Victoria, April 6, 2016

Approximately 3 years ago, just after I had finished my first year undergraduate law exams, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Since then, I have achieved more than I ever thought I could. But my biggest achievement by far has been learning to be happy in myself.

Before coming to university, I thought that I was unstoppable. Unfortunately, fate put me back in my place by the end of first year. Years of deep sadness and worries had built up until finally my exams pushed me over the edge. I was crying constantly for days on end, I wasn’t sleeping, I lay on my bed endlessly and ignored the knocks at my door. Close school friends visited me, and they knew something was wrong. I refused to go see a doctor; I thought that it would be seen as weakness and that everyone goes through rough spots. The turning point came when I returned to my room one day, burst into tears and fell to the floor. I couldn’t get up. I was paralysed with sadness and anxiety. I booked myself a doctor’s appointment a few days later where I was told that I had severe depression, though by that point I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis. That period of my life was only the start.

It was time for me to talk

I avoided telling anyone at first, it was my little secret. But gradually I started to understand how my behaviour was affected by my illness and my medication. I could no longer hide it and I began telling those around me when an appropriate time arose. Many didn’t believe me because I had always seemed so positive. Others felt sorry for me. I think, back then, I felt sorry for myself too.

Now I see my mental health in a different light. I no longer make an occasion out of telling people I suffer from depression and anxiety. It isn’t my responsibility to tell them. If mental health comes up in conversation, I speak openly about the topic and give my own personal input if required. I refuse to see it as a taboo, particularly due to its prevalence in everyone’s life. This can unsettle people, but I assure you that this is momentary.

Now I'm honest about my mental health

As a final year student, I have been applying to possible jobs and placements. In answer to an application question ‘what has been your most difficult experience and how have you overcome it?’ I answered truthfully, that it was my depression. I got through to the next stage and in the interview they brought up my answer. They saw that I spoke openly, honestly and maturely about the subject. They were impressed. The fact that they were interested in me, and that they saw the strength in my struggle told me that this was a firm I wanted to work for. Turns out that not only did I get the role, but that the firm is involved in initiatives supporting those with mental health issues and challenging stigma associated with it. Talking to other candidates during lunch, interview questions came up. I told mine, and a glint of worry appeared in their eyes as if my mental illness were infectious. I ignored the glint and continued with our conversation. Within a few minutes, we were openly discussing mental health and their personal experiences of it. I had only just met these people, and yet within moments we had broken down a deeply rooted stigma.

My experience of that assessment day left me confident in myself as a strong person. I no longer feel weighted down by my depression and anxiety when moving forward in my life. Sure, it can make things difficult at times, but I have no doubt that I am a stronger person for it. I won’t let people judge me based on my mental health and I won’t let it stop me from achieving my goals.

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