For me feeling depressed is many things; extreme low mood, insomnia. It strips away my ability to function normally, takes away my ability to concentrate and steals all the pleasure from my life. On bad days my depression takes away any feeling at all, leaving simply numbness in its place.Depression is classified as a mental illness but my depression also manifests itself physically, through loss of appetite, extreme tiredness, headaches, nausea and pain. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for the past six years. I take medication every day, see a psychologist once a week and a psychiatrist once every three months.
Many people are unaware of my struggle
However many of the people around me are unaware of my struggle with mental illness. After battling with my depression for years and being unable to keep it at bay for more than a few months at a time it overwhelmed me this time last year. I have spent the past year recovering, after being forced to defer my postgraduate studies. The past year has been difficult, but it is the first time that I have allowed myself time off to try and understand my depression and anxiety and how to manage it better.
I have always found it extremely difficult to be open about my struggle with my mental health. Some of my friends know that I have been ‘unwell’ over the past year, although they do not know why. Only a few people know that I have depression and fewer still know the extent to which I have struggled with it. It is not something I speak about openly. I see my depression as a sign of weakness and make every effort to hide it. I fear that people will pity me. I worry that they will treat me differently or it will change the way they think of me. I worry that people will think I am being self indulgent, or pathetic. In short, I feel ashamed.
I find it hard to show compassion to myself
However the way in which I judge my own mental health is the complete opposite of the way I think of mental illness in general. Whilst at university I volunteered for Durham University Nightline, a confidential listening service open throughout the night. I took part in training weekends, teaching volunteers about mental health. My mother is a clinical psychologist and my friends and family have had their own struggles with mental illness. I strongly believe that the continuing stigma and shame surrounding mental illness has no place in our 21st Century society. I am compassionate towards my family and friends, I would never judge them, I do not see other people’s mental illness as a sign of weakness or a reason for shame. However I am not able to show this same compassion to myself.
I am currently pursuing a career in Law and have secured funding for the next stage of my training. However Law is an extremely competitive field, with too many people vying for too few training contracts and pupillages. I am aware, also, that being a lawyer is a difficult and, at times, very stressful job. I worry that if I am open about my mental health issues I could face discrimination. That employers will see me as too much of a risk and that ultimately my depression could cost me the career I’ve worked so hard for and always wanted. I fear that in a field saturated with highly qualified people my depression will be the reason someone else is chosen above me. I worry too that my counterparts will look down on me, and will consider me less able than themselves.
I'm finding a way to stop being ashamed of my depression
I have spent the past year trying to find a way to stop being ashamed of my depression. I have been undergoing CBT and have learnt that I need to open up and be more honest, to ask for help instead of suffering in silence. To tell people how I am feeling, to not be ashamed and not to see my illness as a sign of weakness. Above all, I have learnt that I need to start being kinder to myself, treating myself how I treat others and trusting that the people around me will react in the way I would if the roles were reversed.
It has taken me a long time, but I am beginning to see that having depression has strengthened rather than weakened me. Winston Churchill, who himself suffered from severe depression, once said ‘if you find yourself in hell, keep going’. I still have good days and bad days but despite having to take a slight diversion from the path I originally intended I have kept going. I know that being able to talk more openly about my mental illness will not cure it, but I hope that being more open will help me to start managing my depression more effectively, to stop being ashamed and to draw on the help and support of those around me.