April 25, 2012

Photo of Tom, a Time to Change bloggerI’ve read a number of inspiring articles featured in the Time to Change campaign, and I wanted to contribute my own story.

I think it’s fantastic that so many people are coming out and being honest about their own struggles (and successes) with their mental health. By doing so, they are certainly helping to break down the dogged stigma that endures.

I first experienced depression a decade ago, at the end of my first year of university. It has continued to follow me around and ensnare me at various points in the years in between then and now.

When I have been in the midst of depression’s painful grasp, full of dark thoughts and self-loathing, I would have done anything to feel positive again and break its grip. However, when feeling well and ‘normal,’ as I am now, I would probably choose not to change any of my experiences.

I feel like depression, as negative as it makes me feel, has ultimately been a force for good.

My depression has been a big part of my life as an adult and has taught me many valuable lessons that I might not otherwise have learnt. I feel like depression, as negative as it makes me feel, has ultimately been a force for good. It has made me re-evaluate my life and look to live with more balance and try to do things that will make me happy.

As an example, I could cite the work I used to do, which made me feel very unfulfilled and unrewarded, and was often accompanied by bouts of depression that lasted for weeks on end. Some bouts I managed to ride out, others I had to take time off sick. But ultimately, if it was not for the depression and feeling that something was very wrong with my life, I think perhaps I would never have had the motivation to leave and look for a more suitable career.

In my view, stigma towards mental illness like depression and anxiety, is born of ignorance and, as such, is very hard to eradicate. I have felt so frustrated when told to ‘keep my chin up’ and ‘just move on’ by people who, by means of pure chance, have no idea how incredibly mentally painful and debilitating depression feels.

It’s certainly as far removed from a having a bad day or a bad mood as are the North and South poles!

I can guarantee that, if they did, they wouldn’t say such things and would hold back their opinions on the subject. What I really feel is that more people (some undoubtedly are already) should be open-minded and respectful enough to accept that depression exists, is a real illness with real symptoms, and deserves just as much sympathy and resources as any other physical illness. Just because someone doesn’t experience mental ill health doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for others and is all ‘in our heads’. It’s certainly as far removed from a having a bad day or a bad mood as are the North and South poles!

I do try to be open about my mental health problems, but I am also cautious to not let it rule my life and, as a friend advised, ‘not to let depression define you.’ I try to talk to people at the right time and in the right way, not out of a need for pity, but because I want to be honest and because talking definitely helps.

I’m deeply afraid of it returning

I have taken medication and had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, both of which have undoubtedly helped. I have not had a bout of depression for 18 months, and I am confident that, as long as I lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle, there is no reason why depression should return.

Of course it might, nothing is certain, and, if I’m honest, I’m deeply afraid of it returning – it seems to me that it gets worse with every episode. However, I am very optimistic and have learnt valuable coping strategies like a daily practice of yoga and meditation, as well as regular jogging and a healthy diet, that are helping to keep my negativity at bay.

It is a hell of a battle but one that I am happy to be winning

I am determined to beat depression and, as much as possible, help others who are suffering. In my experience depression, however painful it feels and however convinced I am that it is here to stay, always lifts to reveal the light and mark the return of positive thinking. It is a hell of a battle but one that I am happy to be winning.

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