“I didn’t do anything about it for two years. I felt I had no right to be depressed”
Well. That’s not quite true.
I talked about it with one of my best friends once, only because we were both fucked and the subject came up in reference to someone else. We haven’t discussed it since. I think he gets it.
It’s great that awareness of mental illness is increasing, yet sadly it is still something lots of people feel uncomfortable being open about – myself very much included.
The crux of the problem seems to be the incredibly tiny amount we actually know about depression. There is no one set type of it. It wouldn’t show up on an X-ray. Depression is stimulated by different problems, it expresses itself in different forms and affects people in different ways.
I only started to think there might be something wrong during my second-last year at school. I didn’t do anything about it for over two years. This was for two reasons.
The first, a very common feeling: I had no right to be depressed. I came from a very happy family. I had an insanely good upbringing which was bursting with love, friendship and comfort. I was obviously not actually depressed because that would make no sense.
The second, that although my parents do everything in their power to support me, they cannot change a belief ingrained within them, a belief I’ve half-heartedly attempted to stomach – the belief that depression isn’t real, that it is a made-up state for those incapable of ‘getting on’ with it.
And, to be completely honest, I think they might, to a certain extent, be right.
Don’t get me wrong, I realise it’s impossible to ‘get on’ once you’ve crossed a certain line – I’ve crossed it myself. But I feel mental illness is more of a spectrum than one of two binary states, making it tempting for anyone who is not severely schizophrenic to be labelled a phoney by those lower down the spectrum. If only the line were visible.
I also agree that the only way to get better is to be proactive. Depression sucks even more for people who find that all types of therapy have little to no effect in kick-starting the recovery process.
Luckily for me, I was not one of them. When I came to Cambridge, I came with forced optimism. Having had the whole summer to get hyped, I told myself I would have the best time of my life.
I quickly crumbled. We’ve heard the story countless times before. I won’t repeat it.
I tried going to the University Counselling Service but it didn’t even help slightly. I think this is because, as I’ve said, I don’t have any serious, deep-set problems to tease out. The problem was fundamentally an imbalance of brain chemicals.
That Christmas I was put on antidepressants. They changed my life wonderfully and completely. I realised my gradual fading hadn’t been my personality getting shitter with maturity but an actual problem.
I’ve been on them for over a year now and I’m hoping I’ll get off them at some point fairly soon. That said, there seems to be little solid knowledge down this line – it’s hard to tell when you are ‘cured’. No one’s aware I take them and, although I should perhaps be totally open about it, I’m really happy that way.
I now have many close friends here and at home. They see me as strong, fun to be around and vaguely normal (I think).
This way, it’s very easy for me to focus on the positives and get dragged up rather than down. When people see you as a positive person, it’s much easier to be a positive person. When your family hear about achievements, it’s much easier to be a successful person. When your supervisor receives a good essay, it’s much easier to be a confident, intelligent person.
I’m not saying antidepressants will work for everyone. I’m not saying, either, that my life is suddenly a flawless meadow of rainbows and happiness. It’s a normal, fairly stressful Cambridge life.
I am saying, however, that it is not normal to view having a shower to be an impossible task because it involves leaving your room. It’s not normal to spend 50% of your life in tears and to feel more alone around other people than when you’re actually on your own. It’s not normal to be incapable of doing any work at all when you’ve already proved yourself to be intelligent enough for Cambridge.
Please, no matter how open you choose to be about it, and no matter how little you think you should need it, seek support if these things sound familiar. Seeking help is not a weakness, it’s a strength.
Also, read Fraser Newgreen’s recent article on Antidepressants.
Giving up may be the easiest option, but it’s definitely not the best.