How depression has affected me
Stressful months starting A-levels
I had a very stressful start to my A-level year, when I was regularly staying up very late talking to someone at my college out of fear that if I stopped she would commit suicide. This made me very stressed and worried, and led to me feeling tired and down most days, even after I did cut off contact with her.
From happy and content to ‘blank’
Since then, I noticed that I was rarely happy. While before I had been very happy and content, now I was just a bit blank. Nothing made me particularly smile; nothing made me particularly happy. It wasn’t impossible to make me grin, but usually it would last for a few moments and then go straight back down to this very dull, almost numb feeling.
Not too bothered
I thought it was unusual but I didn’t mind it because it didn’t feel bad; it just felt a bit weird. It didn’t really bother me, because I didn’t exactly feel bad, just not good either, so I didn’t tell anyone.
Gradual downward spiral
This continued until I went to university, where I gradually began to feel worse and worse more regularly, but it was so gradual and I was already so used to not feeling happy that I didn’t particularly notice. it got worse. It got to me feeling down
Snappy and uninterested in eating
I was sleeping fine, but sometimes I felt like I didn’t fancy eating; I felt it was boring; I wasn’t interested. I’d get very snappy with certain people who I’d snap at regularly and everyone else who I wouldn’t. Maybe then I could get out my frustrations on those people rather than other people thinking ‘Charlie is snappy today. I wonder if he’s alright.’
Feeling of pressure
I felt like there was a lot going on in my head. I couldn’t even say what it was. Sometimes I had lots of things I felt I had to do now and feeling them piled up in my head. It was like there was a feeling of pressure in my head that was stopping me from thinking particularly coherently. It’s a bit difficult to explain.
Tiredness and mood swings
I’d go out when other people went out but I’d normally come home early because I was just too tired and usually I’d drunk a bit. I found my mood could suddenly switch from having a good time and enjoying my night out to suddenly feeling bad; feeling awful; wanting to go home; wanting to cry. It would be very, very quick and I’d tell people I was going home and that would be it. I wasn’t lying to them; I just wasn’t telling them the whole story.
I started drinking quite regularly in the evenings – not a lot, not drinking myself into oblivion, but there were a few weeks where I was getting a bit drunk every night. Sometimes I’d have a bottle with some friends and then I’d go back to my room and drink some more on my own. It made me feel a bit better to start with, gave me a protective layer, and then it made me feel a whole lot worse later and let me feel legitimately sad – I could blame it on the alcohol rather than having to face up to anything.
Letting barriers down
I think it let me feel things that I hadn’t been letting myself during the day. It took down the barriers slightly and allowed me to feel genuinely miserable rather than knowing it was there but trying very hard to keep it away. Drinking and then feeling bad was another form of release because sometimes I’d cry and sometimes I’d just let myself feel bad and it was letting myself do that rather than not show it. Once I was alone in my room and I knew no one was going to bother me for the night, then I could stop pretending that everything was all right and it helped me to do that.
I became excellent at hiding how I felt from other people. It was almost a game to see how bad I could feel and how many subtle, un-interpretable hints I could drop to my flatmates. I did everything I could to make sure that my flat mates didn’t notice anything was wrong because I didn’t want them to worry or walk around me on egg shells or anything like that.
Sarcasm and cynicism
I’ve always had quite a sarcastic and cynical sense of humour, so when I was feeling particularly bad, if I was with other people, I’d just keep that going. I could do that easily when I felt bad because it was what I felt like being anyway; I wanted to be sarcastic and cynical. So they were used to it and found it normal.
Bottling things up
I was bottling it up completely; making sure everyone else thought I was fine. I was just trying not to let it show; making sure it was all in my head; keeping it in my head til the evening when either I’d have a drink, or would just let myself feel like that. Because I wasn’t feeling particularly good when I first came to university, people didn’t notice any change I suppose. As things did gradually change, I could just keep adding it to what was in my head rather than what I was showing to other people.
At times, occasionally, I would self-harm. I would dig pen lids or my nails into the palm of my hand where no-one could see and never breaking the skin. There was a real build up of stuff in my head and it was just a way to get rid of it. It was just felt like a release. I think it’s like an extension of when you clench your fists when you are angry; it releases some of the tension; released some of the pressure in my head.
Limit to self harm
I never considered anything like cutting because that would seem too serious and too real, whereas getting a pen and digging it into my hand didn’t have the same connotations for me. If I’d cut myself then I would have had to admit to myself that something was very wrong and I didn’t want to do that.
Not letting parents know
I especially remember the day my parents came to visit me, and I had been digging pen lids into my palm during the day, but put on a smile for them. A few days later my dad sent me a letter saying how clearly happy I was. I have still told them none of this.
Feeling worse and worse
I would either wake up feeling awful, worthless and as if nothing could change this, or wake up feeling okay. The days when I woke up feeling okay were rarer, and were the ones on which I invariably eventually felt the worst, because then I’d think ‘This is unusual; why am I feeling like this?’ Then I’d think myself out of feeling ok.
Comforting familiarity of low feelings
I really began to scare myself with how bad I was feeling so often. But I also sort of enjoyed it. It’s hard to explain, but it was almost comforting, and it took no effort; it was easy. I could slightly lift my mood with a lot of effort, but the effect was disproportionate and didn’t seem worth it.
I made a very loose pact with myself that if I still felt this way when I was 20, I would seriously consider suicide. It was just the feeling that I couldn’t handle feeling like this for more than another 18 months basically. It was just a cut off point for me to say I want to feel better by then I suppose. There were no active suicidal thoughts.
Not wanting a label
I was, and still am, extremely reluctant to say I had depression. It would have made it very real and something I couldn’t talk myself out of believing. As I was never diagnosed I did not want to say I had depression in case I didn’t and was therefore somehow trivialising others’ experiences. I now think I probably did have depression, but am still loath to say it…
Hard to by sure why
It’s hard to be sure about why it all started, because you don’t notice it at the time and it’s only looking back that I think I can see how I was. When I started talking to this girl at my college about her problems, she said she was in an abusive relationship and had suicidal thoughts and was depressed. I didn’t know her that well, but obviously I felt very worried for her and didn’t want her to do anything. I was really wearing myself out for about three months, trying to make sure she was ok and staying quite late trying to talk her out of doing anything.
Upset and exhausted
I know it’s never a good thing to say someone’s doing something for attention, but by the end of it, I was convinced and am still convinced that she made a lot of it up because things didn’t add up. Basically I was upset, tired and exhausted after all this and when I felt that bits had been made up or exaggerated, I just felt like I’d wasted my time.
I cut off contact with her, then for maybe the next six months, I didn’t feel like I felt I was down but I knew that I definitely wasn’t as happy as I had been. For a while I thought it was just the after effects. I knew I’d been very stressed and I thought it would lift eventually and I think it did a bit for a while, but then it got worse again.
Not wanting parents to worry
At one point when I was getting very stressed about this girl, mum and dad heard me crying in my room and my dad asked me if I was being bullied or anything like that. I didn’t want to go into the whole story with him so I said it was ok and I don’t think they noticed. I did everything I could so they wouldn’t notice because I know they’d worry about me and I’d feel bad.
Not letting parents down
They are really supportive of everything I do, they are really good parents, and I’d feel like I was letting them down. I’d feel very awkward about telling them now because I’d feel they’d be upset that I hadn’t told them before – and they would still worry of course. Shortly after I went to uni, my dad sent me a letter saying he’d hadn’t had a great time at university but my mum had and he hoped I’d have a good time and that I’d be happy. I felt I couldn’t shatter that and tell him I wasn’t, and I still can’t.
Not liking people to worry
I don’t know whether my mum being a counsellor affects this, but I have only told this to three people ever. I just don’t like telling people I see every day because then I worry that they’ll be over-sensitive to changes in my mood and worrying about me too much. I don’t like people worrying about me. Most of my friends at uni still don’t have a clue. I’ve always felt it important for people to be able to talk to me about things and I feel like if they were worrying about me then they might not do that because they might not want to add to my problems.
The main thing I have found that helps is telling someone. I told someone by accident – I broke down at a theme park with my girlfriend and told her everything. I hadn’t been planning to at all. We were getting a bit worried about having a long distance relationship and we were talking openly and I just carried on; just didn’t stop. It felt strange afterwards because I hadn’t told anyone any of it and then to tell one person everything in one go was very strange.
Being accepted and supported
She was amazing about it and just listened and accepted what I said. Then I pulled myself together and we went back to our friends, and now I tell her most things to do with it, if anything comes up again. I felt a lot better over the summer. I still didn’t feel great all the time, but it definitely helped. Having someone who I saw every day, who I knew was there for me and didn’t have to be, not like parents.
Facing up to things
Telling my girlfriend was also telling myself because I’d been keeping it from myself sort of. I knew something had been pretty wrong but it was actually telling her how I felt and what I’d been doing that made me realise I needed to do something about it.
Building a support network
I knew then I could tell someone and that they’d be ok with it because she just accepted everything I said. After that I decided I should have someone at uni to confide in – a safety net if I broke up with my girlfriend. I picked one of my flat mates who I felt would be sensitive to how I’d be feeling about telling her. I actually wrote her a message on Facebook and she reacted very well to it and was very good about it.
Getting different reactions
Then I went a bit overboard and decided to tell one of my other friends and his reaction was fine – it was sort of “Crikey!” I don’t know if that’s the difference in the way men and women react to these things, but the two girls I told reacted more in the way that I wanted.
When I was drinking, I think it let me feel things that I hadn’t been letting myself during the day. It took down the barriers slightly and allowed me to feel genuinely miserable rather than knowing it was there but trying very hard to keep it away. However, I’ve now completely stopped drinking because I don’t trust myself enough that if things went wrong again, I feel I’d start doing that again and I don’t want to.
Having counselling felt too much like admitting weakness and that I couldn’t cope, but at one point I filled out the self-referral form for the counselling service, but then didn’t send it. I think that was showing myself that I had something to put in the boxes there. I did that when I was still feeling pretty bad and it was helpful.
Getting to know the signs
Getting to know the signs of when I am feeling down helps too – just tuning in to the build up in my head. Noticing when I’m feeling tired, as I have done recently. I feel I am in danger of wearing myself out and at the moment I am keeping it away, but I am going to start seeing a counsellor as soon as I can.
Finding ways to release pressure
The build up in my head is a bit like static; like there’s not much room for my thoughts and there is all this pressure in my head. I can get rid of that a bit by drinking, which doesn’t happen any more; by talking to someone; or by making lists of things to do. Getting it out of my head and on to somewhere else, whether it’s a piece of paper or a draft text message on my phone or something like that. Just getting it out of my head to somewhere else.
Swimming really helps, because it’s quite repetitive – you don’t need to think about what you are doing with your body because once you’ve got into a rhythm you just keep going. So that lets me think through things without having to worry about what I am doing. It helps me focus more on how I am feeling and why I am feeling like that. It helps clear my mind quite a lot. Then you’ve got the endorphins that come through the exercise which makes it more effective anyway.
What I’ve learnt
You don’t have to give yourself a label
I don’t like saying I was depressed because I’ve never been diagnosed with anything. Part of that may be because my mum’s a counsellor and so I am a bit wary of self-diagnosis. From participation in this project I hope to understand a little better why I felt how I felt and how I can prevent myself from returning to that.
It’s difficult but worth it getting help
It was difficult to name and it was difficult to admit to myself because I like to think that I’m quite independent and can take care of myself and that would be admitting that I can’t always. It was almost pride – ‘I want to get through this myself. I want to do this on my own. I don’t need anyone else. However I am feeling, it’s me that’s feeling it and I can sort it out.’ But it doesn’t work and I needed to admit that I couldn’t do it all on my own.
Tell someone how you feel
I would recommend telling someone how you are feeling, whether it is a friend you can trust, a partner you can trust or a counsellor. It is such a liberating experience. It helped me move on because it showed me that other people did care about me will not judge me for how I feel.
Other people are capable of accepting and responding right
I was terrified of telling someone and having them think it wasn’t as serious as it was. If that had happened I don’t think I’d have ever been able to tell anyone ever again. I found I could tell someone and they wouldn’t judge me; wouldn’t trivialise it and wouldn’t suddenly make it into something terrible, wouldn’t suddenly assume I’d kill myself at any opportunity. They’d just accept what I said; believe me and be there for me if I wanted to talk about it and I didn’t know before that people would be ok with that.
If you’re feeling suicidal, don’t do it!
Because I am feeling pretty much alright at the moment, the suicide pact to me seems like a pretty silly idea. And that’s what I would have suggested to anyone else. If someone had come to me and said “I feel down; by the time I am 20, I want to be better otherwise I’ll commit suicide.” I would have told them “That’s daft; don’t do it.” But I applied it differently to myself. Now, it seems unlikely to say the least.
Get help sooner rather than later
Go and talk to someone about it, because that’s what I didn’t do and it’s what I should have done. It sounds very cheesy, but I don’t want other people to be going through what I was on their own. I went onto the Students Against Depression website and looked at the symptoms of depression page and I was shocked at how many I recognised and I still kept kidding myself that I was ok.
You’re not alone
I want other people to know that you can get through it and you can talk to people and there are other people who feel like they are feeling. I didn’t know that other people felt like I did. I didn’t think I was some kind of freak, or the only person to have these feelings, but I didn’t know anyone else who felt like I did so I felt pretty much alone there.