This has been a very hard, but important post to write.
The mental health charity Mind states that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem every year- that’s a quarter of the population.
And this year, was my year.
The day I left the doctors after months of turmoil it wasn’t the condition I was suffering from, but the stigma surrounding it that had got me down. As my parents, friends and now the doctor had confirmed, it was simply a chemical imbalance in my brain- something to be put right the way that a cast is applied to a broken arm until it heals.
So why did I feel ashamed to admit that I had depression? Overwhelmed? Like less of a person? Like someone who’s inability to deal with the struggles life had dealt them had resulted in me crying in a room to a person I didn’t know, trying to explain that I’d lost my spark. I’d fallen out of love with life, and found indifference where I once found hope, joy and excitement. It is an utterly harrowing state of mind to find yourself in, and one that I hope none of you shall have to endure.
But as the Mind statistics highlight, many of you have, or will be affected by it as I have.
Today, shocking statistics revealed that 78% of 1,093 students surveyed by the NUS had experienced mental health issues in the past year. 53% of those had not sought help. Perhaps the most alarming of these stats is that this is only one age group and occupation- merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mental health.
So why does noone talk about it?
I’ll tell you why I didn’t talk about it. Not until now.
1. I felt ungrateful. I know that there are millions of people living in poverty and despair that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I felt like by having a job, a roof over my head, and the audacity to consider myself unhappy the biggest “first world problem” going.
But looking at things from this perspective is like saying you can never be happy because someone else will always have it better.
I’d never suffered from anxiety or depression until I’d graduated from university. I started working full-time in a stopgap job to save for a deposit, and moved out into my own place straight away. I was passionate, enthused and couldn’t wait to get started into the real world of work.
But soon enough my 1 bed flat went from being a welcome change to my five bed student house to feeling incredibly lonely in a city where the majority of my friends had now moved away.
The adjustment to full-time work only got harder as I landed my dream job four months in. Even though I’m no stranger to hard work having had part-time jobs since the age of 14, I found getting to grips with, and trying to excel in my first graduate job extremely challenging.
Without the immediate support of my family or close friends around me, I soon found myself feeling increasingly isolated and unhappy. The signs were harder to spot as I’m a very motivated person- I kept going to the gym for example, but the things I once gained joy from were now undertaken with a placid indifference. It was this that spurred me, with the support of my family, to seek professional health.
2. I felt like I’m “not that kind of person”. Take every stereotype you have about depressed people. Maybe you think that they’re “drama queens”, pessimists, overly sensitive and just needing to “man up”. Though none of these are a true, or fair representation of the millions of people who suffer from mental health conditions, I did not consider myself to be any of those things.
I had always been a confident, outgoing, and optimistic individual. I felt like “people like me don’t get depressed” and that “it’s not in my nature to feel this way.”
But here’s the thing- I was a victim of circumstance. And no matter your innate personality traits, life is tough and sometimes you can’t just bounce straight back.
3. I felt weak. To tackle some of life’s challenges and not come out on top made me feel like I was a weak person. After over a decade in education that had been leading me up to this point, I had moved out, started working straight out of uni, landed a challenging yet amazing job and was living on my own away from my family and friends. In a matter of weeks my life and priorities had completely changed and yet I struggled on a daily basis with thoughts like “Other people are in similar circumstances and don’t feel this way”.
What I have learned is that depression doesn’t discriminate. No matter how great your life is on paper, if you are feeling a certain way, that is how you feel. There are no justifications, no rules to say that some people have less right to suffer from mental illnesses than others. Everyone has every right to ask for help and support when it’s needed.
I read a fantastic quote that detailed this struggle perfectly:
“The problem is, humans are built simply to survive, not to be happy all the time.”
So with this in mind, what have I done about it?
At the start of this week I found myself left with a prescription and a phone number, for counselling and antidepressants. I felt relieved, but I also felt hope. That prescription is still in my draw, and there it will stay unless I absolutely need it because I really want to fight this on my own. I want to fall back in love with life again, but more than anything I want to feel like me. And right now, I’m not sure that popping pills is the answer.
Even though I can’t feel it right now, I know that life is wonderful and it is fleeting, and any time spent under this black cloud is time that is wasted.
Depression may have left me feeling weak. but I’m strong enough to talk about it. I hope that more than anything this can inspire you to do the same. Asking for help is not an admission of weakness. I learned it the hard way, but you don’t have to.
Until next time,