How depression has affected me
Recent bipolar diagnosis
I have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; however I was initially diagnosed with depression. My mood swings began during my teenage years and were clearly different to the hormonal mood swings I experienced – there was an edge to the low lows which wasn’t related to the menstrual cycle.
Typical low feelings
I just felt low, like there was no point in doing anything; everyone else was better than me, so why try? Yes; but I was doing as well as everyone else and as well as I could’ve done. It was baseless. The usual really.
I didn’t talk to any friends or tell anyone about it. I punched pillows a lot and just sort of got on with it, because that was the only option I had. I was just a bit angry about it all and it was a way of getting all the feelings out without having to talk.
Set pattern of highs and lows
I left school and went to the local 6th form college. I remember having lows and highs then. I used to have a weekly cycle: two days on and two days off – two days down, two days normal; two days up, two days down; two days normal, two days up. It was that set; it was bizarre.
Kept it to myself
I wasn’t deliberately monitoring it; it was just “Oh look!” I hadn’t even heard of bipolar, in fact I doubt I’d heard of depression. I never told anyone about those cycles and if anyone noticed, they didn’t say anything.
When I was low
I knew it would pass so I had to wait it out and I was annoyed at having to wait it out. I didn’t feel like I was worth waiting for it. I wasn’t suicidal at that point because I wasn’t that bad, but I had no self confidence; no sense of self worth.
I started smoking, which I think was just a teenage thing. And at college I smoked cannabis about once a week. I think on reflection that probably made it worse. At the time, I knew the long term side effects included depression and I just thought that won’t happen to me! I don’t do either of those things anymore. I never really drank much. When I was a teenager, I drank normal teenager amounts but once I hit 18, I sort of lost interest.
I think I had a bit of a break from the lows and highs between about 17 and 19. That period seems to have been quite normal. I was working in a factory and it was 8 hours a day of moving things around. I was probably just so tired. I remember being really angry at everything that was going on and I thought I was better than everyone else, so on reflection, had I not been so physically exhausted, that could well have been a manic or mixed phase.
Decision to go to uni
I took a year out working in the book store and then thought I’ve had enough of this place. I was thinking “I am so much better than these people; I am so much more intelligent. I deserve better than this; I’ll go to uni and then I’ll never go back and that’ll show them” – that sort of feeling. This attitude has added to my feeling that I was unstable at the time. I don’t normally think things like that.
Low in first year
My first year at uni, I was either a little bit down or fairly stable. I don’t remember specifics about my moods. I’ve heard since that the people I live with thought I was going to kill myself at some point but I don’t think that was based on anything.
Becoming unstable again
In my second year I quit smoking and it just got worse from there. I think it had been building up, getting worse, and then when I quit smoking I went all over the place. My ability to deal with things was going out the window. Just little things would set me off crying, or having blazing rows with people over little things.
Sleep and eating
I was sleeping less – about four hours a night. I was putting on weight up until I quit smoking and then I lost it – my eating pattern must have been a bit bizarre. More lately, the sleeping has switched round and if I am depressed now I sleep a lot.
Lack of self worth
Again there was this lack of self worth. I was getting snappy and edgy. I thought it was just because I’d quit smoking. I associated it with nicotine withdrawal and so ignored it.
I spent three months going up and down and then I finally thought, “I’ve had enough of this” and went to see a doctor. He put me on Prozac which did nothing – there was no difference whatsoever, although it killed my appetite completely, which was quite nice. I felt sick for the first week, but apart from that it was all right.
I stuck it out. I thought this is going to go away at some point and I’ve just got to wait. But by exam time I’d been suicidal, so I hadn’t revised. There didn’t seem any point in trying. I did my exams, somehow managed to pass them and went home for the summer.
I was on Prozac the whole summer and it wasn’t doing anything so in the end I went and saw my doctor at home. He put me on Venflaxine which I was only on for a month because I didn’t like the side effects. I felt really sick all the time and I’d read all these things on the internet about it being really addictive and long term, so I thought I don’t think this is going to be my drug of choice. When I got back to uni they put me on Citalopram which I’ve been on ever since.
When I’m on a high
I just don’t stop. I think my house mates don’t mind when I am on my way up because they’ll come down in the morning and the house will be spotless because I’ve stayed up all night cleaning and they’ll meet me with a brush in hand and hair all over the place saying “Hi!!” It’s like my brain is on fire – thoughts all over the place. I am trying to talk to keep up and my brain is moving so fast that it takes it a while to keep up with my head moving, so things just look blurred. It feels perfectly logical to me, but I get the feeling that nobody else gets it.
At my lowest
It was like my brain was encased in ice; it’s got that wintry aspect to it. I’ve got a picture of a moor land heath with just a couple of gnarled trees and that’s it. That would represent the complete resentfulness I had towards everything; the worthless of it all. I’d screwed everything up; nothing to live for. Nothing on the horizon that wasn’t worse than what I was already experiencing.
I self-harmed a little bit back when I was younger, but nothing major. Some cutting on my arms. It’s a pain for pain thing – when I couldn’t deal with the feelings swapping the mental pain for the physical. Self harm is something I don’t do now. I’d rather kill myself than cut myself, if that makes any sense. I’ve got this feeling that self harm is attention seeking and I am not an attention seeker. I’d rather the focus was on everyone else.
My first suicidal gesture was a very half-hearted attempt at cutting my wrists. I do not consider it an actual attempt as I did not cut deep enough. My mood had reached that low that I physically didn’t have the energy to get up and make a proper effort. My actual suicide attempt was an overdose. I genuinely intended to die, however all that happened was that I woke up in the morning feeling horribly, horribly sick and was ill for a week. I hope never to try again.
I was born the first of three by caesarean section which I don’t think has had much of an effect on my relationship with my mother, but I’ve got nothing to compare that to, as I went to normal school. My parents are still together. I had nothing in my childhood.
‘Over the top’ when little
My mother said I got OTT – over the top – when I was little and didn’t know when to stop, but she said she hadn’t noticed any low moods up until I was about 15. I think I was pretty normal up until about that point.
No reason for lack of self worth
I was never bullied or anything. Well, I was bullied for a day and I said to the girl “Why are you being so horrible?” And she said “I don’t know. Maybe because we support different football teams.” I said “I don’t like football.” But she never spoke to me again.
Looking back it’s built up all my life
I could have been building up to my lowest point all my life. If you looked across my whole life, the distinctive build up would probably be six months prior – it was getting harder and harder to deal with things.
Deciding I needed help
When she first noticed things, when I was 15, my mum suggested that I see a psychiatrist and I had a teenage strop – “No, I am not going to do that, blah, blah, blah.” And I think she just left it after that. I sought help myself when my grades began to suffer at uni and everything seemed bleak and pointless.
Working to get medication right
Medication has been an issue for me; I have spent a long time trying to reach the right combination. It was initially thought that I had drug-resistant depression, because anti-depressants on their own would work for a while then stop working, then work at a higher dose, then stop working. However I then described my highs and was referred to a psychiatrist. Now I’ve got mood stabilisers and anti-psychotics as well as anti-depressants.
The doctor said I should give counselling a go because CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) was not available on the NHS. They’ve got an emotional well-being thing at my university where they take you through techniques of how to deal with issues; how you deal with your moods. Sort of CBT but less structured. You get a mood chart to fill in – what my mood is when; the time I eat and the time I’ve slept; activities I’ve done during the day just to see if she can spot any patterns. I’ve got a list of goals to fill in as well.
I started seeing a counsellor at the beginning of my final year. It’s nice to have someone there on a weekly basis, just so I can go and say “I am not coping with this very well.” And she can say “Right, what can we do to get you through until this mood lifts?” It’s a give and take thing – it’s not just her saying “Do this,” it’s her saying “What can we do?” It helps me to keep things in perspective and learn self management techniques.
I see my CPN (community psychiatric nurse) every now and again, and she referred me to something called the ‘mood clinic’. The things I have found helpful are mental health professionals that listen. All too often there is a tendency to believe what they feel like in the face of outright denial. For example, the first psychiatrist I met accused me of not taking medication, when in fact I had been; it’s just that it wasn’t working.
I have researched and identified ways of managing my moods, from counselling to self help books. I believe that I should do everything possible to increase my own stability. I find self management techniques useful as not only do they help, but they give me a sense of achievement.
My aunt’s a mental health dietician so I’ve picked up things from her like bipolar people should have at least 500mg of EPA from Omega-3 a day.
Bipolar survival guide
I have a bipolar disorder survival guide full of photocopiable things. I photocopy everything and I mean everything, so I’ve wound up with a kind of pack – suicide prevention plan and things like that – which I then presented to my house mates and said “Here you go. If anything happens, read this!”
Support from friends
My friends are wonderful. The pack has got what they can do to help me; numbers to call if I get really dangerous and it’s got a series of people so that then they’ve got back up. It’s not fair on them to have to look after me all the time. There’s only so much that a person can deal with.
I have kept a public blog to help me to monitor my moods. I post at least once a week and I enjoy the discussion involved in it. It also helps me to keep my family and friends informed about what is going on in my head. I think they get a bit worried sometime but it’s better that they know that these things are going on.
My general approach is just trying to ignore it – often if I ignore it, it’ll go away. So if I can just watch a DVD or something – DVD after DVD after DVD as long as it gets me through. I play bass guitar. I like reading – especially fantasy books, so I can just lose myself. Any normal interest really. Sometimes I try and sleep it off, or if I can’t sleep then talk to someone or go out if I can face it.
List of phone numbers
I’ve got lots of phone numbers to call if I get too down: a national counselling one; out of hours GP; the local psychiatric duty team at the psychiatric place – they were quite helpful once when I was up. However, I have had a less helpful experience with NHS Direct.
What I’ve learnt
Knowing how to keep myself safe
I have found that my suicidal thoughts occur when I’m on my way down or am just about to come back up. Awareness of these cycles has helped to prevent me from making any more attempts. I do not self harm any more, but I used to, so I can understand the feelings people go through. Now I punch pillows like I did when I was younger. It doesn’t really help, but if I am doing that I am not cutting myself!
If you’re in danger, have someone be with you
I’d say wake up your house mates; you need someone there with you. People on the phone are all well and good but you need people there.
I’d say find your uni counsellor and talk to them because that’s a good place to start. A lot of people are scared of going to the doctor. It’s easy; all you’ve got to do is that first sentence and then it’s out there and they’ll take it from there. It’ll be easier from that point on, once you’ve said the first sentence.
If the first person isn’t right, find someone else
You meet some professionals who are just dismissive. It is worth finding another one. Make sure you find a different one. Ask to speak to someone else. They are there to help you; you don’t have to worry about being polite. Don’t let what one individual says interfere with your own feelings.
Counselling isn’t perfect, but it does help
I wonder sometimes whether counselling makes me dwell on it unnecessarily. My counsellor will occasionally try to find something in my past that has contributed to all this. “Right, let’s blame your mother this week” – she wouldn’t say it like that! But it’s nice to have a base to go from. She’s someone there to talk to every week about the things that have been going on and the things I can’t deal with and she’s been pretty good about suggesting ways of dealing with things.
Increased awareness of depression is important
I believe depression is an illness that needs to be combated just as with cancer and other physical illnesses. It is not possible to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’, but an individual needs the help of medication and talking therapies. I believe that increased awareness of depression will help to encourage people to seek help – people who think depression isn’t serious need to be educated.