How depression has affected me
Depression and suicidal thinking
Depression has built up throughout my life and hit crisis point when I was 13. I was self harming and having thoughts of suicide.
Self harm made me feel like I had some control over my life, which seemed chaotic. I guess self harm also helped me to actually feel something other than sadness – pain was easier to deal with. I found that physical causes for emotion were so much easier to cope with.
Withdrawing from people
My depression caused me to miss quite a lot of school, as I couldn’t face leaving the house and other people. My family found out about my depression in an argument, but they were supportive – my mum and one sister have both since had treatment for depression.
Downward spiral after Christmas in first year
By the time I left high school it seemed that I had recovered and my A levels went well. I settled in well at the start of university and made lots of friends, but after the Christmas holiday things changed.
I end up in a bit of a messy ‘friends with benefits’ relationship, which was very rocky, with a guy who also has depression. It wasn’t exactly a healthy relationship to have, and the combination of that with my Dad working abroad, left me unsettled and spiralling into depression and self harm.
Reckless with relationships
My depression sometimes makes me a bit reckless with relationships as I have low self esteem with regards to my appearance, so I found myself kissing several guys on nights out that I really shouldn’t have done, and wouldn’t normally have kissed. Having someone want me made me feel better – that I was actually worth it. My ‘friend with benefits’ gave me an escape from self harm – it was just another way to feel something that wasn’t sadness.
Problems with alcohol
During my first year at university I drank a lot, I went out 4 or 5 times a week and got very drunk every time – I think as a side effect of the depression as it meant I could escape my problems and let me forget for a while. By the time I reached exams in first year I was sat drinking by myself in my room whilst revising, and was starting to have real problems with alcohol.
My sleep patterns have never been good, part of family history of insomnia, but it tends to get worse when I’m going through a bad patch of depression. I sometimes only have one hour of sleep a night, whilst other times I can sleep for 12 and still not feel refreshed at all.
Breaking point at start of second year
At the start of second year I was still very low and self harming. Things reached breaking point on a night out with friends – I was quite drunk and happily dancing away with my friends when my mood suddenly snapped. I wandered off and sat in a corner crying. My friends found me and eventually got me home.
Friends scared for me
I scared them badly – they rang ahead to one of my housemates who had stayed in that night and got her to remove anything sharp from my room and all my painkillers (which I had been stocking up on, with the obvious intention). I was completely manic with depression and they eventually rang an ambulance and I went to hospital.
At the hospital I ended up talking to the crisis team. They set me back on the right track, and although I still have bad days where I cannot concentrate at all (especially during exams), I’m doing a lot better.
Sometimes feels like there’s no reason
There are several triggers for my depression that I’m actually aware of – sometimes it seems like there is no reason at all.
Because of my mum having depression, me and my sisters had a stronger chance of inheriting an overactive serotonin uptake module, which means that serotonin (the happy molecule) is reabsorbed too quickly which results in a depressed mood.
My dad worked abroad a lot when I was a child (and still does) and I was petrified that my mum was going to leave me too. This means that I don’t react too well to change which sometimes triggers my depression. My dad had an affair over the last year whilst working abroad, so my parents have now separated. I no longer talk to my dad, which adds to my poor relationship with guys.
I was bullied a lot in my schooldays. We moved to Denmark for two years when I was four, which I loved, but when we came back I settled badly. I was bullied for having a different accent. I stuck out too because I was tall for my age and had a larger build because I was on the local swimming team. I was quite a shy person and very academic – I was happy to sit reading books all day long, so I was quite an easy target for the school bullies.
Self doubt and low self esteem
The bullying lead to me having a low self esteem – particularly with my looks and doubting myself constantly. This bullying continued through high school as well.
Tried lots of things
I’ve tried a variety of different ways of coping with depression some which have worked and some that haven’t. Things like alcohol and self harm obviously don’t work, but when you have depression you’ll try anything.
Mental health services
When I was 13 I was referred to the child and adolescent mental health services, which I had a course of counselling and antidepressants with.
After my relapse at university, I started seeing the university counsellors once a week. I find being able to rant my problems out to someone who doesn’t judge you and helps you talk through things really helpful, even if you sometimes leave with bright red puffy eyes from crying so much. It makes a huge difference and helps you think about the way you think and feel.
I also saw my GP who put me on a course of antidepressants, which I am still on at the moment. These actually helped with my alcohol problem as you can’t drink on the ones I am on! I know it’s not for everyone – but serotonin imbalances are a main cause of depression and medication such as fluoxetine (prozac) can help give your body a nudge in the right direction.
Exercise is something that really helps me. When you find something you love, you can still do it through thick and thin – I managed to ride my horse when my attendance was 60% at school. Going and swimming 50-odd lengths and not thinking at all helps. Plus exercise tires you out so you sleep better!
Constructive stress relief
I also lead some kickboxing classes at my college, which involves lots of energetic shouting and telling people what to do, as well as controlled physical aggression. This is fantastic stress relief as you can let out all your anger and stress out – much better than cutting yourself.
Laughing and having fun
Things that are fun and surround you with other people also help. I do belly dancing at university, and being able to laugh at yourself really takes some of the pressure off.
Friends and family
My friends and family have helped immensely with my depression. My family have been very understanding, giving me time when I need it and pushing me to do stuff before I start sliding back into depression. My friends have been great too, even though they don’t always understand what I’m going through – just being able to talk to someone really helps.
Sometimes it can be hard to open up to someone you know about stuff, especially suicidal thoughts, which is where I have found the university Nightline really useful as they don’t judge you at all and you can just sit there knowing someone else is there for you.
What I’ve learnt
Depression isn’t weakness
Having depression does not make you a weak person. Strong people try to cope with everything all at once and these things build up leading to you breaking down. Weak people give up at the first sign of trouble. So no one should feel weak or useless because they have depression.
So many people will experience depression yet there is so many stigmas still attached to it. I dream of the day when I can tell someone outright that I have depression without feeling awkward about it.
Learn to accept help
You have to learn to accept help. I spent so much time worrying about others that I forgot about myself – you have to take a step back and be selfish for once. Don’t be scared to ask for help, be that from friends, family or professionals. I ended up getting mitigating circumstances from my university in my second year because I had the confidence to ask for help as I knew I was struggling.
Don’t be scared of medication
I know some people get scared when you think about having drugs to help with your depression as that makes you a real ‘mad’ person, but to quote one of my favourite films ‘we’re all pretty bizarre some are just better at hiding it, that’s all’. Medication does work – ok you might need more than what you are first prescribed or even a different type of medicine, but it’s worth it.
Take time for yourself
You have to take time for yourself, be that doing a sport you love or watching a trashy film.
Depression is more common than you think
I discovered that I actually know more people who have had depression than I thought, some of which have come as a surprise. Anyone can depression. Don’t judge people. They may not have a reason for having depression but that doesn’t mean they aren’t depressed.
Depression can be useful!
The main thing I have learnt is who my true friends are, and who I really can trust.
You are not alone
By participating in this project I want to help raise awareness of depression – to show that people can get better and that we are not ‘crazy’ or ‘weirdos’.