Depression – My Journey and the Unnecessary Stigma

We all experience variations in our moods, and everyone responds to situations differently. People with depression have vivid and frightening ups and downs, or highs and lows. Elation, happiness, sadness, disappointment, emptiness, and misery. There can seem no obvious cohesion or sense to it, and it’s very difficult to talk about it. Speaking from experience, talking about depression is a taboo subject for many people, and it has a terrible stigma attached. People are happy to discuss physical ailments, but mental health is a different issue altogether. People don’t understand it, and with that lack of understanding, comes misjudgements and misunderstandings. Some people even question whether depression is a genuine thing. This continually shocks me, because depression is very real for me. It has been since I was fifteen years old, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. I’m at peace with it though, because I’ve learnt how to manage it.

In June 2007, I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was experiencing highs and lows of moods, and they were completely unpredictable. One moment, I’d be happy and almost delirious with excitement for life, but an hour later? I would be lost in the dark abyss of depression and be contemplating suicide. I couldn’t control it, and it made me lose love for everything that had previous made me happy. I lost interest in reading, writing and studying, which had always been my passion. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I couldn’t stand leaving the house either, and I felt lost and empty. I could summon no hope for the future, and that frightened me. So I visited my doctor.

My GP was incredibly supportive, and I needed that. I was studying for my A-levels at the time, and I was terrified that the depression would ruin that for me. It didn’t. My GP talked me through my condition, and after several meetings with counsellors and a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. I know, it sounds terrifying, and I went home feeling very sick. What did that mean? Was I crazy? I just didn’t know, but I decided I wouldn’t let it wreck my life. I couldn’t. I’d survived a difficult and traumatic childhood, and that was more difficult than this, surely? My education had always been the rock that steadied me, and I didn’t want to lose that on account of mental illness. The prospect terrified me.

I started to attend CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and Psychotherapy, which helped me immensely. I started to identify certain triggers in my life that prompted my low moods, which included minor arguments and situations of conflict. I have always struggled to maintain healthy relationships, because I’d run away to avoid potentially upsetting situations. If me and my boyfriend had a minor argument over something ridiculous (ie whether to fry or scramble an egg, or where to go on holiday) then I’d flip out and decide the relationship was doomed. Rationally, I knew it was a ridiculous thought process, but I just had to accept that my mind didn’t necessarily function like others. With the help of CBT, I have managed to identify these triggers and train myself into thinking slightly differently. I still react emotionally, but I take a moment now and think things through. I’m capable of being more rational about it. It definitely helps.

My main comfort throughout the process is knowing that I’m not alone. I remember breaking down in tears at the doctors, and wailing that I was losing my mind. I questioned why no-one else felt like this, or appeared to. I felt so alone. My doctor regarded me for a moment, and then told me to go home and ‘google’ my condition. I was amazed at the results. I wasn’t alone, and that meant the world to me. I discovered blogs and websites dedicated to offering support, and discussing other people’s personal journeys and thoughts. It was an immediate relief. I wasn’t alone. I realised that there are people out there, who have been similarly diagnosed, and it’s wonderful to be able to talk to them about it. I love to hear other people’s ideas for coping mechanisms, and how they manage their anxiety and low moods. I believe this is crucial to the process of getting through it. I still don’t understand why mental health is still so difficult to talk about, because talking with other people is an immense help. It should be encouraged, and I wish people would do more of it. Communication is key.

Depression will always be a huge part of my life, and I have accepted that now. It’s part of me, and who I am, but it doesn’t define me. It will never define me, and I look forward to a time when people are more comfortable in talking about it. The stigma is so unnecessary. When I told my friends about my condition, they were genuinely shocked. They hadn’t noticed how I felt, which made me wonder – how many people out there are suffering in silence? My friends would have described me as chatty and happy. Some even said I was the loudest and most encouraging of our friendship group, but inside? I was truly struggling, and afraid to speak out. The stigma and reluctance to talk is more damaging than anyone realises, and that needs to change.