“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” - Andrew Solomon
I have been part of the stigma about depression. I haven't written about my experience of depression before but have worked in mental health for twenty years. At times I have sat tight while patients and colleagues disclosed. This secrecy, and feeling of shame, contributed to the exposure and scrutiny of people braver than me. For that omission I apologise. So from now on I want to change by writing about my experience. Not that my experience is special but it is real. Validating the commonalities between my and other people's experiences. People like us. Adding to the variety of manifestations of this illness.
I had emotions through writing the article. Anxiety about how it may change how people see me. Sadness at the reality of having a long history of strong experiences. That often felt outside my control. Relief at thinking about an experience that, at the moment of writing, is in the past. Hope about using my experience for other peoples’ benefit. I begin my account at my beginning.
As a child, and young adult, I had a fear of losing my mind. Coping through avoidant and anxious agitation. This coping strategy had a significant negative side effect. It meant I did not healthily experience my feelings of sadness or anger. With hindsight, I think my narrow response to a fear of madness predisposed me to depression.
I first experienced depression in 1997. A blanket of despair that made my insides aches for months. A cramping in my stomach forcing me to look away from the world. A burning desire to not to want to be in the world. My mistakes become unbearable. The idea of harming someone else through my actions became unforgivable.
I began to take fluoxetine and gradually the desire to end my life lessened. I received cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and counselling. Helping me to reduce the ways I would attack myself for feeling this way. Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of fifteen years of six monthly bouts of depression. I would be sad on a sunny day. Becoming down in the summer yet feeling OK in the winter.
Eventually I asked for stronger medication. Starting a ten year relationship with lithium therapy. It was effective in stopping me wanting to end my life. A significant improvement. However the side effects of the lithium (in particular when I became dehydrated) were dramatic. Hours of vomiting until my stomach was empty (lithium poisoning.) Even this medication did not stop me becoming depressed for six months of the year.
Luckily for me and my family, over the years these bouts of depression have became progressively less frequent and allowed me to come off lithium. I remained on an antidepressants until November 2020 as an insurance policy against becoming depressed again.
However just when I had confidence this part of my life was behind me I experienced a rapid relapse in October 2021. Descending to a level of low mood I had not visited since 1997. Each day filled with panic and agitation of the world closing in on me. Crawling through the days sometimes with little hope. My children, a few close friends and family, and a curiosity to see what would happen next kept me going.
In time, I began to respond again to anti depressant medication. Regaining my health over the next eight months. I accept the prospect of remaining on antidepressant medication for the rest of my life. In the same vein I also talk with a health professional once a month. I am grateful for the health I can once again enjoy.
Ripley, B., & Ward, S., (2023) Envy, Seven Deadly Psychologies, (BBC Radio 4) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001tbgf
Solomon, A. (2013). Depression, the secret we share. TED. December.
n.b. I have also collated a list of other resources on depression I have found helpful. To access them : CLICK HERE