Not sure if any of you will remember me, or how much activity there still is here, it’s such a long time since I frequented this forum. But I thought I’d pop in and say hello and tell my story for anyone who’s interested, or who needs to know that sometimes things get better, and that things don’t have to be spectacular to constitute a happy ending.
I first visited this forum when I was about 18. I’d just started university and, after a positively effervescent first couple of months, I’d plunged into a pretty severe depression, followed by months of rollercoaster moods, insomnia and anxiety. I was terrified and so very alone and just desperate to feel like someone understood.
When I came here I found a great deal of empathy and understanding. People took the time to respond to my posts, and they offered me sound practical advice. I felt a real connection, and I have no doubt it saved my life, on multiple occasions. Just knowing there were people out there in the world who knew how I felt, who got it, and who – however little they knew me, however big the distance between us, however different to me they were – hoped I was okay. It meant an awful lot and I’d like to thank everyone who ever responded to me, even when it was just with hugs. I reached out and there you all were, and I’ll never forget that.
On the advice of the forum, I sought professional help. All of a sudden there was a psychiatrist, and a diagnosis (they said I had cyclothymia, with stress-related episodes of major depression and mania), and an awful lot of medications. Mostly they tried me on a range of anti-psychotics, which messed me up. They made me feel like I didn’t exist. They made me slow and sluggish and distant, full of a deep and empty depression that had me attempting suicide without even really thinking about it. So they added anti-depressants, which stopped me sleeping for several days at a time, and made me so anxious I was literally running away from perfectly normal situations.
The medication merry-go-round was exhausting and terrifying, but I knew that medication wasn’t the only required ingredient in curing what ailed me. I saw the university counsellor too. Counselling, therapy, talking, whatever you want to call it – I know it can work wonders for some people, but it made me worse. I don’t know if I have some personality disorder or something (I learnt long ago not to worry too much about having a name for the weird stuff my brain does) but talking out loud about my feelings is damaging to me. Every time I try it, I feel like it’s chipping away a piece of my soul. I couldn’t talk properly to the counsellor. My head was in too much of a mess, and I was so anxious about worrying her, and every quarter-true admission of pain or fear or confusion made me feel like I had to apologise, take it back, run away. It gave me such anxiety even thinking about voicing my feelings to someone face-to-face.
So I gave up. I stepped away from all of it – stopped the medication, cancelled the counselling, and attempted to just get on with my life. Of course, saying that is one thing, and actually doing it is something else. My moods were still all over the place, from exhilarated to miserable to paranoid to bitter to inspired to furious. I managed to scrape my way through my degree and stumble into a job, but I wasn’t coping at all. I no longer had the medications messing with my chemistry, and I had a tiny precious pocket of interior peace resulting from not having to discuss my feelings aloud, but I had no support network. Literally none. So I came here. And oh my, I rambled. This place was where I came to take whatever madness was rushing around my head and just eject it out through my fingers. The problem was that there was just so much of it. I was an absolute wreck with no outlet other than this forum. You guys were so patient for so long.
Then it reached a point where my posts were being closed or deleted, and I was receiving messages from Admins.
The gist of it was this: stop posting about being depressed. We’ve told you to get professional help and you’ve said that you won’t. We can’t help you.
I was…pretty livid, to tell you the truth. “Getting help” was no help to me. Medication made me feel inhuman. Counselling was like a chisel to my heart. I’d tried them but I’d given them up out of self-preservation. I was trying to find a way to keep myself alive without professional help because the emotional cost of professional help made it counter-productive. And this forum, which had been so welcoming and understanding when I’d been doing exactly what everyone here had told me to do, was suddenly telling me to shut up about it, that there was only one way to deal with depression, and I was doing it wrong. I felt like there was no understanding whatsoever that the route that worked (to varying levels) for so many people here doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.
I was being a nuisance. I was posting about my feelings all the time and I was in no position to provide support or advice to anyone else. I needed to be told to be more considerate, to limit my posts. But it was framed to me as if, in deciding to not continue with professional help, I’d forfeited my right to rant or share or complain.
I felt betrayed and abandoned and as if I was being told that the way I felt was my own fault. It felt implied that if I wasn’t bad enough to give in and get help, there wasn’t really anything wrong with me and I should count myself lucky.
You know depression. If you didn’t know it you wouldn’t be here. So I know you’ll understand me when I say that after that experience there was absolutely no way I could come back here. A door had been slammed in my face and I had nowhere near the audacity to knock again.
So I stopped communicating about my feelings at all. It was hard-going and a bumpy road. I spent years just getting through things, just keeping myself alive, building resilience and waiting for my mind to heal.
It’s been so long. I’m 30 next year. I’m starting to have to admit that just maybe I might be an actual adult.
And here I am…
I have a job. A career. I could, and probably should, be more senior and better-paid, but nevertheless it’s going well. I’m bloody good at it. I’ve gained qualifications and won awards and developed something of a reputation for delivering high quality in situations that most people would consider highly stressful.
I have a house. I own it (with a mortgage): my own tidy, warm, peaceful little square of England. I’ve only been here a couple of months but I’m so content here. I can’t wait for the summer so I can potter about in my little garden and feel properly connected to the land. I cook healthy little meals and I walk to and from work and I sleep in perfect silent darkness.
I have a family and I’ve finally made my peace with them. They are so far from ideal and I’m glad I no longer have to deal with them for hours every day, but there is love there. I think it’s good for all of us to hang out some weekends, to remember why we love each other and then part cheerfully, before the shouting can start.
I have friends. A wide range of people who know me, who know I’m a closed book, and who don’t mind. We spend time together and laugh and drink wine and eat biscuits and watch our favourite films, and there is so much companionship and no tension or stress or adolescent drama.
I still have my internal weather. Days or weeks or months of intense sadness, despair at the world, anguish at the futility of everything, sorrow for all the things I’ve missed. Days or weeks or months of mad plans, bouncy eagerness, boundless enthusiasm, weird ideas. Days or weeks or months of nervy edginess, suspicion, quadruple-guessing myself, wobbly-lipped trepidation. But it’s separate from me. I work with it. I roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders, rein myself in, push myself out, and just keep going. It doesn’t take me over anymore. I don’t become it. It’s a thing that happens to me, like a cold or a sprained ankle or a massive zit. I look after myself. I make allowances. I carry on. I’m able to do this now, in a way I couldn’t before.
And I never got help. I never took another psychiatric medication, and I never had another excruciating experience of desperately trying to squeeze a tiny nugget of truth out of my mouth for a counsellor to examine under a spotlight. Some of you probably think the fact I never got help again, but am functioning now, means I was never ill. Maybe I wasn’t. I no longer really think about the distinctions.
I wish I could offer some advice, some map to lead those of you who are suffering away from where you are. But I suspect the route to some kind of peace is different for everyone, and anyway I don’t really know how I did it, except by putting one foot in front of the other and letting time do the rest.
Perhaps the most important thing is this – learn to treat yourself with the same basic level of compassion that you’d afford a stranger in the street.
After that, everything kind of falls into place.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d planned them.”
In the words of Douglas Adams, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”