One in two women and one in four men will suffer from depression at some part of their lives and in terms of age groups in Ireland, the highest suicide rate recorded 20-24 year olds. Yet still nobody talks about it. Why is their such a stigma attached to mental health?
As well as the reluctance to discuss mental health, people have very little knowledge or understanding of the causes and effects of diseases such as depression. I have heard friends and family question the disease? “What has he/she got to be depressed about?” They’d say, or “she’s always been a bit like that,” or even “maybe she’s broken up with the boyfriend.” There is undoubtedly a lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding mental health in today’s society which is unfortunately leading to many people having to struggle with mental health issues alone.
Growing up in a generation where Bebo, Facebook and Instagram eternally surround us, It is easy for people today to scroll through their news feed on Facebook and be overwhelmed by what appears to be the happiness and perfection of all our friends or to analyse photos of other girls and criticise every inch of your own appearance in comparison to theirs. The negative side to social media is that people only capture their happy, fun moments, and to someone feeling chronically unhappy, this can only lead you in a downward spiral.
Personally, when I look back, I have felt sad deep inside most of my life. Regardless of what i did achieve, I would focus on the ten things i had not achieved. I never felt good enough. Especially about my self. Ive always been crippled with low self-esteem, hating my personality, the way I look and honestly I just always felt everyone else was better than me. These thoughts of self-hatred would occupy my mind for at least ten hours of the day. Depression is invisible to the eye but on the inside, it eats away at you like a parasite.
In school I had a great group of friends, but always felt like an outsider. I was always paranoid people were saying things about me or didn’t like me for whatever reason. I never felt like i could confide in friends without judgment or without it circulating as gossip. Sometimes I would even have anxiety attacks before going to pre-drinks for a night out. I was genuinely so scared and self-conscious and I just felt inadequate, like no-one would even have wanted me to show up. I played hockey for years, even managed to become vice-captain of the school team in 6th year, but after every match, without fail, I’d criticise and criticise every mistake i made and how much better everyone else had played and sometimes I’d even be in tears. Academically I was hard on myself too, always mentally criticising myself and comparing myself to others.
I came out of the Leaving Cert with over 500 points but was 10 points short of studying my first choice, Physiotherapy. I never believed that I would come close enough to get Physio, but coming so close was a major blow. I remember standing outside the school that day, crying. Everyone looking at me like ‘how could she not be happy,’ but realistically the points meant nothing, to come so close to everything I’d worked for and miss it by ten points was painful and it really just re-enforced my attitude – I was not good enough.
I went on to study Occupational Therapy instead, and a month in my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. At this point I was completely encapsulated by fear and sadness. I simply couldn’t deal with it and tried to escape any chance I got. I would go out with college friends drinking at least three times a week. Doing anything to distract myself from the reality at home. I would even stay over at college friends’ dorms just so I could stay away from home and pretend to myself nothing was wrong.
I thank god every day that my Mum survived, she was so brave and her bravery will always be an inspiration to me. But the guilt I still feel for running the other way and trying to escape from the reality when she was sick consumes me. I know she understands that it was just a coping mechanism but still the guilt will always be there.
After being distracted by getting drunk and going out at every opportunity for most of the academic year, I realised I actually hated my course. I went to my tutor and applied for a transfer. August came, transfer was denied This was once again another setback, I was out of college for a year and felt like a complete and total failure! I worked in a restaurant for the year, and it was through this experience that I came to terms with my illness. I hated the place, it was always quiet, time would go by so slow and I would work every weekend. I completely drifted away from my friends because I was always working and not being around them often made me feel awkward and like an outsider when I was with them. My shifts would start at 1 or 2, sometimes even 6. I would just stay in bed until it was time to get up and go to work. My days off would always be weekdays so nobody would be home, Id just stay in bed, with the curtains closed and mostly just cry. My self-esteem was at an all time low, I felt so overwhelmingly down al of the time. I would even drive to a shop miles away from my house, just to avoid seeing anyone I knew. I felt incapable of putting on my happy face any longer. My mum noticed how I had been withdrawing myself from everything. I only left the house to go to work, and sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t have that job to go to.
I finally plucked up the courage to tell my mum what was going on, after reading a blog listing the symptoms of depression. I was displaying almost every one. I asked her to ring my GP and make an apt. as I was too awkward and anxious to do it myself. I still remember walking into the practice that day, my voice was shaky as I spoke to the receptionist. Looking back I do not know where the courage came from to discuss it with my GP but once I described my symptoms to him, he seemed extremely sympathetic. I remember he asked me how long I had been feeling like this. I had to pause to answer him, because when I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t felt depressed. I started crying at this point. He was very sympathetic to the fact I had been dealing with it alone for so long and assured me it was very common. He prescribed me with medication for the depression and booked me an appointment with a cognitive behavioural therapist. I asked him if it was ok if I went on my previously planned holiday to Thailand, which I was extremely anxious about. I was almost hoping he would say I shouldn’t go, to rid me of my anxieties but he didn’t and off I went.
My holiday in Thailand was probably one of the best experiences of my life, I am extremely glad I went and have such wonderful memories. It was probably one of the best times of my life. But like everything else, the holiday came to an end and as I arrived home to Dublin Airport, there is nothing that could have prepared me from the darkness that was to follow.
After drinking in Thailand pretty much every night and being on such a high to come back to Dublin to such a low, drastically affected my mood. I stayed in bed all day and at this point I had no job to go to, no college to go to and the outside world seemed like an uphill battle I couldn’t face. I could see I was upsetting my Mum as she would try and convince me and coerce me to get out of bed and out of the house but at this point it had been weeks. I felt terrible about myself. I knew that some of my friends had discovered that I was suffering from depression and I couldn’t help but feel ashamed. Nobody talks about mental health and nobody wants a depressed friend ruining the fun. Nobody knows what to say, it’s like an elephant in the room. Thats the idea I would always have in my head. Weeks passed and I remember hearing my mum crying to my dad every night about how worried she was about me. This made me feel even worse. At my lowest point, the negative voice in my head was so strong and controlling that it had taken over. I wasn’t me anymore. The depression had completely taken over and when I look back, that whole period in my life is so blurry, vague, as if I was watching myself fall into oblivion, but I had lost my voice, my movement, my mind to depression. I felt overwhelmingly guilty, ashamed, like it would be easier for everyone if I wasn’t around, for weeks I had been having suicidal thoughts and one evening I felt I just couldn’t do it anymore. I drank three bottles of wine and took a concoction of anti-depressants, paracetamol and nurofen. It seemed like the only way to end my pain, I just wanted it to be over. And it genuinely seemed like the only logical option at the time.
I woke up in Vincent’s Hospital, after having my stomach pumped, with a drip in my arm and a heart monitor connected to my chest. My mum had found me in my room and drove me to the hospital. I felt so ashamed and in my head it seemed like all the nurses were looking at me disapprovingly, thinking ‘how could she be so selfish, what could possible be wrong with her to do such a thing.’ ‘attention seeker, wasting hospital time.’ Maybe that’s not what they were thinking, I’ll never know but what I do know is that if they could feel the pain I felt at that time. Then and only then would they understand.
After that night, I felt guilty and ashamed. My mum booked more frequent sessions with my cognitive behavioural therapist and my GP upped my dosage of anti-depressants. That night was my all time low, and I am grateful to say I have not reached that point since. I still have a long long way to go but I am thankful that I am here and that I am alive and on the road to recovery.
I started studying Law in Trinity in September and although most of the students are two years younger than me, we are all going through the same experience so that gives us lots in common. Getting interested in something again as brought me back to myself a little more. Each time I recall an answer or get a question right, it boosts my self esteem a bit. Its easier in college also because I’m a stranger. Nobody knows what has happened to me, what’s changed about me or more importantly what I suffer from. Thankfully I have my Mum and boyfriend to talk to about how I’m feeling and what I’m going through, Without the two of them, I know for a fact, I would not be here. They have been with me through everything and I love them both eternally. I’m still suffering from anxiety and spent most of my christmas holidays at home, too nervous and self-conscious to go anywhere or see anyone but I can feel myself making progress bit by bit and with progress comes hope.
I’m not writing this blog for sympathy or to make myself feel better, even though it was quite therapeutic. I am writing this blog because if I can help one person see the light out of darkness, help one person realise they are not alone in feeling the way they do, help one person realise there is hope, then it has been worthwhile. It was from a blog that I realised I wasn’t a freak and that I was suffering from an illness, even though it had no physical symptoms. Just because it has no obvious physical symptoms, does not mean that the pain hurts any less. .To anyone out there suffering, tell someone, get help and most importantly do not be ashamed. You are not alone, that I can promise you.