I suppose I still wonder why me? I was a happy, confident, enthusiastic 16 year old sitting her GCSEs. I didn’t feel stressed, under pressure, worried. I had worked consistently, revised and expected to do well. 14 exams down and 2 to go and the end was in sight.
I came home from my first of two history exams and lay on the sofa unwell. I had a dull pain on the right side of my stomach. My Dad gave me Rennie (still a joke to this day!) but as soon as my mum came home from work she knew the pain resembled appendicitis. Trip to the doctor confirmed this and I was in the hospital that evening, unable to finish my exams and celebrate the end of all the hard work with my friends. I spent hours in A&E in agony without pain medication, taken to an adult ward, surrounded by people who were very poorly while I waited and waited for an operation. An operation that was delayed twice and by the time I was operated on, my appendix was 20 minutes away from bursting!
Recovery was fine physically but mentally I had changed. I returned to sixth form having achieved all the A*s and As with ‘exciting’ times ahead. The problem was I had felt as though I had seen life through a different lense. I was no longer invincible, I felt vulnerable in the big world., as though it has dawned on me that life was not full of happy ever after. I can remember so clearly sitting in the sixth form common room with everyone laughing and chatting – but I felt ‘not present’. As if I was watching everything happen in an out of body experience. Sure, I was able to act the part and be totally ‘normal’ around everyone, but inside I felt that my light had been dimmed.
The darkness had entered my thoughts and no matter how hard I fought, there was no way of getting rid of it. At 16, I had no idea what depression was. In fact, I battled with depression for three full years before finally plucking up the courage to see the doctor. I became controlling, controlling towards myself, I would control my time and write lists for EVERYTHING. Looking back I did this to try and feel and be the person I was before my appendicitis, when I was revising, getting things done and feeling on top of everything.
The lists I wrote were, by my own admission, ridiculous and unachievable. My mum used to find them everywhere, some ticked and crossed off (both ticked and crossed off for added satisfaction) but nothing ever completed. I compartmentalised my entire life and tried to micromanage it in one hour blocks from 6am – 11pm. I would get so angry if my mum would ask me to pop out for lunch with her, my response, ‘yes fine but I have to be back by…because I need to do this by then’. Nobody can live like this, not all the time! I would constantly try and draw a line under ‘it’ (depression). Try again and start fresh the next day…every day! I would go to war with what was in my head EVERY SINGLE DAY. There was no break from it, no rest, no time to gather my thoughts. I was being attacked by my thoughts and I felt exhausted all day every day. Not the type of tired where you need a nap and then you’re rested. There was no feeling better, no feeling fighting fit, no moving passed it, jumping over it, going around it or through it.
I told myself constantly that there was no way I could have depression. I told myself all the time that a doctor would laugh at me. What did I have to be depressed about? Nobody had died. I hadn’t been abused or bullied mercilessly. In fact, I had the best upbringing anyone could ask for, I was achieving, had great friends, I was going to uni and HAD MY WHOLE LIFE AHEAD OF ME!
Uni wasn’t ‘a fresh start’, depression had followed me, there was no escaping the inside of my head. I so desperately wanted to be in a pitch black tiny room with no windows or doors. I wanted rest, I wanted to escape my own mind. I used to imagine I was in a long sports hall with two chairs at opposite ends of the room. I wanted to get up from one chair, walk to the other, detach my head from my body and place it on the chair. I would then walk back to the first chair (without my head) and sit to have a rest from my mind!
The final straw came when I went to Camp America for the summer, yet another fresh start! I thought this was the change I needed, the chance to change things up and break free from ‘it’. Despite my best efforts (again), it followed me to America and it followed me home again. My relationship with my mother was fraught (anyone who knows me will know just how close we are!). She was watching me make poor life decisions and fighting me every step of the way. The problem was, I was too busy fighting the battle in my head. She knew, she could see it but I suppose I needed to know it.
The following day my Dad took me to the doctor. I cried in the waiting area convinced he would laugh at me and throw me out of the surgery for being ‘a silly little girl who had no business being depressed’. Of course I was wrong, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t asked to ‘explain myself’. I was listened to and within a matter of minutes the doctor was explaining it was a chemical imbalance in my brain. It wasn’t my fault. It was that simple.
I wish I could say it got better immediately but I would be lying. For me at least, it got worse. Suddenly I had gone from fighting it (I was an expert at coping after three years) to accepting it. There was no reason to ‘fight’, it had been diagnosed, this is what I had. I would panic when I woke up because there was no strict list to adhere to, I didn’t know what ‘the right thing to do’ was. I remember thinking ‘should I have breakfast first or have a shower or clean my teeth?’ I didn’t know the answer!! I was suddenly empty, vacant, lost. There was no fight keeping me busy. I was in a deep hole and just sitting there. Until, I made a decision (the antidepressants had kicked in), it was time to start trying!
I took things hour by hour initially, slowly and steadily, then day by day, until I was just living again without the ‘analysing my thoughts and feelings’ bit! I didn’t stay on antidepressants, for me personally, they gave me the push to start trying but I quickly made a decision that I wanted to try and do it without them. I am, however, in no doubt that without them, I wouldn’t have been able to make that start.
I was 20 when I started feeling better and I went from strength to strength. I felt proud I had ‘conquered’ it and told myself that if I ever felt as if I was fighting through the day, every day, then I would ‘nip it in the bud’ and go straight to the doctor. 7 years of mental wellbeing. I kept a close eye on everything when I had my son, aged 26, I was overwhelmed by the love I had for him and had no signs of postnatal depression. I had my first daughter 22 months later (the exact same rush of love) but I can now say with hindsight, having them both close together put a strain on my mental health. I do not believe I had postnatal depression but I was beginning, very slowly, very quietly, to feel overwhelmed, not ‘on top of things’. As my daughter turned into a toddler, I would struggle with her crying. The crying would push me to the point where I would do ANYTHING to make it stop! She wasn’t a miserable baby/child by any means, but nonetheless it just felt like too much to cope with. I would question my decision to stay at home and would grapple daily with whether I should be moving forward with my career and was I just opting out being at home. There was no feeling of peace. I couldn’t bear to leave them but I would question whether I was making the right decisions and worried I would ‘suffer the consequences’ if I made the wrong decision. I stayed home (while working from home in the evenings) and then I went back to work. A couple of days turned into full-time (I must learn to say NO) and all of a sudden I was juggling two children and two jobs…oh and an inspection was looming.
In March 2014, my second bout of depression really kicked in. I felt as though I had lost my mind. Symptoms were like reading a text book for depression. Hypersomnia, irritable, unable to concentrate, fatigued, sluggish, drained, forgetful, agitated, restless etc I was struggling big time! I knew ‘it’ had returned with a vengeance. I had let my guard down, didn’t keep an eye on it, I had pushed myself too hard. I know my boundaries, my limits. I know I need to look after myself mentally. I can become ill and slowly I had been getting worse but I had been ignoring it. Bad move!! My husband knew, he was coping with the fall out and dealing with my irritabilities on a daily basis – never once complaining. I could see me slipping further into ‘it’ and despite feelings of self-doubt and worrying once again that the doctor would think I was being ‘silly’ – I took myself to the surgery and explained the situation.
It took me three months to dig myself out of the hole. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I slept ALL THE TIME, night time and naps during the day in my conservatory with the sun shining through. I needed rest and time for my thoughts to settle. I understood I had pushed too far. I hadn’t looked after myself and I took my mental health for granted.
Two years on and I have been well since (and baby three has arrived!). I don’t feel I live with depression, it is not in my life all the time but depression is a possibility all the time. The house plays a huge part in my mental health, to this day I will say ‘I can’t cope with the mess!’. There needs to be a level of tidy (I do have three children so it will never be spotless!) for me to feel organised. My mental health is a huge factor on decisions I make in my life.
Looking back on both experiences with depression, I notice that both were very different. Today I choose to take care of my mental health in exactly the same way as I take care of my physical health. Both are equally as important! #sicknotsad