When I was 18 (which, frankly feels like a whole lifetime ago) I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression, sometimes referred to as major depression or major depressive disorder. I rarely think about that period of my life for obvious reasons – it’s a time I don’t care to remember but as today is World Mental Health Day, I found myself reflecting on my experience of depression and took time out to give consideration to those who are experiencing the same.
Almost twenty years ago, there was a huge stigma surrounding mental health. People didn’t talk openly about mental health and this only further compounded the situation I was in. I believe that my poor mental health was triggered when I made the very premature (and rather silly) decision to leave home at 17 and move in with my boy friend at the time. I found myself trapped in an abusive relationship; he had manipulated me in to giving up college, moving further away from my family and friends and I was incredibly isolated. Talking openly about mental health just wasn’t the done thing then. The only person I talked openly with was my Community Psychiatric Nurse and GP. I was isolated and I experienced crippling loneliness, stuck within the confines of the four same walls day in and day out.
It affected me in many different ways – and probably in more ways than I can even remember – but I certainly remember becoming so bad that there was no Monday to Sunday and there was no day or night: I simply existed. From one hour to the next. I didn’t have a routine. I didn’t get up at 7am and go to bed at 10pm. I simply slept as much as I possibly could because being awake was just too painful. Every day became the same because I had nowhere to go, nobody was expecting me anywhere and I had absolutely no purpose and no reason to get up and go out. I didn’t even have a reason to shower let alone get dressed.
I distinctly remember one night in particular. I had argued with my boyfriend and I had overheard him speaking to one of his ex girlfriends who had suddenly come back on scene. I had such a low opinion of myself that I could not see a world where he would choose to remain with me over her. I’m not even sure why I even wanted him. He was pretty damn awful. The truth is, he didn’t make me happy. In fact, he made me distinctly unhappy. But as isolated as I was, I felt I had nowhere else to go. My Mum was supportive and would’ve welcomed me home within an instant but having left home at 17, I felt like returning home would be like admitting I was wrong. And I thought I knew it all at 17 so admitting I was wrong seemed almost worse than staying with a man who contributed towards making me mentally ill.
That night I remember standing at the front door of the maisonette I was living in. It was dark and it was cold. I can remember the shape of my breath as I sharply inhaled and exhaled the bitterly cold night air. I felt like the world around me was spinning and whilst it spun around me at such a speed, I was unable to process my thoughts. I couldn’t make sense of how I was feeling; I just knew I felt bad. Really bad. Worse than ever before. I had become so upset that I was hysterical. I tried techniques my CPN had advised me to use when I felt situations were getting out of control, such as breathing exercises, but it was almost as if it was far too gone for those sorts of things to work. My heart pounded so hard I thought it was going to thump through my chest and my whole body was violently trembling. I had lost my grasp on the world. I couldn’t think. I just wanted it all to end. I could not see a world in which I would get better. I could not see a world in which I would be loved. I could not see a world in which I would not be lonely. With each and every thought I took one more unsteady step towards the railing on the balcony.
I remember looking down at the ground and trying to make some sort of vague calculation as to how likely I was to die if I threw myself off. I didn’t want to just hurt myself. I didn’t want to wake up in hospital injured but alive. I wanted to die. I did not want to be there. There was nothing about my life that gave me any hope for a better future. I hated my present and my awful present made me think I had nothing but an awful future ahead of me. It feels wrong to speak of suicide so flippantly now, but back then I saw suicide as my ‘get out of jail free’ card. I would reassure myself that if things got too bad, I’d always have suicide. To think that that idea gave me comfort back then makes me feel sick to my stomach.
Luckily for me, a complete stranger was passing and instantly recognised the struggle I was having. They talked me down. They calmed me down.
Fast forward just two years later and I had got out of that relationship. I had moved back home. I had got a job and built up a network of new friends and, most importantly, I had met my soul mate who is now my husband. When I say that the life I am living now was completely unimaginable to me when I was in the depths of depression would be an understatement. I had absolutely no hope that my life would change, that I would regain control over my own life, that I would be happy again. And yet I was wrong.
If I could give two pieces of advice to anyone going through a similar experience with their mental health, the first would be to breathe through the bad moments, the ones where you feel crippling pain, fear or anxiety. I always say to anyone going through a bad time to ‘do whatever gets you through the day’. If that means sleeping, sleep. If it means listening to music, put some tunes on. If it is writing, then get scribbling – you do whatever you need to do to get through those crippling moments. The second would be to always view your present as temporary. I lost myself in my depression the day I convinced myself that this was to be my life. There was no getting out of this alive. Never ever forget that what you are experiencing is a moment. It is one moment in time. It is not forever. This time will pass. It will get better. Breathe through it. Do whatever you need to do to get through it. Things will get better.
To think that I may have jumped that night and may have ended my life over the life I was living at the hands of an abusive man, who quite frankly wasn’t even worth crying over, makes me shudder. The thought that I may have deprived myself of the opportunity to meet my husband and fall in love, bring my two beautiful children in to the world, make precious memories with my family and friends and lead a life that brings me such happiness and satisfaction, makes me feel physically sick to the stomach. I love my life now.
Just keep breathing. Do whatever you need to do to get through it. This is temporary. It is not forever.