I often hear of people who have mental health problems noticing the signs of depression, then going to a doctor and receiving a diagnosis. But what if it’s the other way round? I spent several of my teenage years living with depression, and believe it or not, I didn’t realise it.
I had just turned 16 and started sixth form when I stopped sleeping. All my bad feelings I attributed to insomnia. I was forced by my mother to go to the doctor, from where I returned time and time again with the strongest sleeping medications I could be prescribed.
After exhausting every option, my mother visited my GP without my knowledge and before I knew it, I was hauled back into the surgery. By this point I was so depressed that I was resistant to anything that would make me address my feelings. I was diagnosed with depression.
It seemed like everything was happening around me and I didn’t believe there was anything ‘wrong’. I have the most attentive, wonderful, loving parents who would do anything within their means for me, and yet my depression grew to a stage where it was unmanageable even before it was diagnosed.
Throughout my illness, I lived in denial. I talked my teachers into appointing me deputy head girl a month before I was forced to drop out of school. I self harmed because despite seeing a psychologist, denial meant that I did not delve deeper than ‘what’s annoying me this week’, and thus didn’t deal with my darkest thoughts.
I would sit on the floor like a child in a clichéd thriller movie filling pages of paper with black scribbles because I needed to express the contents of my mind in some way. I self harmed - not to kill myself - but because I was able to cut through everything going on in my mind and have a moment’s respite when I didn’t have to feel anything but a physical sting.
It was as if my depression was a completely separate entity to the rest of me, and it took over. I’ve blocked out most of 2007 but an incident I will never forget was the catalyst in understanding I had a problem. One morning, left alone in the house, as if on autopilot, I found myself trying to take my own life.
To this day, I remember it not as something I did, but as something my illness did. I was terrified, because whilst I fantasised about ceasing to exist in much the same way as I now fantasise about winning the lottery (it’ll solve all my problems!), the tiny shred of rationality in me knew I had to carry on and I was able to text my mother and lock myself in my bathroom until I was safe. That was the moment that I finally believed what everyone had been saying, and I realised the importance of getting better.
Talking about mental health is so important because it makes it normal.
Talking about mental health is so important because it makes it normal. Because it is normal. In a twisted way, I feel lucky that I’ve experienced it because it means I notice the signs in others, and it gives me a way to talk to them.
It is so important that everyone knows about mental health issues whether or not they have experienced them. Because if you live in denial, the people around you need to notice and be unafraid of talking to you. It’s what saved me.
Even now that I have made a full recovery, mainly thanks to a wonderful counsellor I went to see after I dropped out of my first university (the university doctor, by the way, laughed at me when I sobbed that I was having another breakdown after working up the courage to leave my room for the first time in 3 days), as well as the support of those around me, I make sure people aren’t afraid to talk about it. Because sometimes, I don’t notice when I’m going downhill again. I often misinterpret the signs and I need people to talk about it in order to stay healthy. And I make sure I repay the favour.
I refuse to pretend it doesn’t exist because I cannot allow anyone to get the stage where I was because they don’t know what’s happening to them. If talking about my experiences can help just one person notice the warning signs in themselves, my experiences have not been in vain.
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