How depression has affected me
Low mood since age of 11
In hindsight I can say that I’ve suffered from low mood, to varying degrees, on and off, from around the age of 11. The transition from primary to secondary school was very difficult for me.
Parents’ relationship problems
At this time my Mum and Dad also started to have very serious relationship problems, which came to define our family life, from my perspective and from that point forward.
Awareness of gay sexual orientation
Moreover the onset of puberty meant a sudden awareness of my ‘gay’ sexual orientation, but inability to reconcile myself to it, or express it functionally until my late teens.
I became a bit more confident and happy between about 15 and 17 and began to enjoy school a bit more and come into my own in that arena at least.
Still emotionally precarious
It was still a precarious time emotionally for me. I was still in denial about my sexuality. Secondary school finishing left me feeling bereft, lonely and without purpose.
I distinctly recall sinking into a funk for the few weeks after the end of 6th year, when I had no contact with any of my friends from school.
Out of contact with friends
My closest friend at the time was on holiday in America. I stopped checking my phone, and actually hid it in a drawer, because the disappointment of nobody trying to get in touch became too much.
Watching TV repetitively
I look back now and laugh that I watched the same episode of Dawson’s Creek 14 times in a row because: 1. I had nothing else to watch (my DVD collection has since improved, I assure you) and 2. I felt so low and couldn’t get out of bed.
Painful blow to self esteem
I needed something; anything, to distract me from the pain I was feeling. When parts of my life end that have given me a sense of satisfaction I have found that can be a real hammer blow to my self-esteem.
Quickly dropped out of university
I went straight to university at 17 and quickly realised I’d made a big mistake, that I hated my course, I hated living at home, I hated who I was, and my life, and so I dropped out.
I picked up a succession of grim jobs until I scraped enough money together to go to New Zealand a few months later. All the while I was feeling pretty low and unsatisfied with my predicament.
Wanting to get away
I wasn’t even that enthused about going to New Zealand by myself, but I just needed to get away. As it turned out, although my low mood followed me to the other side of the world, being upside down literally helped me to turn my life upside down, in a good way.
New Zealand was my coming out journey to myself. I left a closet case and returned with a firm sense of my own gay identity and eagerness to storm out of the proverbial closet. The missionary zeal I acquired to come out to friends and family, aged 19, was a really challenging but uplifting experience.
Engaging with life
I became actively involved in politics and managed to get a job I didn’t hate. I only had a matter of months to pass before I would begin a new course, at a different university, this time living away from home.
Depression still there
Depression followed me to this phase of my life. At this point I still did not firmly identify as suffering from depression. I was aware of the volatility of my moods and the depths of unhappiness to which I could fall, but I didn’t think I needed or deserved help until I was nearly 21.
At this point I sought counselling for the first time through my university. I think part of my motivation was so that I would have a cover story to justify having asked for extra time with course work and stuff. It was in speaking to the counsellor that the gravity of the feelings of frustration I was still having really erupted from me.
Towards the end of my degree my depression significantly worsened to a point it had never reached before – the stress of uni was overwhelming and a friendship/romance with a boy I was involved with was causing a lot of mental strain. It was a particularly dark and difficult period, and I was on a long waiting list to receive counselling.
Health problems mid-way through my course were a big contributing factor to my low mood. I never seemed to quite regain my composure after I became physically unwell. I began having regular suicidal feelings, self-medicating with alcohol, getting into an avoidance cycle with university work and basically self-destructing.
Accepting the depression label
I have come to accept in that last few years that I do suffer from depression and I need to take steps to address that for as long as it takes, even if it’s that’s forever.
Difficult transition to secondary school
My primary school and class were small, close knit communities. My secondary school was harsh and foreboding in comparison. I was the only pupil from my primary school in my new secondary class besides another boy, one of the school bullies.
Abandoned and rejected
I was gutted by this separation from my former peer group, most of whom I lost social contact with permanently from that point on. I felt abandoned and rejected and exposed.
Lacking macho credentials
I made friends, however I felt very self-conscious about lacking the macho credentials of many of my new peers. I went from being socially confident to very reclusive in a matter of weeks.
I would come home from school, close the curtains and go to bed. I dreaded every school day, especially those with subjects I hated like PE, which was dominated by macho teachers, pupils and attitudes.
Awareness of parents’ relationship problems
At this time I also became aware of my Mum and Dad’s very serious relationship problems. They had blazing rows and there was a horrible atmosphere in the house and anywhere we went most of the time.
It was a highly dysfunctional, incredibly draining and extremely alienating environment. I felt as though I had no refuge. I hated being at school and I hated being with my family, more often than not.
I became the black sheep of the family – where we had previously all been fairly close it became me against them in my mind. I remained relatively close to my Mum, though we had our trials, however I grew to resent my Dad and brother immensely.
Felt bullied and humiliated
They both treated me with contempt and I felt bullied, misunderstood and humiliated. I developed a sort of generalised festering anger.
Struggle with gay sexual orientation
Moreover, puberty brought awareness of my ‘gay’ sexual orientation, but an inability to reconcile myself to it. The mental contortions required to conceal and suppress your sexual orientation are not only exhausting but also deprive you of the space to develop happily as an adolescent.
Trying to lead a ‘straight’ life
I spent the years from age 11 to 18 playing this internal game of trying to lead the ‘straight’ life, hoping it was just the ‘phase’ of cliché fame.
Support from friends and family
Family and friends have been there for me in their own ways. My Mum and Dad have helped me financially. My friends have given me the chance to be fully myself and that’s very freeing.
My Mum has made an effort to try and heal the wounds of the past and I feel better for tentatively trying to make relations easier with my brother and Dad.
Self help resources
Self help resources have suited me because I have a stubbornly independent streak. I like doing things in my own time and in my own way.
Didn’t like guided CBT
I didn’t like guided CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) partly because I didn’t like the community psychiatric nurse administering it, but also because I found it patronising and hated the idea of having homework and someone hectoring me for not doing it.
Online CBT and other websites
I’ve used Mood Gym, which is a self-guided CBT programme, that I can dip in and out of as and when I feel like it. Websites like Students Against Depression and the Depression Alliance’s monthly webchats have helped too. I prefer resources that are interactive or regularly updated.
Finding a supportive, depression savvy GP
One of the first GPs I reported my depressed feelings to was dismissive of me and I was left feeling as if he thought I was being a hypochondriac or deliberately deceitful to get a medical certificate to excuse my faltering performance at uni. My final GP was much more supportive. I always looked forward to going to see this doctor and invariably felt better after meeting her, no matter what was going on.
Trying different medications
This GP introduced me to the idea that finding the right medication is a process of trial and error. I have found it a great comfort that she has not been dismissive, and her approach is honest and scientific.
Counselling has proven to be an important safety valve for me, as I don’t always feel comfortable talking to my friends or wish to be a burden on them. It helped me to clarify my feelings, have something to aim for and begin to move on from some painful experiences.
After the long wait for counselling during the particularly difficult period towards the end of my degree, I finally saw another counsellor through a gay men’s health project. The timing was quite serendipitous because I developed a real rapport with the counsellor, and I worry about how I would have coped had I not had his counsel during this time.
Working towards meaningful goals
Having plans for the future that are based on what I can see myself being happy doing has been important to motivate me, even though it’s not enough sometimes. Having those plans that I’ve worked on and towards to come back to when I’m feeling better helps keep me on a relatively positive trajectory.
Future plans as ‘plugs into reality’
Things still get a bit topsy-turvy, but future plans are kind of plugs into reality that I can reach for when I find the light switch to open my eyes from depression.
Going with the grain of my personality is central to my life’s philosophy. I’ve talked about coming out of closets, well here’s one I’m smarting to burst out of: I’m lazy and I like being lazy. I refuse to apologise for this. Preferring a slower pace of life doesn’t make me an inferior human.
Allowing myself to be different
I’m an honorary koala. It’s just how I roll. The way I see it is people who like buzzing around filling up every waking moment with activity do so, largely, because it pleases them. It pleases me to spend my time lying around in parks or beds or whatever vessel or platform whim demands. Make your peace with it, world!
Philosophising has helped me to develop a framework through which to compute the world, or to see it in all of its resplendent absurdity.
Finding meaningful purpose in life
As an adjunct, the whole ‘rebel with a cause’ lark isn’t a bad punt for obtaining some purpose in life. I find politics to be a suitable medium for channelling one’s seething rage towards positive outcomes, if only in the form of some stimulating banter, but hopefully to some greater end too.
Rejecting negativity and negative people
Sticking two fingers up to life’s naysayers. You know whom I mean, the people who always find a way to suck the life out of a room. Well, I’m not for having it.
Taking time to find the right path
If I’m 26 and I don’t know what the frig I want to do with the rest of my life you can kindly put a sock in it and stop polluting my aura with your life-demeaning sophistry! If I want to take to scenic route to gainfully employed adulthood I chuffing well will! There should be no shame in being unsure of what you want and taking the time to find out.
What I’ve learnt
Coming out isn’t just for ‘the gays’
There are so many closets to come out of in life, and the ‘low mood’ wardrobe is one of them. I am better able to cope with depression having accepted I suffer from it.
Don’t let fear of stigma prevent you getting help
The stigma of the ‘depressed’ label stopped me from identifying as such, even to myself, for a long time. This in turn stopped me from acquiring the help – the shock absorbers – I needed to protect myself from depression.
Accept yourself in a fundamental way
I didn’t really see the irony of coming out as gay, expressing my sexuality, and yet repressing my depressive mentality. I see it now, and I realise how fundamental acceptance of self is more broadly in freeing my mind to tackle whatever challenges I face.
Be yourself against the odds
I think whenever you undertake to be yourself in that way, in defiance of various obstacles that seem strewn in your way, it can be truly exhilarating and life affirming.
Build your support network
Having a network of supportive friends has been vital for me. I am not ‘out’ to all my friends as a depressive (though that’s something I’m working on), however I’ve received tremendous support from them nonetheless. They are such an important part of my life with the perspective, laughter, support and warmth they bring me.
Try different forms of counselling
I found counselling helpful and have received face-to-face counselling as well as accessing an email counselling service.
Shop around for a good GP
Sadly not all GPs understand depression or have the most supportive manner. One of the first GPs I saw was dismissive and incorrectly suggested that if one anti-depressant didn’t work then it wasn’t very likely that another one would.
Experiment with different treatment options
The fact is there are many anti-depressants and finding the right treatment, or simply establishing that you are treatment-resistant, can take numerous attempts over a prolonged period. My last GP understood this and supported me unflinchingly in experimenting with different treatment options.