I first became depressed at around 19 years old, when I was taking a lot of recreational drugs. After 2 bad experiences with acid, when the anxiety turned to despair in a matter of weeks, I went to the doctor and my mum came with me. I had to see 3 different doctors before anyone took me seriously.
Telling people that I was depressed was difficult. I didn’t understand it myself but I thought that drug use had upset the chemical imbalance in my brain so I clung to this idea. It was much easier for people to accept that I had a chemical problem rather than anything emotional. To be honest, I didn’t find very many people sympathetic at this point: ‘What have you got to be depressed about’ or, from my mum, ‘If anyone should be depressed it should be me.’
When I tried to say it was a chemical imbalance to a friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse, she tilted her head to the side and said ‘no, but really, why are you depressed?’ and that was the first time I actually thought about it. But it was as if she’d asked me the question in Chinese. I didn’t have a clue what she meant.
My boyfriend at the time just thought I was a killjoy and couldn’t get his head around why my sex drive had disappeared overnight.
Two things helped me recover from that bout (apart from the anti-depressant, which seemed to wrap my head in duvet and give my happiness a ceiling that I couldn’t penetrate – but which helped save my life.) The first one was finding out how many other people my age were depressed too; that it wasn’t just me. That was an enormous relief. The second one was talking about it.
It’s a cliché now when discussing depression, just because it’s so true. Talking about it helps. The person you’re yammering away at (in my case, everyone, even check-out girls) doesn’t have to say anything back. They just have to nod occasionally and not want to run off (check-out girls aren’t allowed to!) Interestingly, having depression helped me to figure out who my real friends were – who were still around when I became more normal.
I’ve had bouts of depression since then but I know what to do now. I write about it, I tell people, I force myself to go outside and talk to people and get involved in things. Most of all, I be gentle with myself and remind myself how great I am. The episodes became fewer and fewer and now I’m like an eagle scout, taking my body and my mind seriously and listening to whatever I’m telling myself I need. It’s what everyone needs really – support, encouragement and love.