How depression has affected me
I am Swiss and about to start my Masters degree in the UK. When I came here to start studying as an undergraduate, I came with my boyfriend. I found myself accepting the UK course very suddenly, almost head over heels, and everything went so fast that I don´t even remember saying goodbye to friends properly.
The period since I first came here has been quite stressful for me, even though it was only visible to me. To others, I was perfectly fine. We were here! We were fine! We were excited!
My boyfriend and I had been together from school. We did the same degree and lived in one tiny room where we worked and slept and eat together. I had no privacy at all. Although we had our fun I missed the alone time to relax.
Normally I am a very strong person and I like to do stuff myself, but coming here I realised that there is quite a lot I can´t do on my own. I had all these worries, about my degree and my integration into the UK. I was a girl on a course surrounded by really geeky blokes, so I felt out of place.
Plus when I first came here my English wasn´t that fluent and I have always felt a bit left alone. I was scared to make phone calls because I was scared they wouldn´t understand me and that I´d be embarrassed.
I wouldn´t go out alone, without my boyfriend speaking for me; supporting me. I noticed when my boyfriend was away for whatever reason, I felt so alone because he wasn´t there to help me.
Boyfriend not understanding
But my boyfriend couldn´t understand how I felt. Whenever I asked him to make a phone call for me, he´d say `Why don´t you do it yourself?´ He is not very sensitive so not the right person to talk to about my worried feelings.
Then things evolved in the years I was doing my degree which made me drop deeper and deeper into this depression. At the end of the first year my father was admitted to hospital with clinical depression and then my mother had a heart attack and other health problems.
When my dad went to hospital it was quite distressing for me because I was far away and I really wanted to be kept up to date with everything that was going on with him. It was difficult having to make calls to Switzerland all the time and waiting for them to call me with news.
He stayed in hospital for 6 months, and when he came out he was unemployed and got a disability pension. He was very quiet before hospital; he never spoke up to my mum; she was the man of the house and she was working. When he came out of hospital, he tried to be the man of the house and it was weird for me because I wasn´t there during the whole process and so to me he was a stranger; I didn´t know him
Mother´s heart problems
My dad was just adjusting to coming out of hospital when my mother had a heart attack. I called home happy and proud to tell them my first year exam results, because I was second best in my course, and my dad just said, `Your mother´s not here. I don´t know when she´ll be back. She´s in hospital.´
I was devastated! I can´t describe it. I didn´t know what to do; I didn´t know how serious it was. That was the first time I felt how important my mother is to me. All my life I had hated her and then I felt I was going to lose her.
Over the next few years she was in and out of hospital with recurring attacks or for rehab so she was never at home; never reachable for me over the phone. Looking back, I was waiting all the time for phone calls telling me my mum was in hospital again. This whole time was really terrifying, feeling I might lose her at any time.
My boyfriend didn´t know how to help me. When he saw me looking anxious or whenever there was a phone call, he just went quiet and didn´t know what to say. He didn´t know how to express empathy which left me feeling alone a lot of the time.
Tempted to self harm
I felt so scared, helpless and alone. I felt like harming myself to try to release some of the pressure, as I had done when I was a teenager. My boyfriend saved me in a way because I was scared of him seeing and so I didn´t do it.
I think I told him a while after that I´d wanted to do it but he didn´t know how to react and I didn´t know how to explain to him why I had these feelings. I was burying all these feelings over the years basically and I have never really told him how distressing and terrifying they are for me.
The worst times were summers when my boyfriend was back in Switzerland and I was alone and worrying about my mum. I remember sitting in my room, spacing out and drifting away, feeling scared and just crying for so many reasons. I thought about wanting to have the power to die – it would be an escape; stop the feelings and the worrying.
Sister’s attempted suicide
Then close to the end of my second year my little sister, who had taken over my previous role as `black sheep´ when I left, tried to commit suicide. She was lucky to survive – and needless to say I was devastated.
I booked the next flight which was one week after this had happened. During that week I was a complete mess. I didn´t know what was happening. I made up all these possibilities of things that could have triggered it; things that might have happened. I still don´t know why she did it and I don´t have the courage to ask her.
Leaving me trapped
Even today, I feel like she has completely taken the option of this sort of `escape´ from me because having to live through one daughter trying to kill herself, it is not an option for me any more. At times when I am really, really down and lost and I feel like I want to die, I feel even more trapped and helpless.
I have had sleep problems all my life but the few years during my degree, it was so bad. I´d lie awake for hours and hours, sometimes crying; wondering why I am awake and having all these thoughts run through my mind.
All this time I´d keep trying to answer WHY – why this is happening to me, why I am away from my family when I almost lost all of them, why I am with my boyfriend if he doesn´t understand me, why I want to hide all the time or why I am in pain all the time. It was mind-blowing!!
After I finished my degree, I fell into a deep, deep hole of wanting to curl up in bed. I got a first and I should have been happy and looking forward to the rest of my life, but I didn´t know what I wanted to do. I had developed pains and aches during the final year which didn´t go away, and I wondered what I could do with these physical problems.
After a summer back home I joined my boyfriend in the UK again to look for a job, but my aches got worse and by the end of the year I was so ill that I had to see a doctor. I couldn´t get out of the bed in the morning and didn´t have the strength to walk, not to mention to apply for a job.
I did manage to get a casual full-time job at my old university, and one year later I finally got a diagnosis of what was wrong with me – fibromyalgia – which started me on the road to recovery.
There are so many reasons for my depression and all that is connected to it. I am the middle child of three and was always the `black sheep´. I had a very difficult relationship with my mother and I ran away from home several times and had periods of self harm and suicidal thinking.
My life felt pointless. I was a failure at school, the opposite of my older sister who was always best at everything. I didn´t fit in at all. My mother tried to make me leave school and apply to do hairdressing, saying I obviously didn´t want to finish school with the marks I was getting and my attitude. I realised that wasn´t what I wanted so I worked harder and finished school.
It felt like my mother didn´t know me and didn´t want to know me. We had our arguments and they were the only conversations we had. I ran away several times. I wanted my mum to be worried and run after me or try to stop me, but she didn´t because she knew I´d come back.
I had a period of harming myself and back then it felt like a release. I didn´t do it much. I didn´t want to kill myself but I just wanted to feel the power that I could if I really needed to. When I had these feelings of not wanting to live any longer, I would cut somewhere close to a vein or artery but not on it. I remember cutting patterns – don´t ask me why.
Leaving home helped
It was only when I left to come to the UK that my mum and I actually started talking to each other and had actual conversations. At first we talked about my new experiences and organisational stuff. Over time it got more personal because I was telling my mother about feeling alone, or trapped in the small room with my boyfriend not being helpful and this illness I needed to get under control.
Still with boyfriend
My boyfriend and I are still together. It´s a difficult relationship I think but we´ve gone through so much together – finishing school together; coming here; doing all these big steps together and living so close and so tight. I think we are like husband and wife now; we have grown together even though we are not very close emotionally.
Curbing suicidal thoughts
While I was having the suicidal thoughts, at the same time, I knew it was wrong. It is an escape but at the same time, it is an impossible thing to do because I am too responsible. I don´t want my relatives and boyfriend to be in the position of having to bury me.
Counsellor not helpful
I went to the GP when my mum went to hospital and I did have one session of counselling, but the session felt useless to me. It didn´t work; he wasn´t able to offer me the relief I needed – telling me my mother was going to be fine.
Wanted more understanding
At that time, when I told the counsellor about these events, I think I was hoping he´d realise how this all was affecting me. He just said he didn´t have the answer to my mum´s illness. Maybe I didn´t cry enough or express myself well enough. I felt like he didn´t want to help me and so I blocked the option of seeing a counsellor again.
Getting a diagnosis
This condition I have, I have been to many doctors and it has been hard to get a diagnosis. It has been horrible – it is fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition. I feel like I have been in a big black hole for several years now, and now I think just about now I am on the way to get better.
Good medical care
I feel a bit more like I am being taken care of now, with the right medication and with support all around me, including medical psychology, pain management and physio and hydrotherapy.
Reading about others
During my soul searching phase, when I was at home alone being ill in bed I spent a lot of time on the internet and I came across this Students Against Depression site. I read a couple of the student stories, and could do it without having to admit that I was searching for help or advice. It was interesting. It was anonymous.
People try to tell me the depression could be a reason why this chronic pain condition developed and I still don´t know what to think. I have given up trying to find reasons why. At the moment I am just trying to live with it.
Being taken seriously
My medical psychologist is really helpful, offering advice on how to handle certain things. I have told him about my suicidal thoughts. It has helped just telling him and having him note it and take it seriously.
Talking to a friend
I couldn´t have done it without my friend Becky all these years. I got to know her in my first year at uni. We had a few conversations which were very personal and deep and long. I told her everything which was a relief at the time, having one person who knows exactly how I feel, although she was not in a position to help me or offer anything other than telling me I could talk to her.
Challenging old habits
Over the years I have built this image of me as I´d like to be seen… Happy and healthy. When people asked me how I am I´d say “Fiiine” with a big smile, then I walk away and cry. I´ve learned how to use this image from my childhood and I´m only just now starting to come to realise that I need to stop doing that if I really want to get better.
Trying not to ruminate
I still haven´t found the answers to my questions, but I have learned to ignore that voice inside my head. I have accepted that there are things out of my control and totally random in life. And nothing and everything is connected. I have learned not to rely on others, not to take everything for granted and not to assume things. I have learned not to trust blindly and that I am my own doctor and counsellor.
I am starting a Masters course this year and I finally feel like I am on the way out of the big black hole I was in for several years now. I am trying to get back into social life now, being a student again will be very hard for me. I have to rearrange my whole life, for example, I need to start some form of sport, due to my condition.
Also, I will need to go through this experience alone this time – without my boyfriend. We´ve been too close all this time. We are still a couple but I stand on my own feet now. It´s the first time for me really to do something alone. I´m curious and anxious at the same time.
Looking forward positively
There is no clear path ahead of me. I still don´t quite know what job I could do with the condition I have, being off sick a lot and having all these appointments. But now there are certain things in my life that make me want to continue like this new degree – doing something for myself.
I am hoping that writing about my experiences will help me as much as it could help others. It kind of makes it more clear and I bind myself to any plans that I write about – like doing sports etc – which will be very helpful and motivating.
What I´ve learnt
Recognise it´s a real problem
I have been through so many stages of depression – the angry part where I´d smash my fist into the wall and yell because it makes me so angry and the part where I lie in bed day and night awake. It only started to get better when I said `I do have depression; I am not just a bit sad; I have a real problem.´
Get help early and be persistent
I´ve existed for so many years without telling anyone and without anyone taking me seriously and recognising that I am depressed. Be persistent; get help early.
Be your own counsellor
If I had to recommend the one thing that I found most helpful then it would be the “Be your own doctor and counsellor” thing. Think about what you want to do in your life, who you want to be and where you want to be. Then think about how to get there and start slowly. Accept the challenges life sets you and get through them.
Talk to someone
I think everybody needs one person to talk to, someone who isn´t too close or too involved – just someone who understand and listens as an `outside´ person.