How depression has affected me
Depression from quite young
When younger I went through persistent bouts of depression, though I didn’t know the word and didn’t know why. By the time I was 16, my main train of thought was that I was not worth the time of my friends and family, and that the world would be better without me.
Anger at bullying
I was an only child and quite sensitive. I’d always be able to burst into tears at any second. There were just too many reasons that I was different in one way or another and I was bullied at school. Then when I was 14, I started responding really strongly to things, just getting angry. Something would well up inside me and I couldn’t control what happened and I started becoming a little bit violent without really controlling it.
There was an occasion when somebody pissed me off when I was in Year 7 and we had those old fashioned school desks with lift up lids and I had the lid up and I slammed it down so hard that the desk flew about two feet towards her. I needed to physically get what was inside, out, because it was too much to control inside. Then there was an occasion when I swung a tennis racquet at someone’s head (they ducked and it was fine).
Checked for autism
When I was 14, my mum took me to a therapy centre – she wanted to get me checked for autism. There were a couple of things she thought with the welling up of the anger and the being bullied and I was very good at copying drawings and that book about the boy who could draw really well had just come out.They said I wasn’t autistic.
Susceptible to others’ opinions
But the therapist I was seeing once asked me a question like “Why do you think your grand parents aren’t proud of you?” And to my knowledge I hadn’t mentioned anything like that and it pressed a button in me and I burst into tears and it was like “Do you think they are not proud of me?” And it was like a seed had been planted in my brain and that I think was part of the problem, that I was always easily susceptible to hearing other people’s opinions and seeing their side of things and so I lost my side of things gradually. I started thinking “Am I like this? Are my grand parents not proud of me?”
From about GCSE year on I started to make friends in the ‘sad clique’. I was quite happy with that, but I still felt majorly insecure and was constantly questioning myself. I’d say something and no one would laugh and I’d stress about it for ages. It would sit nagging in the back of my mind and I’d always over-analyse things. When I was in the lower 6th I’d been getting more and more down and kind of spiralling, thinking “These people aren’t really my friends” and over-analysing the fact my best friend forgot my birthday.
I used to spend a lot of time from the age of about 14 fantasising about what would happen if I got knocked over by a bus and playing with the idea. More and more the fantasy would not end in anyone being upset and I started to think without me, this person would be better off: my mum wouldn’t have to deal with me; my friends wouldn’t have to deal with me. I couldn’t see anything that was positive to stay for.
We were the second year to do AS and A levels and the pressure was great. School said we very much want you to keep up your extra curricula activities but we also want straight A’s. I’d also suddenly realised I had to decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life and this was the first time I’d thought ‘Oh my God, I have to decide where I want to go to university and what degree I want to do and therefore what I want to do for the rest of my life. Nobody thinks I am very good at anything. What do I do now?’
There probably wasn’t an awful lot of pressure on me – my mum didn’t mind about grades etc. She said “Do whatever you want to do; have fun; choose something you love” and my dad was similar. They didn’t mind if I got a C. I knew I didn’t have to do well, but at the same time I knew I was intelligent enough to do it – but a lot of the time I was too lazy or too worked up. I’d get very self-involved. I don’t like not knowing things; I hate not having a plan. I felt overwhelmed; completely swamped from inside and out.
Not knowing why
A lot of the problem was it wasn’t tangible; I couldn’t grab onto the depression; couldn’t hang on to it and throw it somewhere. A lot of the time I couldn’t find the word for it or I couldn’t find a reason for it. It felt like because there was no reason for it, there was no justification for it. And if there is no reason for it then it shouldn’t be there in the first place and it is clearly your own fault that it is there.
I always felt like the feelings were like a wolf prowling somewhere nearby. You could see they were there and there was a pervading sense of doom but you couldn’t get away; they were circling round you waiting to pounce and you knew it would happen at some point. It was always a spiral; it would keep dragging down. I wasn’t even really being picked on at that point. There was no cause for it that I could put my finger on. I would just very easily sit at home and wail and think there was no point and it became my sort of catch phrase that the world would be better without me.
I took an overdose. My mum was out that night; my mum never went out but she was out that night and I feel so bad about that because I think it made her feel “Oh my God, the only night I go out and this is what happens.” I took a number of pills of varying sorts.
Cry for help
I don’t think I actually took enough to kill myself; I don’t think I’d worked it through well enough. I had sent an email about two hours before to all my friends, saying I hoped they all would live nice lives or something like that. I’d meant to send it on a delay, but didn’t, which I now see was an “I don’t want to die” – it went out while everyone was still at school.
Relief and guilt
One of my ex’s started calling me – he knew that I’d got down and he quickly figured it out. By the time I was in the ambulance I’d probably had 15 text messages asking if I was alright. As I was coming out of it I thought “These people actually care; shit, what have I done?” And then it turned into the sense of guilt. It was a weird mixture of this positive feeling of these people really want me in the world and what have I just put them all through?
After this reaction I was convinced that people did care, but I still fought consistently over unexplainable crying and sadness. Because I’d missed a couple of months at school, it was very hard to get back in to it. I started to spend a lot of time with some friends who introduced me to cannabis – which was probably not a good idea because although it stopped me from thinking I was depressed it didn’t progess me in any way. It was very anti-motivational so that even if I felt that I could go to school, I never really wanted to. I just hung around – it was a way of making everything go away, and hiding.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Then when returning to my school for my last year, I became ill and did not recover, and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. With that came being too tired to do anything: too tired to get out of bed; too tired to get dressed or eat. This led me back into depression because there was nothing to do to ward it off; there was too much thinking time. I think they are probably physiologically connected in a lot of ways and having looked into CFS since, most people get depressed.
Problems at school
I had a lot of problems at school because they did not know what it was and they didn’t believe in it. At the time I had to be very careful about which doctor I visited at my surgery because one of them didn’t believe in it. Now it’s quite well published and well known, but then it wasn’t – people just thought I was being lazy. By the end of my A Levels, I’d only gone to 20% of my lessons but I still came out with 2 A’s and I was very proud of it and I turned round to my school and said “You didn’t help me at all but look what I did”
I then joined another school that was basically designed for drop outs and people who were ill, to make up the A level I had dropped, and got introduced to a whole other scene. I’d never been one to go out clubbing or to bars and stuff; it had never been my scene and then that exploded and took over. I kept changing my mind about what A Level I wanted to do to make it up, but ended up doing a critical thinking AS and a psychology A level, which I really liked because it really challenged me.
It was during that time that literally one day I was walking down the street and it was raining and I just looked at a puddle and went ‘this is a normal day; this is what a normal day feels like. I am not massively happy but I don’t feel like shit and I don’t feel like there’s a big black cloud over my head and I don’t feel like something is pushing down on top of me.’ It was being busy and being challenged and being kept engaged.
Since recovering from the acute chronic fatigue syndrome, I have continually fought against lapses of it and depression. I feel that it is often best described as a wolf which prowls, and will leap if given the chance.
Downward again at first university
After A levels I then decided to do a psychology and philosophy degree, but although I loved the philosophy I didn’t engage with the psychology and was bored again. I only had eight hours of contact time to do something plus a couple of essays and I am one of those people who, if I’ve got 20 things to do, I’ll do 25, but if I have got one thing to do, I’ll do nothing; I’ll procrastinate.
Away from home for first time
That was my first time moving out of home. I’d always had a healthy diet and then I started eating crap. There was a corner shop down the road and I’d come home and buy snacks and sit in front of the telly and I didn’t really realise it until the summer of my degree and then I thought ‘I think I am failing.’ I’d stopped going to lectures because I couldn’t be bothered. I realised that I’d gained three and a half stone. I was sitting on my arse not doing anything a lot of the time.
Knew the signs
Because I had already come out of it once, I knew I could again and something clicked. I thought “I need to go and do what I love doing; what will always give me an inner sheen…” So I dropped out and applied for the course I’m on now.
Rape another factor
I have also dealt with the resultant depression and emotional effects of rape when I was 19. It was a friend who had raped me – he was stoned out of his mind and when it happened I just shoved it to one side. I’d trivialise it immensely and I never held anything against the guy who did it because I thought well, it could have been worse; it could have been a random bloke on the street.
I did start to have nightmares. So having boyfriends was interesting because they’d hardly have fallen asleep and they’d experience me twitching or screaming and so I kept having to explain it. They’d react really strongly and ask why I didn’t tell anybody. Then recently when I witnessed a really visceral rape scene in a play I got a full body revulsion and realised I had to deal with it. I dismissed it so much that when I was confronted with this rape scene, it all came in. I couldn’t filter it out; suddenly it wasn’t trivial any more.
My mum says I have always had a very visceral response to things. She knew it from when I was about 8 and she was telling me off and I said “Mummy don’t tell me off like that; it feels like you are stabbing me”. I still get that feeling every now and again where it feels like your heart tightens up or it feels like something is prodding you in the chest.
I was a very sensitive child. I was really, really touchy and I’d respond a lot more to jibes and bullying than I think most people would. I was more susceptible to it. I went to an all girls school so the bullying is bitchy words and people ignoring you and the class going quiet when you walk in the room. Over the years I’d always be able to burst into tears at like any second.
My parents had been apart since I was two; I can’t remember them being together. Until I was about 17, my mum had always been my best friend; we got on really well. I didn’t really do that adolescent thing of rebelling against her. I never really got on with my dad. I later discovered that he went through about a 10 year period of depression, which explained a lot, but I didn’t discover that til I was about 18 and in the meantime it was like “I’m coming over for the weekend and you are not getting up til 2 in the afternoon and I am just sitting here watching videos and playing on your computer. What’s the point?”
I think what had the most influence was that I was an only child. My mum was very aware that I was an only child and she’d occasionally jibe at me and make a remark to kind of replicate that thing you build up with your brothers and sisters where you become a lot more immune to comments like that. But it wasn’t the same and I’d always played on my own and I’d always been very individual and I devoured books and made up games to play on my own. I think I was so individual that I was just a bit strange to other kids.
Not understanding bullying
I didn’t understand why they were getting at me. I was friends with a whole bunch of my grandparents friends because I used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents farm and go horse riding and I was always slightly more mature than my age and so I found it was easy to have a conversation with grown ups. I was so angry that they didn’t get me. Until I was about 13 I was thinking “I know I am a nice person. The grown ups like me; why the hell don’t you like me? What’s wrong with me?”
Dyslexia and school problems
When I was 17 I was diagnosed as dyslexic which explained a couple of things. The teachers had always been really unhappy with me saying I was lazy and forgetful and that my verbal work was really good but my written work was really bad. Looking at it now it was clearly dyslexia, but then they just said I was really lazy and there was one teacher who just ignored me in class. I’d have my hand up but because I used to think quite laterally, I’d be asking a question that was too off the cusp for her so she just stopped answering my questions.
Having a single mum
And the school didn’t particularly like my mum because she was a single mum and it was a private girls school and we didn’t have such things as single mums. They once took eight months to sort out a bullying incident and by that point I was actually relatively good friends with the girl.
My mum would notice I was down and would try to find nice ways to occupy me and I think a lot of it was that I was bored. I had a lot of time on my hands to over-think and I’d never really been one to have a hobby apart from drama. I had so much free time on my hands that I’d just keep spiralling and had nothing to kind of put a dead end to it and stop and get engaged with something else.
The most helpful thing for me was acceptance. Knowing that my thoughts were somehow skewed, and not produced by sensible reasoning was very helpful, although often problematic to deal with. It was very hard to listen to friends and family when they said ‘It will pass’ – it’s much too easy to spiral back into depression. It’s the easy thing to do, and after so long, it’s quite comfortable in its familiarity.
Having an aim
The most helpful thing I found for this is being busy. Having an aim, a goal, something which you can juxtapose to the depression, keeps you busy and stops your brain from having time to create things. When I was younger, I’d get very self-involved and I think something like a hobby or sport would have brought me out of myself a lot more and given me an alternative to look forward to. When I came out of hospital I started doing jigsaws for something to do – just something to do to keep my mind from working its way independently of me and taking over.
When I tidied my room and started organising things, things in my head would organise themselves as well. It was like my head was an office that had become really, really messy and all the papers were up around my head and by organising them and putting them in a filing cabinet. I didn’t even have to actively sit and do it because that was far too scary; that was too much to deal with, but by tidying something external, something physical, it naturally seemed to happen in my head.
Doing the critical thinking AS and psychology A made me use to brain to analyse something, instead of analysing myself. I ended up doing the whole of the psychology A Level in 4 months and that was great because that was me pushing myself. I had to join an A/S class and A Level class and have a tutor and teach myself and it was a challenge. It was someone turning around and saying “We think you are intelligent enough to do it; you show us you can do it,” and all of a sudden I realised I had something I could physically prove I could do.
Writing poetry to communicate feelings
Before that, much of my ways of dealing with were through writing about it, in the form of poetry. It was a good way to get the emotions out of me; that helped a lot because when they weren’t in me after I’d written the poem, I felt a bit better, although to be honest, I think I was self indulging a lot at the time. I joined a poetry website and I think there are 500 poems on there during a year and a half. None of them are particularly good, but it wasn’t for that. One of my friends ended up using it as a monitor of how I was feeling and when it got a bit scary she’d call me up and say “That poem was a bit scary. Are you alright?”
Medication not for me
I saw the doctor after my suicide attempt and he suggested medication, but I had such a strong response to it – my heart would just clench. I took them for about a week but I couldn’t deal with it because it made me lose track of where I was every five minutes, so I couldn’t concentrate on a book for more than five minutes; I couldn’t concentrate on someone talking to me for more than five minutes… It was too jarring and I said I didn’t want them any more.
With the chronic fatigue syndrome, my main doctor diagnosed it in the end and she was wonderful. I was also very lucky that at school the only person who did understand was my tutor because her husband had ME. She completely got it and told me if you can’t come in, don’t come in; that’s fine.
Persevering to find what works
Having found, second time lucky, the degree and the career that I really love and want to succeed in, I now feel that I live a life where depression does not factor as much. I still have moments where I find myself spiralling into negative thinking, particularly about how others view me – but I continually have to find methods to prevent this.
Stopping self harm
I managed to stop self harming by finding other outlets for my time. It’s hard, because we live in a society where watching TV is a time waster, and if you’re depressed it doesn’t actually help. I experimented with hobbies and stuff, and have found things that require concentration, such as drawing something you can see, or making something with your hands, can help. It’s the same physical outlet, with so much less damage, and a visible result, which is what you want really… I’m confident that it will not happen again.
Learning to manage feelings
In my degree I am learning how to do a very stressful job, where it is my job to keep everybody else happy. My biggest challenge throughout my degree has been learning how to control that overwhelming feeling of being stabbed and wanting to cry because I can’t cry in my job, I’ve got to keep people happy. I have come a long way in figuring this out…
Seeing mistakes differently
One of the people I worked closely with had a really accepting way of dealing with mistakes – it would get highlighted, and as long as it was understood, it was then left behind. This enabled me to change my outlook on mistakes – things I do wrong I can leave behind at the time, then at the end of the day, when I’m not so emotionally connected, look at them and figure out where the origin was, and take good things from it.
She also told me to be calmer – to try being physically still when I felt worried (where appropriate). It really helped – somehow staying still made me feel mentally calmer too. I’ve had lots of feedback in my last two projects on how calm I am now, and I feel much more in control of myself.
Also allowing time to be myself
I’ve also sort of made myself categorise: I’m calm at work/college, but when I’m at home I’m able to be myself – if that’s having a day of being a kid and snuggling up or if it’s going for a walk dressed up and liking people wondering where I’m going or who I am. Whatever it is, that freedom at home to be myself means I can be more in control at work.
Identifying true friends
And I’ve now also realised which friends are good to have around – which ones accept me for me, and actually how I figured this out was which ones I don’t mind looking a fool in front of, and am not ‘acting’ in any way around.
I am looking to run a half marathon because sickness is something I’ve always struggled against and then split what I earn between chronic fatigue and depression charities in some way. I want to do something that benefits me and gives me a hobby – I know when I have exercised I feel better. If I am in the country and I go for a half hour walk, I feel better and for the rest of the day I’ll feel good. I’ll do half an hour on a treadmill and I’ll be buzzing.
Getting over bad experience of counselling
The first time I went in to counselling voluntarily I was 23. I said “Look, I hate you guys. It’s nothing personal but this is what happened when I was 14. I have a serious issue with me being here.” And the counsellor was very receptive, he said “OK, fair enough. Why do you have the problem?” And I said “Because of that thing that happened; because of being able to plant seeds in my mind and also because I don’t want to questioned on everything; I don’t want to explain everything. I probably will end up explaining everything…” He said “OK, just have a conversation with me.”
Using counselling to work it out for myself
I found that where you don’t want to weight down a friend with big issues because the friend might overreact, I found I could just have a conversation with him. And by having that conversation, could almost work it out for myself. He’d give me prompt questions that led me down a better path and he’d sort of throw me wide balls where I’d think “Oh my God, I never thought of it that way and that’s really good”. But most of what he helped me do was my own process. It was having someone to bounce off. You can’t do it in your head; you can have conversations in your head but you are going to spiral because you’re not going to have someone to widen it. You don’t have that security of saying “I am in a safe place. I can just sit and talk about this and if I want to bawl my eyes out, I can bawl my eyes out” and that’s fine.
Dealing with the rape
Working on it in counselling and reading a book from the perspective of a girl who was now dead who’d been raped, looking down on the world, helped me work through the rape – something about having gone through the experience of accepting that it was ok to be traumatised by it and have an issue with it. Reading the book kind of helped me change my perspective on it. It made me go that was a problem; something that shouldn’t have happened; I shouldn’t have forgiven it but it is something I should have forgiven myself for because I didn’t do anything wrong and somehow it’s a lot more ok. I saw a film the other day with a rape and it didn’t really bother me; gave me goose pimples but I’ve managed to disassociate from it now and go that was an experience that happened and this is what I’ve got from it.
What I’ve learnt
Thoughts about bullying
I am actually quite glad at having been bullied because in the end it has made me stronger. I think I came out better for it. I probably wouldn’t even berate anyone for doing it. I probably wouldn’t even berate any of the people who did it. I think it’s a natural thing that humans do, where they pick out the weaker people. I still know some of those girls, through Facebook and stuff, and they are no better now and I am living much more independently because of it.
More awareness needed
Limited awareness about depression means that many people who suffer do not appreciate their own state, and the need for attention. I think that it is very hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel – it took me some time to realise that what was going on with me was not normal, and was not something which I had to deal with on my own. Had I found a website like this, seeing someone who had reached that light, and who is (mostly) successfully dealing with the problems which could very easily spiral into depression, would have given me hope.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a real problem…
I have always struggled, both with depression and chronic fatigue syndrome, against people who dismiss what are both diseases. Many people I have come across have dismissed me as ‘lazy’ because of the CFS – it makes me unbelievably angry. I really wanted to do something about it, let people know this isn’t people being lazy; it is something they can’t help; it is a disease.
… and so is depression
And the same with depression – so many people are ignorant about it and dismiss it. You hear people saying “Everybody’s been depressed; everybody’s had a crap day” and I think ‘you don’t get it.’ It’s not the same thing and it never will be the same thing and it is a very hard thing to make other people understand if they haven’t experienced it. If you haven’t experienced that complete heaviness of body and mind that can’t physically strain against, you won’t get it.
Need to keep alert
Depression is something that I feel I have beaten, though like a weed it continually grows, and needs hacking back. I can stand up to a lot more but even so I am still very susceptible to someone planting a seed in my mind and it doing a little webbing thing and branching out and taking over and just encompassing everything. I still get the really insecure moments of saying to myself “Do I have friends? I do have friends right?” I have to stop and take notice of the start of the webs… that slight curve that might end up being a spiral.
Vigilance against fatigue relapse
Having had tonsillitis on and off for about six months, I recently lapsed into CFS again. I knew there was something wrong and returned to my university counsellor. We spent some time trying to figure out if it was depression and why I wasn’t motivated and then it just clicked and I went to my doctor and told her my symptoms and she said “You are relapsing.”
Chronic fatigue management
Once I’d figured it out I knew what I had to do. I contacted a clinic that helps you have a plan of how you are going to get back up, with a structured plan for gradually increasing activity. I managed to get it under control by accepting it and telling myself it was going to take three times longer to get over this than it is anyone else. I have also had my tonsils out now and that seemed to be the main way in for my fatigue. So now I have managed to hopefully control it, but I constantly have to remind myself and I have learnt to be much more self aware and to know the signals.
The thing about CFS is that you are never really over it. I was always fighting against it and then at the end of last term my tutor and I had a conversation about it and he said “You have to actually embrace it; you have to say this is part of who I am – how can I work with it? You are working against it, trying to pretend it is not there. You are not telling people that it is there; you need to tell people you need to take a break at lunch. You’ve got a team around you that is there to support you. You don’t have to do everything yourself.”
Be aware of nutritional aspects
A lot of my childhood sensitivity was helped by reducing the intake of wheat in my diet (although I stopped being so sensitive to wheat when I was about 14). My mum used to be very sensitive to wheat and she noticed that when I went to visit my dad at weekend, he’d give me wheat because he didn’t believe in the whole intolerance thing and I’d come back and be a combination of very lethargic, not motivated and be far more sensitive to comments.
What I’d say to others affected by depression
It’s the hardest thing to actually move yourself to do it but find something to do; something to keep your hands busy but especially to keep your mind busy. Find yourself a challenge, even if your challenge is the smallest thing like instead of watching TV from bed, you are going to get dressed and watch it on the sofa. Step by step, it will happen.
This will pass
My friend would say to me “This will pass” and she gave me a card with that on and I said “You don’t understand; you can’t see the ending,” but there is one; there always is one and if you take the right steps, it’s a good one. Think of it as a challenge, not a problem; something you can think to yourself “I got through that! Well done me!” And don’t be afraid to say “Well done me!”