans. A boy in my year who was walking about 10 or so metres away from me turned around, laughed at me and shouted, “Hey, emo kid, why don’t you go slit your wrists or something, that’s what you guys do isn’t it?” That was the first time that I felt targeted because of a wildly inaccurate stereotype based on the clothes I liked to wear. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.
When I was 13 I started to play the bass guitar and it immediately became a passion. I would play for hours every day, constantly learning new things and new songs. Just after my GCSEs I joined my first proper band, and I loved it! At the time, it was the one part of my life where I could be myself; jump around with a bass, make loud music, and not care what anyone else thought. Music has and will always be a massive part of my life, both listening and playing. I found sitting down and listening to music, or sitting down with my bass when I was feeling down was a massive help; it really calmed me down, and I could lose myself in it for hours.
Reaching out and making friends
On my first day at uni there was a meeting for students who weren’t in halls accommodation. That meant that I had to attend, but I’d managed to get myself a little lost. Rather than aimlessly wandering around, my newfound confident side decided to walk over to a group of three people, two girls and a guy, and ask them if I was in the right place. To my surprise, not only was I in the right place, (first time for everything I guess), but they were also there for the same meeting. We started chatting. As a result, I spent most of fresher’s week doing things with them and they are now three of my best friends. We stay in touch even though we have now all finished university and moved on to other things.
It was my desperate act that made me realise that I really needed some help to get through what I was feeling. I started going to see one of the university counsellors, who was amazingly helpful and made me feel much better about my life and myself. The counsellor also showed me several ways to deal with problems and stress when they started to get me down, including things like tapping exercises, (starting with tapping my thumb against each of my other fingers in turn, as well as tapping various pressure points on my body), and keeping a piece of paper with me and by my bed, so if I ever start to feel low or can’t sleep then I can write something about how I am feeling, or simply write down some random sentences to help focus my brain away from what is upsetting me.
A good relationship
Luckily I met someone amazing at the beginning of this year, and she instantly made me feel like I had something to live for. She is (and was) always there for me whenever I feel down. We spoke a great deal about lots of things, and she always made me smile.
I also started attending group counselling sessions at the university to try and improve my ability to talk about my problems, and I would like to think that it has helped. The people I met in that group are all amazing individuals, and I really hope that they have the fulfilling lives that they all deserve.
I have also recently started taking an SSRI to help with the mood swings and feelings of depression.
What I’ve learnt
Some times go better than others
Well, I reckon that about covers my story and how I have dealt with my depression (sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but I am still here, and that is what counts and I would not have it any other way). Thank you for reading; I hope it wasn’t too long and boring for all of you.
Having someone else who cares
Oh, and one more thing, you know that girl I mentioned at the end, well, we are now together. She is amazing, and I seriously do not think I could be happier if I tried. Sure, I still have my low moments, but she is always there to make me smile, which makes it all worth it.