How depression has affected me

Didn’t realise at first something was wrong

I am not entirely sure when it started, and identifying that there actually was something wrong in the first place was a challenge in itself. By the time I realised that there was something wrong, it was almost at such a point where it was hard to do anything about it.

Gradual decline

For me it was a gradual decline, so much so that one day didn’t feel that much worse than the last, but I become increasingly aware of the fact that I was different to the way I was, and more importantly things felt differently to the way they used to.

Noticed change after Christmas

I’d really enjoyed the first term of the first year, albeit there were a few ups and downs at the start settling in and being away from home and getting to know some new people. I noticed a definite change when I came back after Christmas.

Not enjoying thing as much

I found that I didn’t enjoy any of the things I used to as much as I once did, and whereas in the past I would look forward to lots of little aspects in life, I had almost entirely lost my enthusiasm. In hindsight I think the biggest sign that something was wrong was that I would find myself feeling extremely upset and lonely and not knowing why.

Changes to usual character

My family and friends would say that they knew me as someone who handled most difficulties in life quite ably and always kept a level head. It was very rare that I’d get particularly upset about something, but during this period it seemed to be happening a lot, and worse was that I couldn’t seem to do anything to cheer myself up.

Couldn’t get up but hated lying in

Instead of waking up nearly everyday looking forward to what it might bring (especially the case after enjoying my first term of university so much) I couldn’t see much reason to drag myself out of bed, and at the same time I couldn’t bear the idea of lying there thinking to myself. I’d spend most of the day looking forward to getting back in to bed in the hope that the next day I’d somehow feel a whole lot better.

Anxiety

It used to take an awful lot to get me nervous or concerned about anything, but I found that I was anxious in a lot more situations, a lot more so than was necessary. It seemed to be a real loss of confidence thing which affected a lot of areas: social situations that ordinarily I’d know how to behave in, like buying something in a store; and I became really anxious when I was driving whereas before I’d probably always been an over confident driver.

Couldn’t work out what was wrong

I tried to find lots of explanations. It became a bit of an obsession trying to work out what the cause of the problem was, to the point where I couldn’t think of anything else and it just consumed me completely. I couldn’t concentrate on studies or people or what I wanted to do.

Anxiety

It used to take an awful lot to get me nervous or concerned about anything, but I found that I was anxious in a lot more situations, a lot more so than was necessary. It seemed to be a real loss of confidence thing which affected a lot of areas: social situations that ordinarily I’d know how to behave in, like buying something in a store; and I became really anxious when I was driving whereas before I’d probably always been an over confident driver.

Couldn’t work out what was wrong

I tried to find lots of explanations. It became a bit of an obsession trying to work out what the cause of the problem was, to the point where I couldn’t think of anything else and it just consumed me completely. I couldn’t concentrate on studies or people or what I wanted to do.

Over sleeping

Lectures didn’t start generally til late and so I’d be getting 11 or 12 hours sleep or something ridiculous and getting up at 10 or 11 and in the end it kind of led me to feeling more lazy; like I wasn’t doing anything with my time; just sleeping or lounging around in bed.

Withdrawing socially

I thought maybe I should stop drinking alcohol and that probably didn’t help because it led to me socialising less as it’s a big part of university life. The first term at university, it’s like getting to know lots of people and from then you progress to getting to know some much better and getting closer to them, but I wasn’t in a particularly good state to do that. I became aware that I’d only known these people for a few months and that’s not a long time to build a close bond with people.

Snappy with parents

I felt like going home at Easter would do me good; felt it was a safe place where I could go and recover a bit and get back on my feet and then get back to university with a fresh look. But I was aware that I was being snappy and quite short with my parents, pushing them away.

Mother forced the issue

It got to the point where my mum was saying “It’s not really acceptable to behave like this; you’re being really rude and we’re getting quite offended by it. If something is wrong, tell us but don’t go behaving like this.” I felt a bit annoyed at the time but I came round to the idea that I should probably say something. My mum said afterwards that the signs had been there, I was obviously trying to reach out but I couldn’t bring myself to just say that something was wrong.

Facing relationship issues

I’d had some problems with my girlfriend over the Christmas holiday and they’d continued to be a trouble throughout the second term. I knew the relationship wasn’t right but I found it really difficult to do anything about that. Talking to my parents gave me enough strength to make myself think I could go through with the break up.

Lowest point

But after the break up, I did get worse. I think the lowest point was after that when I kept telling myself “It’s got to get better; I can’t feel any worse than this.” I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone and couldn’t work; didn’t bother getting up in the morning; felt really, really lonely when I woke up and when I went to sleep I think I wanted it all to go away.

Guilt

There was this unconditional hate coming from her and she kept reminding me of how much pain I’d caused her, and it made me feel guilty every time. I think the problem with modern communication is it’s so public and there are so many way to communicate that when it’s best to have space from another person, it’s actually quite difficult. On MSN and on Facebook and things like that, I’d constantly be reminded of how bad she was feeling.

Physically ill

I’d been getting increasingly ill about that time; I don’t know why or how it’s all related but the lower I felt, the more my immune system seemed to give out. I suppose you could put it down to me being low on energy and more vulnerable to these sorts of things but I had an ear infection for a long time and I couldn’t hear properly. I kept feeling unwell with a high temperature.

Obsessed with mood

My mood and the way I felt became a real obsession and all I could think about for a long time, although I can’t say I ever really seriously considered suicide, even though the thought crossed my mind from time to time. I remember a couple of times when people asked me to do things, I’d say no and couldn’t even bring myself to make up an excuse.

Too much free time

I was unhappy with my course and so I’d switched by this point to something else, and that basically meant I had no lectures and a ridiculous amount of free time, which didn’t help because I just sat there and wallowed and dwelt on it and felt purposeless and useless because I had nothing to really aim for; didn’t have a job and there was basically no course. I just felt like it was a complete loss of control. Everything was just floating along without any real reason to it.

Slowly upward again

Feeling as low as I did was a surprisingly hard thing to face up to. But by the end of the year, I’d picked up a lot although I still didn’t feel like I was completely back to myself and I still don’t. It was a big improvement and felt like I was at least on the upward side of the curve and I wasn’t going down any more and it felt like I’d be aware, having been through it; that I’d be able to catch it before it got that way again.

Anger and bitterness

When I realised I was improving, when I started to be able to make jokes and be sociable, the overwhelming feeling was just anger; this hatred and bitterness that it had happened and that I’d been like that and people had seen me like that. For a considerable period of time I just wanted to forget it; I wished it hadn’t happened because it had changed my opinion of myself and I liked myself a lot less afterwards.

Why me?

Lots of factors

Looking back I still don’t entirely understand what brought about such depression, but I have a better idea now than I did at the time, and I can probably attribute it to a number of things.

Seasonal affective disorder

Perhaps the same could be said for any teenager but I’ve always been quite susceptible to depression, during a lot of my time at school I was very miserable. I suffer from SAD and I’ve always really struggled in the winters a lot more than any other time of the year. The depression certainly set in around the winter months and things seemed to go downhill from there.

Moving away from home

I was very close to my parents while I lived at home and talked to them about nearly everything in my life that troubled me. They always gave me a lot of stability and if ever I felt low I knew that they would be there to support me. When it got to the summer before I went, I did feel that I’d got an awful lot to leave behind. Home was safe and I’d really built up my room into a nice comfortable place and I had a good group of friends, a few of whom I was really close to.

Loneliness

At university it’s like starting all over again in a lot of ways which can be a nice thing, but didn’t feel so much like that to me. My flat was pretty dead all the time; just a quiet lonely place to come back to. I suddenly realised how lonely I felt at university, like there was no one around.

Unhappy on course

I was also on a course that I was unhappy with. I wasn’t enjoying the subject, which turned out to be quite unlike I had hoped it would be, and couldn’t see much of a future with it. It took me a while to actually identify this.

No support network

It got to the point where I was feeling this way and I didn’t really have anyone who I felt I could talk to. I didn’t feel that close to anyone who was there and the fact that none of them knew that I was quite miserable encouraged me to withdraw even more. I didn’t want to go out with them and didn’t want to chat to people and things like that.

Relationship problems

The relationship that I was in at the time was probably a big contributing factor. I think I knew that it wasn’t right for quite a long time, but guilt often stopped me from doing what I needed to. Throughout the relationship I had always been the stable one and the one who looked after her and I found it really hard to face up to how much pain I would cause her. I felt pretty trapped by the situation.

Guilt

It gnawed away at my conscience an awful lot. Then when we eventually did break up I was put in a pretty heavy guilt trip by her for a fairly long period of time and I think this was probably when I felt at my worst. I just wanted it all to disappear.

What’s helped

Holding on to hope

Even at the worst moments, I think I was still hanging onto a scrap of hope that it would get better and something in my head was saying ‘It will improve; it can’t get worse. You will feel so much better for getting through this.’ Although I did feel hopeless quite a lot of the time, I never considered the possibility of giving up; I was always trying to work it out.

Light and exercise

When I still lived at home, we came up with a few ways to deal with the SAD, like a light box and going to the gym a lot more. I’d try to persist with running and cycling over the winter months. Light and exercise have been important to me this time too.

Telling someone

After I told my parents, one of the feelings I remember is relief because it meant that someone knew and would be trying to help. In a way I still wanted to push them away because I didn’t want to draw people into my own little dramas; my own ups and downs. But it was nice to be able to lean on someone else a bit and feel I didn’t have to do it all on my own. Soon after that I started actually taking some positive steps to help myself.

Building support

I eventually told my flatmate, Pete, the one I am closest to at university, and he made a point of at least coming in and giving me a bit of company every day. He wouldn’t come in and say “How are you feeling?” every day; it’d be a case of just letting me know he was around really. It kind of added something to my life which had become rather empty.

Tackling course problems

I’d been mulling over changing my course, and then my parents came down at one point for a meal and I mentioned it to them. My mum said it was the first time I’d sounded passionate about anything in a very long time and seeing me like that there wasn’t much doubt I should switch.

Making changes

I didn’t really think twice about it; it was the right thing to do. I started talking to the right people and convinced the head of year that I’d be able to handle the new course even though I hadn’t done some of the requirements they were after. That wasn’t an immediate fix, but it gave me a slightly more positive look on the next year.

Getting distance from the relationship

It felt like I couldn’t really escape my girlfriend’s guilt trip, but I cut off all communication for a while and at least that means I don’t think about it or am not reminded of it as often. Luckily we are at different universities, because it gives that space.

Learning boundaries

So many people have said “You need to stop talking responsibility for her because you’ve broken up and she is not your responsibility any more,” but it took a long time for it to stop feeling that way. It took a long time before I was able to say to myself “She can’t make me feel guilty any more.” She still can, and still does, but I can deal with it more now than before when I was just completely down in the dumps about it.

Keeping up a routine

I found myself with a lot of free time having switched my course and with lots of time to sit around and dwell I made myself feel worse. Keeping busy and really persisting with some kind of routine makes a big difference. For me exercise and sun light was very important, and I started training to run a half-marathon.

Talking to people

I also started talking to people about it – not everyone but a few so that they knew what was going on and wouldn’t ask me questions. It made me feel more comfortable and now in my second year thanks to that experience I feel a lot closer to some of the people at university.

Keeping up social activity

For me there were still little things that reminded that I was still myself, and the happy me was in there somewhere. I would still make jokes and try to make people laugh and often force myself to be sociable and do the things I would normally do.

Doing it without anti-depressants

I respect it’s every individual’s decision when they are in that situation, but I had said to myself that as long as I could, I would avoid going near anti-depressants. I wanted to get through this on my own. I felt that the way I was feeling ‘ the depression if you want to call it that ‘ was due to quite understandable and explainable events in my life, even if I couldn’t explain them at the time. It was completely natural causes brought about by events in my life and that kind of thing could be sorted out, either with time or by strategies or by taking proactive measures and taking something chemically would alter my mood and could become a habit that would be really difficult to get out of.

Getting professional help

It took me a while to get off my arse, but I did eventually think they’ve got these student support services run by people who are familiar with these types of thing. It’s all well and good having friends and family but they are emotionally attached to you and that can get in the way of seeing what the actual problem might be and helping you. Counsellors are trained and it is their profession to help people deal with this and they are probably going to be an expert on that. I eventually booked an appointment which took a lot of effort at the time.

Making sense of why it happened

I still didn’t understand why I’d got so down; it was still such a mystery to me. The counsellor basically said “What you have explained to me is that you were very unhappy on your course and having relationship troubles. You didn’t like being away from home; you didn’t like the room you were staying in at uni and you find it difficult in the winter anyway and all of those are quite understandable reasons on their own, but combined could easily cause the kind of feelings that you felt.” So that was quite useful.

Counselling

I only ended up having a couple of sessions at first. By the time I had my first session, I was already taking some positive measures. It helped me look at the situation in a more positive way and as a learning experience. I’ve gone back this year because I feel that there are some things that are left unresolved. At first I started thinking it was rather pointless but it eventually brought up a few things, and it is definitely helping.

Understanding myself better

I’ve had friends, counsellors and my parents say I need to take less responsibility for other people and not be so hard on myself. It’s quite difficult; I’m still struggling with it; I’m still aware that I feel too responsible. It’s a personality thing and I am trying to work out if I can shut it off a bit.

Proud of how I dealt with it

The experience has shown me a side to myself which I really didn’t like, tore my confidence and self-assurance right down and people had seen me like that. But it certainly taught me how human I am and how these things can affect me which has led to me looking more carefully at that which is most important to me in life. It also fills me with pride that I got out of it largely by myself, without taking any anti-depressants, and that I know now I’m moving forward.

Seeing the result of changes

Making the decision to change course when I was feeling that low was hard, but now I am really glad I did. I feel a lot more positive about my course and what it will be like over the next few years. In the end I did manage to get through the break up and I am over the worst of it now and in the process I did start letting some people in at university and now there are a few people who know me really well or know me a lot better. I certainly felt less lonely by the time I came out of that and there are a few people who really did kind of reach out.

What I’ve learnt

Seeing it all more positively

There were so many things in the end that helped me to move forward positively from my experiences, and I think one of those was simply seeing the whole thing in a more positive light. Prior to this I had always seen every experience as a useful one, especially the unpleasant ones. I found this really hard to do with this one though, but I don’t feel regretful or angry now when I think back on it; it was a chapter of my life and I think it’s quite common for things like that to happen at university because there is so much change and people do so much growing up in those years that they are there.

The hardest experiences are the ones you learn from most

I think I am definitely coming more to terms with a) the fact that it happened and b) that there’s an awful lot that I can take out of it. It sounds like a cliche, but the hardest experiences are the ones you learn from most. Before it happened I used to think I was really wise, but I think that although I don’t feel wiser now, people would definitely say I am and I am a lot more aware of the possible pitfalls.

Get to know what works for you

I did start to realise that when I did use to feel really good about myself and about everything, I felt in control of everything. Before I left home, I was getting top marks in everything; I had loads of hobbies; gym several times a week and spending loads of time with friends. It was a packed life but I loved it because I knew I could juggle everything and manage everything and still keep it up. If I think back to it, in order to feel good again, or feel like that, I could probably do with feeling in control and have lots of activities.

Keep busy

I know if I have too much time, I have too much mental energy and if it’s not occupied somewhere else, I just start analysing things that don’t need analysing and finding problems and getting myself down about it. But if I’m occupied with lots of things then I am happier with that. Basically, the less time you sit obsessing over how you feel and how to make yourself fee better the more likely you are to see some improvements. If you keep yourself busy and persist you may suddenly find that you haven’t thought about how you feel for a while and that you’re actually not feeling so bad.

Face up to what’s bothering you

I spent a lot of time trying to forget things, like what was going on and what had happened, and worrying really did become a habit. I felt like something was wrong even when there wasn’t. Face up to that which is really bothering you and it makes you feel like you’re dealing with it.

Put yourself first

I used to find when I was feeling down that I’d distract myself by talking to other people; friends who in knew would have issues. It’s like helping my girlfriend or helping other people made me feel better about myself. But I realise that took a lot out of me too. Put yourself first, as hard as that may be for some of us! It was nice to have someone supporting me for a change.

Don’t give up on yourself

I suppose most of all I would say not to give up yourself, especially when you can’t see any way up. And you’ll find who the people are that won’t give up on you either, but you have to give them a chance. The less you sit around feeling sorry for yourself the better too, tell some people what’s going on and they can do it for you!

Press on with a normal life

I am feeling a lot better but it feels like there’s a lot of work to do there. The depression is never too far from my mind and I always feel a bit like I’m working to make sure it doesn’t come back. I suppose the main strategy I’m using to keep depression away is to maintain a normal life. I think I’ve realised that the best way to move on is to realise that I might never fully understand it – searching for answers isn’t really the best way to go about it. It’s better to move forward and press on with doing things in my life.

Let it be an ongoing process

I think it takes a long time before you stop thinking about something like that and it’s very rare that a day goes by without reflecting on it in some way and I am aware that it is still having an impact. I am still trying to recover I guess.

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