Silly old stigma: Talking about depression and anxiety
Posted Thursday 26 April 2012
Amy is a 21 year old student in the final months of an English and Drama degree at the University of Sussex.
Depression and anxiety have been a part of my life for several years on and off but it is only recently that I have become comfortable talking about it. Part of that is realising how important it is to talk about my experiences - increasing understanding and fighting that silly old stigma around such a common illness.
My recent blog post on my experiences had an overwhelming response with over 17,000 views and countless numbers of people writing to thank me and with their own experiences. This really made it hit home that as isolated an experience it is, you really are never alone.
The first time I became depressed I was nineteen and in my second year at university. I hit rock bottom and just had to pause my life, which meant having time off work and university. It came out of nowhere: suddenly one day my mood dropped and continued to do so at a scary rate. I soon realised I needed help. I’d had some difficult experiences but I wasn’t focusing on any of them and it was the inexplicable nature of this low mood which really frustrated me. I refused medication and tried counselling but I just couldn’t engage with it. It took months to get better but eventually I got there.
Throughout my degree I worked at Sainsburys. My manager was someone I respected professionally but he was also someone I would go for drinks with so to tell him something so personal such as what happened to me was incredibly difficult. I was so relieved when he turned out to be understanding and allowed me time off work – keeping in touch to check how I was doing. I took a year out from university, and worked full time in my retail position.
After nine months working in a supermarket I was desperate to get back to creativity and I went back to university with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
However towards the end of my first term back at university I found myself in the same position. It wasn’t such a drastic drop in mood this time, it was more gradual. The scary thing was I could see the signs and feel myself slipping but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was reluctant to get help, and then more reluctant to agree to anti-depressants. People are often stubborn, feeling like they should be able to cope without and what if this medication changes them – and this is how I felt.
Eventually I agreed and when they started working I was so glad I did. The combination of citalopram and counselling worked well and after a while I was able to engage in the world once again. When you’re in it you feel like it will never end but with the right treatment and a strong support system there really is hope.
During my second episode of depression I again found myself in the position of having to talk to my manager. This time I had gone back to university and needed the money from work: I was determined to carry on. Again, I was met with empathy and an offer of help if I needed any.
Not long after I recovered from this second episode I went to an assessment to become a supervisor, and I was successful. My manager knew my mental health history but he also knew what I was like when I was well personally and professionally and so my depression had no impact on my promotion. Since then I have completed a marketing internship with Brighton Dome and am doing well at university, graduating in a few months and constantly seeking out creative opportunities.
I was lucky to have an understanding boyfriend at the time, who would help me not only with emotional support but also practical things like making sure I was eating. Although I still feel regret that I hurt my parents with some of my actions during this time these experiences brought us closer together and we are now much more open when we talk. Things don’t have to get to rock bottom before you talk to the people that are there for you: it may seem difficult but they’d much rather that than the alternative.
People that think their condition is not worthy of professional time because it is mental and not physical, or people that view mental illness as inferior because it is not physically obvious – please know this is not true.
For about six months I have suffered with a cardiac condition which causes me to frequently pass out. This is frustrating and has impacted on my life and independence. However, I am the best I’ve been mentally in years and as such my quality of life is still high. Despite this being a “serious” health condition, my struggle with depression was so much harder because it is about outlook. With physical conditions you can stay positive, with mental illness you do not have that option as it is inherent in the illness to see things negatively.
Amy Jane Smith
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