I was a 26 year old (female) when I had my first ‘major depressive episode’. Several members of my family suffer from depression and I had had a really stressful job for years. These factors combined with an anxious personality and I became very sick. It took less than a week from being ‘normal’ to being virtually unable to sleep (maybe an hour a night), having no appetite, crying every day and feeling–well unless you have suffered from severe depression it is almost impossible to describe. You cannot feel any positive emotions; you can’t even remember what feeling happy is like. It is certainly worse than any physical pain I have felt or could imagine.
I saw my GP who very quickly recognised my symptoms, and after blood tests ruled other things out, diagnosed depression. My grandfather had committed suicide when my dad was 10 years old and my father had suffered depression for a decade during my childhood. Slowly I began to accept that I too was suffering and that it was serious. I quit my stressful job and returned to my home state so that my family could care for me. I was too ill to look after myself, and scared of what I might do if left on my own.
Thankfully all of my friends and family were very understanding and I received nothing but support from everyone. It was amazing how many people opened up to me about their own experiences with depression, or that of people they knew and loved. People I was very close to told me of depression and of suicides in their own families that they had never mentioned before. It really brought it home to me how sadly common mental illness and suicide are, and how big the ramifications are. When one person is sick, or worse still takes their own life, it is not just the immediate family and friends that are affected, it is generations to come.
I have been very fortunate with the standard of healthcare provided. I was never hospitalised at any stage because my family looked after me. My psychiatrist in my home town went out of his way to help me, seeing me twice a week at first, even if just for 15 minutes at a time. When I was in the acute stages and was desperate for relief, I was impatient and thought that he didn’t understand how badly I felt. I just wanted the medication to fix the problem quickly. I tried about 5-6 different kinds of anti-depressant medication, some of which did absolutely nothing; some gave me awful side effects. I felt like a guinea pig. Finally though, I tried Zoloft, an ‘SSRI’ anti-depressant. After several weeks of taking it I had one day when I actually felt like ‘me’ again. It was the first time in months. Over the next twelve months I recovered slowly. Due to a couple of side effects I have tried several times since to come off my medication (under doctor’s supervision) but every time, after a few weeks, the symptoms return, as nasty as ever. This really drives home the fact that I have an illness that requires medication, just like diabetes or high blood pressure, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. No amount of ‘pulling my socks up’ or ‘looking on the bright side’ will take away my symptoms.
I have learnt many things out of my illness. I have studied Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and as a result my thoughts are much less negative and more realistic than they used to be. I spent time in a support group with other people who suffer from mental illnesses and took comfort in our shared experiences. I have done some studies and now have a job that is less stressful and as a bonus, more interesting than my old job. I ‘manage’ my lifestyle and try not to allow too much stress in. I try to be as kind to myself as I would be to my best friend.
It is so hard when you are really in the depths of a mental illness to imagine that you will ever be well again, hopelessness is in fact considered a symptom of depression. I am living proof though, that if you persist through all the pain, live each moment as it comes and make those adjustments to your life (medication, being kinder to yourself, etc.) then it is possible to enjoy life again.