I was diagnosed with depression in 2013. Even when I got the diagnosis I didn’t believe it. I always knew I was overly anxious. A worrier. Went through bouts of sadness. Was a deep and sometimes dark thinker. Empathetic to the point of it being a fault (I would carry around the burden of other people’s problems, sometimes long after it ceased to be a problem for them.) But depressed? No way! Depressed people never left the house, cried constantly, planned their death and couldn’t hide their sadness from the world, right? I was just short of being naive enough to think everyone with depression wore black constantly and lived in rooms with bouncy walls!
I had been seeing a counsellor for a little while at that stage. I had been struggling with unemployment and coping with the constant feeling of rejection, and I thought seeing a counsellor might help me talk through these things. She eventually recommended I see a doctor. I wasn’t sleeping much at the time, and was overly anxious with the constant worry of what the next day would bring and how the world saw me. I thought the counsellor was hoping I’d get some sleeping tablets, or maybe some anti anxiety tablets if things got really bad. A part of me felt like she was pawning me off on the doctor. That she dealt with people with ‘real problems’ on a daily basis, and that I just needed to get over myself.
I went into the doctor (weeks after the counsellor suggested it, I kept avoiding it!) and told her quietly,’ I’ve been feeling a bit down lately and have been seeing a counsellor and she recommended I talk to you.’
I thought I’d be in and out in five minutes. The doctor was very professional, but kind. She told me she had to ask me a series of questions, and would need to type as we talked. Even as she asked the questions, it never really dawned on me that the answers I was giving were not the ‘norm’. Yes I worried a lot. Yes I felt sad or anxious quite often without a reason. Yes I really believed that people would be better off without me. Yes there were times in my life when I self harmed- never deep, and never anywhere visible though, just enough, and only as a last resort, to relieve any built up anxieties and allow me to sleep. Yes if I was in an accident tomorrow, I wouldn’t really care- I was too tired to care. But I was able to put on a smile and tell the world I was fine, and I definitely wasn’t suicidal- surely depression didn’t even come in to it! Plus, I knew this was all job related. Once I got a job, the feelings would go away.
When she said the word depression I could have laughed. I really thought there was no way. But she explained it to me and went through possible symptoms of depression and I realised, bar being suicidal, I ticked every other box. My sleep, weight and appetite had changed, I was constantly tired, I had lost any interest in things I used to enjoy, I had negative thoughts and couldn’t seem to control them, I got upset or angry easily, and often couldn’t explain why I felt that way, I couldn’t concentrate, I hated myself and wasn’t making an effort with anyone because I genuinely believed they all felt the same way about me.
I can’t say having the diagnosis helped. Depression wasn’t a ‘real’ illness- or so I’d been lead to believe. It was made up, attention seeking, or then only something crazy people had. It wasn’t anything visible. Everyone gets sad from time to time. It wasn’t something I could ever tell people I had. And even when I got a job- a job I loved more than any job I’d ever had, the feeling never went. In fact, it got worse. Unemployment meant I had a reason to be depressed.. And when the reason disappeared and the feeling didn’t I was terrified. I think that was the first time I really did believe in my mental illness.
Telling people was hard. I took me a year to tell my family and I only told them because I was referred to a psychiatrist, and my VHI would cover some of it. Unfortunately we’re all still on the family VHI, and I had no option but to tell them. They have been supportive, in their own way, but their understanding is limited. Mam always wants there to be a reason I’m sad. If I go through a depressive bout, there has to be something that caused it, something she can either fix or help me get over. I tend to try hide the bouts as much as I can as it’s draining trying to think of an excuse as to why I am sad. Dad doesn’t believe in depression in young people- thinks we’re all spoiled and can’t cope with tiny struggles of the world, in his day people just got on with it. That was something he had always told us. Thankfully, he never talks to me about it and I’m grateful for that. I think that’s the best thing he can do. I would only be hurt if he told me how he really felt. I don’t blame them for it, they come from a different generation, and they try to understand in the best way they can. There was a point I used to feel so angry towards them for ‘not getting it’ but I can see they really are doing the best that they can, and that is all anyone can do.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve come a long way. I went from the counsellor, to the doctor, to a psychiatrist, and now I’m getting CBT therapy. I’ve been on copious amounts of anti depressants that never worked. (I think medication is great if it works and I applaud anyone brave enough to take it- I am on an anti psychotic drug at night to help me relax and sleep, I still haven’t learned to sleep without them, but it’s the first time I’ve slept through the night, and function the next day in years- I am happy to take them as long as I need! Unfortunately bar that, medication never worked for me.) I have a constant feeling of anxiety in my stomach. I didn’t even know that that’s what the feeling was until my therapist helped me figure it out. My mind races, all the time. It’s like there are constant thoughts bouncing around in my head, and it’s always loud. These things never go away. But they go through phases of getting better and worse. Sometimes, and lately it’s most times, I can cope with them. Sometimes I can’t but that’s the nature of the game.
I started writing this because very recently I was in a bad bout where I couldn’t cope with the simplest of things. Not the worst I have ever been, but bad all the same. There was no reason for it. It came out of nowhere, the heightened anxiety, exhaustion, paranoia…
During this, my sister questioned me on the way to meet an old friend for dinner, on how I was feeling. When I said I was feeling exhausted, and a bit irritable, she told me all I had to do was look across the table at our friend, who had recently got the all clear from cancer, and realise that things can never be as bad as what she went through. Well this was like a punch in the stomach. I spend so much time feeling guilty for not having ‘real problems’ and how others have so much worse things going on, and I really have no right to be upset, and my therapist has worked very hard on getting me to realise that depression is a ‘real illness’. That is why I feel sad or lost at times. Just because it’s not visible, doesn’t make it any less real. I spent that entire meal looking at my brave friend who has overcome so much, and feeling guilty for feeling sad over nothing. There was no reason to feel guilty, it wasn’t like I was shouting about feeling down, or had even told anyone at that table (bar my mother having told my sister) about my illness, and there was no point in even comparing cancer and depression, but all I could think was ‘you selfish bitch, look at how much this woman has come through, and is still smiling, how dare you feel down over nothing’ If I knew someone was having those thoughts, I would be annoyed at them for feeling their problems aren’t justified, but for some reason, I find it ok to talk to myself like that. During that time I did wish I had someone who ‘got it’, and that there was someone I could talk to. So I’m writing it down now because it does feel like I’m getting to talk it out, at the same time hiding behind the mask of the internet which I like!
When things are as bad as they were a few weeks ago, I find myself almost wishing to just collapse some day, or to be in an accident, or have a mild heart attack or some kind of sickness that I can say to people ‘Look, this is why I can’t meet up today, or go out drinking next weekend, or why I have to spend all my time in bed. This is what’s wrong with me. You can see it. I have proof from the doctors/ hospital. You can understand. I can lie in bed. Guilt free. And no one can question it. If I feel well enough to go out and meet people tomorrow, that might take its toll on me for the rest of the week, and that is OK, people might even be proud of me for making it out that once!’
That bout lasted about three weeks. Sometimes it’s months, other times it’s just a day.
At my very worst every little thing felt like a chore. I haven’t the energy to shower, brush my teeth, wash my hands, cook dinner or get off the couch. Some days I can’t even get out of bed. I have awful thoughts. I fantasize about suicide- not ever wanting to follow through, just giving me a bit of relief to imagine jumping in front of that train, or taking that hand full of pills and not having to feel these feelings any more. I can’t stress enough that I have ever wanted to follow through with those thoughts, I have thankfully never been suicidal, but I have felt the longing to not be here anymore. To not wake up.
I always thought of suicide as selfish- in a way it is, but I can understand how a person gets to the point where they can’t think outside their own bubble- all they can see and feel is their pain and it’s the only way out. When I am in the height of my depression, I can be quite selfish. I don’t necessarily think about how the things I say or do could affect others. My emotions and feelings are heightened, and for someone who can be so empathetic towards others, it’s like my brain completely switches off those feelings and all I know is the pain and the darkness that I’m feeling and nothing else matters. When I come down from that state of mind I do feel guilty. It means that when I’m in the height of it, I’m aware that it’s a possibility I’ll upset others, so I avoid them as much as I can, spending the majority of my time in bed.
When I come out the far side of a bad spell I cringe that I ever had those thoughts. I hate that I wish badness on myself. I’m aware those thoughts are illogical and a tad crazy, that if people knew I had them they would seriously worry about me, but during the rough patches those thoughts seem completely normal- sometimes comforting.
I find it hard never feeling like I can open up to anyone. That can get lonely and add to the low moods. I hate the stigma that’s attached to the word depression, and the attitude some people still have towards it!
I love the Green Ribbon campaign- I think it’s so clever and every time I pass a box of the green ribbons I make sure to take a handful and give them out to people. I tend not to tell people still about my own mental health, but I like to let people know by wearing the ribbon that I am open to a conversation.
People’s attitudes need to change. People with a mental illness need to be able to talk. Need to be able to say ‘this is what’s wrong with me.’ People need to be better educated in dealing with mental health.
I know this country has taken great steps when it comes to mental health and I hope the next generation will find it as easy to tell people ‘I have a mental illness’ as they would to tell them they had a physical illness, and that those living with, or friends with people with a mental illness will start to understand that there may not always be a reason, but that doesn’t make it any less real, and sometimes the most helpful thing a person can do is say ‘I’m here, I care’ and listen.
Remember it’s OK to not be OK
, and that old proverb- ‘this too shall pass’. Every feeling, every moment is fleeting. Enjoy the good ones and make the most of them, get through the bad ones as best you can and hopefully they’ll become fewer and far between!