January 2, 2013

Warning, some readers may find this post triggering.

I find myself on a three-hour train journey, not at all in a good frame of mind: too much time to think. Ordinarily, as an aspiring writer, I love to think, to create, to have ideas that amuse and entertain me and could one day entertain and amuse other people. But on this particular trip, three hours alone with my brain is something I need like petrol needs a naked flame.

You see, I suffer from depression. Suffer in that I do not enjoy it. For as long as I can remember a part of my mind has repeatedly told me that everything bad anyone has ever said about me is right: the kids who taunted me for being too smart, too skinny and then too fat, the teachers and bosses for whom I was never good enough, the girls who rejected me. They can’t all be wrong, it tells me. Despite George Orwell’s protestations to the contrary, being in a minority of one does actually make you mad.

I have rarely talked about my illness

I have rarely talked about my illness, simply because nobody seems to understand it. Talk to anyone about a mental illness and they immediately lump you in with the horror stories from the 1990s of murdering paranoid schizophrenics on the British streets. You have to disclose illness on job applications and will inevitably fail the medical as a result because nobody wants to employ ‘a mental’ who might shoot up the office because they ran out of tea bags. So I keep it to myself and only disclosed it to my employers when depression began to affect my work.

And so to the train. The night before I’d sat through (500 Days of) Summer, a torturous exercise but as my girlfriend had never seen it I decided to go along with it. Much as I relished two hours looking at Zooey Deschanel, the film had a very peculiar effect on me. The film tells the story of a poor schmoe who meets an amazing free-spirited girl called Summer and tells the 500 days from their first meeting ’til the last time he ever sees her. It is not your conventional love story but the whole thing made me think about an ex-girlfriend who, like the title character, could never reciprocate my feelings for her. And my mind being what it is, it continued to dwell for the next 24 hours. Having three hours to stew just made things worse.

I convinced myself that my current relationship would fail

During the course of the journey I convinced myself that my current relationship would fail because every other one had; that I would say or do the wrong thing and end up alone until the day I die. And then the other doubts came swimming up. I was a cowardly talentless idiot who could never fulfil my dreams because I didn’t have the guts or talent to become a writer. I would never be happy in anything as a result and would spend the rest of my life unhappy, unfulfilled and utterly, utterly alone.

Every song on my MP3 player got skipped until sad ones came on: Black by Pearl Jam was on repeat for about 30 minutes. It contains the lines I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?, which brought me back to the end of things with my previous girlfriend. I was so totally convinced that I was destined to be unhappy for the rest of my life that I had finally decided to end it. I had a plan from previous breakdowns and knew what I would do. I left a message on Facebook apologising to everyone I knew for everything I’d ever done wrong to them just as my phone battery died.

my sister phoned in floods of tears

By the time I made it home I’d stabilised somewhat but still knew that over the next few days I would be ending my life. I’d been in the flat for only a few minutes when my sister phoned in floods of tears, demanding to know what the hell was going on. Part of me felt that she still didn’t care, that she thought I was nothing but a hypochondriac and that I didn’t have depression since I could actually get out of bed on a morning.

It didn’t matter that the only thing that got me out of bed was that, living alone, nobody else would pay my rent or do my laundry for me. And besides, she’d be better off without me. They all would, all I was doing was burdening my family and friends with my stupid, erratic behaviour and pathetic self-indulgence.

He claimed he understood and... was insistent that I go to the hospital

This particular train of self-indulgent thought was interrupted by a loud hammering on the door: unable to get hold of me, my sister had phoned the police. Teary-eyed and wallowing in self-loathing and shame, I answered to a copper who I swear was younger than me. He claimed he understood and, despite my pleadings that my sister had overreacted, was insistent that I go to the hospital to be checked out. The biggest shock, and one that chilled me to my very core, was when he said he had powers to make me go if I didn’t co-operate.

The fear of being committed is very much alive in me. I live in permanent fear of being locked up for my own and everyone else’s good. It happened to a friend from uni who had depression and ended up in a secure hospital unit for nearly a year. The thought of being trapped in a padded cell indefinitely terrified me on a level I can’t even begin to describe. Interrupted by phone calls from my dad, best friend, workmate and girlfriend, I ended up sat in the back of an ambulance in a sort of haze, none of what was happening to me seeming to be particularly real.

I left to find four of my closest friends waiting for me in the waiting room

After several dazed conversations with the triage nurses I was led in to see an out-of-hours GP who I basically spilled my guts to: the film, the end of my last relationship, the time spent alone, the plan for suicide, the history of self-harm. Everything. He realised that the shock of the evening’s events had brought me out of my suicidal mood and referred the notes on to my own GP, on the proviso I get an urgent appointment the following day. I left to find four of my closest friends waiting for me in the waiting room. Not judging me, not condemning me, just there. Suddenly I no longer felt quite so alone.

Since this last episode people are more understanding. I think they have come to see that I have an illness that poses a danger to me and me alone, that I will have the occasional episode that has no more concrete a cause than simply hearing a song that triggers an involuntary memory. Others I am sure still do not see it that way but only time will tell...

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If you are experiencing mental health problems or need urgent support you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org or these help and support services.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.


A support network

This story has really affected me. Thank you for sharing, and I hope that you never experience a breakdown like this again. In the past year, my boyfriend has been diagnosed with mixed anxiety, my best friend had been diagnosed with severe depression and a friend of mine who I am convinced is showing signs of, I don't know, depression mixed with perhaps bulimia, refuses to got to her GP, constantly refers to those with mental illness as being mad and only talks about her feelings over the internet. I've watched other people in my situation who constantly hassle their friends into speaking about their feelings, and it makes me feel so useless. I don't often ask questions. Aside from the occassional "How are you feeling?" or "Do you think the medication/counselling is helping?", I don't feel like their has been a shift in the relationships at all. In my eyes, they're the same people. He's still my boyfriend and she's still my best friend. We still go out, we put the world to right and we laugh ALOT; but if they want to talk or if they have a breakdown, I'll be by their side. Sometimes I think that perhaps I'm not doing enough, perhaps I should be more inquisitive and perhaps I'm not coming across as caring enough; but after reading your story, I've realised that maybe this is what is needed. Maybe, by just being there, by not pitying them or focusing on their illness, I'm actually being more useful than I ever thought. I'd love your thoughts on this.

The friends

Thank you for sharing your story. I really hope you never have to go through another breakdown like this. For the first time ever, your story has made me think about myself. In 2012, my boyfriend was diagnosed with mixed anxiety, my best friend with severe depression and another friend shows signs of depression and bulimia but refuses to talk because "people with mental illness are mad". I often feel useless: maybe I don't look like I care enough or don't ask enough questions, but he's still my boyfriend and she's still my best friend. We go out, watch films, shop and laugh ALOT. Yet, if they were to have a breakdown or need to talk, I'd be right by their side. I see others pity them and wonder if I'm doing wrong but you're story has shown me otherwise. Maybe, by treating them no differently, I'm exactly what they need. I'd love your thoughts.

You're right

You're completely right! As a person that has depression I know for a fact knowing that someone is there is the best thing. When I was at my worst, I didn't go out, was scared to answer the door, didn't answer the phone and separated myself from everyone. All I advise you to do is stay there, be on the other end of the phone. Ring them, talk to them, don't EVER say "what have you got to be sad about...' or "snap out of it" no matter how much you might want to. My friend rang me the other day after I'd said I'd call her and I hadn't. She said "I was just calling to see how you were - thought maybe you couldn't bring yourself to phone." It felt nice to know she understood (although at the time, that wasn't the case). Sounds like you're a friend/girlfriend that they need around. My advice though is to make sure that you too have someone to talk to also.

good friend

you sound like a really good friend and it is people like you that make the difference

Your words mirror what I go

Your words mirror what I go through completely and it's reassuring to know that im not alone. I have found self help groups to be very beneficial if you haven't already tried that, i'd recommend. Best wishes to you and thanks for sharing.

someone like me!

Hi, thank you for sharing your experience, I now know I'm not mad, stupid or alone. People who have never experienced such feelings of utter dispair cannot comprehend that we can't just "pull ourselves together". I have worked in Local Government for 23 years and the pressure to work more with less resources has taken it's toll. I am due to return to work next week after 6 months off, not because I feel much better, but because my sick pay runs out,,, and I'm wary. Are they going to try to get rid of me? (redundancies are imminent). Do they think I've been "scamming it" ? Will they think I " can't hack it any more" and should leave it to the younger staff ?(am only 47). I am now undertaking Cognitive Behavior Therapy and hope this makes a difference, however I feel my only long term option is to take myself away from the place that has caused this latest breakdown.

Applaud your honesty.

Crikey, the vast majority if that blog I could have written myself. It rings very true.

Thankyou for sharing

Thank you for your story. How I empathise with the fear of being locked away. All my life I have battled with this terrible companion depression. I try really hard to keep a check on things, but despite treatment I am still struggling to change. I feel constantly isolated as if their is a veil between me and the rest f life. I keep going for my children but I wish I could make more progress.

People's experiences need to be out in the open.

thanks for sharing your experience. I wish that i had been more knowledgable about mental health, then i would not have been so scared to go to the doctors, when i first suffered from anxiety/depression. Now i'm feeling alot better, and also am not so scared if i get ill again because i know that there is help out there. I knew that the thoughts and feelings i had were wrong, but, i thought if i went to the doctors, i would be locked away. This is the stigma attached to mental health, and its wrong, because in my experience i got so low and physically ill, and had i known, i could have got help earlier. I had no clue about 'Mind' or any other mental health support groups. (My first doctor did not even mention this, they still need to be more informed, its not just about dishing out antidepressents) One of the things that really helped me, was reading other people's experiences on websites and in books, i knew that i was not alone, and that the way i was feeling was pretty common. I wish i could speak about my experience more, then perhaps less people would fear mental health issues, and hopefully friends family, society would be more understanding, as with any other illness.

Thank You

There is a fine line we all walk in this life. I am kind to everyone I meet; no matter how I may be treated. It is important to take care of number 1. Who cares what other people think? These people will think what they want to about anyone. We all are fighting a hard battle. We are going to have good days and not so good days. Keep the light on and keep the faith. God Bless Us All


I've just gone back to work after six mths on the sick. My first day back today and I've been told that I'm either going to be redeployed or made redundant! Disgusted is not the word

Thank you

Thank you for sharing this. It is so very brave and made me cry because you are not alone in how you feel. Depression is so complicated and confusing and it is so hard to explain to people. So hard that there feels no point in explaining it. I really appreciate you writing because it makes me feel less alone because i can totally relate. THANK YOU x

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