When you have depression, you feel more alone than you ever have before. You ask all the questions in a conversation, so no one has the chance to ask how you are. You go to the Supermarket at 11pm to reduce the risk of bumping into anyone. You make yourself look busy so you don’t have to go through the torment of turning down another invitation out. You turn off your phone. You can’t look at your email account due to the anxiety that it stirs. You sit in your favourite spot on the Southbank and weep as you see happy families, unable to picture yourself ever feeling happy again. You act out aggressively in the hope that someone will see that something is wrong, only to push them away if they eventually clock on.
Well, that’s what depression did to me.
I wasn’t myself. I was a sad, insecure, broken version of myself. The longer I spent on the downwards spiral, the longer I had to consider whether this was the real me emerging. Depression doesn’t just make you feel sad, it makes you lose sight of who you are.
Depression warps your perception on things. It changes how you look back at once positive memories, it changes how you feel in the moment and it prevents you from looking forward in any shape or form. When I was at my worst, I was asked persistently by family, friends, doctors and therapists where I saw myself in ‘x’ amount of time. I couldn’t answer. I was blinded by the pain that I felt in that moment and could not fathom myself making it through for much longer. That is why when we talk about depression, we refer to ‘dark places.’ It’s dark because we see no light at the end of the tunnel, only pain and the fear that we will feel like this forever. There seems to be no way out.
My symptoms of depression took me months to recognise, and it was over this period of time that they worsened severely. A lack of motivation became the inability to get out of bed. Awkward social anxiety became full blown terror at the thought of anyone seeing me like this. Tiredness became exhaustion, with hours spent oversleeping. The feeling of being down became random episodes of weeping. The emotional pain became physical.
I never want to hurt like that again. I never want any of you to feel like I did.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I looked like a normal, happy nineteen year old having the time of her life. I was at a great university, doing a course that excited me. I had friends, I was getting good grades, I have a loving family and an enviable relationship with my cat. Yet, I was miserable.
Being a very proud person, admitting how I was feeling felt like a failure on my behalf. A weakness that nobody else seemed to have. I had everything I wanted, yet I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. It didn’t make any sense. If I couldn’t understand why I felt like I did, how could I expect anyone else to?
I felt like a fake. The girl I used to know was becoming too hard to maintain. Beneath the confident exterior that I have worked so hard at producing over the years, lies an insecure, terrified and lonely young woman who is struggling to keep afloat. I won’t let you in, because I’m scared that you won’t like who I am at the moment. I’m too embarrassed to be honest with anyone. All you see is my facade, what’s underneath is a lot less smiley.
It has taken a lot of time and a lot of effort, but I know now that depression is not a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with the type of person you are, or the strength of your personality. You do not need a reason to be depressed, sometimes you just are.
Wrapping your head around that is impossible, well it was for me, until I experienced it for myself. Not having a reason to be depressed almost makes it worse, because everyone is always searching for the ‘why?’ We are creatures of reason, after all. You cannot explain to people why you feel like this, you can only tell them that you do and hope that they understand. Without a trigger, you don’t know where to start fixing it. Without a cause, you feel like it’s your fault.
It is hard to accept, when mental illness is something that we are not taught about. It is not something we talk about. It is not something that we as a society, on the whole, understand. We only really talk about it when it’s too late, and we are talking about the waste of life and placing flowers on graves. Perhaps this is why I feel such shame for admitting that I have a problem, and why I tried to hide it for so long.
Returning from rock bottom has been hard. I am unrecognisable week upon week. Recovery is a series of ups and downs, but the general trend at the moment seems to be heading in the upwards direction. Despite what they say, recovery is something you don’t start for yourself, but for the ones who love you. When my family were begging me to let them help, I didn’t want them to. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I felt worthless. I didn’t see how anyone could help, I just wanted it to be over.
Being honest with people about what has happened has been hard. Many were surprised, some didn’t understand and several seemed relieved that they could share their own stories with me. One friend messaged me a few weeks after I confessed how bad things had been and said, “You know how you’ve been feeling lately? Well, I’ve been feeling like that too and I think I need some help.”
It is only through talking about mental health that you realise how common it is. You only have to scratch the surface, and people will tell you about their own struggles, or the struggles of their loved ones. People struggling with mental health issues are all around us, in our friends, in our family and in our colleagues and I cannot understand why we aren’t talking about it more. Depression is isolating enough as an illness, we do not need the extra burden of shame to isolate those suffering even further.
Let’s talk about it. Let’s joke about it. Let’s teach each other how to cope with the shit that life is throwing at us and let’s do it together. We won’t let it define us, we will define it.
I am winning the battle at the moment, but there have been and will be times where I feel like it cannot be won. Depression happened and it hit me hard. I’m struggling, but I think I’ll be ok. I’m going to make it work, and you will too.
We just have to figure out how.
Izzy is a third year War Studies student at King’s College London.
I’m passionate about mental health and dogs, and always looking for ways to make them overlap.
You can find more of my work at www.forgetfine.com
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