Three days ago, 28th January, was Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada. This day aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness by encouraging people with mental illness to talk about their problem and those who know them to ask about it. I decided to write this post (an edit of a previous post) as a part of that.
When I was 21 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression although I often wonder if I had it undiagnosed before that. When I was attending University, I undertook some counselling for anxiety and insomnia (looking back, the symptoms seem much like those I have when I am going through depression). We talked about a lot in those sessions and how it could have been affecting me then (and now). Things like my parents divorce or my mother’s second marriage (none of which I will go into here). The insomnia remained once my counselling was over and I just dealt with it, partly with help from my family and my girlfriend at the time.
My first period of diagnosed clinical depression started in the summer of 2012. I had just graduated university and begun working at a local bar. Although things were not exactly as I had imagined them, my life was good. I didn’t have too much to complain about. So, when my mood began to change and I spent much of my time feeling anxious or low I was confused. I tried to ignore it at first, believing that it was just a phase. However, the symptoms didn’t go away so I visited the GP. After an examination, he told me that I was suffering from mild depression and I was given anti-depressants to help regulate my mood. In time, through talking to friends and the effect the pills had in normalising my moods, I was able to move past this period and around December, I felt fine again.
January 2013 came and once more, I begun to experience the symptoms that I had felt the previous summer, although this time they were worse. Through my new job (working for a trade union) I was able to get some counselling sessions and thus, did not go to the GP again. Looking back, this might not have been the best decision that I made. At the time, my Mum described me as a shell. Although I was there going about my day, there was nothing inside. It was like I was just on auto-pilot. At the counselling, we talked about similar things as I had 2 years before. We also talked about my future. Although this didn’t cure me, it was a help. You should never underestimate the importance of just having someone listen. This bout of depression finally subsided in the July of 2013.
Depression is a misunderstood illness by many people at best, and completely written off at worst. It is not just about feeling a bit ‘low’ or ‘sad’ but about feeling completely hopeless. At its worst, it is feeling nothing at all. Just a numbness, like you are in a bubble and not in the real world. Depression is like drowning whilst everyone around you is still able to breathe. Doing anything at all, even getting out of bed or eating, takes monumental effort. Being around people made me anxious and feel almost lonely and I wanted nothing more than to be alone when I was with them. But when I was alone, I was plagued by crippling anxiety and loneliness too. I took little pleasure in anything and was often unable to concentrate on an activity for more than 5 minutes or so. I didn’t tell many people about what I was going through because I was ashamed to admit it. Those I did tell, you have my thanks. You stuck by me through dark times, held me up when I couldn’t do it myself and ensured that I kept on fighting when all I wanted to do was give up.
But I am tired of feeling ashamed of this. Tired of the stigma attached to this. You can never meet someone and guess they have depression. I hope many of you will be surprised that I suffered from it. Also, you may notice I talked about three periods of depression, and only wrote about two.
That is because I am currently suffering through my third bout now. It is the worst one that I have been through so far. I have been re-diagnosed with bi-polar depression and have been battling this bout for over a year now. I am currently taking medication, with is helping to stablise my moods. Writing this and deciding to post it is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t know how people will react. All I ask is this. If a friend or family member tells you they are suffering from an illness similar to mine, take these steps.
Number one – don’t ask what caused it. Often, they won’t know because there is no reason. Depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain but there is no factor that can ‘set it off’. You could have everything you ever wanted and still be depressed. Depression doesn’t care about your class, race or gender.
Number two – don’t treat them like glass. They are unlikely to be off attempting to commit suicide the moment you take your eyes off them and won’t burst into tears at the slightest provocation and should not be treated as such. Some people do self-harm and try suicide, often after an extended period of living with this. If you are worried about someone, you can call the Samaritans or encourage them to. But not all of us go through that.
Number three – Just be there. If they need to talk or some company, be there for them. Even if it means sitting in silence because they are too afraid to say anything. Acts like this mean more than you will ever know.