I feel as if mental health isn’t discussed enough in our generation. It seems as if there is a stigma held within society if you suffer with a mental health issue but I don’t understand why it is such an embarrassing (if that’s even the word for it) topic when a huge proportion of our generation will suffer with a mental health issue at some point in their life – that’s if they haven’t already had to deal with it. That’s why I’m gonna write this blog post. I’ve come to such a huge milestone in my life with finishing university so I’ve been reflecting on what I went through before I went to university a lot and thought that it was time that I shared my experience with mental health.
This is in no way, shape or form a post asking for sympathy, attention or comments. Only one person knows the full extent of what I went through – me. It’s not something I broadcast, but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed. It’s kind of the opposite. I’m proud of myself for dealing with it. I’m merely writing this as I’m ready to discuss it and I wanna talk about it. I’m not writing this to help anybody or educate anybody. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have much knowledge about mental health. I’m just writing this from my own personal experience and saying how I deal with depression. I’m not even expecting anybody to read this. I’m doing this completely for my benefit. But if somebody reads this and it helps them in some way, even just the slightest, then I’ll be more than happy. Also, I’m just gonna write this as I speak in real life. Whenever I do talk about my depression, I make jokes but that is just because that’s who I am. I have always been one to joke in situations where jokes aren’t appropriate. *cough* Chandler Bing. So beware that my humour is just me being me, not me humouring the situation.
I was diagnosed with depression in my second year of college at the age of eighteen but it was pretty obvious that I had been suffering from it for a while. I didn’t really know what was wrong with me before I got diagnosed. I had gone from being bubbly and hyper in high school, constantly going out with my friends and focusing on my studies to hardly leaving the house, constantly tired, constantly down and questioning absolutely everything. I had no motivation, no drive and didn’t see the point in anything. People think that depression is being constantly sad and crying all the time, but for me, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t feel sad. I just felt empty and alone.
I can remember when I got diagnosed as if it was yesterday, even though it’s almost four years ago. I’d been called into college as my attendance had dropped well below the minimum – something which students would usually get kicked out for. I went to see my psychology lecturer to get some catch up work on depression (ironically) and she sat me down and asked why I’d missed three weeks of lectures in a row. I made up excuses – something I’d got pretty good at as I was constantly missing lectures. I said I had come down with the flu. I said I’d slept in one day. I said I had a dentist appointment. But it was obvious she didn’t believe me. It was then when she asked how I was feeling in myself. Usually I’d have just lied like I did to everyone else and said I was ‘fine’ or just a bit overwhelmed with studying but I’d soldier on, but this time I didn’t. I just broke down in tears. It wasn’t just a few tears trickling down my cheek, I was hysterically sobbing to the point where I was on the edge of having a panic attack – something that never happened. She called my personal tutor to her office, who came and calmed me down. They both sat me down and my psychology lecturer told my personal tutor to get in touch with my doctor. They were both so supportive and my personal tutor arranged an emergency appointment with my doctor then got in contact with my mum, who had only just finished work after doing a night shift. My mum came to my college – completely unaware at what I’d been going through mentally – and I just broke down, yet again. After eventually calming down, my mum took me home after my personal tutor had authorised my leave from lectures for the rest of the day. I got home and did everything to avoid talking about anything. Then the time came for my appointment and my mum and I went to see my doctor. I was so fortunate that I got to see my own doctor so last minute. He’s been my doctor for my entire life – he was even my mum’s doctor whilst she was pregnant with me so I guess he’s been my doctor for my entire existence. He went through the rigmarole that they have to go through to diagnose you – ask you how you feel, if you’ve ever hurt yourself, if you’ve considered hurting yourself, what you think the matter is, the last time you can remember when you were genuinely happy etc. After telling me that I did have the symptoms to depression, he said he wouldn’t put me on antidepressants – something I was grateful for. He did, however, advise me to defer my A-levels for a year until I ‘got better’. I say ‘got better’ in inverted commas as I don’t think depression is something you ever ‘get better’ from – it’s just something you learn to deal with. From his point of view, I was feeling down in myself anyway but the stress of having my final A-levels exams fast approaching wasn’t helping with how I was feeling. He advised me to complete my A-levels the following January. I left the appointment and went back home with my mum. I can just remember that night was awful as I knew my mum felt as if she was walking on broken eggshells with me as she didn’t want to say anything that would upset me.
Going to the doctor’s wasn’t a turning point at all for me. It wasn’t like I walked through the doors one person then walked out a completely different person – a not depressed person. It didn’t get much better. It actually got worse. I remember one night being in such a mood that my mum was getting furious at me. I realise now that it was because she was so worried about me but at the time, I thought it was because she was genuinely fed up with me moping about. I ended up having countless panic attacks that night, while crying hysterically. I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with me or how I was gonna get out of this mess I’d become. Even though that evening started off with mum being so angry with me, it ended with her cuddling me in bed, trying to get me to stop crying. I was broken and completely unrecognisable to the girl I was just twelve months before.
I felt myself slipping deeper into the hole. I still wasn’t turning up to lectures. I felt like because I’d missed so many lectures that it would have been obvious when I turned up for a lecture and people in my class would ask me where I had been. I couldn’t bring myself to face my psychology lecturer now she knew that I actually had depression. She did call me into her office one more time for a talk about my grades when the January results came back – I’d gone from three marks off full marks in June 2012 to just scrapping by with a D in January 2013. I could understand why she was a bit angry. I mean, I was angry at myself for letting it get that bad, but it wasn’t like I could help it. I tried concentrating but I couldn’t. I tried forcing myself into studying but I couldn’t. I’d get more stressed out. I tried absolutely everything. Nothing was working. I’d applied to universities as the idea of moving to London in the September was the only thing getting me each day.
It got so bad that I got excluded from college for my attendance and I had to have a meeting with the principal of the sixth form academy. In the meeting, my personal tutor was practically fighting for them not to kick me out completely and was trying to reason with them so I could still take my A-Level exams the following month. The principal wasn’t supportive at all. I wasn’t really surprised as the only vibes I got from him was that he was only interested in the college’s funding and results. The vice principal, however, got on my side after seeing my grades from first year and I ended up winning the appeal. I could stay as a student at the college so long as I attended every single lecture for the rest of the month. To everyone else, that seemed easy peasy – six lectures a week for four weeks, what’s so bad about that? But to me, it seemed like the biggest challenge I’d ever have to face as it just seemed so daunting, but I agreed. The vice principal took my mum and I to the side after the meeting was over and seemed really interested in me going to a London university. She wasn’t trying to talk to me about how I was feeling or what I was doing to make myself feel better, she gave me the feeling of hope and it was like she believed in me enough to get into a London university. I told her that I’d been going to London regularly since I was a child so it felt like a home away from home and some babble about it being the legal capital of the country so it would give me better legal job opportunities. Then she said something jokingly that still sticks with me daily – If you can manage to navigate the tube map, you can get through anything.
That day was my turning point. I realised that it was now or never. The only person who could get me out of this was myself. Pills weren’t going to help. People telling me what to do or how to feel wasn’t going to help. Punishing me wasn’t going to help. Threatening me with expulsion wasn’t going to help. Moping around in bed for days on end wasn’t going to help. Shutting the world off by watching television constantly wasn’t going to help. This was down to me.
My personal tutor was by my side constantly through the next four weeks. She arranged counselling for me with a private therapist. I was supposed to have ten sessions – two each week for the four weeks I was at lectures and then one before my exams and one after my exams – but I only ended up going for two weeks as I didn’t feel as if it was helping me at all. It just seemed like an hour of me talking about things that were getting me down, making me even more down, and her sat in the corner, taking notes and asking the odd question now and again, then leaving the counselling session feeling even more depressed than I was when I walked in. Counselling and therapy might help some people but it didn’t help me at all.
I invested most of my free time planning my new life in London which gave me something to look forward to and something to aim for. I found that doing this gave me my motivation and drive back. I was gonna do everything and anything I could do to move to London to start my new life. I sat my exams and started to feel more positive each and every day. I was starting to get the old me back. Although I didn’t get my exam results that I wanted, I still got into university and that was all that mattered to me.
Moving to London was easily the best thing I did. I made an amazing set of friends and I could be the person I wanted to be, not the person I felt like I had to be. I let go of absolutely everything and made a fresh. I can remember one night, I went out to the bowling alley with some friends then came back to my flat. We stayed up until the early hours joking around and talking in the kitchen. I remember we were messing around so much that my flatmate ended up accidentally punching me and bust my lip. I wasn’t mad at all. I found it pretty hilarious. I’d never had a bust lip before and felt ‘proper ‘ard’. But I went into my room to clean it up and as I looked into the mirror, I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I cried that wasn’t down to laughing. Instead of having late nights because I was struggling to sleep, I was having late nights because I was sat around the kitchen table with my flatmates playing ‘Ring of Fire’ or watching movies in their rooms. Instead of not wanting to leave the flat because I couldn’t face the outside world, I was not wanting to leave the flat because we were having a flat party and I didn’t want to miss out on the ‘beer pong’ action. Instead of staying in my pyjamas all day because I couldn’t motivate myself into getting dressed, I was staying in my pyjamas all day, sitting in the corridor with my flatmates having the most weirdest conversations that lasted hours. Instead of going for long walks in an attempt to clear my head from all the thoughts, I was going for a long walk with my friends to take stupid selfies by all the landmarks of London. Running from my thoughts and worries had turned into running with my friends to the stage at concerts. Crying had turned into laughing. Bingeing on TV shows had turned into.. nah, they stayed the same. But I wanted to watch them instead of feeling like it was the only thing I wanted to do and the only thing that gave me an escape. My university grades were sky high and I was excelling in everything possible. The old me was back. Better than ever, in fact.
I went back to see my doctor last year for a completely different reason but he asked how I was doing and was so surprised to learn that I’d not listened to his advice to defer my education for a year and gone ahead with my exams. He was so pleased for me and admitted that he was glad he was wrong. I guess the doctor isn’t always right.. Mostly, but not all the time.
I’m not trying to make it seem like everything is better now because I still have off days. I still have weeks at a time where I feel so down and worthless, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. I know what triggers my depression and I know how to stop my depression from taking over my life. I’ve learned to not let my depression define my life. I only told my London friends a few months ago that I suffered from depression and they seemed so surprised. Not many people know I actually suffer from depression, and I just want people to realise that you don’t have to let mental health define you. Depression, anxiety, mental health overall isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s not a flaw or a weakness. In fact, I think it’s the other way round. I think I got depression because I stayed strong too long. Every little thing just built up and built up until I couldn’t cope. So now I’ve learned that it’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to cry. I still love a good cry now. If I’m feeling down, I jump in the shower, whack on Adele and sob my little heart out. It’s okay not to be okay.
Whenever I feel something triggering my depression, I just realise how far I’ve come. It’s not until you go through shit do you realise how strong you actually are. In comparison to other people, I haven’t had lots of shit to deal with but I’ve also learnt that you can’t compare yourself to other people. They aren’t you. They don’t think the same way you do. They don’t cope with things like you do. There’s always gonna be somebody worse off than you, but there’s always gonna be somebody better off than you. Mental health doesn’t affect everybody in the same way and I think that’s the problem. Some people might be stronger than others and they might not let things get to them. I know for one that I am more sensitive than I should be, but I’ve learned to accept that. I cry over the silliest of things, but that’s me. And I’ve stopped comparing myself to somebody who doesn’t cry at all. You’re born original so don’t die a copy.
Mental health isn’t treated the same as physical health and I think, in a way, mental health is way more important than physical health. I mean, how you are physically is important but mentally more so. I mean, a broken arm will heal – you might be in a cast for six weeks and might have to stop doing something you love until you recover, but it doesn’t alter who you are. Mental health does. There’s things you can do to avoid suffering with a physical health issue. I mean, things like being careful when you’re jumping on a bed so you don’t fall off and break your leg or wearing a helmet and protective gear when rollerskating and whatever you thrill seekers do. But mental health can affect everyone, no matter how strong you are or how much you try to prevent it. That’s why I think people need to talk about mental health more so that people realise that it’s not a weakness. There’s too many people these days that think saying ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out of it’ will make everything better. Like, golly gosh, Betty, never thought of that one. Thanks! I know when I was feeling the way I did during college, I was told the generic ‘supportive’ things that really aren’t supportive at all. It’s not that the people who said the comments weren’t supportive at all as they were, it’s just because they had no idea what to say as they don’t get mental health.
What to do if somebody you know is suffering or you suspect is suffering from depression:
- Instead of saying ‘cheer up’ say ‘you won’t always feel like this’. To me, ‘cheer up’ was such an impossibility when I was suffering from a major depression episode. I found getting out of bed an impossibility, never mind sorting my life out and smiling a sincere smile. By saying that it won’t always be like this, it’ll make them realise that things will get better and there’s hope in the future. That’s what really made me realise everything was gonna be alright – when I was showed hope.
- Instead of pretending nothing is going on, ask the person questions. If you show genuine interest, it will make a world of difference to them. The questions don’t have to be specific about their mental health, but ask them about themselves. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask them about happy memories. Ask them about why they think they feel this way. Ask them what they’ve done this week. You don’t have to go into super secret psychologist mode. Just be there for them and listen to what they say.
- And if you feel uncomfortable talking to them about things (which you shouldn’t but if you do..), make them laugh. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Just because when you think of ‘depression’ you automatically think ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ and ‘gloom’, it doesn’t mean that the person can’t laugh. And if you’re not a comedian, sit with them and watch their favourite comedian’s stand up DVD or whack on a funny movie.
- Instead of saying ‘you’ll get through this’, say ‘I’m here for you’. Knowing they aren’t alone and always have somebody to talk to will mean a hell of a lot. But don’t just say it to be kind. Mean it. From personal experience, I always had friends who’d say ‘I’m here for you’ and when it came down to it, they were nowhere to be seen.
- Remind them that they are strong. If they don’t believe you, remind them of ways that make you think they’re strong. It doesn’t have to be huge achievements like winning a Grammy award or becoming the East Coast’s fastest hotdog eating champion of 2016, because chances are they haven’t had achievements like that. But remind them of little victories that can make them realise that they can accomplish things and aren’t useless.
These are just a few things that would have made me feel a little better when I was really bad. That doesn’t mean they will help every single person. Like I said mental health affects people in completely different ways so you have to approach it specifically to the person suffering with it. Just make sure they know they’re not alone and you’re there for them whenever they need you.
What to do if you are suffering or suspect you’re suffering from depression:
- If you think you have depression or your mental health is suffering, don’t suffer in silence. There are people out there to help you. Even if you think your family won’t listen or your friends won’t care (they will, trust me), but your doctor will always be there for you. Any health professional for that matter. They are in that job because they care about helping people and they wanna help you. Even if you don’t think it’s depression or anxiety or stress and you’re just feeling a bit down, go to your doctor and tell them how you’re feeling. They can advice you from a completely unbiased point of view over what’s best for you. They won’t judge you. They won’t tell you to ‘cheer up’ or ‘you’re just being a hormonal teenager’ or ‘you’ll grow out of it’ or ‘stop being selfish’ or ‘PMS is a bitch, right?’. They are there for you 100%.
- One thing I found really helpful when I was down was writing myself a letter. I wrote myself two letters. In this first letter I didn’t mention anything about what I was feeling like at that moment in time and focused on being more positive about the future. I decided to write it to myself for ten years in the future and asked myself lots of questions about what my future would be like ten years from then. I wondered if I finished college, if I graduated from university, what job I’d be doing, if I’d be married, if I’d have children. I reminded myself to see the people I loved – my family, my childhood friends, the friends I had at college. The second letter was a more depressing letter. I wrote about all my worries and all my thoughts. I wrote about what was getting me down and why I was feeling so alone and empty. I wrote about absolutely everything that came into my head. Even if it didn’t make sense at the time, I wrote it down. I think my letter got to be about ten pages long, but I really felt like it was lifting a weight off my shoulders. After the two letters were written, I put the first letter in an envelope and dated it for ten years into the future then put it in a safe place – somewhere I still know where it is today, three years on. Then I took the second letter outside and went for a walk to the canal with a lighter and burnt it. It might sound really dramatic and pretty pointless, but it made me feel so good. I’d gotten everything off my chest and now I was kind of destroying them worries. It really, really helped me. I don’t even know what made me decide to do it that way but it helped and I’m so glad I did it because it gave me some sort of prospect.
- Recognise your triggers. This is easier said than done, but doing the second letter will help as it will help you identify what makes you so upset and down. Mine were, and still to this day are:
– when somebody lets me down
– when plans fall through
– when I disappoint myself (e.g. fall behind on targets)
– when I let my workload get on top of myself
– when I feel like I have no escape
– when something major happens in my life (e.g. parents divorcing or graduating)
- Once you know what your triggers are, recognise ways in which you can stop yourself from falling back into an episode of depression (or if you’re still in an episode, what you can do to get out of that feeling). Triggers aren’t always in your control, but there are little things that I do to help myself feel better about the situation. For example, when I feel like I have no escape, I go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be to anywhere specific. It doesn’t even have to be a really exciting walk. I just put my music on and walk for as long as I want to. It just makes me realise that I can escape. The fresh air makes me feel better about myself. My favourite spot to walk to in London when I was feeling this trigger was Hampstead Heath. I used to just walk through the heath and sit on top of Parliament Hill overlooking London. It really added some perspective into how I was feeling and helped a lot. Don’t stress though if you can’t recognise something to do to stop a certain trigger. I’ve been doing this trigger thing for three years now and I’ve still not worked out a sensible way to stop myself from falling into an episode when somebody lets me down. Still to this day, if someone lets me down or disappoints me, I get really worked up and upset. It’s come to that point where I just expect to be let down, which is not a good thing at all. I’m still learning.
I really do apologise for this really lengthy blog post but I’ve been wanting to do this for ages and now I’ve finally done it, I feel so much better. I really hope this helps in some way, even just the tinsiest bit. And just remember, it’s okay to not be okay!
(If anybody ever needs anybody to talk to, vent to or just ask for advice, you’re more than welcome to get in contact with me. I’ve been so open with my experience with depression in the hope that people can approach me without feeling like they are being judged. I know what it feels like to be alone and have nobody when you need somebody the most and I’d never want anybody to ever go through that so if you need somebody, get in contact with me via any social media or even by messaging me on here and I will be there to listen. I promise! ☺)