How depression has affected me
Depression for most of my life
I´ve been battling with some form of depression, low moods, and/or suicidal thoughts for the vast majority of my life, including a serious suicide attempt in my teens, severe depression with impulsive suicidal behaviour in my late 20s, and strong suicidal thoughts after my divorce in my 30s.
Depression a constant in my life
By my early 30s, I had come to terms with the idea that depression and low moods would be a constant in my life that I would have to find ways to deal with. I found as I got older that instead of my moods levelling off and becoming more balanced that I was swinging into bouts of depression far more occasionally.
Extreme mood swings
Little things would set me off that previously wouldn´t have bothered me. I began to have periods where I would cry uncontrollably – usually without any form of provocation. My moods were erratic at best.
I battled with deep depression for several years after my divorce until I began to work on my post-graduate degree. Having a new goal and project to focus my energy helped, and the lows became less and less drastic (although I still suffered from severe mood swings and occasional bouts of uncontrollable tears).
I decided to pursue my PhD and knew I would have to move to the UK to join the leading research group in my field. I moved here alone leaving my children, my family, my friends, and my life behind in Australia.
The first few months were fine. Then in late October, the depression set in again. My moods became far more erratic again, and I found the depression at times unbearable. I became lethargic and unable to perform the simplest tasks. Being isolated here is hard.
Leaving children behind
For various reasons, I had to leave my children, who are now 8 and 11 years old, behind initially. Their father is not the most supportive person. We´ve been divorced for 6 years now and he´s telling the children that I´ve abandoned them, so I have to deal with that as well.
Very difficult choices
It´s the hardest decision I´ve ever made in my entire life. I´ve made this choice in order to provide for them. I´ve been living on welfare and getting support from my father – once I have this degree, I can teach in a university. If I was going to follow my own heart and my own passion and what I was good at, I had to come here to UK.
I was supposed to go back at the end of the first year to get them, but in the meantime they changed the visa laws and I can´t get my children over here because I don´t have enough money in the bank to show I can support them.
I miss them terribly; feel I left a part of myself behind. They miss me and it is very hard on them and the last thing I want to do is damage them. I keep thinking of all the ways I wish my own mother had been there and I try very hard not to be her.
Overwhelmed with sorrow
I am overwhelmed by the emotions that I feel. It´s sorrow – the deepest sorrow I have ever felt. If I stop to think about it I become immobile and then I spend three days in bed crying. I can´t eat and I can´t sleep and the thought crosses my mind that I´d rather not `be´ than feel this…
Difficult teen years
My first real battle with depression began in my teens. The teen years are a particularly awkward and trying time in one´s life – it is a very hard time to find a fit, where you fit in.
I never exactly fit into any of the social cliques in my school and neighbourhood. I had moved from one place to another, and I found being new very hard and very awkward. I sounded different and I looked different and it set me apart from everyone. I was an outsider, never feeling like I belonged anywhere.
I was teased on a regular basis for about 18 months. I couldn´t get on the bus without being teased and mimicked, having stuff knocked out of my hands and finding horrible things in my school locker… it went on and on and on. I tried to keep going but it got harder every day.
I really reached the point where I couldn´t take it any more; emotionally it was exhausting. I started playing sick so as not to go to school, but my mother saw through that and made me go to school anyway. I wasn´t sleeping; I wasn´t eating; I wasn´t doing very well in school and I´d always been a top grade student.
I had problems being able to talk openly with my parents. My father was working all the time and was always gone. My mother was not one who was open to the idea that we are not always mentally capable of taking care of ourselves. She saw it as a weakness and something that was not to be tolerated.
Mother´s own difficult history
She had survived some incredible things that most people would not have survived, coming out of World War 2 and because she had survived these she assumed that there was nothing as bad as that and you can just buck up. Like you could turn it off like a switch.
So when things got worse, I could not turn to her, and I had no new friends and no one I could confide in. I got more and more frustrated because I couldn´t turn the switch off and I kept thinking I must be defective – why couldn´t I do that? I started having some serious issues with self-loathing at that time.
Consuming suicidal thoughts
This and the exclusion led to a serious bout of depression. Suicidal thoughts consumed me night and day for months. You can try to explain it but I don´t think you can touch the core of it. It felt like I had no choice; that there were no other options open to me and I really truly felt the world would be a better place if I wasn´t around.
It got to the point where I couldn´t even feel pain any more; I was so numb. Feeling nothing is almost worse than feeling pain. I was doing things that were intentionally to hurt myself and feeling nothing – poking myself, putting cigarettes out on my leg a couple of times, but I didn´t even feel that. I felt like I was already dead.
Ultimately, I attempted suicide by overdosing on aspirin and alcohol – I was 14. Not knowing how much was needed in order to accomplish my task, however, I didn´t take enough to kill me. I woke up in hospital to find that, quite to my disappointment and anger, I still existed.
Punished for it
As a result, I was in big trouble. I got grounded; all my liberties were taken away; I wasn´t allowed to use the phone or make contact with anyone. My mother drove me to and from school and I was isolated and that was my punishment.
This launched me into a deeper depression that continued for years after that time. There was no other form of therapy, even though the doctors said my mother should get me counselling. She said that counselling was over rated and wouldn´t help because I was just being stubborn – if only I could buck up and do things I wouldn´t need that.
I started self-medicating. I drank very heavily. By the time I quite drinking when I was 18 I was at that border where if I had not stopped drinking, I´d have been dead soon.
Lengthy deep depression
I left home at 17 and began to work full time nights while completing my schooling so that I didn´t have to return home. I sought therapy for my depression and found a semblance of emotional balance (albeit possessed by low moods) that continued for a few years.
Injury and loss
In my late 20s I suffered an injury at work. The injury happened just weeks before I was to move across country to work on my undergraduate degree. I feared an operation and didn´t want to become dependent on drugs. I knew how hard it was to put the bottle down and I didn´t want to become dependent on pain killers.
I went from being an independent and very active person to a cripple who was incapable of taking care of my most basic needs. I felt like a baby. Being incapable of caring for myself and having to rely solely on others (including my then partner at the time) threw me back into severe depression.
Unconscious suicide attempts
I found myself unconsciously attempting to hurt myself – doing things like binge drinking to excess, abusing a variety of drugs in combination, driving erratically and aiming at light poles, large trucks and concrete barriers. When I realised what I was doing, I immediately began therapy again.
Weight gain on medication
I was put on anti-depressant drugs for the first time in my life. While they helped me with my severe mood swings, they also made me put on a significant amount of weight which only compounded my depression.
When I had my two children I feared postnatal depression, but found that I didn´t suffer from it after either birth. Then my marriage failed and my husband and I separated. This failure launched me into a deep depression and while suicidal thoughts permeated my being again, I now had two children to care for.
As a teenager
What helped me survive the depression after my first suicide attempt was throwing myself into school work; it was a distraction and as I moved out of one school and into the next, I was terrified of the transition but I found it went a little bit easier than I thought.
Teachers who cared
Two particular teachers were incredibly important to me. Although neither of them ever asked me about why I was so quiet and sad, they showed an interest in me and encouraged me into activities which have remained important all my life – one got me onto the public speaking team and the other encouraged me in writing and publishing poetry.
Those two things had a huge impact on my life. They played a huge role in keeping me on this planet and helping me find some self worth. I had something to look forward to and some positive reinforcement.
With the second episode of depression, when I realised I was endangering myself unconsciously, I went straight back into therapy. We did intensive therapy three times a week for almost two years. She gave me the tools that I needed to be able to deal with the depression and to not get that low again.
It was the kind of therapy where you don´t walk out skipping and hopping; it was usually walking in and out with a box of tissues. We dealt with everything, even going back to the original attempt and dealing with that.
Building support networks
The most helpful thing in moving forward was to reach out – be it to a therapist, a family member, or a friend. That was the biggest thing I learned the second time – I needed to build up a circle; a chain of friends that I didn´t have the first time.
In some cases anti-depressant medication is necessary and beneficial.
I also found things like music, writing, and theatre to be significantly helpful in dealing with and coming to grips with my low moods and depression.
Giving something back
I worked with teenagers for a long time because of what those two teachers did for me. It was my way of giving back. There are those who were teens and are now grown and married who contact me and tell me I made a difference in their lives.
Ultimately, I´ve just come to accept that my moods are darker and lower than most people´s. I don´t think you can ever be cured of what this is. I think you find tools to deal with it and I am using all the tools I have.
Being honest about what I´m feeling
I have learned to deal with the extensive swings by just allowing myself to feel whatever it was that I was feeling. I have to be honest with myself at all times, no matter what, because otherwise I´ll end up very ill and I don´t want that.
In this latest situation, I have been running to keep ahead of the depression. I just throw myself into my work and keep myself so busy I don´t think about the situation with my children because when I do, it immobilises me.
Reaching out to friends
I have reached out to anyone who I could, including my new circle of friends. I talk incessantly. I am lucky to have friends who are trying to help me fix the problem and who sit and listen, even when they might not want to hear about it anymore.
Being able to write about my experiences has been incredibly beneficial to me over the decades. So blogging about my experiences can only help me deal with my own experiences and feelings in a more productive manner, while hopefully also helping others.
What I´ve learnt
Write it down
Writing is cathartic. It provides a healthy outlet for the lows and depression that is not detrimental to your own health.
Let others help you
I could not have survived the experiences I have had without the loving and non-judgemental support of my friends, family and therapists. They have literally saved my life, so I know the true value of having someone just to listen.
Reach out and talk to someone
Reach out and try not to handle this on your own. Talking with someone about your depression is a significant way to not only understand it, but help to move beyond the stasis that depression brings. Being isolated and secluded and internalising depression is the worst thing that anyone can do, so I constantly fight to avoid that.
Suicide is not an answer
I know in a lot of ways, it seems to be the easiest solution but it does far more damage and we don´t think of that. We don´t think about all the people we´re leaving behind; the people it´ll hurt and what we could possibly contribute that we won´t.
We all have a valuable contribution to make
We all have value and a significant contribution to make. We may not realize it at the time and we may not understand it at the time, but we all have a purpose. The world is a far more beautiful place with you in it – that´s what someone said to me once and it´s true for all of us.
You are not alone
With many of the friends I´ve made over the years, it´s kind of like we belong to this club but we haven´t shown each other membership cards. We see it in each other – maybe we recognise the sadness in each other´s eyes. I´ve had several friends reach out to me who were on the verge of suicide, and I´d like to think I helped because they are still here; we help each other.
I can´t speak highly enough about the benefit of therapy. Having a psychologist or psychotherapist to speak with has been literally a life-saving step in my life on a number of occasions.
Never tell a depressed person to `buck up´
Being told to buck up didn´t help! I tried for a long time to do that because I thought that´s what I should do… I make a point of never using those words to anybody.