How depression has affected me
Depression diagnosis at 17
I’ve been diagnosed with depression when I was 17. I’ve developed symptoms of depression since my mom and I moved to UK to live with my stepfather. My parents observed me going through extreme mood swings, going from ecstatic to glum and lifeless in a short space of time, and they are confident that I’m suffering from bipolar disorder, but I think it is just depression.
I come from Kiev. I lived there for 14 years and then came to England. My mum is a very impulsive person and she decided to get married. One day she just said, “Pack your bag; we’ve got 3 days; we’re going to England.” I didn’t have any choice. I was introduced to my stepdad when we came over to England. We had exchanged a couple of e mails, but I didn’t get to see him face to face before that.
Conflict with stepfather
We didn’t quite hit it off from the start and I don’t know what to attribute that to because we were both inexperienced – I’d never really had a dad and he had never had kids. He’s 53 and divorced 3 times and I was 14. It was strange because there was a friction in the family and to this day I won’t say I am jealous of my father – but it felt like that sometimes.
Also problems at school
I had a fear of speaking in public. I think that was something to do with me being bullied in school when I was younger, but every time I thought about going to school I was afraid of people looking at me and wanting me to say something. I didn’t want people to see my face. I had long hair so I could hide my face and I didn’t speak. I felt people didn’t like me and I thought the less they see of me the better.
My step dad gets very stressed very easily and he was back off work and my mum was really irritated as well and it coincided. When they are angry, they shout at anybody they can get their hands on and they were shouting at me. It came to a confrontation. He came and stood right next to me and shouted and for the first time in my life, I exploded and I screamed back at him and pushed him half way across the room.
My mum saw that and for the first time she was on the other side of the barricade. She always used to protect me, but this time she told me to get out. Then I was in a state. I had no friends; my family was the only thing I knew; I had nowhere to go. I thought maybe I’d just loiter in the streets and wait for the police to pick me up and that would at least be an excuse because I didn’t want to go back. I knew I wasn’t wanted.
There was a broken bottle on the side of the road. I smashed it and tried to slit my wrists but because I wasn’t really familiar with the technology and the glass wasn’t sharp enough, the cuts were too shallow. It was my sincere intention to kill myself, but poor planning and lack of technical knowledge of the procedure meant that didn’t happen. I’ve got some hideous scars but I got away with it and didn’t cut any tendons.
Taken to hospital
Some cyclists cycled past me – I was just walking down the road with blood streaming down my arm – and they got me to hospital. They called my dad and he came and picked me up. He saw me lying in the hospital with my arm bandaged and I said I was sorry and then I saw my step dad get physically older by a decade probably in that minute.
My mum didn’t really show much reaction. She was very offended because of the way I’d acted; she thought it was disrespectful. She stayed in the car when they picked me up from hospital and she didn’t even look at me; she was staring out of the window. She only found out that something had gone on when she saw that my shirt and face were covered in blood and so we had a talk after that.
I think my step dad was trying to reach me but in his awkwardness, he couldn’t. This is one of the reasons I give him so much credit. The things that he has done you’d find hard to forgive. I doubt his sanity sometimes. Once he had me up against a wall and held a knife to my face. He is also depressed and on anti-depressants, and he must stay on them because he’s come off a couple of times and it has a drastic effect.
On my own
I was offered emergency counselling at that point but refused it; I wasn’t in a state to think straight. I stayed at the house for a while, but my mother found it difficult to put up with me and so she rented me a place and so I stayed there on my own. I had started in 6th form at quite a good time but as soon as I started living on my own, it drastically went down hill.
How depression affects study
I have never been against work or study. I am reasonably bright and I don’t like to get bored. I was a promising student and the headmaster really liked me. They said I was talented; intelligent; promising. However, when the depression ensued, I didn’t pay much attention to school work.
I cut myself again during that time. I was in a bad state then. You can say that the things I did to myself show how bad things were. I was driven to do it; it was something acting on impulse inside of me. It was fascinating – the blade dissecting the skin; driving through it. Some people say you hurt yourself because your mind becomes so much you want to be distracted and I figure that might have been the reason why.
Not getting help
A year or so later, because of constant feelings of senility and lack of motivation, underachievement at school and my social circle dangerously contracting, I sought counselling again, but didn’t find it helpful. When I went back to living with my parents, it started to be easier and so it was good again. I got an A* in Russian – big surprise! A-level Russian was like taking candy from a baby. And I got enough points from my other subject to enrol on a foundation course at university.
It was a lot of work. I have been told that it’s a huge achievement to come into another country and go to university. I think now that if I’d been able to avoid these spells of being so low I could have been so much better; I could be at Cambridge now. I didn’t contribute as much as I could have. I think people do get though it and they do manage to go on and have successful careers and this is something I should have done too.
Uni started well
I started out quite well. I moved out of my parents’ and chose a uni 300 miles away. I had good teachers and the group seemed to like me too. And that’s when I met Effi, a Greek girl with long dark curls and green eyes, like a Greek goddess. And my dad got back in touch as well and I met him for the first time in my life, with my grandparents, and my girlfriend came too. It was fantastic.
Then my grandparents and my dad went back to Ukraine, and he’s not really surfaced much since then. Effi was a tough one because she chose not to keep it up; I don’t know why. I’d give anything to figure out what really went wrong. She got in touch a few months later saying she’d made a mistake and crying all the time and no good for anything.
Second suicide attempt
When she said it, I just couldn’t take it; I was crazy. I picked up a knife and now I’ve got more scars. I was referred to a counsellor by my landlord. I was bleeding a lot and he kicked me out of my accommodation, I suppose because I was a liability. I was left broken and sad, and still thinking of suicide sometimes, which is irrational.
How depression feels
Depression is a strange feeling and not easy to describe it. On a physical level you feel completely drained; you don’t have any energy to do anything; it’s not just mental. It is intellectual fatigue as well as physical. You feel tired all the time and dehydrated and weak and everything is an effort. You want to get up but you have to think really hard about getting dressed and picking the right shirt and it’s a struggle.
Trying to make sense of it
I like to think that it’s a reaction to something that’s happened on the outside rather than something inside me tripping it. I think it’s because your mind is working so much and you are desperately trying to adjust and there is no memory left for anything else. It’s so subjective, but it seems to me sometimes that something is clouding your judgement and you are not able to think straight. Looking back, I could have changed some things for the better but it just seemed like there was no point.
If there has been a traumatic experience, then you keep on mulling it over, but you don’t find a solution. After a while it just becomes mechanical, automatic. It becomes a vicious circle. Because things keep building up that you are not able to process, some of them go over the top. It ranges from very old things, things that have happened in the past that you still remember and still feel but your mind has gone through so much, it has gone numb and it just keeps going; fresh, recent experiences that you feel just as much about. It’s a multitude of different things.
It’s always there
Even when time passes and it is apparent to you that you can still make it and the world keeps on spinning, the feeling is still with you. You doubt yourself. It is a funny thing; it takes a lot to convince someone that they are really good, but it doesn’t take much to take that belief away, so doubt is there with you all the time. You think why did I lose my job; why did I mess up university; why did that person leave me? It is hidden; stored away and the moment that you start to doubt yourself about anything, all these other things come to the surface.
My mother suffers from chronic depression following separation with my father after which she was recommended to be institutionalised. Her parents chose for her to go through treatment with medication which she currently is on and she violently opposes not only seeing a psychiatrist but even going into family therapy despite having been recommended to do so more than once by doctors.
I was born in a small village near Kiev and then my mother moved to Kiev when I was about seven. My parents separated when I was three and I didn’t get to see my dad because I think my mum used me as a way of getting back at my dad. She’s finally come to terms with it after 16 years and we keep in touch every now and then but he was never really there in my life.
Alone and an outsider
My mother was working double shifts. She’d leave the house at 7am and come back at 11pm, and so I was pretty much left to myself. It was a fun life running around when I was a kid but when I started to grow up it was harder. Kiev is one of the most vicious cities on the planet and it is not easy for an outsider to fit in. Because I came from a small village, I didn’t have the prestige. I went to my new school and the kids just shunned me.
Not able to talk to anyone
Even if my mum had been there, I don’t think it would have made a difference anyway. When I was in real trouble, I didn’t think I could talk to her because the way her parents brought her up was you can’t talk about your troubles; it’s a particularly Ukranian thing; you just bottle things up and try and deal with it yourself. Even today my mum says “When I’ve got problems, I take medication; I don’t speak to anybody.”
Depressed without knowing it
I was given no indication that feeling down about yourself – having problems that you can’t seem to deal with – is the wrong thing. It seemed to be the natural way of discovering. Now there are ways to make you feel better but I remember as a kid of about 11, I was waking up thinking a new day had begun and a new day was a new trouble; I didn’t want to get out of bed – very uncomfortable experiences.
Never fitting in
I was brought up by a single mum. If you don’t see your dad, you are missing a role model and that doesn’t make things easier for you. Then fitting into a new city, I never quite belonged where I was and even to this day, no matter where I go, I still feel like I can’t quite become one with the people that I am with. I’ve moved 28 times in 21 years and I felt this even though I was often welcomed – when I first came to England, I was a legend in my school; I was exotic; I was a Ukranian.
Not being shown love
I couldn’t understand it; they thought I was terrific and I never used to think that people would like me. Only now I am beginning to understand what it really feels like when you are genuinely adored by someone. It is not traditional to show your feelings in my family. They don’t say I love you very much, if at all, and it’s a very tough upbringing where people don’t reveal their feelings.
My step dad had good intentions to begin with. He could be awkward round people because he’d lived on his own for a while and we collided. It must have been difficult for him but… Once I didn’t want to get out of bed to go to school and he came to my room and was shouting and pacing up and down and then he threw an alarm clock at me and I got kicked in the tummy and the head. I think he has a thing about discipline; he has to be the boss; it’s an obsession. I don’t want to blame it on my step dad but I think that was one of things that triggered the suicide attempt – it felt like I wasn’t welcome in the house.
Antidepressants didn’t help
My mum was working with a psychiatrist who was a friend of the family and she talked my stepdad into the drugs and got me on them too. She chose to ignore the fact that it is illegal to give people prescription drugs without a consultation with their GP. I was such a fool to agree to it. I took them for three months. I don’t know if they helped; I just know that it didn’t stop the depressive stuff from happening.
After the second suicide attempt, I saw a counsellor at the college. She helped in the way that she kept me from doing something stupid. She made things better I think, but it didn’t just go away. I flunked university pretty much. I’d lost my family and my girlfriend was gone and that was the only thing I cared about.
Then I started over again. I stayed home for ages, just hiding away from the world, but then you can only do it for so long and at some point somebody comes into your life and drags you out of it or you have to do something. In my case it was me; there was only me.
There are things you can do, but the only real healer is time. It takes different times for different people, but it is under your control to a certain extent and if you are interested in getting yourself out of it, you can. The problem is you don’t want to a lot of the time. Something within you just has to burn away. It has to die off, fall off and disappear. One day comes when you just realise that the future is still possible. It takes weeks for some people; it took me a year.
Exercise and eating properly
You can start with exercise. One of the things that contributes to depression, one of the elements, is that the stress is overwhelming and exercise, apart from creating endorphins, is a major stress buster so it can take away a little bit. Also when you are working out, you can try to think things over; make it a little bit approachable. I go to the gym or train at the martial arts studio every other day to help release aggression and tension and improve my well-being. Good food is necessary. If you start eating junk, you’ll get depressed. In fact you are literally what you eat. It is necessary; it is one of the building blocks.
On a higher level when you’ve undergone something like this – a relationship break down or the loss of a job or whatever else has hit you – it hits your self esteem and one of the most important goals you have to set yourself is to restore it, though it’s the hardest thing. You have to try, as much as it pains you, to be with people. You have to be social. You’ll talk to people and little by little you understand that even though people have hurt you in the past, they still value you and still want your company so you are not unvalidated.
Talking about it
You have to keep on; you can’t bottle things up; if there is something troubling you, you have to talk about it. The longer you keep it up, the more difficult it’s going to be to extract and the more damage is going to be caused. There are a lot of ways of dealing with it. Silly little things like sitting on the couch talking to people helps you understand that other people go through the same things and you are not alone doing this. As soon as you realise that, even though you are in a very tough place, somebody else is going through it too, it makes it more bearable.
What I’ve learnt
Accept the legacy of the past
Sometimes parents or partners can leave you a legacy that you have to deal with for the rest of your life – that may be one of the contributing causes why that collision happens. My mother can still get me down. I still cannot comprehend that woman, but I have worked out that she has affected me in a way that will bring me down inevitably time after time.
Find a system of beliefs
I think you have to find yourself a system of beliefs that reflect you and your ability to survive. It’s a cultural thing more than anything because you find that if you have the knowledge…knowledge is power and if you know things about life, you can cope better. It is also up to you to work out the strategy.
Make your own choices
Other people can help you, but it is only you who makes it to the surface and you can have advice from other people but it doesn’t actually rule you. One of the greatest things I have heard in the last years was I was watching the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happiness and he says “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.” Those are the things you have to believe in.
You do need other people
You have to understand that people will love you and will need you and will appreciate you. The thing that stands out in civilisation is the feeling of self-worth, but the catch is that it has to be gained through experience. It is hard to make yourself believe in that but you have to, especially if you are in a situation where you are severely affected; you have to have other people. For example, over the years my step dad and I seem to have been able to come to a solution and work round each other, so at least we don’t get to fight very much.
Find what works for you
I think that anything that can help you battle depression is good, literally whatever works for you, be it healthy eating, talking/writing your troubles down, fresh air and movement. The two most important things that, I think, can make a great deal of difference are exercise and support from family. Working out or doing sports will have a tremendous effect on your well-being although this alone will postpone the bad times at best.