How depression has affected me
Low mood since teens
I have suffered with low mood since my teens. The first time, I put it down to a split between my mother and step-father. This led to a lonely, cold period in my life, where I didn´t really have any close relationships.
Drugs and paranoia
I started using cannabis and that was having a negative effect on me, mentally, with paranoia. I had thoughts like `do people like me?´; wishing I hadn´t said this or that; going over and over things in my mind. Looking inwards rather than outwards.
Lack of social support
I think I hadn´t dealt with, or hadn´t spoken to anyone about how I was feeling about mum and dad´s split, due to a lack of a social support network at the time. There didn´t seem to be any meaning in the relationships I had at the time.
Because I didn´t have that meaning, I was looking at relationships in a negative way and that would lead to thoughts of `nobody likes me; I am not attractive´ – those sorts of things, where you feel you are not worth anything.
It took a long, long time to deal with it… I dropped out of 6th form, but then managed to get back into college and got my A levels within a year, but it felt really difficult. There was no one to talk to really.
I managed to get to university and I had a social group there but none of them were real friends really. I think that´s because I had a lot of baggage and would spend quite a lot of time on my own going over things and thinking negative things.
I felt depressed and I felt that things weren´t right. I didn´t feel there was any meaning and I was going through university and I had friendships but I still had all this baggage; I needed someone to talk to.
I think I just needed that emotional security. When my girlfriend and I got together in the third year it was a turning point. She´s had a lot to deal with since then with my mood swings.
I graduated, moved in with my girlfriend and got a job in the probation service. Then I had a period where I was prescribed medication for panic attacks, which I again put down to external circumstances – not liking my job; not earning enough; paranoia about my appearance.
I don´t know if it was a result of the previous cannabis use, but I started having paranoid thoughts. I thought people were staring at me and there´d be a commentary going on in my mind telling me people were looking at me.
You start looking around and becoming nervous, and you start getting these panic attacks. Then it´s hard to get control because when you have a panic attack, people are looking at you because you are panicking. You think someone´s going to start laughing at you and talking about it…
I eventually changed jobs, but a few months after starting as a further education lecturer I experienced emotional burn out and that was when I sunk to the lowest I´ve ever been. Something just snapped.
Long term sickness
I had three months off on long term sickness due to stress and depression. I had no energy and spent all day in bed. I lost a hell of a lot of weight – I wasn´t eating.
I was catatonic at times. I can remember a particular incidence where I was sat on the sofa bed and I couldn´t move; I was scared to move. I didn´t want to move one inch.
That was when I had suicidal thoughts. They were just horrible. I felt completely and utterly worthless; that there was no part for me to play in society. I felt that I´d wasted my time going to university – what was the point? I wasn´t achieving anything at work; everything was a struggle.
`This is never going to get better´
I think one of the hardest things is that when you have these periods – it happened with my parents splitting up and then I went to the doctor again for the panic attacks four years later, and now it was happening again. You start thinking `This is never going to get any better; it´s horrible feeling like this…´
Close to acting on them
I had complete self loathing and came very close to acting on these thoughts. I was serious enough about it that I´d started to work out how to do it and run through it in my head. I got to the point where I had the knife in my hand, but I couldn´t do that to my girlfriend…
Two years later, when I had another episode in the absence of any major life events, I had to start coming to terms with the fact that I could no longer understand my illness as stemming from external influences.
Out of the blue
It came out of the blue, at a point in my life when work was okay, I was getting on well with my girlfriend and we were looking forward to a holiday. There was no reason for why I was starting to feel like I was feeling.
Withdrawing and losing energy
I could feel myself slowly withdrawing. The things I normally have the energy to do were going – little things like keeping the house tidy and contributing to the shared chores. Ringing family members had become an effort.
Seeing depression as part of me
This time I didn´t have any excuses, like work not going well, or grieving, so it was harder to accept. I started to think `This isn´t just external factors; this is more part of me´.
I got very upset at that time because accepting that there is something about your personality is very hard; it´s easier when you see it as something external. I felt shattered; really, really tearful; upset.
Knowing the signs
Now that I have recognised this, I am able to see the warning signs, when I am having a dip in mood – feeling really low, not wanting to do stuff, seeing stuff in a negative light or not having perspective on stuff.
If I am in a depressed cycle, I tend to deal with issues in a destructive way – I might act or speak without thinking and then I´ll regret that and go over and over it in my mind and then that confirms my thoughts about myself as being worthless, or a bad person, and slowly start withdrawing into myself.
Others notice changes
My girlfriend recognises it before I do. She can pick it up in terms of how I am communicating and that I might have become more irritable. I´ll maybe over react to something she says in a way that´s over the top, or respond aggressively to a simple question.
I don´t know whether it´s depression or maybe part of my character, but my understanding of relationships and interactions isn´t always as good or as competent as someone else´s might be. If I think an injustice is being done, I´ll lose my cool, when on reflection I know that by doing that, I am justifying that other person´s perspective of me and not really communicating what I am trying to communicate.
I do get a lot of frustration, which comes out as mood swings. I am able to think through and not act on them, but I do sometimes have random aggressive thoughts. I don´t even know where they come from.
I think one of the problems I used to have was experiencing extremes of emotion. A bit `bipolar´, though I wouldn´t go manic to the point of debt or do anything to cause anyone distress – it´s the other side of the spectrum where it would sink below what anyone would consider low mood.
Reasonably happy childhood
Up until my mother and stepfather split up when I was 17 or 18, I´d say my childhood was largely happy. Although if you were to describe my character, I was off the wall at times – I had a lot of energy. Although I had connections and relationships with people, looking back on it I was the class clown at school.
Reaction to major life event
I came from a middle class family. When my mum and step dad split, that hit me. I felt my world was falling to pieces because everything I´d taken everything for granted up til then had fallen apart.
Piggy in the middle
There was manipulation going on between my mum and step dad and I was having to try to deal with that. My mum and my step dad were using me as a pawn and a go-between, especially because of the financial stuff that had to be sorted.
Loss of father figure
My dad, being my step dad, I wasn´t sure how that relationship would go. We had great times in my childhood. We did father and son stuff – played football, laid patios, had good times; he was a good dad. I think my personality and who I was, was so tied up with my dad – it´s probably the same for most people, that transition from childhood to adulthood…
My mum changed. She wasn´t the person I thought she was any more. She started drinking loads and there were parties going on; the kinds of parties I´d never expected my mum to have had.
The solidity and dependability were gone. Especially at a time when other parts of my life weren´t making sense, to have that part of my identity taken away shattered me. Everything I´d taken for granted was changing and I didn´t know where to look or what to think and how I fitted into any of that.
It came on top of a time when my social group were experimenting with drugs. I didn´t have a network of support around me. I was getting sucked into that but there was no one in that group who I could talk to when I needed to talk to someone.
When my parents split, I thought maybe I´d get closer to my mum but there has always been a weird sort of divide between me and my mum and I think that´s partly because she gets depressed at times. My step dad´s told me she´s been on anti-depressants and that quite recently she´s been off work.
She´s a confused character – she now denies the conversations where she told me she´d had some emotional problems. She said it was just stress – so one moment she´s giving me one signal and the next a different one. Her inconsistent behaviour doesn´t help and it continues now – I don´t understand her one bit.
I met my real dad again when I was in my early 20s and that was bizarre. He left us before I was one. He was in the airforce and travelling around a lot and he thought that separation would be easier. But we are physically very alike and in terms of personality.
I found out I had a sister and brother and that was one of the things that held me back when I felt suicidal. I think it´s because somewhere deep down… I had a twin you see, but unfortunately my identical twin brother didn´t survive more than two weeks. We were really premature and I pulled through…
Meeting my girlfriend was a turning point for me, giving me the emotional security I needed. My major source of support has been talking with her, and the other help I have sought has been because of my connection with her – before that, going to the GP or for counselling didn´t enter my mind.
When I was having the panic attacks, talking to my girlfriend made me realise I needed to go and get help and so I went to my GP. I was only on the medication for a short time at that point, but I have returned for antidepressant medication several times since then. The pattern with antidepressants seems to be that I need them over the winter months.
When I was suicidal, the only thing that pulled me through was the strength of my relationship with my girlfriend, and the knowledge of having met my biological dad and the sister and brother I had gained. Thinking about all of them stopped me…
Sense of belonging
The thing for me is that sense of belonging and a sense of meaning. For me, meaning comes through relationships; feeling like you´ve got a connection. I never thought I´d have that opportunity to have siblings and it gave me a great sense of belonging.
Accepting the depression
Although it is hard to do, accepting that depression is something that is part of you and reflecting back on your previous experiences of it gives you great strength in the sense that you know when it is getting serious.
Hard to `need´ counselling
The hardest thing about accepting this was that I actually phoned for some counselling and went for a few sessions. I had been offered it free through work because I couldn´t stop crying. There is a stigma; a cultural thing and you think `Oh Crikey! I am one of those people!´
Seeing counselling as a positive step
I was thinking I am going to have to cope with this for the rest of my life whilst at the same time thinking let´s make this a positive step forward, if I am going to have to cope with this for the rest of my life, and try counselling.
Counselling helped me to confirm how I was thinking about my job. It helped me to confirm that it is alright to have a day when you feel low; it´s ok to be not as productive as maybe you want to be or things aren´t going exactly as you´d like. To recognise that is fine and not to think about it too much and just to keep communicating with those who are close to you.
Strategies to catch it early
Accepting that the depression was part me, combined with the learning I gained from the earlier episodes, means that I have developed strategies to recognise early stages of depression to prevent it getting too bad.
Knowing the warning signs
It helps being able to recognise the warning signs, i.e. when my mood is starting to dip and I can´t bring it back up again. Monitoring whether this continues over a number of days is usually a sign I need to talk with close friends and family to try and bring the mood back up.
Knowing when it´s more serious
I now know when talking to my girlfriend isn´t going to be enough. I know when I need to go to my GP and seek medical help, taking medication to get my serotonin levels back up so that I can manage the depression.
Accepting off days
I realise it is still there and I live with it. I know I am going to have off days where I might not achieve anything, but as long as I can pick myself up again relatively soon after that, it´s not a problem. It´s only a problem when that becomes a consistent pattern and I find that I am unable to drag myself up to a level where it´s normal.
I have coped mainly by maintaining a busy life of full time work, alongside post-graduate studies. Routine is important – making sure you fill your life and you get on and do stuff, because then it becomes more apparent when you´ve got problems because things start to fall away – you don´t pick up the phone and speak to someone; you don´t do the chores.
Physical exercise is also something I find useful. I try to go to the gym two or three times a week and I find that a very strong strategy.
Reading helps; having variety. Having an interest; having a friendship group network – a friend with whom you have a common interest and you can go and play pool and have a drink, just to get away from stuff every now and then.
Learning to stop and reflect
Occasionally I still have extremes of emotion, and the paranoia sometimes surfaces still. I try to keep level now. I am learning that I can deal with something better if I step away from it, think how to deal with it, and then come back to it. I think it is quite easy to deny that you have a problem and I don´t think I do that.
I hope it will be rewarding to speak with likeminded people and share experiences, so that collectively we can learn from each other and develop greater inner strength to be able to combat this horrible disease that, at times, can leave you cut off and looking inwards.
What I´ve learnt
Stereotypes need challenging
I hope the blogging will give me (and others) a greater understanding and acceptance of an illness that is rarely spoken about and still has a element of social stigma attached. When I first had depression I would have been one of those who never would have considered using counselling.
Don´t run away from the problem
At first I thought that it was down to circumstances and I wasn´t suffering with a mental disorder. I blamed it on other people without taking responsibility. That wasn´t helpful. I have had to go through all those things in order to accept I´ve got depression.
The key is accepting it is not going to go away on its own and I need to take responsibility for it and see what I can do about it. If there are areas I can identify which are possibly contributing to it – if relationships aren´t working or how I feel about my work or student life isn´t helping me, then I need to start thinking about how I can change things.
Depression is both physiological and psychological
I do see that depression has a physiological basis, but if I have a susceptibility to having abnormal levels of serotonin in my brain, equally I have got a susceptibility to have abnormal thoughts and cognition. I have to learn to live with it and deal with it.
You are not alone
It important to realise that you are not alone and there are others who feel the same.
Just listen, don´t give advice
For me, being told to do this or that wouldn´t work. It would have helped having someone to talk to and share experiences with. If you´re worried about someone, it´s letting them know the door is open and giving them the opportunity that, when they are ready, there is someone to talk to; someone to share that with.