How depression has affected me
Struggling with life
I have been suffering from depression for the last five years. I have tried various methods of coping, talked to a variety of people and looked at my illness from several different points of view. It hasn’t always been easy; I have often struggled with life.
Depression can be a huge weight that really hinders one’s progress. It has affected my academic life, my relationships and my general well being too. Being a student is difficult enough. It’s the most emotional and important time of your life and many people find it difficult to focus.
Worthlessness and lethargy
Having depression in your life adds an entirely new level of difficulty. I have found myself battling my feelings of worthlessness, not being able to even get out of bed and the difficulty of socialising when even I didn’t want to be around myself.
Depression was sparked off for me during the summer when I was 14, which I spent questioning the meaning of life. I returned to school changed. It was obvious to all. No longer so witty, people immediately assumed I was just focussing on my GCSEs. However this stopped them seeing what was happening.
Losing interest in everything
I was losing interest in everything. I didn’t care for my future, my academic progress. I found it hard to revise for exams that I saw as having no use. I still wanted to learn, but just for my own knowledge, not as a way to prove myself.
Anger and panic
After Christmas that year, coming up to 15 years of age, I started to get even more intense feelings. I felt so angry and enraged but at nothing in particular. I started having panic attacks, my heart would race, adrenaline would pump through me, fight or flight would kick in, but for no reason, there was nothing to fear other than myself.
My mind became darker, filled with these feelings of depression and I wanted to escape. I didn’t want to feel like this. All the time I kept this very much to myself. No one knew, no one could see. It was an act, a difficult act, but one I did very well.
When it came to socialising with my friends after school at parties, I realised the act alone wasn’t enough – I needed something else and I found alcohol. Always the first to become drunk, I was happy, I was funny, I was cool, I was liked, I was me again. I loved it and it was one drunken night I began to piece things together…
Realising it was depression
All the time this was happening, I didn’t know what any of it was. I knew my own thoughts and feelings, but I didn’t know it was an illness, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. It was only when I spoke to someone about it that I could get an idea of what was happening. I described my feelings to them and they told me that not everyone felt like this. They told me it sounded like depression.
Growing up, I was always competitive. I don’t think I ever liked the fact that I had a younger sibling, taking the attention away from me. I can remember pretending to have had nightmares in order to get my parents attention. I didn’t like the focus not being on me, I still don’t. I like people to notice me. I think this had a huge impact in shaping my life.
In fact, I would say there were three major things before the age of 10 that shaped my life. Firstly, I was always labelled as enthusiastic, imaginative and a quick thinker. I received a school report aged 5 that described me as ‘overzealous’. Something which I think became important later in life.
Sticking with the theme of school, I moved schools when I was 8 years old. I hated leaving my current friends and making new ones, I think this taught me something about friendships. It taught me that things don’t last forever.
Another similar feeling came when I lost my grandfather aged 5. Being raised Roman Catholic, I remember praying to the skies, to heaven, in order to speak to the man I had lost from my life.
However this became an issue as I became older. I started to discover science and I gradually lost my faith. I began to question the teachings of the church and life in general. I think I was heartbroken that I was lied to for so many years, because there is no heaven above the clouds, it is space and the rest of the universe.
As I said, this shaped my inquisitive, distrusting mind. I was always questioning the authority of teachers, often for comedic effect and becoming the class clown but remaining a figure of intelligence.
Wanting peer respect
It was important to me to have the respect of my peers, even more so as I entered secondary school. Everyone found me funny, intelligent and a joy to be with because I knew where to draw the line and never got into too much trouble. I was passionate about learning, maths and languages in particular and I had a definite career path in mind, I wanted to become a doctor.
Things going wrong
However, this was the part of my life where things went wrong. In the summer holidays between years 9 and 10 of secondary school I went without my parents to stay with some distant relatives in Italy. I couldn’t speak much of the language and I became very isolated bored and alone.
Mind attacking itself
My active mind needed something to do, but in the 40 Celsius plus heat, sitting by the pool was about as interesting as most days got. This is what sparked things off. My mind started to turn against itself – asking all the big philosophical questions such as ‘why am I here?’, ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is the purpose of life?’. I attacked my mind so much that I would never be the same again.
Naming the problem
Being told that it sounded like I had depression was a revelation. I didn’t understand how it could be, after all I was still appearing ‘overzealous’ on most days thanks to my façade. I flippantly came out with a term I had heard before but did not understand – Manic Depressive.
Finding out more
I didn’t act any further on this until September of that year when I saw a documentary by the great Stephen Fry The Secret life of the Manic Depressive. I watched, as I wanted to know more about this term I had plucked from nowhere.
Realising I wasn’t alone
What I found amazed me. There were people out there, experiencing things like I did. Not the manic part so much – I could be hyperactive but that was usually to cover up feelings of self-loathing – but this depression was something I could relate to.
I began to do research into this, mostly into unipolar, but also bipolar just as a precaution. I turned to the forum that accompanied the documentary and I found plenty of people that experienced what I did. Finally I could understand myself.
Starting to trust others
Letting other people know how I felt had helped. I decided that trusting others would be a good idea. I told a select few friends how I felt as I didn’t want lots of people knowing but I didn’t want the burden to be on just one person. I still kept this separate from my home life, wrongly fearing that things there would never be the same if my parents knew.
Finally going to the GP
Despite knowing what might be wrong, I still struggled on with the end of my GCSEs. I needed to see a doctor, but I wanted to be 16, to avoid parental consent and I wanted to finish my course to avoid any adverse effects. Finally, I went to my GP and was told that I have ‘more depressive symptoms than the normal person’ and that I may be ‘somewhere on the bipolar spectrum’.
Referral to a specialist
I was told to come back in 2 weeks to see if anything had changed. Surprise, surprise, I hadn’t changed, but the doctor’s opinions had, she now said she couldn’t be sure of anything she said so would refer me to a specialist in the next 3 weeks. I didn’t get that call until 8 months later…
Keeping up the act in the meantime
In the meantime, I had used the method I had always found worked the best, pretending nothing was wrong. I could keep up an act pretty well and I couldn’t see it doing me any harm. I started college, starting a relationship with a girl on my course. Things weren’t too bad. I was coping, at least I thought.
When I finally got the call from the specialist, I was forced to analyse how well I was really coping. Is it enough to pretend that you enjoy life and that you want to be alive, or can that change?
I decided to try some counselling. At the time I didn’t appreciate the value of this, but at the very least it gave me someone to talk to without feeling guilty that I was burdening them. Although I didn’t agree with his solution or his methods, I learnt a lot about myself.
Telling my parents
Perhaps the most useful thing to come from this was telling my parents. It wasn’t a bad idea after all and made things much easier at home.
Using work as a distraction
During my second year at college, I decided to change my course, which made me work incredibly hard to get everything done in one year. This kind of helped me not to think about depression too much and although it still plagued me, I didn’t bother to seek out any more help. I accepted it and let it just exist in me.
Starting again at uni
I managed to get into university, although only just and thought that this would be time to start again. When I got to university, I spoke to the doctors there about what had been happening to me over the last few years. They understood and immediately started me on medication and more counselling.
Medication and counselling
Over the coming months my medication was increased until it reached a satisfactory level and the counselling helped me to maintain better relationships and look after myself better. This is where I am now, I’ve finished the counselling and the medication seems to be working.
What I’ve learnt
Talk to others
I have tried many ways to cope over the years, some temporarily successful but all with their own drawbacks. Ultimately being able to talk to people has been the most help. Talking to people is the best thing you can do – friends, family, teachers, helplines, doctors, counsellors.
Check your diet
Another important factor for me is diet. I have found that an increase in Omega 3 has had a really positive effect on my mood.
It will pass
I still have some wobbles but just need to remember that a depressive episode is like a storm and that although it is very real and dangerous it will pass given time.
Allowing people to understand that depression is nothing to be ashamed of is also of great importance to me. Ultimately if just one person gets something out of my participation in Students Against Depression then it will be worthwhile.