How depression has affected me
University was fantastic at first
After reaching a very low point and considering suicide due to severe bullying at school and college, my first year at university was a haze of societies, work, drunkenness and just general student life. My bed was barely slept in and it was fantastic. I was able to be myself without anyone knowing my history. People liked me for who I was now, not based on who I was years ago, which was really important for me.
Then it all caught up with me again
It was in my second year when things started to calm down that I started getting very low in myself again. I started having eating problems and lost a lot of weight, because I just didn’t have an appetite. Things from back home started cropping up in my mind again. I had a lot of friends and someone I was very close to, but I was constantly expecting it to be taken away from me. I was expecting them to walk out on me or admit that they didn’t actually like me at all.
Paranoid and mistrusting
At my lowest periods, I became intensely paranoid. Everything people said or did was analysed in my head and turned into something that reflected badly on me. Whenever anything went wrong, I blamed myself. I had tried to be sociable and friendly, and established a reputation for myself as someone who was good at listening to other peoples’ problems, but I was convinced that no-one cared about me, or could wish to be involved in my own life. I found myself pushing people away out of fear of being hurt.
The old poisonous beliefs
The old beliefs resurfaced – that life was always going to be like this, that I wasn’t worthy to be liked, that I was a bad person and as such deserved to be punished. I just sank into this massive self-pitying wave, and my friends couldn’t deal with it. I admitted to a couple of them that I had been suicidal in the past, and they referred me to the university counselling service.
A bit of counselling
I went to about eight sessions of counselling, and at the time I thought that it was fantastic. I felt better not burdening my friends with things, and threw myself back into uni life. Now when I look back on it I think I was deluding myself; I was keeping too much of myself back. I was dealing with stuff in my head but I wasn’t actually dealing with stuff.
Getting close to someone
For much of the next year, I kept myself extremely busy with a range of commitments. Then I got very close to a girl who was also experiencing depression and shared a lot of my own experiences and feelings at a much deeper level than ever before. I let myself feel something real which I guess I’d been avoiding ever since I’d been hurt by that old best mate.
When this relationship didn’t work out, on top of the exhaustion catching up with me, it felt like a catalyst – I started falling apart. I couldn’t focus on my work because all this stuff was too far forward in my mind. I couldn’t take my mind off the past and the things that had happened to me.
Cold and grey
It started manifesting itself as cold shivers in my chest, a wave of sadness that felt like it was overwhelming my heart. It really sapped my energy. I found I couldn’t cry; it felt like I was crying inside instead. Suddenly everything started seeming a bit grey. I felt I was going through the motions, wondering what the point was. My paranoia came back and started building up.
A dark hole
Then I went into free fall. I felt I had fallen into a dark hole where I couldn’t see anything and couldn’t get out. I kept scrabbling at the sides but everything seemed to be completely unmanageable. I kept trying to do my essays, my work, and keep going, but I just couldn’t. I remember getting essay extensions and the like.
Anxiety and panic
I started getting really scared of my friends. Company intimidated me. Large groups of people intimidated me. I felt like I couldn’t contribute anything. I found I started shaking when I was with too many people and I’d have to leave. Gradually in stages, I just got worse and worse. I started getting scared to leave the house and having panic attacks. I also stopped eating again.
Demanding and guilty
I got really demanding of people and needed lots of reassurance. I could tell my friends were getting frustrated. At the same time I started feeling really guilty and awful for being like this around my friends, putting it on them. I began to feel more and more distant from people – contact didn’t seem to mean anything to me anymore.
No words to describe it
One of the worst parts is being overwhelmed with feelings which you can’t articulate. Just having these awful, awful feelings; a tingling that’s going round your entire body that makes you want to punch yourself, hate yourself, despair, cry, shout and do all these ridiculously overblown emotional things, but you know you can’t.
Eventually, the rational part of me could see that something was going very wrong and I went to the GP. I started on a low dose of anti-depressants which was quickly increased, and I was put in touch with the local mental health service’s crisis team. I was warned about the potential side effects, but I was happy to go on pills if they could stop me feeling how I was feeling.
The first few weeks on the medication, before it fully took effect, were the worst of all.
I became very, very suicidal, continually thinking about ways to kill myself. I was horribly upset and I got to the point where I could barely move for paralysis, weighed down by what I was feeling. Sometimes even a simple task like leaning over to get the remote control to change channels on the TV would feel too much.
I was in such a mess of self-loathing and paranoia that I kept trying to hurt myself. I would do things like put my knuckles against a wall and scrape them along, trying to cause bleeding. I was trying to put the pain that was in my chest and my head somewhere else, where I could see it and distance myself from it. It was a way of venting my anger at myself at feeling so awful, as well as punishing myself for being so awful.
The self harm got gradually more and more serious. I’d experiment with different ways, like cutting my arm with a penknife and pouring boiling water over my arm. I eventually seriously injured myself with boiling water, and haven’t ever done it again, but in some ways I don’t regret it. The pain on my left arm was all consuming, sucking away everything else. It was such a relief to have a clear head for a couple of hours. I regret I felt I had to do this, but it was what I needed at the time.
At the same time I was also feeling horribly suicidal. The thoughts kept going through my head of when and where I would kill myself. It was an effort to survive. I remember one time just sobbing to the doctor saying “Just take me to hospital”, because it just felt too hard to look after myself.
The one thing which scared me with taking pills was that after a while I started getting more energy back. It started relieving the physical symptoms before the mental symptoms. This meant I still desperately wanted to self-harm and commit suicide and I now had the energy to do it, which was terrifying. It was really scary.
Hard on my friends
This all started affecting my friends too much; some of them just couldn’t deal with it. The girl who’d been my strongest source of support overnight just stopped talking to me because she couldn’t deal with it anymore. Once when I was feeling very suicidal I went down to a bridge just to see if it was a possibility for later. I told my friends where I was and they actually turned up with the police because they were terrified that I was going to throw myself in, in broad daylight.
A close thing
There was one time when I decided that this was it: I was going to kill myself. I got out every single pill I had – I must have had about 50 – put them all on the desk in front of me, got a glass of water, sat down and stared at them for two hours. Then I got up and left. I was just too scared. I couldn’t do it. I went for a 15 mile walk in the middle of the night instead.
I was severely bullied at school: I was publicly ridiculed, lied about behind my back, physically and mentally taunted, isolated and made to feel like all that I did was worthless. I don’t know why it all started, but very soon there wasn’t a specific reason for the bullying. They were bullying me because I was me, and picking on anything in which I was different. Not being good at sport, wearing glasses, being one of the clever ones in class. Even if I did stuff to try to fit in like kids do then I would just get laughed at for trying to fit in.
My method of surviving school was to keep my head down and hope that no-one would notice me that day. I would wake up with a clenched feeling in my chest, wondering what would happen to me that day. I found I put on a front of cheerfulness, trying to laugh with it and be outgoing.
But it doesn’t change how you are inside. In some ways it makes you feel even more hollow. There’s that feeling of going home at the end of the day and just crying in your bedroom; not feeling able to talk to anyone. I felt completely alone.
Not yet depressed
At this stage my actual day-to-day mood wasn’t so bad. I didn’t really know any different. I was lucky in having a very loving family, though they didn’t know the extent of what I was going through. I treasured every good thing that ever happened – every time I did get a compliment, every time something nice or lucky did happen to me.
The most painful incident, when I was 16, was discovering that my best friend for two years was also part of it. He’d been letting me confide in him and then spreading what he had heard, laughing behind my back. I was devastated, and blamed it on myself.
When 6th form turned out to be no different, I just felt utter despair. It seemed to physically hurt to be alive, to get up in the morning and to put myself through that. You start bullying yourself when the bullies aren’t around to get to you. You just get into that mind frame where it doesn’t feel right unless you remind yourself what an awful, terrible person you are.
Painful thought processes
You hear the voices of everyone who insults you or makes you feel small, and it’s so painful. It’s one of those horribly frustrating feelings which you feel like you can’t do anything with. You can’t escape it or control it, nor find a way of dealing with it. Sometimes I would actually physically shout out against it. I actually took to punching walls a lot back then.
I became suicidal and spent a great deal of time making plans, but I was too scared to go through with it. Part of me realised that I didn’t think anyone would even care that I’d gone, which was an even more depressing thought. In that mindset, suicide felt like a very active, ‘positive’ way of dealing with things, but the idea that no-one would even care that I’d gone just sapped the energy from me. So I gave up on life basically.
Although I didn’t kill myself, the decisions I made at the time were very life damaging. They certainly stopped bits of me existing. I know I never properly recovered from that. I resigned myself to hating myself. I accepted that I would always be scared, upset and fearful. I would always be alone, never be close to anyone. That is how I would live – just existing, surviving not living.
For the rest of 6th form I did actually start a bit of a healing process. I threw myself into drama, art and music – things I could lose myself in. I got very involved in my church youth group and tried to find some consolation there. I do think my faith played a part in helping me through at the time. I slowly started to manage to become friends with people again, and built a close friendship with someone else who was also a loner at school.
Just wanted to get away
I just really wanted to escape, though. Although I’d got past the suicidal tendencies, everything around me was a reminder of how low I’d been and how much of a horrible time I’d had at school. The plan was basically to get out, get to university and move as far away from home as I could, and that’s what I did.
Knowing it was in my hands
I was always very conscious that if I wanted to kill myself, I could do it very easily. That knowledge that it was in my hands was very important. The comfort for me sometimes was that I hadn’t done it yet – “I got through yesterday, so maybe I can get through today as well.”
Setting small goals
It wasn’t long after the time I thought I was going to kill myself and didn’t, that things began to get easier. I started to set myself small goals and these were my main ways of coping. I would want to survive to the next day so I could see such and such a friend. I would want to survive to the evening so I could watch a television programme. I would want to survive so I could see the doctor the next day. Setting myself these small tasks gave me motivation, a reason to keep myself going, however hard it was. Sometimes it felt impossible, but it really did help.
Making a routine
The hardest part of every day was getting up in the morning, as my body would not want to move. I set myself up a routine of simple things – to get out of bed, put on the dressing gown next to my bed, take a shower, get dressed, shave. Each thing was to be done in order, and treated like an achievement. I made myself eat breakfast whether I wanted it or not, because I knew I needed the energy. Initially I had other people check up on me and help if needed, which gave extra motivation. Starting my mornings in a prescribed, practical way helped me settle into a day, get myself moving, get my blood pumping and made me better able to face the rest of the day.
Pills starting to work
Starting on medication was a big turning point; that was the start of me seeking professional help. The pills did kick in eventually, and they gave me more energy so I could set slightly bigger goals. I’d offer myself some kind of treat, like if I made the effort to walk into town then I would treat myself to a new DVD to come home and watch. Or I’d make myself some food.
Distractions I found really important. I bought a lot of DVDs when I was depressed because watching films – light comedies, rather than anything particularly emotional – would help me to just relax for a couple of hours. If I had slightly more energy, I would do something really mundane, like alphabetise my CD collection.
Getting back into social situations
I started trying to get into social situations again. I invited people I hadn’t seen for a little while to come round and see me. Sometimes it would just be too hard and I’d back away again. If anyone did or said anything just slightly wrong, then it would feel like it was tearing me apart. It required a lot of effort on my part to try and be reasonable and care about other people’s feelings.
As I was getting better I spent a lot of time with my closer friends, who had been there for me when I was really bad. They needed to see for themselves that I was getting better and I also needed to know that they could still be there for me. There was a lot of repairing of friendships going on. Some never did get repaired, as I had feared, but others were still there for me.
Talking about it
Sometimes I’d ring the Samaritans just to have someone to talk to, which didn’t always help, but sometimes it did. Sometimes it helped to talk and sound off for a couple of hours. It didn’t always make me feel better at the end of it, but it made me feel better while I was talking about it.
Counselling works for me as long as I’m prepared to seek active help and take part in doing it. So it wasn’t until I got the energy back to discuss stuff that I was able to go back into counselling. But once I did it was incredibly helpful. I found that talking about what was going on in my head was an important step towards dealing with and overcoming my problems and insecurities.
Support from academic department
Talking and liaising with my academic department was also invaluable to me. They were really supportive in their own sense. They said, “Don’t worry about exams; don’t worry about your essays. We will come to them later.” Having that pressure off my mind helped me so much.
Taking on more when ready
Then as I got better, I could take on more. Going back to work and putting in an eight hour day was one way of coping. Then later I was able to get back into my exam revision again. I continued with the reward system of giving myself something nice to do in the evening if I’d got through the day at work, or some revision.
There are even little crazy ways of coping, like I dyed my hair purple at one point. It just gave me something to look forward to and a completely different focus to myself. I did that after I’d been feeling suicidal and it gave us all something to have a laugh about, something there that wasn’t about my depression. I’ve also got a very black sense of humour and sometimes humour was a way of dealing with things.
What I’ve learnt
Feeling much stronger
I felt so much stronger in my self, once I’d come out of the depression. I realised how amazing it was that I’d got through it under my own steam. Even though I’d had help, I’d sought that help myself. I made the decision to survive and live and that’s an amazing thing to decide that you want to do. Now I feel more confident than I think I ever have because I’ve seen what’s in me – that I can get through things even when I was convinced I couldn’t.
It feels great. I am much more sure of who I am now because I’ve consciously reconstructed my life from a state where I’d given up on every aspect of myself and didn’t want to live any more. I feel like I’ve got a much more solid foundation because I know that this time I have actually dealt with the stuff properly.
Doing things gradually
I don’t think I can fall back again as far as I did because I’ve worked through the process so gradually of getting better. I’ve talked about things. I’ve built myself a much more secure foundation of support. Rather than trying to rush back into getting back into things, I’ve taken my time. I think that’s important; just taking your time and making sure that everything is solid before you go on to the next step.
Taking the pressure off
I learnt to give myself a lot more time to myself and not to burn myself out. Relieving yourself of all unnecessary pressures and leaving yourself able to take the time to heal is so important.
Having contact with people
I can’t emphasise enough how important and helpful talking to people is admitting to my friends what was going on; admitting to my course what was going on; seeking counselling; going to the doctor. It’s a horribly hard thing to do but it helps so much in the long run. It is so easy to be self-indulgent and want to be only with yourself, thinking you’re the only person who can ever understand what you’re going through. Having that contact with people is vital to keep you motivated.
How to help friends to help
One thing that I would recommend for anyone getting into this is to try and be as honest with your friends as possible. If you can, explain to them what they’re getting into in supporting you. The people who had the best idea of what they were getting into and chose to do it for themselves could also choose to back out when it was too much for them. We kind of made it a very mutual thing where they would agree to be with me when I was feeling awful and then if it was too much for them they could say, “Hey, I can’t do this at the moment; I’m very sorry. I still care about you but I have to look out for myself so I can be there for you later.”
Learning to look after yourself
One of the most important things was to watch very carefully how the things I was doing were affecting me. Sometimes, if I was pushing myself too hard, then I would get panicky and feel the need to self-harm, and that would be a clear indicator that I needed to relax a little more. I recognised that I needed to go easy on myself. I listened to the advice of friends and professionals, and most importantly I looked for motivations to help myself get better.