It Gets Better – A Reflection on Depression

This is not the post I thought I’d be writing today. I’ve got two entries that I’m currently working on in my drafts all about moving forwards and what I want to get done over the next few weeks, but for some reason I decided today to look back.

A few years ago I started writing ‘morning pages’. If you’ve never heard of them, they’re basically stream-of-consciousness pages of writing that you’re supposed to do first thing in the morning. Apparently it helps with your creativity. You can write about absolutely anything, but they often tended to be quite diary-ish on my part.

It just so happened that the notebook I picked up today contained entries from 2.5-3 years ago, when I was in my final year at university. I want to share two of those entries with you, and I then I’ll talk about them afterwards. It’s a little long, but I would ask you to please, keep going.

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“25/01/2013

I don’t really know how I’m feeling today. A bit vulnerable maybe. A bit sad. It’s after 3pm and I’ve done nothing. Partly because I got up after 12. I was up until 3am – talked to X until after 2. I liked talking to them, but we started talking about me visiting in February and I said I’m 95% certain it can go ahead. Having slept on it, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. I could afford it, but I really need to do uni work that week, particularly my dissertation. But they said they were lonely, so I feel bad saying it’s not a good idea.

I feel like it’s too much, like I want to crawl inside myself again and shut out the world. I don’t want to have to make the effort to talk to anyone. And it is effort. It’s so hard being happy and cheery and making an effort to socialise when it feels like it matters more to me than them. I know that’s not necessarily the case, I’m just emotional. Or, lack of emotional. I want to live! I want to enjoy life! Why can’t I? It’s not fair! And in Being Human last night, when Mitchell died I wasn’t sad – I was relieved. I was so glad it was finally over for him. And part of me feels like that about myself. I just want it to be over. I don’t want to do this anymore. And every now and then I surface out of this and am determined that I’m going to get on with life and be productive and this and that but…

I’m tired. And I’m scared. And I want it to stop.

Every now and then I get overwhelmed by how much I love life and want to live. But it vanishes as quickly as it arrives, adn I’m stuck like this. This state where I just don’t care. I don’t feel. I don’t want to engage. I just sit here sighing and occasionally tearing up. You don’t know how strong the temptation is to buy some strong spirits to try and feel less, or to do something – starve myself, punch something, I don’t know – to feel more. I miss myself. I can’t do this anymore.

And then there’s the part of me that says I’m being stupid and melodramatic. That my emotions are due to lack of sleep, over-sleeping and probably the time-of-the-month. That if I showered, exercised and cleaned I’d feel better. I’ve got no reason to feel down, it’s not like I suffer from depression or anything. I exist fine most of the time. Everyone gets down now and then.

I’m so scared this is going to ruin my life. I don’t get anything done when like this, and I don’t care about anything. And I’m so scared I’m going to end up alone. I don’t know how to make friends and connect to people. When I feel like this, I don’t want to put any effort in either. But I have such a capacity to love, I think. I just don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone who’ll get close enough. There’ s little I wouldn’t do for my family and some of my friends. But who would ever love me? I just want to connect with people. What’s wrong with me that I can’t and people don’t want to? Maybe mum’s right, maybe I’m just lonely.

But I’ve started doing more and more rash things, and that’s also starting to scare me. Like ____ and ____, and the fact that my mind keeps telling me to make some expensive purchases. I’m scared I’m going to say ‘screw it’ and go for it. Sometimes my mind just switches off the think before you buy/act part and it feels like it’s threatening to do that at the moment. I’m just being stupid. We’ve had nearly two pages of me feeling sorry for myself now – I should drag myself up and do something productive. I have an entire book to read by Tuesday after all.

I’m so scared it’s going to mess up my final term at uni. I don’t want to fail. At uni or at life. I need to get my life in gear! Not waste it wallowing on the couch in my pjs feeling sorry for myself. I hope I get an appointment soon.”

“Yesterday was not a good day. In fact, I found it really scary, and whilst I’m feeling a little better today I feel vulnerable in its wake. I couldn’t sleep until the early hours of the morning, and kept having little anxiety attacks about the way I was feeling – was I going to be stuck like this forever? I can’t remember exactly what it was I was thinking though – I also had a headache. 

So when my alarm went off this morning, I ignored it and I haven’t gone to work. Whilst most of yesterday was spent wanting to find a GP today and get help, towards the end of the evening I genuinely wanted to get up and go to work. But I just couldn’t after so little sleep. So here we are today. I have to face H when she finds out I’ve skipped again, and I have to face myself.

Myself feels quiet. I don’t know that I’ll talk much today. I am still scared. All I could think about yesterday was death, and that this is my life now – because how can I ever achieve anything if this keeps happening to me and makes me not care? I got a shower yesterday evening. Sat down and alternately cried and laughed for 50 minutes. Mostly cried. No idea why – ended up telling myself off about it a little bit. I had no reason to cry, and yet I did.

I dreamt about a funeral last night, and being able to pay my respects. Granddad was alive in it so I think it was Grandma’s. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been to their graves. Not sure if I’d want to – it seems a bit weird. I don’t know.

I think that’s today’s motto – I don’t know. I know I should do yoga but I don’t really want to so I don’t know if I should just make myself. Since I’m feeling vulnerable, scared and quiet I don’t know if I should try skyping J again. I don’t know what to eat, if I should get dressed, what I should do.. the only thing I know is that I have to start reading. That’s it. And I want to get that done today.

I’m also… I’ve forgotten exactly what it is that I was going to say next. It’s so annoying! I really was terrified yesterday that I was going crazy. I can’t wait to see a therapist. I just need to feel like someone is there to help me.

I know what I was going to say. I’m scared I won’t be able to sleep tonight either. I really want to get more into a routine so that I stop oversleeping and going to sleep far too late. That’s another reason I’m not sure about yoga – I think a proper 20+ mins session would help me, but I don’t feel up to that just at the moment. My head is a bit funny. Exercise might also help – hence why I wanted to go to work – but I feel even less like doing that. All I really want to do is go back to bed and sleep. I like sleep. Asleep you forget all the troubles when awake. But if I did sleep all day it would mess up tonight and I probably wouldn’t get any work done.

What I wouldn’t give for this to pass. I was thinking I’d be happy to take anti-depressants if it meant I could stop feeling like that – strange because I’ve always thought I wouldn’t want them – drugs and the self etc. [I’m referring here to an Anthropology reading] but how I was yesterday (and today) – it doesn’t feel like me. I don’t recognise the person I become. Maybe it’s because I feel I have no control, and I make my person believing it is something I can control? I wonder if I can use myself in my dissertation [How do experiences of suffering from depression relate to the way in which the identity/personhood/the self of the sufferer is constructed?]. Something to ask next week. I really, really need to do more reading for it. I should do some today along with the book on hackers. But depending on the time when I finish this last little bit I might do some meditation first. If it looks like H will arrive soon, then I’ll leave it until later.

Poor Anna. I wish I could hug you. You didn’t sign up for this at all, and you don’t deserve it. I miss you. The old you. The child. It’s a terrible thing that we have to keep moving forwards when we desperately want to fix things behind.”

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Two months later, once I finally started seeing a university-prescribed therapist, I was diagnosed with moderate depression and severe anxiety.

I’ve never really discussed this with my family. I talked about it to a couple of my friends, but aside from with one or two people I’m not sure that I ever went into much detail. As I wrote over and over in the pages that I’ve been reading today, I thought I was just feeling sorry for myself. That I should stop complaining, that I was just being lazy.

So why did I decide to share these pages from what I remember being some of the hardest days of my life so far? I mean, I’ve been very consciously not sharing my experiences fully for some time now. As much as I advocate open discussion about mental health, I don’t really practice what I preach. I’ve talked about anxiety and the benefits of talking to a professional about it a little bit. And I’ve discussed an experience not listed in this entry (what I would call my worst day) at work before as a way of opening up discussion, but on a whole I tend to stay quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever said out loud to members of my family that I was diagnosed with depression by three separate health care professionals in that part of my life. I mean, it’s embarrassing, isn’t it? You feel like you should be able to just pull yourself together, that so many other people have it way tougher than you do and come on, stop complaining – you should be able to cope!

(And also it’s so hard to say, Surprise! I hid this difficult part of my life from all of you at the time and I’m sorry that I didn’t ask any of you for help. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you. It was just me. And I still feel it would kind of be embarrassing for us to talk about this face-to-face, so I’m just going to post this on the internet for anyone to read. It’s easier that way.)

But I feel like I’m doing a disservice if I don’t share this and talk about it, to both myself and to others. To myself because I’ve hid the fact that I was depressed during that time for so long that I feel that I can’t talk authentically about my experiences whilst I’m keeping quiet about it. I can’t open up and be myself when I’m keeping a large part of my recent history hidden – because at the time it was a really large part of my life, and it was exhausting.

But why to others?

Because recently I’ve talked to a fair few people who are unhappy about the way life is at the moment, and they feel like it will ‘be like this forever’. But the biggest thing I took away from reading over what was – essentially – my diary, was just how much had changed. I have talked about this in my About page. But back then, I wasn’t looking after myself. I isolated myself, stopped going to classes and took a leave of absence from my job. I wasn’t eating right. I wasn’t sleeping right. I didn’t feel, or care, or I felt vulnerable, scared, sad, lonely and ‘crazy’. I didn’t know what was happening. And I was utterly terrified of asking for help.

Two and a half years later, I’m OK. For the most part, I’m happy. I have a much more thriving social life that I seek out. I’ve been going to classes for things that interest me, successfully working a full-time job in a high-stress industry. I eat pretty healthily. I exercise. I do yoga. I have much higher self-esteem. I’ve worked through a lot of my anxiety issues. I have a support network – and I’m even involved in the Mental Health Allies initiative at work. Things aren’t always perfect – I still have the odd vulnerable day here and there – but they’re better.

I have a life again.

This is what I want to stress. When you’re depressed, one of the hardest possible things to deal with is that it feels like there’s no end in sight. You can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. It feels like this is the way life is now, and that you’ll never get any better. Things will get better. It isn’t quick, and it’s definitely easier if you ask for help. I’ve seen a therapist for general talking-therapy. I saw another for sessions of CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy]. My GP got me on an anxiety course, a free 3-month gym pass [exercise by referral initiative], and I was going to go on a ‘sleep hygiene’ course to address my insomnia but I had to cancel it in the end. I’ve been stricter about looking after myself – I know that there’s a good chance I’ll have a bad day after I’ve drank alcohol, so I limit myself. Rather than going with friends to the pub of an evening, I’ll go for brunch or have tea in the afternoon. I’ve taken medication for when my anxiety gets too physical for me to cope with. I will tell a friend when it seems like I’m not doing too well.

I couldn’t have done this alone. It took me about a year to pluck up the courage to speak to someone, because I was constantly telling myself that I was making a fuss over nothing. Yes, to some extent it helps that I had an “OK, that’s definitely not sane” moment in the weeks following the above ‘diary’ entries, but by that point I’d already asked the university counselling services for an assessment. One of the main reasons I plucked up the courage to ask for help was other people sharing their experiences, and me recognising myself in them. Even if that came in the form of saying “well I’m not depressed, but I feel like that too”. Eventually there were too many ‘shared experiences’ for me to ignore, and whilst I was still saying “I think I’m fine and just feeling sorry for myself” – I did eventually go and see someone. This was made even easier by talking to people going through the same thing, and in a way supporting each other through our search for support.

Silence doesn’t help anyone. I’m not doing any good by not talking about what I went through. It doesn’t matter if you think I’m being stupid, or that I was making a fuss over nothing, or that this is a waste of time. I know how I felt. And if I can help even one more person feel a little less alone, feel a little more validated in the way they feel, then I want to do that.

I want to help people get better. If you want to talk to me, to ask me something, whether you want to get something off your chest or just want to learn more, feel free to. If you just want to know that someone’s gone through a similar thing to you – not the same, because everyone’s experiences are different – that’s OK too. That has helped me far more than I can express here.

But mostly, I just want you to know that it gets better. One of the things we were taught in MHA training was that a large percentage of people who suffer from a mental health problem a) mostly recover in around 18 months, and b) don’t have a repeat episode. It takes time, it takes help, and sometimes it can take what seems like an infinite number of attempts at finding what works for you. But it’s not going to be like this forever. It can’t be like this forever. Whatever situation you’re in right now – that’s going to change. Life moves on. Think of how different the world is now to how it was even 10 years ago. Think of how different it is now to 50 years ago!

Nothing lasts forever. This won’t either. And you should always keep fighting.

Useful links:

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/depression/Pages/Introduction.aspx
http://itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/
http://www.depressionalliance.org/
http://www.samaritans.org/ – 24-hour helpline: 08457 90 90 90

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