How depression has affected me
My experience with low mood began after the Christmas holidays of my third year. I felt my mood gradually deteriorating after returning from visiting my parents abroad – I’m an international student. I’d lived away from home for over 2½ years by then, so being so far away from my parents hasn’t affected me, per se.
It was likely related to a feeling of helplessness I had due to a flatmate problem – a problem I was coming back to by returning to England. The flatmate kept too much to himself. He wasn’t pulling his weight around the house and had no intention of doing so, so I had to ask him to leave at the end of the contract.
I remember arriving back in the UK and first off my partner, who flew back with me, had difficulty getting in at the border. So that shook us up a bit, but eventually he got in, and then I had to go and deal with this issue with my flatmate.
Sense of rejection
For a few weeks I think I just became more and more withdrawn from things because it was consuming me and it’s hard to explain why, on a first meeting, just how much it was affecting me, but I think to some extent I took him being in his room all the time very personally – as a rejection.
Triggered own issues
I know from other counselling I’ve had in the past, that I have this innate desire to want to be liked – something was being triggered inside of me to say he didn’t like me any more. It made me really self-conscious about how I came across to people and I think that really put me on edge.
Doubting my perspective
People I’d spoken to about it said maybe it was just my misunderstanding of the issue and I found that very difficult because I sort of felt like I was being boxed in by people I knew, about how I was feeling and how to deal with the situation.
I think I’ve been perceived by many people as a bit of a control freak and to some extent I’d agree because I had no control over the situation with my flatmate and I think that’s why I felt really down. Some people can plan a day ahead and that’s as far as they like to go. I am the type who’ll plan upwards to a year ahead.
House important for stability
My other flatmate and I thought of maybe moving elsewhere, but for me the house was a sense of stability. I’d moved around an awful lot in my life and for me to be in one place for a long time was very important to me. Not only that, I was the one who’d found the house, organised the renovations before we moved in and taken charge of bills etc, so I felt some ownership and really didn’t want to leave.
Trapped and powerless
I literally felt trapped. I didn’t know what to do. I think I felt powerless as a result, and burdened because I thought if had to find another place it would take me a considerable amount of time and I wouldn’t want to live alone.
All of a sudden I realised I was going through what my medical texts were saying about depression. It was self-diagnosis because I went through and saw my sleeping was off; my eating was off; my mood was so low that the things I used to take an interest in were just gone. I used to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week and all of a sudden when I had the time, I didn’t have the energy or the desire.
Decreased activity and persistent low mood
I just didn’t want to leave my house. That’s never happened to me before and it went on for months. I was boxing myself in, because that’s how I felt. I wasn’t anxious or panicky; I just had this persistent low mood that I just couldn’t shake.
Stress over confrontation
It was difficult to deal with this issue because the flatmate in question can be extremely argumentative and I was not one for confrontation. Once I’d spoken to him, it made living together somewhat uncomfortable.
On top of the issue with my flatmate, my father was diagnosed with cancer just around Easter. It came as a shock to all of us. So far everything is going well, but being so far away from him makes me upset at times.
Worries about mother
I worry as well about my mother and how she is coping given that she was diagnosed with cancer and successfully treated only a few years back. My mother is the type to keep things bottled up inside.
Medical student stresses
Of course I had the daily stresses of life as a medical student to deal with as well. I needed to be on top of my studies, in hospital every day, and caring for patients along with my colleagues. This meant I had to put a lot of my personal issues aside for eight or more hours a day.
Not able to confide in friends
Friends were a great help during this period, but I don’t feel that I can come completely clean with them about everything that’s going on in my life. I worry that they’ll perceive me as weak, or not trying hard enough.
So to some extent a lot has been going on in my life to perpetuate this low mood. I’ve never been suicidal, nor have I considered it. At times I do suffer from generalised anxiety but this has been under control for over a year now.
Long distance relationship
My boyfriend and I (yes, I’m gay) have been together for nearly seven years. He’s wonderful and also a high achiever, but for the last three years we’ve lived apart. Our relationship at times can be strained by the distance and the demands of my course. We do what we can to see each other, but at times I question whether we´re still on the same path.
Different cultural backgrounds
My parents are very formal people despite growing up in very different cultures. My father was born and raised in Greece and in his background men didn’t speak about their feelings. My mother’s family was high on the social ladder in France and she has a very public face along with a very private one. She keeps her very private face to herself; even to our family she usually shows her public face.
Mother’s emotions not discussed
I think her whole life she’s been struggling with that and doesn’t know how to come to terms with it. She did her best to shield us from the same thing, but my siblings and I all keep things from our parents and to some extent from each other. Emotions were never really something spoken about at home.
I’d always been a wild child; the one my parents had to contain and I don’t think you could stop me from speaking my mind. I felt very out of control in my past. I think it was the type of household we had; we didn’t talk about things that were taboo.
Coming out to my parents at 19, my mum took it well – she said, ‘I still love you’ – whereas my dad, this big ex-army guy, did not. That created an awful lot of tension in the house for a long time. Being very social people they both didn’t know how to deal with it in public.
I think I reacted to that in the way I think a lot of gay men do which is to go and sleep with a lot of people. That’s a story I have heard from so many gay men. It took a year or two to get back on track as a family, but even now I can see that my mum is slightly uncomfortable with telling others, even though she accepts it. My dad is better with it but still won’t talk about it.
I had to get myself back on track because I realised that I wasn’t going to get anywhere fast if I was going to be acting out and doing things irrationally. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and what I had to do to achieve that and so I buckled myself down. But since then there has been the expectation from everyone that I’d do really, really well, which is stressful.
Mother’s eating disorder
My mother has self-destructive behaviours as well – I believe this is how she ‘vents’ her feelings, including having had anorexia for the last seven years. Receiving constant comments from friends and family members about her emaciated appearance is hard to deal with, and even harder to talk to her about. When she had cancer we were there for her and she wanted us there, but since then she has sort of pushed us away.
The anorexia is not being treated and I think it comes from an underlying depression she has. When she did have depression, and it was acknowledged that she had depression by practitioners, she treated it as a very medical illness that she needed treatment for.
Can’t speak to my parents
All this means it wasn’t easy for me to go to them. They knew I was having difficulty with the flatmate and dealt with it by making financial arrangements to help if she moved out. But I wasn’t able to talk to them about it and to this day I don’t feel as comfortable speaking to them about those things. I do sometimes go to my brother or sisters with my feelings though.
First major conflict
The issue with my housemate was definitely the first major conflict in my life. I’ve never had to deal with anything similar. I really wanted that experience but I suppose this was one I wasn’t prepared for and the timing was just difficult. I think if I’d no other stresses in my life at the time, I’d have been in a much better position to just handle it on my own.
I think I was at the point where I had so much to say and I think needed someone to parrot back what I was saying or give me some sort of validation that what I was doing was the right thing, some reassurance.
Being myself with my boyfriend
My boyfriend is probably the only other person that I am able to be blunt and open with and just say straight out ‘This is the problem and this is how it is making me feel’. He’ll sometimes minimise them and push them away, but sometimes I have asked him just to listen and he’s been good about that – but I want him to be a boyfriend not a counsellor.
I ended up going to student counselling services and I’ve been referred to the mental health team as a preventative measure. For me that was very helpful – to go in and talk. I think it might have been that I wasn’t really able to talk to anyone about this.
I can feel very vulnerable about talking about it and going to a place like student counselling is an opportunity to get a lot out without having to see that person on a regular basis. I have always felt it comforting to speak to people who hardly know me about these things, rather than to people who know me well – the anonymity.
I found that confronting my inhibitions has been helpful. Through the help of the university counselling service I’ve been able to identify how I’ve been coping with things and how I can make it better. It’s an ongoing process.
Understanding self better
I am less depressed now – making strides in understanding myself better and not making the mistakes my mother has made. I see myself doing a lot of things that she has done. I think I need to redefine what that private self is so that it helps me a little more with some of the relationships I have.
Facing the conflict
Giving myself a kick in the arse and making myself have the talk with my flatmate helped. The counsellor said to me ‘You know what you need to do; just do it,’ and I think that what had happened was that I’d been so afraid to make the move and I needed to motivate myself.
Being more open
Being more open with my friends has also been helpful. I’m less worried about projecting a perfect image now than I was before. It’s taken a lot of stress away and I feel like I can be much more genuine in my relationships.
Without realising it at first, I knew there was a way out and I just needed to rise to the challenge and deal with it. I am realising that this is a bit of a process I have to go through right now – it’s a work in progress.
I look forward to using the blog as a method to follow my own journey through low-mood to better mental health. I’ve never kept a diary before, but I do think that something such as this would be very helpful. Especially knowing that others will read it and say things – that would be helpful to get feedback in a virtual environment.
Learning from others
I also hope to see how others are affected during their studies and how they’re coping with their health. I would like to use this opportunity to explore myself as I read through other people’s issues and respond to them.
What I’ve learnt
See it as learning experience
Going through the course to become a doctor is learning how to manage your time and it is also learning how to manage relationships. For me this has definitely been a learning experience. In 5 years I really hope I’ll think of this as some stupidity that happened in my third year, but for some reason it just took me up and down a loop.
Work to understand yourself
I would say understand as much as you can about yourself. For me, I need to understand who I am so that when I speak to other people, I don’t become who they want me to be. For me that has worked. In my past when I was irrational I would more likely have become the person that other people wanted me to be. Now I’ve become who I want to be. Know who you are and stand by that.