During January of this year I wrote an article for the Irish website a Lust For Life. The article entitled “Depression; a story of acceptance” has since been shared 868 times and I cannot express how much writing and publishing this article has changed my life. (you can read here: http://www.alustforlife.com/personal-stories/depression-a-story-of-acceptance ) The reaction to my story was mainly positive but I guess, at the time, a lot of people couldn’t understand why I would share something so personal to literally hundreds of people. The way I phrased it in the article was that depression is too often seen as a bad word, one that is not acceptable to say in public. What I want to ask is why not? Why is it not socially acceptable to openly talk about depression? Too often I feel as if people are expecting me to be embarrassed or ashamed. I visited hell inside of my own body and I am working my way out of it and I am proud of myself. I am proud of how hard I’ve worked, and I’m proud of the support my family and friends have constantly offered me. So yes I am going to talk about it, and acknowledge all that happened. I kept my depression silent for such a long time and it did me no good. Talking is the first and hardest step to battling depression. So what we need to do – as a nation, as communities, as families – is make depression an acceptable conversation topic.
Since writing the article I have delivered speeches throughout my home county of Meath. This blog post is a snippet of what I spoke about at these talks:
I don’t know how long I’ve had depression. It was confirmed by my GP almost three years ago but when it actually began I’ll never know. I was always the worrier, constantly over thinking things from as young as I can remember. I could act confident but inside I was nervous wreck in a near constant state of paranoia. I got into a habit of telling myself how unimportant I was, how nobody wanted me around them – a habit I’m still working on kicking to this day. When I started secondary school at age 12 things only got worse. The names I called myself got crueler and I became more withdrawn. Of course, I still took part in extracurricular activities, expanded my friend groups and continued doing extremely well in school. On the surface I seemed fine – a bit quieter than I was before but nothing to set off alarm bells. But as the years passed my mental health deteriorated rapidly. Nowadays it scares me to think how bad I got, how intense my feelings of self-hatred were. I would leave class several times a day to lock myself in the bathroom stall, just for three or four minutes with my head in my hands trying to control my breathing. I then started doing this in my friend’s houses, at parties, in nightclubs and even in my own home. These panic attacks only got worse at night. As dramatic and cliché as this sounds, I would literally cry myself to sleep every night. I would wake up on a pillow still wet from the night before, even if I didn’t remember crying.I hated going to bed because I would just lie there for hours, with these thoughts running through my head so violently I would be left with a headache. I heard the voices of loved ones in my head telling me how much they hated me, when in reality they never would have said those things to me. But as bad as the nights were, I never wanted the morning to come. I had grown to hate everything about myself, the things I said, the sound of my voice, my awkwardness and most strongly – my appearance. I would either stare at my reflection obsessively, noting every flaw or avoid mirrors altogether. One fantasy I would replay over in my mind was of punching mirrors so I could feel the glass slitting my knuckles and the broken image before me finally showing me what I felt inside. As simple of tasks as dressing in the morning would leave me in tears. I would run my hands over my body in disgust, pinching every part I hated. This self hatred, coupled with a lack of sleep brought me into a very dark place.
I was sixteen years old and I wished I was dead.
Despite being routinely consumed by such negative thoughts it never crossed my mind that I could have depression. I actually distinctly remember thinking what I was feeling was normal. That everybody felt the same way and I envied them for how casually they appeared to be dealing with it. The main reason though that I didn’t think I had depression was because I didn’t understand what depression was. I had no idea what the symptoms were. I knew it was what caused people to commit suicide and that it was often triggered by what could be summarised as tragic life events. But I came from a stable and loving family. I had never been bullied or abused. I knew I was lucky to have the life I had which was why I couldn’t understand why I was so unhappy.
That’s the thing about depression though, it’s not biased. It can affect anyone at any stage in their lives.
Throughout my school years our mental health was never discussed. I’ve no memories of ever attending workshops on emotional well being or classes on understanding what mental health is. We grow so much during our school years, and are influenced by our surroundings which is why primary and secondary school should be about more than learning Maths, English or History. From what I have heard things have changed in the past three years but it pains me to think how many young people, including myself, could’ve received help earlier if we knew what was happening to us. If we only knew who we could talk to, to ask for help.
I’m fortunate to have a very close relationship with my mam, and I considered for a quite long time, months even, about telling her about how I was feeling. The timing just never seemed right, as there always appeared to be something more important going on. Telling her I was feeling sad just seemed ridiculous. My personal problems appeared so insignificant. However, I finally got up the courage to talk to her one evening in early September 2013. I went into my parents’ bedroom, sat down on the bed and told her simply: I felt sad a lot. Mam of course was concerned and asked me the obvious question: Why? Why was I sad? What was making me sad? Trouble in school, a fight with friends …? The problem was, I had no idea why I was feeling that way. We talked, and I cried for almost two hours and afterwards I felt a lot better, like a weight off my chest had been lifted.
I was starting sixth year at the time so school was quickly becoming even more intolerable. I just wanted out. Everything came to head one day when I text mum again if she could pick me up early from after-school study. I had remained calm in school all day, and, as I thought, had kept up that façade on the short journey home. When we did get home I went straight up to my room and let loose. I screamed as loud as I could into the scarf I was wearing, trying to let out all the toxic energy that had been locked inside me all day. In later months, I would take more drastic actions to feel this release. My mum came into my room shortly after, a somber expression on her face. It was the first time she used the word depression in front of me as she asked if I wanted to talk to a doctor. I sobbed into her shoulder as I nodded my reply.
That’s another thing about depression – we don’t know what the recovery process consists of. I hadn’t an iota of what would happen if I spoke to a doctor. And thing is, over the Christmas holidays I broke my foot. It hurt like a bitch, but I was never scared or worried as I knew exactly what to expect. Doctor, painkillers, x-ray, cast, crutches – repeat for six weeks. I knew all this because I’ve known plenty of people to have broken limbs and they never had any inhibitions talking about it. This is not the case unfortunately with mental health and I was terrified taking every step towards recovery.
I had agreed to visit the doctor but that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared. I imagined him laughing in my face when I told him, or worse, being sent to a hospital for some form of psychoanalysis. It took an hour and a half for my GP to diagnosis me with depression. He prescribed me anti-depressants and put me on a waiting list to see a counselor. Mum cried when he said I was depressed. I however didn’t. To be honest, I was relieved. It wasn’t that I wanted to have depression – I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy – but I was relieved that something was going to be done about how I was feeling – that something COULD be done. I could finally put a name to what I was feeling. The thing was, I knew that if I went into that doctor’s office and was told that there was nothing wrong with me it would only take a few more years for me to give up fighting it – there was no way I could go on living much longer like this.
Even when I was suicidal I still thought that there was a possibility that there was nothing wrong with me.
I told very few people about my depression as I struggled to accept it myself. Taking medication every day and seeing a counselor made it all very real very quickly. I was lucky that I got along well with the psychiatrist I was assigned to but that didn’t mean counselling was easy. I had to explore certain issues and factors in my life, issues I would have happily ignored. It was an emotional roller-coaster that left me exhausted. It was, and still is hard work, but you have to be persistent if you want to get better.
Unfortunately for me, things did get worse before they got better. Before I even realised what I was doing I had begun to self-harm. It started off mild at first, before I actually started cutting. Self-harm is an even more of a taboo subject than depression. I guess it’s difficult to understand why a person would purposely hurt themselves. For me it was about turning my mental anguish into physical pain, and also about what I spoke about earlier, releasing all the negativity from my body. I know for a fact that the year I did my Leaving Certificate in 2014 self-harm and depression were major issues among the sixth year girls (I attended an all girls Catholic school). We were taught that our studies were all that mattered. It was constantly think of your future think of your future – when we didn’t know how we were going to get through the week. I sat my exams with a blade in my skirt pocket because it was the only coping mechanism I knew.
Admitting to my counselor that I was self-harming was by far the scariest thing I had to do. I begged him to promise me that what I was about to tell him would be in complete confidence. But because I was under the age of 18 my parents were informed. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when I told them. I had been taking my medication and meeting my counselor for an hour every week yet it appeared I wasn’t getting better. It was hard to see at the time but I actually was getting better. I spoke out about my self-harming before it went on too long. I realised that if I wanted to get better I was going to have to work hard towards it. It was around this time that I started writing poetry. The first thing I ever wrote that resembled a poem was written during a panic attack as I tried to calm down. The writing was barely legible in the morning but it has definitely helped. Since then I have written over 100 poems. My poetry is definitely not of a high standard but it has become a relaxing hobby of mine and something I know will calm me down if I am upset. Whenever I wanted to self-harm I would write as it kept my head and hands distracted. This eventually led to the creation of this blog.
Today, I still have confidence issues and have bad days just like everyone else. My panic attacks have not disappeared either. But I continue to get better every day. As I said before, it scares me to think about how bad I let my depression get before I looked for help. I’m more in control of my mood these days and when I get down I use all the positive coping mechanisms therapy taught me. All the amazing help and support I have received is the reason why I feel comfortable writing and talking about my experience.
My message is one of positivity and it is one I wanted to share, especially today ,on World Mental Health Day.