How depression has affected me
Shortly following my return home from university for the summer holidays after my first year at university, my mum was involved in a car accident. She was thrown from the car and killed instantly. The shock and grief consumed my family for the rest of that summer.
A long way from home
Although this time was hard for all of us, my real problems did not begin until I went back to university in October of that year. My university is a long way from home and I felt separated from my siblings. As we all felt the same way and understood what it was like, it was comforting for us to be around each other over the summer.
As term progressed my focus shifted towards Christmas. I became increasing upset about the idea of going through Christmas without my mum. I couldn’t see how I would cope. All I could imagine was how horrible, miserable and unbearable it was going to be without her. The closer Christmas came the more depressed I became.
It felt as if everything in my head had been covered with pitch black cotton wool that shrouded everything. It started a downward spiral. As the end of term neared, I couldn’t face even the thought of going home, and the ache and awfulness I imagined it would entail. I couldn’t see how I would cope.
I was so full of very negative feelings that it made me feel empty. Even the things that used to make me happy just didn’t make me happy any more – my boyfriend, my work, my friends, my art.
I felt the only way out of it was to kill myself. Suicidal thoughts occupied more and more of my time. I began to have fantasies and day dreams about it. I would stand waiting to cross a very busy road near my university as I walked home and imagine stepping out into the rushing traffic, being hit, thrown into the air and run over again and again. Walking past the tallest building on campus I would imagine what it would be like to jump off and fall, landing head first.
Wanting the pain
What I wanted most in these fantasies was pain before death. I thought this would block out the blackness for a fraction of a second, and that fraction would be my relief before death. I didn’t want the dull throbbing persistent ache of grief, loss and loneliness anymore – I wanted immense pain that nothing else could get through. Fortunately I never got that wish.
Not naturally open
I am not naturally a very open person and although my close friends cared about me I did not feel as though I could talk to them. To confound matters I also began to feel very isolated from my long term boyfriend, who I believed myself very close to before my mum’s death. We used to tell each other everything, but he chose to deal with my loss by pretending nothing had changed and I could no longer talk to him.
I did feel really isolated. I didn’t go down the pub with my friends much, but I don’t think they minded. Your friends never really know what to say to you when something like that’s happened. I think the isolation was what started it really. Just feeling like I didn’t really have anybody to talk to.
There seemed to be a very great void left behind by the death of my mum that I was completely unprepared for. I was depressed throughout the whole of the autumn term, unable to concentrate and losing interest in my work, which had never happened before.
I felt guilty for leaving my dad and sisters to look after themselves. Although there was absolutely no reason for it, I also felt a tremendous amount of guilt for my mum’s death. It was a freak car accident, but I felt tremendously guilty, like it was my fault. I became obsessed with my regrets, wondering whether my mum had known that I loved her, wishing I’d called or gone home more.
Told my personal tutor
The first thing I did when I got back to university after the summer holidays was tell my personal tutor what had happened in case I found it hard to cope with work. That was when I was still rational. It was good forward planning as it turns out because I couldn’t cope. I was missing a lot of lectures and deadlines because I just couldn’t work – couldn’t think.
Friend fought through my stubbornness
Other than that I never actively sought help in this period. I did my level best to hide what was going on inside, but a friend who knew about my mum had been through something very similar. Even though he wasn’t a particularly close friend at the time, he somehow saw what was happening to me, and had courage enough to fight though my stubbornness and force me to talk to him.
Hard to trust
I was quite angry with him at first. I didn’t open up at all to him until he started to tell me things about his own experience. Then because he was telling me things he hadn’t told anybody, I started to trust him. He made me promise that I wouldn’t do anything. Because I’d promised him and trusted him, from then on that stopped me acting on my suicidal thoughts. All credit to him – I don’t think I’d be here now if it wasn’t for him.
No longer alone
Talking to somebody who had had the same experience as me was undoubtedly what got me through my suicidal thoughts. To be able to talk to someone who’s gone through it and knows exactly how you feel, even if it doesn’t solve your problems, is just tremendously comforting because you no longer feel alone.
Talking relieved guilt and pressure
Talking to him relieved some of the pressure. Mostly it was somebody telling me that it wasn’t my fault and I had nothing to be guilty about which made me see sense a little. Yes, Christmas would be hard but things would get easier. I could deal with it. I made it through Christmas and this helped me get a handle on the suicidal thoughts.
Depression took quite a while to lift
The rest of my second year I was still very depressed. Events did try and get the better of me – masses of work, breaking up with my boyfriend, my Mum’s dog dying. But I managed to hold on and work through it all. It wasn’t until the end of third year that I really felt I’d finally put it all behind me though and that I was no longer depressed.
I had had an online diary off and on for some years, but after my mum died it became invaluable to me. I could unburden myself anonymously to the world, and filter through all the static in my head to figure out what was going on in there. My head often felt as if it was throbbing and buzzing with the mass of thoughts and feelings that were in there. Writing them down gave them a form and a substance so I didn’t have to cling to them so hard anymore.
Sense of community
The medium of the online diary also had one other unexpected benefit – a sense of community. People, strangers, who had been through the same thing or had been touched by what I’d written would leave messages for me in my guest book. These were very precious to me and I got some of the best advice and kindest words this way.
Be careful though
A diary open to the public is open to bad comments as well as good though, and not everyone is so kind. You don’t have to leave yourself open to feedback if you don’t want to. The sense of an anonymous community was very comforting to me though -sometimes sharing anonymously is much easier than trying to talk to those closest to you.
My degree also kept me going. It was something constant that was always there and when things got really bad I could immerse myself in work. Exams times did get very stressful in my second year because I’d missed so much work but third year work in particular was something that really helped keep me going.
What I’ve learnt
Find the right help for you
I avoided professional help entirely, through stubbornness mostly but also I felt as though it wouldn’t help me. I felt that people who haven’t been through a similar sudden loss have no comprehension of how earth shattering it can feel. It completely unbalances you. But I would say you do have to find somebody you can talk to and trust, because the difference it makes is huge.
Involve your department
Tell your personal tutor. They go out of their way to make sure you can cope because they don’t want you to fail; they don’t want you to drop out. If you need it, they can give you as much time off as you want. It’s very good to have that support, and you don’t have to tell them all your feelings – I didn’t.
Writing everything down is tremendously helpful. The best analogy I can find for how the online diary worked for me is the ‘pensieve’ in Harry Potter:
“I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…. At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure”. Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
If you do it online, though, I think it’s really important to keep your anonymity, if that’s important to you.
It takes time
It took a long time to work through the depression. I feel a lot older now than I used to, but I am happy and I value that a lot more now.