Depression first snuck up on me roughly 5 years ago, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with every day since, and likely will for the rest of my life. It’s odd, I do struggle to remember myself and how I predominantly felt before it hit. But that’s what this illness does, it removes the positive feelings, and everything just becomes a blur.
For many, depression is a slow build. It slowly chips away at most, until one day it’s fully enveloped you, and you can’t see a way out. For me, it was instant. It was a high-speed crash into a brick wall. In the space of a few weeks I went from the old bubbly me, to an absolute mess. I couldn’t function properly, and I hadn’t yet learnt to hide it. My change was rather obvious at the beginning, the smiles had vanished, my head was often in my hands, and people picked up on this quickly. It wasn’t long before people were worrying about me.
I’ve often talked, in most cases ranted, about what depression is, and how it’s misunderstood. Too many times I’ve seen people use the term “depressed” when their favourite show isn’t on, or if they’re spending the evening indoors rather than out drinking, and it annoys me. It’s not depression, and it’s insulting to those who actually do suffer with it. When many think of depression, they subconsciously envision sadness and tears, and while that’s partly the case, it’s mostly a nothingness. It’s the feeling of days, weeks, months passing by in a blur, but not in a ‘wow that flew by’ way. It’s slow, it’s dreary, and it feels like I’ve been battling this illness for a lot longer than 5 years.
Teachers and heads had picked up on my change at school, and one rung up my mum to discuss how I had seemed lately at home. My parents hadn’t noticed any particular changes, although they had noticed I was shutting myself off from others a bit more. I was then asked by heads to see the school’s councillor, who then in turn recommended that I see a doctor as well. He straightaway diagnosed me with depression and severe anxiety, and I was immediately put on medication.
As most know, the two main methods used for dealing with depression are medication, and counselling/therapy. Over the last 5 years I’ve had experience of both, and it was clear from the start that only one of these was for me. Counselling was not for me at all. I hated those sessions I was made to attend, and I never really felt that anything particularly positive came from it. I of course knew that any changes wouldn’t be instant, but even after months of sessions I realised it was pointless. Medication on the other hand, has always helped me. It doesn’t so much fix the problems, and medication brings its own side effects; but it balances the chemicals, makes me more relaxed, at ease, and helps me get through each day.
Depression is full of peaks and troughs, and not every day is a terrible one. Some days you can barely get through, but there are some days that are genuinely good, and you feel good. Over the last 5 years I have definitely had some good times, where my depression has been more under control. This includes most of my term time at Uni, the summer of 2015, and since I moved into my own flat in Southampton last November. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m not suffering at these times. I still have to deal with my depression every single day, I still am on medication (and likely always will be), and it affects pretty much all I do.
When I am at my worst, and the illness fully has its grip, life almost becomes pointless. I’m not going to go into graphic detail about all that has happened these past 5 years, but at times I’ve been an absolute mess. Night after night for years crying myself to sleep, hoping not to wake up at all in the morning. Since depression hit me 5 years ago, I’ve also had problems with self-harming, and other things that have stemmed on from this.
One of the hardest aspects of depression, is its ability to make even the simplest everyday tasks impossible. Getting out of bed some days is the hardest thing to do, eating is often tough, and finding the focus and drive to complete tasks is sometimes hopeless. As someone who is very organised, very task orientated, and is always giving himself projects, this can be extremely tiring, and only fuels the flames. Depression and anxiety hugely affects my relationships, my friendships, and makes socialising incredibly hard for me – especially as late last year I moved to a new city, where I don’t know anyone. It’s hard to make plans in advance not knowing how you’re going to feel that day, worried you’re going to have to let someone down by cancelling those plans.
Depression also takes away the control out of my life. I’m not a fan of change, and I like having control of my life, for it to be organised, and as planned as it can be. I like knowing where I’m going, what the future is going to hold, but depression strips this away. However, there are aspects of my life that can really help me to control my depression. As someone who is incredibly organised and needs a spotless flat, cleaning and organising has become something that can keep me sane, and bring some control into my life. But it’s only partial; depression makes sure of that.
I also have big reservations about how depression and anxiety will affect me going forward, and hinder my ability to progress. I worry that my struggles to socialise and connect with people will hinder my ability to progress up the ladder at work. I agonise that this will also stop me meeting new people, stop me finding someone, stop me having the future I desperately want. I also worry about how it will affect any future relationships that I have, and even further ahead, how it would affect me being a parent.
How have I learnt to live with depression and anxiety these past 5 years? I’m not particularly sure if anyone ever really learns to fully live with it. The biggest control I have is my medication, and I’ve also got a lot better at hiding my problems each and every day. I, as many do, have learnt to paint on a smile, and just focus on getting through each day unscathed. Sometimes it’s all we can do. When you’re frequently told “it’s all your head”, and to “get over it”, it takes its toll. When you are called “grumpy”, “moody”, it grinds you down. I can’t help how I feel each and every day, and I really wish I could somehow choose not to feel this way.
I’ve managed to find hobbies and methods to feel more in control: cleaning, projects, writing, going on walks, and these really help clear my head. I also have great people around me who do generally try to help, even if not saying or doing the right thing all of the time. Right now, I like to think I’m in generally a decent place. I graduated with first class honours last year, now have a decent full time job, my own flat in Southampton, and I have a lot of great projects on the go. I feel that depression has helped to shape me into the person I am today, some aspects I wish weren’t there, but there’s also some great bits. Depression even helped me to lose all that weight a few years back, and transform my health and body.
I like to think I’d still have these traits and experiences minus the depression, but alas there’s no way of knowing. Of course, there’s no part of me that’s thankful for depression or enjoys having it, it’s a disgusting, horrific illness that plagues every single day of my life. Even when I’m having my successes, even when I’m feeling happy, that depression is always there, always will be, and can creep up at any time without a warning.
So why have I written this? Why have I tried to find the courage to open up as much as this? Because I believe more people should be. The only way that we can end the stigma around depression and other mental illnesses are by talking about them, and being open. When reading this, people shouldn’t be disgusted, just like they wouldn’t be if it were a physical condition. It should become normal for people to write about this, just like people are able to write great pieces on how they live with disabilities, and other illnesses.
To anyone out there that does suffer in silence, keeping it all inside, please speak up, and talk to somebody. Go and speak to a doctor, or a counsellor, and please get help. Depression can be controlled, and you can be successful despite it. For those who do openly suffer with it, keep going, keep opening up, and maybe write about it. It’ll help you, and it will damn well help others (I really hope that this does).
For those who have family, friends, loved ones who suffer with mental health problems, keep just being there. I know it’s not always easy being there for someone with depression, anxiety etc., but it really does help the sufferer. We’ll often push people away, say things we might not mean, and if you don’t know what to say, just let them lead the conversation. They can generally lead you to the right areas, trust them, and just be there.
I really hope that anyone who reads this doesn’t think any less or different of me, (hopefully more of me), and I hope that this helps more people to be open about depression and other mental health issues, because it’s only then can we really hope to get through it all. It’s only then will the stigma be banished, and it can get the help and treatment it deserves.