How depression has affected me
Sudden panic and anxiety
At the age of 16 I was inflicted with panic disorder and anxiety, the onset of which was sudden and unexpected. One minute I was sitting in a mock GCSE concentrating on my exam, the next I was experiencing my first ever panic attack. I walked out of my mock GCSE and from this moment my life changed dramatically.
Stayed at home for a year
My panic disorder prevented me from doing simple but important things like taking the bus and attending school, I didn’t even feel comfortable sitting in my doctor’s office. For this reason, I chose to stay at home for an entire year, only leaving to see health professionals, none of whom fully understood how I felt or what I was going through (at this time very little was known about panic disorder and anxiety).
Lack of support
In addition to the lack of understanding from health professionals, I found friends and family members distrusting me; some family members believed that I was exaggerating the problem in order to gain attention and some friends, because they did not understand the problem, chose to disbelieve me.
Lack of care
Before my struggles, I was the person with all the friends, the person that had a full phone book and always something to do. I believed that I had a close bond with all these people I chose to be in my life – they would come to me if they had a problem and similarly I thought that I would be able to go to them if I had a problem. Contrary to this belief of mine, it seemed that not only could I not approach my friends with problems but in addition they didn’t care about me as much as I thought they did. When I ‘disappeared’ from school, I do not think that I received one phone call, text or email to ask me where I was or if I was okay. This baffled me; if I was such a popular person, why did no one notice or care when I wasn’t there to go to a party, or there to provide a shoulder to cry on, or just my mere presence?
Spiral into depression
The lack of support from friends, family and health professionals therefore made me feel very alone in my battle and staying at home worsened this feeling; it was this, as well the inability to do things that I wanted to, that ultimately led to me developing depression. My self-belief, self-esteem and self-worth plummeted to an all-time low; I had piled on the pounds because I was an emotional eater and food was the only thing I had control over and this weight gain only added to my depression.
I remember being stuck in a cycle – I couldn’t leave the house because of my panic and anxiety, which made me depressed and the depression lowered my self-esteem which made my panic and anxiety worse. How do you escape such a debilitating cycle?
Considering a final escape
I could think of a number of ways to end the cycle, not that I could fully consider them due to being a bit of a coward – I guess I could say being a coward saved my life. Had I been slightly braver I can safely say that the likelihood of me sitting here, writing this, would have been slim to none.
Grieving the loss of myself
Now, some who read this may think that even thinking about suicide is a selfish act, which I understand, but the only way I can explain my feelings at this point is to compare it to the grieving of someone who died, myself being the person I was grieving. I felt like I had lost me – I was previously a confident, bubbly, popular person and I had reverted to the complete opposite – no friends and an introvert.
Tried anti depressants
It was at this point that my mother and I decided that I needed help to tackle the depression and I started taking anti-depressants. I did not continue them for long, as I did not feel they were working, although now my mother reveals that she saw a big difference in my mood when I was taking them.
Asking myself questions like why me, what did I do to suffer like this, only made me feel worse about myself because the questions I asked could never be answered. As I explain later on, a lot of my friendships and family ties ended because no one understood or cared about what I was going through. At the time trying to overthink why no one cared only added to my depression. I had to stop thinking about them and start thinking about me!
I recollect the exact moment when I had just had enough of my life as it was. I wanted to do the things I used to and enjoy doing them, I didn’t want to look in the mirror and hate myself anymore, I didn’t want to be a burden or disappointment to my mother and it was at this time that I decided I wanted my life back and I was going to get it back.
Finding strength from somewhere
I am not sure where this strength came from, I literally woke up one morning and rather than lying there eating and watching Jeremy Kyle for the hundredth time, I got up and out of bed – a novelty for me at the time. This was the starting point of my ‘rebirth’ as I like to call it. Now, 8 years later, I am at University studying Psychology, primarily because of my own experiences. I have a good group of friends, I do everything I want to do and I am pretty happy with my life. I am not going to say I have the perfect life – I am not the same as I was before I went through all my issues, which is why I call my transition a ‘rebirth’.
Still have mild depression
I still suffer from low moods, sometimes periods of mild depression and still battle my anxiety everyday BUT I do not allow any of it to overcome me anymore; I know how to deal with bad periods and I cope with my anxiety. And there are positives that have come out of my experiences; I am a strong as a person, I have made my mother proud and I have the insight to help others with similar issues.
Why me? What did I do so wrong to be inflicted with this illness/disease? Why does no one else have this problem? Why can’t I just go back to being normal? All questions I asked myself on a daily basis. I don’t believe that I ever came up with answers to any of my questions, although I came up with a couple of possible causes.
Pretty normal childhood in one parent household
My childhood, I consider, was pretty normal. I was raised in a one parent household, with my mother, from a very young age and even though I had contact with my father, I wouldn’t say that we had a father-daughter relationship. I only saw him once a year as he lived in the North of England whereas I lived down South; these visits became less frequent when I was around 9 years of age, and stopped altogether at around 12. I have only recently got back in contact with him.
Loss of both father and grandfather
Despite the lack of a father in my life, I did consider myself to have a ‘dad’ in my grandfather – he was the person I saw every day and gave father’s day cards to. He died when I was 11. If you notice, both the loss of my biological father and my father figure occurred in close succession, which can only have had a negative impact on me; I don’t remember how I felt at the time, in fact I don’t think I have ever stopped to think how the loss of my grandfather or father made me feel. Maybe this ignoring of quite heavy issues could have impacted on me, just later on in life.
High achieving life
So, primarily it was just mum and I. Mum worked hard to give me everything that she considered would give me a head start in life. I went to private schools, played musical instruments, learnt to dance, and travelled from a young age – all efforts to make me a well-rounded, cultured, educated individual.
Similarly, my cousins, who were like my brothers growing up due to our similarities in age, were given the same opportunities, which resulted in competition between us. Who achieved the best grades at school? Who took part in the most extra-curricular activities? Who progressed furthest in their musical achievements? I don’t think my mother or my aunt and uncle consciously realised that we were picking up on this rivalry; they may not have even known that they were competing themselves, but I knew that I felt a certain pressure to do well in every task I undertook.
Self pressure to be the best
Soon enough I didn’t need these subconscious signals to do well in things as I was placing pressure upon myself to be the best at everything I did. For someone like me, who did a lot as a child, had a jam-packed schedule of after-school activities, school work and music lessons, to name only a few, being the best took a tremendous amount of effort, time and energy. The energy needed to be the best during GCSEs was immense!
Maybe the onset of panic disorder, anxiety and depression was my body’s way of shutting down; the pressure had reached such an apex that there was no other route that it could have taken. The onset of flu occurs when your body is tired and needs time to rest, maybe the same principle applies.
At the time just thought it was punishment
I must stress that these ideas of possible causes for my problems are recent realisations. At the time, my irrational nature disallowed me to think clearly about what could have caused my panic disorder and depressions. Many of the answers to my questions when I was at my worst were to do with punishment for things I had done earlier on in life, in a life prior to my current (even though I never had views on or belief in the afterlife).
Counselling not helpful
I found that counsellors did not understand my condition, as when I was first inflicted with panic disorder not much was known about it. Also, the room that I had to sit in was the one situation that I feared the most and no allowance for this was made, even though I made my fears known.
Admitting I had a problem and facing it for myself
For me the most important aspect of moving forward was to admit that I had a problem! Although I did go through a period of denial, where I preferred to ignore the problem and plead laziness and ignorance, when I finally faced things I had no difficulty admitting that I had a problem. Secondly I had to do it for me, and no one else.
Asking for support
Asking for help from my mother and having her support was important – having someone to talk to, support me when I felt like giving up and someone to push me helped.
Telling myself I could do it
Telling myself that I was able to overcome the problem had a positive effect – even though my confidence was low, speaking to myself every morning and evening, telling myself that I could do it. I did not believe what I was saying to begin with, but the more I said it, the more I believed it.
Taking one step at a time
I didn’t take on too much too quickly. I would give myself a task to do every day and I would try to tackle that task. If I couldn’t do it, it was not a big deal; I would try again the next day and the next until I was successful. Once I tackled one thing, I would try something harder the next time.
Healthier daily habits
Taking control of what I ate and exercising made me feel better about how I looked and therefore raised my confidence.
I took to writing poetry and song lyrics. Having a way of getting my negative thoughts out helped to alter my mood. I also now have these pieces of writing to look back on. Looking back on them helps me to feel more positive now; I can see what a dark place I was in and I have come out the other side; no other better thing to increase confidence and self-esteem.
I enjoyed singing, so started singing again. This improved my mood as I enjoyed it. It may be a different thing for someone else, but doing things that you enjoy will improve mood and improve self-esteem.
Getting out and focusing outwards
I did anything I could to get out the house. I started volunteering in a hospice once a week before I went back to work and study properly. This gave me a sense of purpose.
Being more realistic about friendships
Now that I am aware that friendships are fickle, that someone I may consider a close friend may not have the same ideas of what a friendship entails or may not consider me such a close friend, I am much more prepared mentally for moments when friends let me down. Similarly I am more prepared to work through things mentally on my own, without the aid of others to rely on. Being able to help yourself is a strong tool that can be used throughout life – who knows when there will be situations when you are on your own and have no one else to rely on?
What I’ve learnt
Find what works for you
Each journey is individual and these are very much my views and what helped me. If they don’t work for you, don’t be disheartened as there will be something else that may help. It’s all about exploration and trial and error.
Don’t discount professional help
Neither counselling nor anti-depressants were helpful for me, but seeking medical advice from a doctor, counsellor, psychologist is always a good idea (especially a doctor at the time of the onset); what doesn’t work for some, may work for others! Using anti-depressants isn’t a sign of weakness and they do help some people, so should not be ruled out.
Be honest with yourself
Some people suffer from depression, low moods and anxiety and make excuses for how they are feeling or why they are reacting to something in a certain way. There is a stigma related to suffering from mental health issues but there is nothing to be ashamed of. 1in 4 people suffer from some form of mental health disorder, so, I was in the mind that if you can’t be open about your issues to anyone else, at least be open to yourself and admit that you do have a problem to tackle.
Do it for yourself
Do it for you. I use the example of smoking – yes smokers understand that smoking is bad for them, but if a smoker does not want to give up they will not be successful in their battle to give up. I find the same goes for overcoming depression, panic or anxiety – if you are trying to overcome it for someone else chances are you won’t be successful or the success won’t last for long. Tackle the problem for no-one else but you and when you are ready to!
Be realistic about relationships
The lack of support from friends and family opened my eyes and taught me one of the most important lessons that I have learnt throughout all my experiences and all my life – that the only person to truly rely on is the self. Now this idea may seem quite a negative one, but I see it as a positive revelation. Putting too much trust in others, having expectations of how friends should be and act towards you can provide you with a lot of pressure. In addition, when someone lets you down, it has a much more negative effect on you if you haven’t prepared for such a situation.
Put yourself first
Another thing I learnt from my experiences is that the most important person in my life is me; I have to worry about my body, my health and my goals – it may seem selfish but that is life! And to be in a better position, understanding that people including friends and family can be unreliable, unkind and surprising is an important self-protecting tool. In saying this, having my mother to help me was my saving grace and because of the anxiety and depression, my mother and my relationship grew stronger.
Understand your limitations
In addition to this I also learnt that the mind and body are relatively weak; they can be strong tools but they need looking after and when they aren’t looked after they can seriously alter the way a person lives. One of my theories was that my mind was so tired from the pressure that I put on myself, from the pressure of my family and from my constant drive to succeed, that my anxiety and depression was time for my mind to rest. Understanding our limitations as human beings is important in our long term preservation; relatively we are around for a pretty long time and should do our best to look after ourselves mentally and physically to make that journey of life as smooth, fun and rewarding as possible.
Challenge the idea of mental health problems as ‘weakness’
In terms of me, the most important thing that I have learnt is that I am a strong person. Looking back at what I have overcome and how I am now trying to help others battling similar conditions, even doing a degree within the subject, proves to me that I am a strong. One may think that because I suffered from these conditions, I can’t be strong; suffering from depression, panic, anxiety is weak! Even I thought like this. But now, I disagree with this greatly! I believe that if someone has the strength to survive such debilitating illnesses, it can only show that they are tough and resilient.
Be more open minded
I am very proud to say that I suffer from panic disorder, anxiety and depression. I am now also aware that such problems exist from a number of people all across the world. Before, I was very closed-minded about mental illness; I either didn’t think about it, didn’t accept that they were real problems or was quite negative about people who suffered from a mental illness. Now I understand, from the inside-out, what mental illness is, that it is nothing to be ashamed of, that anyone can suffer from one and that like people mental illness comes in a variety of forms. Suffering has made me a more empathetic, understanding and sensitive person.
Ask for help
Additionally I have learnt never be ashamed or not confident enough to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you a weak person, as I thought before and sometimes asking for help can make the world of difference to the journey that you take in getting better.
You are not weak!
You are not weak in any way, shape or form! Everyone goes through problems at some stage in their life, and you will overcome any problems you are going through and when you do you will come to understand that you are a strong individual. Mental illness does not make you weak, it makes you strong! Also never be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Look after yourself
Look after yourself – your body and mind has limitations and it is important to listen to your body, treat it well and respect that it needs down-time; it has a long journey to last.
You are not alone
1 in 4 people suffer from some form of mental illness, and this includes well-known famous people. Would Adele, for example, be where she is if she didn’t go through the pain that she had; would her lyrics have been as touching and had an effect on so many people? Why did Adele’s lyrics touch so many people? Because everyone goes through turmoil at some point.