I’ve had depression since I was 15 and I’m finally ready to start talking about my personal experiences. I won’t go into the hows, whats and whens. They’re rarely important to a depressive when most of the time, your energy is spent on behaving like a human being and getting through the day ahead.
Unlike other people, I didn’t have a great deal of support from my parents. I remember, clear as day, coming home from the doctor’s, after I was diagnosed, with a fluoxetine prescription, only for my mum to say, “Oh okay, is that it? Great! Can you do the dishes now?”
My depression subsided with the support of patient friends, understanding doctors and a steady prescription. There isn’t an easy-to-follow guide on how to beat depression. If there were, then there’d be fewer people that struggle with this illness. It’ll differ for everyone, but these are the key things that have helped me over the years.
I accepted that it’s okay to find solace in the words of others
As a depressive, I’m constantly told to “think of the bigger picture”, to “put things into perspective”, to “not be so selfish”. I’m told that I’m “too much to be around” on my dark days and that it’s “too overwhelming” for people who don’t know how to deal with my illness. Studies will show that it’s not healthy for depressives to be around other depressives while common sense will say that that it’s not good for depressives to find solace in each other. However, I made one exception to this, and threw myself into books written by those who had battled with ‘the Black Dog’.
Reading someone else’s words, that captured the consuming darkness that had me in a chokehold, was comforting. These authors had found a way to eloquently capture what I was going through. I was among words that understood my struggle. I stumbled upon this quote on Tumblr:
I thought it was the most beautiful quote at the time, and it made something inside me break down. It made me feel something, which after months of nothing, was both strange and overwhelming. Where my friends, doctor or councillor failed to comfort me, I found solace in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. I read them over and over again; underlined passages; bookmarked the pages that helped me. Both books showed me that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that the struggle, no matter how excruciating it can be, will not last forever.
I picked my support system
People often say that your true friends are there for you, no matter what. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those people are the right people for you to surround yourself with. When I was very ill, I came to recognise unhealthy personalities that were dangerous for me to be around.
I once met with an old friend for dinner, that turned into three bottles of wine, six shots, two ciders and two double whiskeys. He certainly felt it; I definitely felt it. To him, I looked relaxed, at ease and “like myself”, but a tiny, hollow voice in my ear told me that it wasn’t right. Nevertheless, I went home afterwards and continued to drink through the night, without a care in the world that I had to be up at 7am for work. There are a lot of “should haves” that I can apply to this example: I should have stopped drinking; I should have left early; I should have said no to that first glass of wine, but I didn’t. Though it wasn’t his fault entirely, I felt let down that a friend I trusted didn’t recognise I was past my limits, and encouraged me to get wrecked because he thought it made me feel better.
The longer I was ill, I became ruthless. I cut ties with people who brought me down, who weren’t supportive, and who were, what I dubbed, ‘poison’ to my well being. Just because people are there for you, it doesn’t mean they’re the best people to have during your recovery. Surround yourself with people who truly have your best interests at heart, and who will patiently support you.
I stopped giving myself a deadline to get off medication
I had therapy for years before I was given fluoxetine. By the time I had collected my prescription, I was suicidal and so desperate for help that I was willing to try anything, despite my reservations about medication.
For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, in the UK it would appear that people are 100% accepting about mental illness, until you say you’re taking pills. Here, the pills mean that you’re no longer capable, and more of a liability towards others rather than yourself. Being told that the pills were the best option for me, scared me more than I can describe. Suddenly I was no longer a suicidal, walking wreck. I was a suicidal, walking wreck on pills.
My own stigma against the medication changed as soon as I noticed its effects. I was able to sleep for more than two hours, my appetite slowly came back, the migraines that I grew familiar to, eased and went away. I thought, if the medicine is working this quickly after a few weeks, then I can get off these in a month, right?
I was so determined to get away from the pills and be “cured” that I began to self medicate. Instead of taking the pills every day, I took them every other day. I grew sloppy and convinced myself that I didn’t need them anymore. The migraines returned, sleep was unfamiliar, and my weight dropped faster in two weeks than it had in about five years.
I have no shame in admitting it took me three years to learn that the medication is there to help me, not belittle me and my doctors are there to guide me back to my best, far away from my worst. As soon as I accepted that, and put my trust wholeheartedly into the pills, I noticed a change in my behaviour. I’ve been taking my pills everyday for the past 18 months and while the thought of not being on them is still daunting, it’s something I’m aiming towards.
Like anything in life, depression is a learning curve. There are no right or wrong answers. There are methods that work for some, but don’t work for others and there are various ways for people to gain help. I’m much healthier and happier now. Though I’m better at the moment, I know that my depression can come back without warning. This thought would have terrified me years ago, but I’ve now gotten to the point where I’m confident I can deal with it.