October 1, 2012

Girl with head in handsI’m the queen of cynicism, dismissive of clichés, the first to look upon things with scorn and to stubbornly do things my way, regardless of what may be best for me. My depression was only revealed when my father caught me in the midst of a crying spell, even then I dismissed the feelings that had haunted me since I was 13 as ‘a rough patch’. I abhorred clichés about speaking out making it better and almost immediately regretted that I’d been ‘weak’ enough to let my guard down.

I initially refused medication, accepted some basic counselling but failed to acknowledge the real reason behind my illness. I even flat out lied to my doctors, preferring to say I was stressed due to my A-levels rather than really and truly depressed. I accepted counselling through my college, a well-oiled machine for accepting high achievers such as myself and throwing them out the other end ready for university 1st class honours and glittering careers. Failure here was not an option and this was the first environment in which I practiced denying my illness.

Constantly putting on a ‘happy face’... began to take its toll 

By university, I was an expert. My doctor began to talk of me in terms of being recovered, my parents seemed happy to send me away, something they would not have been comfortable with had I truly shown how much I was suffering. In a new environment and with new people the façade became even easier to maintain, but cracks were beginning to appear. Constantly putting on a ‘happy face’ when I was in fact, becoming increasingly miserable began to take its toll and soon enough my depression had a companion in the form of nauseating, heart racing, all-consuming and entirely irrational anxiety.

Part of denying my illness involved ignoring the reasons for it, I had suffered bullying at school that I was later informed was essentially child abuse due to the nature of it. I lived in fear during my time at secondary school and this was where I first practised not speaking out and even by 18 I had still never really spoken about the true extent of what I suffered. That was until the February of my first year of university when I became the victim of an assault which was to trigger a downward spiral once more.

I once again stuck to my method of keeping my mouth closed

I once again stuck to my method of keeping my mouth closed and the pressure to repress what had happened and what it had reminded me of soon found a way to relieve itself. At the age of 19, having suffered 4 years of bullying at school, 3 years of diagnosed depression and probably many more before that I began self-harming.

Whilst providing the ideal relief I needed this behaviour terrified me, I lived in fear of people finding out, went to great lengths to cover my cuts and should anyone accidentally see them I had a number of bullet-proof cover stories. Shortly after my self-harming began I finally gained the courage to speak to a doctor. My anxiety over attempting to cover up my self- harming and depression had reached a point where I was failing modules due to not attending them, something had to be done.

I still could not admit, even to a health professional the true extent of my issues

As I sat in the doctor’s office answering the questions I’d answered many times before, I suddenly clammed up. She knew too much already, so when the time came to it I denied ever having self-harmed. Whilst I felt proud and relieved at having finally spoken out I still could not admit, even to a health professional the true extent of my issues. Somewhere an entirely irrational part of me feared her wrath, if I told her about my little habit would she lock me up and throw away the key?

Almost 9 months went by with me continuing to battle my depression and anxiety, going to counselling, talking about things I’d never discussed for the first time and continuing to take my medication. Self-harm however, was still my little secret. It would take almost a year until anyone found out. In the midst of a major depressive episode, I finally confessed to a crisis team what my little habit was. Again I was terrified of the potential consequences, self-injury was viewed with such stigma wasn’t it? Those who did it labelled attention seeking or psychotic?

I was finally able to discuss with my parents, friends and soon to be boyfriend the extent of my illness

I was to find out I couldn’t be further from the truth. Finally opening up about this allowed me to be referred to a psychiatrist for a proper assessment. In the aftermath of this assessment and a promise that I would receive the real help I needed I was finally able to discuss with my parents, friends and soon to be boyfriend the extent of my illness. It was not easy but it was far easier than I expected: no one screamed in terror, no one ran for the hills. Instead I was surrounded by love and affection the likes of which I didn’t even know existed.

I soon realised that I could have avoided the suffering in the past 3 years by speaking out sooner. One cliché I have come to accept is that it was better late than never.

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