How depression has affected me
Both positive and negative effects
Positively, I feel that experiencing an illness that is so difficult to see or feel from the outside has given me a unique insight into it, and I am pursuing a career as a psychiatrist to try to help others. Negatively, there have been a number of ways too, however, in which my life has been changed.
Not consistently depressed
I am not consistently depressed; rather there are good days and bad days, and larger good patches and bad patches. It also took me a long time to work out that what happened was not ‘normal’, particularly learning from my father’s example.
Hard to know what’s me and what’s illness
Since depression hit in my formative teenage years, it has been hard to work out what’s me and what’s illness.
Volatile relationships with self and others
Broadly though, I find that when depressed I emotionally depend on people to a significant extent, leading to extremely intense and volatile relationships and friendships. Tiny arguments can send me spiralling into self-hatred and disproportionate guilt, and promising signs can lead to me obsessing unhealthily.
Disturbed sleep and appetite
I sleep erratically and overeat (carbohydrates and cheese particularly; apparently these are a source of serotonin, the chemical supplied by modern antidepressants!).
I also find it hard to leave rooms or buildings. Typically I spend a lot of time trapped in my room talking to people via the computer, as the environment around me becomes messier and messier.
Very different from my ‘well’ self
This contrasts with the character I sometimes find in myself; someone who is very outgoing and engaged, but also organised and tidy. I used to read a lot, to compose music and to swim; all of these stopped when the depression hit and I’ve been trying to reclaim them since.
Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Depression frustrates me a great deal sometimes as it affects both my work and social life. On some particularly occasions I have considered suicide and self-harmed, which I regret immensely as while I will beat my depression the scars will be permanent and I may some day have to explain them to a wife or children.
Several predisposing factors
There were, I suppose, a number of predisposing factors in my becoming clinically depressed, particularly the effect of my father’s bipolar disorder, which was only recently diagnosed and remains untreated.
Bipolar father’s erratic violence
My father was a stifling influence in the household, and was fairly regularly violent in a way that was erratically linked to discipline and has left me with a very strong and often mis-applied guilt when I feel I have done something wrong.
Tense, unaffectionate home atmosphere
The atmosphere at home was always very tense and never affectionate, with an unsettling atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
I found myself clinging to people at school, and maybe due to the sudden burst of affection relative to the absence at home, I also fell in unrequited love with my best friend’s childhood sweetheart in academic Year 10, which I consider the trigger for my becoming depressed.
Self-attacking thinking patterns
My thinking became very bleak and self-attacking; I blamed myself rather than circumstance for her choosing him and began to shut myself away from my friends as my behaviour became more erratic, fixating on only those friends who I felt could ‘save’ me.
Unsustainable behaviour patterns
This pattern of unsustainable over-dependence on a few intense friends and lack of casual friends continued into university and probably compounded the depression, as did my erratic sleeping and dietary habits.
Keeping things hidden inside
I had learned to uncouple myself emotionally and academically, so my grades raised no alarm bells and it was not until the second year of university that I was finally referred to a GP by my academic tutors.
Specialist referral and diagnosis
The GP referred me to a bipolar specialist, who ‘cleared’ me of bipolar but diagnosed severe depression. Knowing that my father having bipolar doesn’t mean that I have the same diagnosis or, even if so, the same prognosis, has been a great help.
The specialist referred me to a university CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) practitioner who I have seen for the last two years. The counsellor completely changed the way I look at myself and the things that have happened and are happening.
Finding realistic hope for recovery
I have massively increased my self-awareness and self-control, and I’ve become comfortable with the idea that getting better from depression is not a light-switch process and that the desperate question “How can I be happy?”, which I typically asked when seeing any new counsellor, takes a long time to answer but can be answered!
Getting appropriate support from friends
Sometimes the support and love of my friends was of the utmost importance and it’s very important not to shut yourself off or alienate people – my depression shouldn’t be an acid test for friends; it should be managed by me and medical professionals to allow my friendships to progress normally
I’ve learnt to trust myself and other people a lot more, and to avoid over-intense relationships which promote over-dependence.
I also found that playing instruments (particularly the guitar and piano, as well as singing) and listening to emotive music help to express and process feelings that otherwise can be overwhelming and tend toward self-harm.
Continuing with online CBT
Due to my improvement, in the next year I am moving from counselling to online CBT.
What I’ve learnt
Depression can be beaten
I strongly advise against self-harm (and suicide), regardless of how overwhelming depression can be. It is important to know that it can be beaten, and that life without depression can be extremely fulfilling in a way that is hard to see from under the raincloud.
Keep at it
It’s important to interact with a range of people and to keep plugging away with work or school and to always remember during the bad days that there are good days too and that one day my depression may be a thing of the past.
Learn to monitor feelings and behaviour
Thinking twice before responding emotionally (angry letters, confrontation) is a must, and learning to objectively question yourself (have I eaten recently, did I sleep properly, might low light levels be affecting my mood?) also helps to avoid crisis points which are much harder to manage.
Counselling isn’t as frightening as it might seem!
Seeking help from counsellors is not as frightening as I felt it was before I tried it, and I wish I could tell more people that it’s not just “for crazy people in straitjackets” or whatever the dubious public perception.
Get appropriate professional help
Counselling and official medical help are incredibly important because no matter how dependable your friends are it remains important not to place expectations on them to cope with a complicated medical disorder. This helps to separate the personal mood swings and emotions of depression from the chemical and synaptic mood disorder.
I’ve learnt the value of counselling, and the importance of not giving up. So I suppose I advise caution, self-respect and the seeking of medical help.