How depression has affected me
Sudden panic attack
Three years ago I went for a walk in the hills, in the countryside where I used to live, to ‘refresh my mind’ and suddenly started to experience rapid heart beating, chest pain, dizziness and problems with breathing. I slowly returned home and asked for help. The doctor’s verdict was ‘panic attack’.
I was given a few tablets of diazepam to use if attacks repeated, warned how addictive it is and asked to see my GP asap. I was shocked and scared. I was brought up in the way that you supposed to face difficulties and overcome them and there was not much space for being vulnerable.
Resulting from a stressful situation
I had been working full time and studying and trying to somehow fix a difficult relationship with someone who constantly needed help. I realised that somthing just went wrong, something exploded.
Couldn’t leave the house
I was going through hell. Attacks were coming out of blue one after the other. I could not leave my home, scared that I will have a strong attack in the bus, college or at work. In fact all crowded and loud places were absolute horror.
My life was gone
So I sat on the sofa in my pyjamas for weeks feeling that everything was moving forward leaving me behind and I waited for another attack to come, living on those pills. My life was in mess.
Reluctantly agreed to medication
I have always kept away from not necessary medication and the fact that I was about to be using ‘scary’ antidepressants was against ‘my way’… I was desperate to get my life back, so I agreed to start a course of citalopram prescribed by my GP.
Slowly getting back into life
It took me weeks to start to go back to life slowly. Eventually I started to leave home sometimes and tried to give myself little goals to meet. I first tried myself out at work- they told me to come and go back home if I am not ok.
Struggled going on the bus
College was much more complicated. It was loud and crowded and I had to go for an hour on the bus, which was the worst bit. I wanted to get out of it as soon I boarded but there was only one bus every two hours and that would make me stand in the middle of nowhere for two hours.
Made some changes
It took me 3 months to find a comfort level and start to live ‘normally’. I did not pass the year at the college, but along with the many other changes in my personal life that I did to make it all easier and more pleasant for myself, I went back to college the following academic year, completed my foundation degree, and applied for my university course.
Felt I was getting on top of things
I was still working full time, as I had no funding, and was still taking a minimum dose of citalopram. I did still have my ups and downs, but I felt very succesful indeed. During the summer before university started I stopped the medication, under supervision. I was very proud of it and the fact that I functioned just fine without it.
Back to city life
Although I was brought up in a big city I had lived in the country for quite long and it took me time to get used to the city life again. I did not know anyone in London when I came down to prepare for uni, only a couple of guys from a dating site I’d been on.
I was frantically looking for a job, as I did not have a UK student maintenance loan and that’s why I HAD to work whatever happens. I was still waiting for my residence certificate to come through to be able to get my financing. I shared a house with two 21 year old girls I didn’t know, and I had the smallest bedroom in the world there because I could not pay for bigger.
Very busy and tired
I found a job and as soon uni started I become very busy with it too. So again I was working up to 5 nights a week and studying during the day. No social life except internet flirts and the odd date, usually disappointing. Very tired most of the time and happiest in my single bed.
Then I met someone where it was different – I really liked him, not in the meaning of being impressed by him, but simple human liking. There was really much understanding between us from the first lines of the conversation.
Fell in love
We naturally become a couple, fell in love with each other and in the first six months of our relationship planned our next years together – just like that. Although he lived in a different town, we started planning to move in together. But he had a complicated life and his ex-wife attempted suicide during this time, and the relationship was under a lot of pressure…
All this time the panic attacks and low moods had come from time to time but never strong and always manageable, but then around this time, in the March, they started creeping back into my life… After a massive panic attack at the end of April, when my housemate had to call an ambulance, I asked the GP to put me back on medication.
I paid a price for getting low again – my partner stopped talking to me, and eventually wrote a letter saying that he could not cope with my depression. That was something I didn’t expect – I thought that depression was ‘mine’ and therefore would not affect my relationship…
Depression part of my reality
But depression is part of my reality now, so it will have to affect everything that I do in some way, until maybe one day I part with her…
Youth in Slovakia
I was born in Bratislava (Slovakia). My mum worked unpredictable shifts covering 24 hours and my dad was becoming a very popular photographer and ‘free spirit’. We lived with my mum’s parents in their huge apartment that is one of very few things that my family had left after communists took private wealth from people after Second World War.
Consequences of father’s ‘free spirit’
Years later my dad told me he married my mum because he had a row with his parents and wanted to get away from their home. He could have had about every woman he wanted at the time: popular, very good looking and successful. He had so much social life that started to have significant problems with his work and my mum had to process some of his photographs and make prints in order of getting rid of the nagging customers, who were actors, celebrities, and pop stars.
He started to drink, had affairs and finally had a very serious affair with the family friend’s daughter and had a child with her. That was about the time when my mum asked for divorce. I had no idea about all of it of course. I was 4 and to me my dad lived with his mum not with us because someone had to take care of her.
Mum avoided talking about things
I guess I discovered that they were divorced when I was about 8. I found out about my half-sister when I was 30! My mum never talked about it, she avoided the subject even when I tried to talk about it after I found out. Now she is better. Talks.
Cared for by distant grandparents
Because my mum worked long hours and my dad was never there anyway my grandma was taking care of me. That means she was feeding and watering me, she never been a warm person. She was part of a revolutionary uprising at the age of 18 and has stayed a soldier till today. Granddad was working out of town for most of the time but when home his criticism was keeping everyone on distance from him.
Criticism instead of love and encouragement
I don’t mean it was all horrible, it was not just not very encouraging and loving atmosphere. My mum tried very hard, she organized for me a lot of activities so after school and before sometimes I was very busy with learning how to swim , dance etc. but she herself rather would criticise me when something was wrong than tell me that I have done well when it was right. Still it is this way.
Me and my mum we moved out of grandma’s to our flat in the block apartment house when I was 12. Just me and her. And then her boyfriend moved in too. From the time when we moved into new flat I have been spending most of my time alone. I had to travel to school and back for couple of hours a day and for rest of the time either tried to concentrate on my homework (usually ending up day dreaming) or have been to dance group classes in city centre.
Lots of shouting
Lots of travelling and pretending that I don’t know that my mum’s boyfriend was checking through the key hole that I do my homework (if he found I was not he would open door of my bedroom and shout at me). I remember my early teens as a lot of shouting. Mum did not cope very well with my ‘ideas’. I guess I was quite horrible teenager. Sure about being right and fearless.
Walking trips alone
Aged 15 on, from time to time I went off on walking trips in the highlands. I used to leave a note on my mum’s table that I am gone to the mountains and will be back sometime next week – despite school or my mum’s fears. I honestly did not see any real reason for fear…. I packed my sleeping bag and tent, took my pocket money and take train or hitchhike; it was from 15 onwards like this.
Threatened with a convent school
On some point my mum must have been helpless because she told me she is going to give me to the boarding, closed, girls only school lead by nuns, but I begged her to not do it and she gave up. I did not realise that it was all so difficult for her.
Possibility of leaving
In the meantime her boyfriend left the country and via detention emigration centres he finally got to Ireland and was going to go to Canada. He wanted her to join with me. I was maybe 14 then? Maybe less.
Mother couldn’t bring herself to do it
She could not decide to do that. Years later she told me that she was scared that she will never be able to go back. In eighties it still did not feel in Slovakia like there going to be any changes in politics. We had been imprisoned in our country in a way and leaving may have meant for ever…
Failed a year at high school
I started high school at 15 (different system of education) but I failed a year, because teacher could not be persuaded that I haven’t been cheating. I repeated year at private school that my dad sponsored but I failed again. I could not concentrate and study all the subjects at the same time. I did a lot of research on some of them but some none.
Dropped out and started work
Following year I decided to take evening courses and start to work. I worked for my friend’s company doing all possible odd jobs from sticking posters on the walls to helping organising rock concerts. I started to have lots of lovers, usually one night stands or short flings.
Sex substituting for acceptance
I was looking for acceptance I guess but somehow sex was what I was getting. As I never was admired before I felt that I controlled situation this way? I don’t remember how many boys were there, few older men too, some married – I did not mind.
My job transformed into very well paid job in promotions for Spanish tobacco concern that just started on the Eastern European market. They send girls to sell to the wholesale all over the country. We had to look good, wear high heels and talk customers into the deal. We did. We stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants.
On one of those trips I slept (out of boredom) with one of the company colleagues and got pregnant. I was not in love with him and the way he reacted when I told him and the vision of having to be stuck with him till the end of my life made me to think that abortion is the only way.
Illegal abortion and depression
I did it in illegal clinic… Luckily without complications. But suffering came later. I guess I went through some sort of depression period after that. I started to question myself and what my life means and where it is heading.
Joined hippy community
By chance I gradually moved into a community in the forest outside the city, and re-enrolled to complete my high school year with their encouragement. I become a hippie. I was 21 and from yuppie smart clothes and restaurant dinners I jumped into little house in the forest, bonfires in the night, live music, and meaningful friendships. I still feel that I was very fortunate. I needed acceptance and I found it.
Years of travelling and learning craft skills
For several years I alternated between bits of education and training in craft skills, and travelling cheaply around Europe and further afield, visting festivals, often hitchhiking, living in squats and other communities…
Couldn’t live with mum
At one time I even tried to stay in Bratislava but getting a job there was very difficult and never really would financially allow me to move out of my mum’s place anyway. I needed my own space. Me and my mum we are very close. It is too close to live together. She feels responsible as soon I step through the door, I start to be annoyed as soon she starts to feel responsible…
Then I had an accident while harvesting grapes and one of my fingers was smashed and partly chopped off. I was lucky that I had a very good surgeon and I recovered nearly 100%, but for 3 months it did not look like I will recover. My rights hand’s nervous system went wrong and I could not do much. I was terrified, in need of people’s help and in debt for hospital because I was not insured.
Move to England
When I got better friends from London contacted me and told me that they need au pair. I went as I had no penny and debt and no place to stay except my mum’s and I did not want her to worry about me or help me financially.
Didn’t work out
I spent a few months in London. It was very confusing time. My friends were friends at festivals but at their own home they lived by different rules and at the end they asked me to leave. I had 2 weeks to find new job and place to stay.
Moved to country
London was too expensive for me so I started to look for job in the country and found one in Scotland in a pub in the middle of nowhere. I love country side and desolated places so I enjoyed it for a fair while there, even managing to make a couple of friends in the area, although I got bored and moved from one pub to another.
I became involved in a complex relationship with an older man, but it was a struggle. Although he told me he is simply no more as sexually active or interested in new adventures, we still lived together for long time. Everyone knew us as a couple and we have been so used to each other so going apart did not seem right.
I started a part time foundation course in art and design, to continue my education. That was my new destiny – I wanted to let myself to have a chance to meet more likeminded people and maybe in future get a job that will use my craft experience or lead me somewhere closer this direction.
I travelled a very long distance to get to college and after was working nights at the pub. I worked hard, I had no real friends and was caught in this difficult relationship. It was tiring and I was exhausted sometimes, and that’s when the panic attacks started…
Kind GP and medication
The GP I saw was very kind. He explained me what is going on and prescribed citalopram.
Finding out more about the condition
When I was still stuck at home not believing I could talk to anyone, the most helpful thing in moving forward was researching my condition on the internet and learning about what is actually happening with me from a book recommended by the GP called ‘CBT for Dummies’.
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) self help
The book gave me easy to follow advice and routines that I could apply bit by bit every day. I would highly recommend this reading to anyone who doesn’t know where to start from.
I also moved away from the complex relationship and in with my friends who lived in the little town where college was, found a job and enrolled on the foundation course full time this time. Then this led on to applying to university.
When I realised that ‘out there’ is plenty of help and people who have experienced similar problems in the past it gave me more self confidence and therefore I went for a wider search for help.
Speaking about my experience
The most important was starting to talk to people about what I do experience, and this way I realised that I am far from being alone – I found out that there is at least 5 other people in my year that are on regular medication. That makes me to feel to belong actually rather than to be alienated, however bad day I may have – it’s enough to Facebook one of my depressive colleagues.
Going back on medication
When I relapsed at university I was scared of going back to ‘square 1’ so went straight back to the doctor. After a few weeks of observation I had the massive panic attack and was put back on medication. My medication works very well. I live life without major panic attacks and I control tiny ones.
More counselling at university
I have been to counselling and that helps as well. Counselling through the year helped me to deal with the fact that I did not know anyone well around. I did not have anyone else to talk to about me than counsellor (as I didn’t want to burden my partner).
Realising my inner needs
The counsellor helped me to realise my inner fight for self-space that now I am trying to approach more consciously.
Getting deferral for my university projects
I had a deferral due to my depresion relapse – but I have now submitted all my projects to university. I hope I will pass. I also moved to a new house.
Exercise for endorphins
I have found very helpful any form of sporting activity, especially ones that are done in company, like badminton, where your concentration is dragged to the rules of the game and things happen so fast so there is no spare time for thinking how you are feeling.
Socialising and trying new activities
I use any form of socialising as a form of exercise to make my ‘world’ bigger and bring more variety to it and try to do things that I have never tried because I never thought I may actually enjoy doing them or they weren’t for me. In this way I am changing my imaginary portrait of myself and learning flexibility.
I have challenged myself to initiate activites by asking people around if they wanted to join me doing this or that – it is surprising how often they were interested!
Connecting up with other mature and foreign students
It has been helpful talking about studying experiences with other mature and foreign students – they very often have similar isolation and problems with fitting in etc.
I started voluntary work, I have a deep need to relate my life to lives of other people and use in practical way my abilities. I lead an art group for a charitable organisation, and in October will start a craft one for another organisation. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to teach things that I know about to interested people, but as well just talk with people from different walks of life.
What I’ve learnt
Relapse doesn’t mean ‘square 1’
Now I know that I didn’t go back to ‘square 1’ this time. I am somewhere much further now. I was able to leave home again much earlier this time, and started to expose myself to my fears as soon as I could and knew I needed to make changes in my life to make it more comfortable and rewarding and less tiring for me.
Sharing experiences with others helps
I know for fact that sharing experiences of depression with others helps. Finding out that everyone has got problems makes my own problems shrink. I know myself enough to know that I need a lot of reminding that half of the bottle is still full if another half is empty.
I have come to realise that everyone has a differently constructed way of reacting to things and it is not wrong to be the way I am.
Keep trying new things
I am about to go for a 10 day meditation course retreat. I am both dreading it and looking forward. Read my blog to find out whether it turned out to be useful…