“My name is Sam. I’m 23. And I suffer with depression. I was diagnosed in 2011, at the age of 19, although I have recovered and relapsed a few times since then. To be honest people had been raising concerns about my mental health since I was about 16, but society has some pre-conceived notion that “children and young people can’t be depressed because they don’t have anything to be depressed about” and because of that I believed that I couldn’t be, that I wasn’t old enough to be depressed. There is still very much a stigma surrounding mental illness – particularly that of young people – which means that many people are not diagnosed early enough, and go on struggling far longer than they should. I am going to share two very different experiences with depression in the hope that others can find courage, strength, or even comfort from the knowledge that they aren’t alone in their suffering, that someone else understands.
My first major depressive episode started just before the end of my first year at university. My flatmates (and friends) had started going out without me and then making excuses when I asked them about it. With only a few weeks to go before the end of the year this wouldn’t have been a problem had I not signed on to live with them the following year. I went to university 200 miles from home, and Adam (my boyfriend) was studying in Brighton, so this left me feeling very isolated and alone.
I had hoped that getting away for the summer would sort things out but none of them talked to me much over that summer. I was busy seeing friends and family and I just assumed that they were too. The start of the new year rolled around and we all moved into the house. We all (bar one) went on a big night out to celebrate being back, and I was really glad to be invited. I thought this surely showed that I was right. But then as the night progressed I found myself being left on my own a lot. The guys I was with just kept disappearing and not telling me where they were going. I was a young girl, in a nightclub, and they just kept leaving me on my own. Annoyed and a bit upset I just left. Walked home alone, and went to bed. I had expected texts and missed calls when I got up, asking me where I’d disappeared to. There were none. It was like they hadn’t even noticed I was gone.
I don’t really remember when things got so bad for me. I don’t remember what actually led to me getting so depressed I had to see a doctor. I remember that night out, and then the night that everything went horribly wrong – but I was already on my tablets by then. What happened in between is a mystery.
The decision to see the doctor was not an easy one. I had been denying that I even needed to for months. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in weeks because I was avoiding having to admit to him just how down I had become. Adam and I were fighting all the time – mainly because he wanted to go out with his friends, and I wanted him to stay in and talk to me. It was after one of these arguments that I realised I needed help. My depression was ripping my relationships apart, and I knew that I couldn’t let that happen, so the next morning I called my doctors. The university doctors had a ‘call in at about 8:30am and get an appointment the same day’ policy so I was seen that afternoon. The doctor was really helpful, he went through my symptoms and the mood questionnaire that they have to do to gauge how serious the depression is – I scored 19 out of 27, which I was told is moderate to severe depression. I was prescribed fluoxetine, referred to the university counselling service and told to come back in 4-6 weeks. My dosage would eventually be increased, and then my medication was changed, and dosage increased again before it actually began to help me, but it was a start.
As I said, the next thing I remember is when everything in my house really deteriorated. We had an electricity meter, and it had run out of credit. We would all soon be disappearing for Christmas so I just thought “I’ll stick a load on there and it should last until we get back in January”. We had a facebook page with all 6 of us in it so that we could get in touch with everyone in the house regardless of where they were. I worked out what they all owed me and just stuck a post in there asking for it back ASAP. The response was “You need to work that out between 5. Sarah doesn’t pay bills.” I was really confused. “What do you mean she doesn’t pay bills?” They had all had a house meeting, which they were adamant I was at, where Sarah had raised issue with the fact that she had one of the smaller rooms in the house but was paying the same rent and bills as the rest of us. “But Joe has a room the same size as hers?” I argued back. Apparently, he had agreed to this because he had a job. It was ridiculous. For about 3 months I had been paying 1/5th of the bills rather than the 1/6th I believed I was paying, and I wasn’t happy about it. I was angry because they hadn’t included me in this decision, and because it wasn’t fair anyway. The next thing I knew I was receiving texts from “friends” who lived in another house. I had about ten people all hurling abuse at me. I stopped answering my phone. I removed myself from the facebook page. Once they realised that I was ignoring them they came hammering on my door, shouting at me as I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed. And just like that, all the work I had put into getting better unravelled at my feet.
I cried for hours. I had a complete breakdown. And at some point I realised I needed to speak to my dad. He answered the phone and was greeted with myself sobbing so hysterically he couldn’t even understand what I was saying. I told him everything and we talked till about 4am. Just knowing that he knew made me feel better about the situation.
Later that same week Adam received messages from some of them.
“What the f*** is wrong with your girlfriend?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You know exactly what I mean. She’s a complete f***ing nutter. You deserve a medal for putting up with that psycho.”
My dad always refers to them as bullies but these guys didn’t really terrorise me. There is one instance where they really crossed a line. I had been out for a friend’s birthday, drank way too much, passed out and had to be carried home. My friend, knowing the situation I was in at home, locked my door after she had gotten me into bed, but had to leave the keys outside my room. So my housemates decided that it would be really funny to trash my room. They threw toilet paper, and cotton buds, and teabags all over the room. They took my tampons out of the wrappers and threw them everywhere. They ripped open teabags and emptied the leaves in my bed, and all over the floor. They put the microwave in there, and one of their bikes. I woke up and my room was a bombsite. They saw it as a joke. I didn’t. I ended up living there until the end of the year (because I couldn’t afford to get out of the contract) and they never went out of their way to make my life miserable. I did a good enough job of that myself and seeing them made me feel worse so I just avoided them, isolating myself even further. A couple of them did try to speak to me a few times but I just wasn’t interested.
The following months were the lowest of my life. I went to hardly any lectures, didn’t do any of my assignments and skipped my exams. Eventually I failed the year. Being in the house made things worse, and I tried to be there as little as possible, resulting in my being at work a lot. And on days when I couldn’t even get out of bed to go to work I would ring in sick. I rang in sick a lot. I would lie in bed with TV shows like Supernatural or Criminal Minds on my laptop, but I wasn’t really watching them. Even now Adam will say “but you must remember that happening back in season 4” and I just don’t. I was getting through 11 or 12 episodes a day, just staring blankly at the screen. And this was a good day. I would leave my room to wash my clothes and go to work. I was eating at work, and if I wasn’t working then I was living on the stash of crisps and things I kept in my room. I’d ended up with the en suite so using the bathroom wasn’t an issue either.
When things were a little worse I’d leave my bed to use the bathroom, and that’s it. I once just lay there for 4 or 5 days. I didn’t eat, didn’t shower – I literally just lay in bed in front of my laptop, and when I went to sleep I’d just put it on the floor next to my bed, ready for the following morning.
But when things were bad, they were really bad. I would scream into my pillow, and I would cry for hours. I would rake my nails down my face, or my arms, and pull handfuls of my hair, trying to pull it out. I once sat and scratched into my stomach with a sewing needle, it went a bit like a chicken scratch, rather than bleeding like I’d expected. I would throw things. I once threw my phone at the wall during an argument with Adam. On my worst days I felt worthless. I felt like I’d failed everyone, convinced that everyone was disappointed in me because of how badly I’d messed my life up. I genuinely believed that my depression was my fault. I convinced myself that everyone – Adam, my parents, my siblings, my friends – would be better off, and happier without me there to “ruin everything”. I can remember texting Adam one of these times. I told him that I felt like I had nothing left to live for, that I was a massive failure, that I’d let everyone down and was just ruining their lives with my depression. I told him that I wanted to die. His response actually jarred some sense into me. He called me, in tears, and asked how I could say that. How could I even think of doing that to him, and to my family and friends? He told me that this would be what ruined their lives, not my depression. He told me that nobody was disappointed in me because the depression wasn’t my fault, they were just worried about me. I hated hearing him cry. And I hated myself for making him cry. But what he said really did help me in the long run.
I don’t remember any long drawn out recovery process here. I did do a really stupid thing, and just stopped taking my meds after my mum had made a comment about how I needed to “grow a backbone, come off my meds and learn to deal with it.” I think my hope had been that I would come crashing back down and that would prove to her that I needed the meds to keep me afloat. But that didn’t happen. I was just better.
In the September of 2012 I moved into a new house, with new housemates. And the eventual relapse into depression that happened this time was basically a mirror image of the first. With 3 distinct differences. Firstly, the girls I lived with, who contributed massively to my depression, knew everything I’d been through the previous year. Secondly, they did go out of their way to make things difficult for me. Thirdly, and most importantly, I did not let depression grind me down the way it had before.
I thought that my depression had coincided with the deterioration of my relationship with the girls, but writing this actually reminded me that I had already begun. In March 2013 my Grandad died, after a very short battle with lung cancer. Throughout these same months, the mum of one of my housemates was also battling cancer in her uterus. At no point would any of them talk to me about my Grandad, ask me how he was doing, or how we were holding up. They felt that it was unfair to discuss my Grandad with me because thinking about cancer upset one of the girls too much. And although I didn’t want to be cold or heartless about it, my Grandad was dying, her mum (we knew by this point) was going to be fine. When he died not one of them offered an “I’m sorry” or even an ounce of sympathy, because the other girl’s mum was still having her chemo.
The downward spiral started with them leaving me out a lot, like before. They would make a big deal about getting me come and join them, only to get up and disappear, leaving me sat on my own, a short while later. When I asked them about it after this happening a few days in a row they got very defensive, and specifically mentioned things I hadn’t actually said. Then they got really nasty. A few weeks after that we were supposed to be renewing the contract to stay in the house the following year, and that they made no secret of the fact that they didn’t want to live with me anymore. I remember going to the estate agents and paying my renewal fee and signing on for the following year before they could; mainly because I was going to Brighton to stay with Adam for the summer and didn’t have time to find anywhere else to live, but also just to spite them. They didn’t really speak to me after that.
In the September, we all returned to the house. One of the girls wouldn’t stay there any more, as she said she couldn’t live in the same house as me, especially after the way I’d treated her when her mum was sick. Two of them really went to town trying to break me. I had a job requiring me to be up at 5:30am, and they knew this. It wasn’t long before the doors were slamming, and they were shouting on the landing, or playing loud music at silly o’clock, just because they knew I was getting up early. They would talk about me really loudly as if I wasn’t there, but they knew that I was. They would take my laundry out of the airing cupboard and just leave it on the floor outside my room. me because thinking about cancer upset one of the girls too much. They bought a unit for the bathroom that only had three shelves. They spent a year of their lives making it completely transparent to me that I wasn’t wanted in that house. They went out of their way to make things really horrible for me. And it worked.
As before, I went into isolation mode. I was eating out a lot. If I wasn’t at work or at uni then I was hiding in my room. I worked really hard with all my uni stuff that year, and I don’t really remember much of it. It became an ongoing cycle of getting up, going to work, going to uni/the library/the archives and then just going home and going to bed.
But that year I also had a lot to get out of bed for. My job was in a school, so I found that really fulfilling, and couldn’t really ring in sick. It was also my final year and I knew that I needed to work really hard to get the degree I’d spent 4 years working towards. But most importantly I was determined to not let myself get into the state I had been previously. I didn’t go back onto medication, although I considered it a few times. Despite the fact that I was actually being treated worse, I handled my second depression a lot better. My previous experience had provided me with the strength and resilience I needed to fight it again. When I’d been off my medication for a year I got a tattoo as a reminder that I did beat it once, and that I can beat it again. I’d been the lowest of the low and I knew that I never wanted to go back there so I fought against it, where before I had given in to it. And honestly, that really does make a difference.
In closing I just have a few pieces of advice for anyone out there who is struggling with depression.
Firstly, believe in yourself. I cannot stress enough how important this is. I know how hard it can be sometimes, but you are stronger than you think. I’ve been the lowest a person really can be, and I’m still here. I know that it might feel like the weight of your depression is crushing the life out of you, but you can fight it. You can beat it. You just need to believe that you can.
Secondly, don’t burn bridges because people “won’t understand.” Yes, it is true that unless you’ve been depressed yourself you can’t understand what it’s like, meaning that there is every chance that your boyfriend, or your mum, or your best friend can’t know exactly how you feel. But people can understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for and anyone who truly wants to be in your life, and anyone who is worth your time and effort, will try to understand what you’re going through. They’ll be as empathetic and as supportive as they can be, and you can’t ask any more than that. The support of Adam, and my friends and family was crucial to my recovery every single time I relapsed. So pick up your phone, go on facebook, send an email or a tweet – whatever you choose – but give that person you’ve been avoiding because “they won’t understand” a chance. They might surprise you. And if you really can’t bring yourself to do that, then please just reach out to someone.
Thirdly, do something with your day. Again, I know how difficult this can be sometimes, and I have definitely been guilty of lying around in bed and wallowing in self-pity, and you know what, that’s okay. But if you’re anything like me you might also find that this can also make you feel worse. I used to berate myself all the time for wasting the day and being unproductive, for not eating or changing my clothes. It was like I was fighting a losing battle. One minute my mind is telling me that I can’t get out of bed, that I don’t have the energy to get up and eat; and then the next it’s telling me that I’ve wasted a whole day, and that I’ll never amount to anything just lying in my bed. It’s a vicious circle I think we’ve all found ourselves in. So do something with your day. Get out of bed. Get out of those stinky horrible PJs you’ve been laying around in. Have a shower. Put on nice clean PJs and get back in bed. If that is literally all you can do in a day, do it! You’ll feel loads better just knowing that you have been productive, and I always find showers leave me feeling quite refreshed anyway. It helps. I promise.
And finally, don’t be ashamed of your depression. I’m not. It’s part of who I am, and it’s made me the person I am today. Any person who makes jokes, or treats you differently, or belittles any of the causes and reasons for your depression is not worth your time. Cut them out of your life, because you don’t need that. You didn’t choose to be depressed. You (probably) don’t enjoy being depressed. But that doesn’t change the fact that it there. Learn to live with it. Learn the signs that you’re getting low, and the best ways to deal with that. Own it. Don’t let it own you, and never ever be ashamed of who you are.”
-By Samantha Walkden.
Samantha writes about her personal encouters with depression on her blog Me, Myself and my Depression.
Please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M