The Road To Recovery: Coming to Terms with Depression

March 11, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Warning: This is a bit heavy and if you’re reading this over a lonely takeaway dinner in your dorm room in hopes of getting some laughs, LEAVE NOW, and open cinemasins or something. hKUDOS nor I assume any liability for ruining your appetite.

Warning 2: This is a personal account. I do not and cannot pretend to speak for anyone else who is depressed; my experiences do not represent a population of people suffering from depression/mental illnesses, especially when the degree of my depression may greatly differ from theirs. I am not a professional. I can’t really say stuff like “it’s not your fault, it’s as much to do with your biological makeup as it is the outside stresses that’s causing it, don’t be too hard on yourself” – even though that’s what I’ve been repeatedly told and that’s what I believe. I cannot give you advice on whether to get on meds or not, to confide in your friends or don’t, go exercise and meditate because I’ve been told it improves your mood, etc etc. The best I can do is talk about what it was like for me and hope it helps someone else who’s reading this, and let them know this: you’re not alone.

The first time my boyfriend suggested that I might be depressed, I almost laughed. Depression is something that happens to people on TV, it’s something that happens to kids on tumblr, it’s something that happens to friends of friends of friends, but it certainly isn’t supposed to happen, in real life, to you. Except when it does.

It took me a long time to admit that I was depressed, and a even longer time to get off my butt to seek help. Before that happened, there was a lot of berating myself, a lot of questions about what it was that sent me over the edge. I just couldn’t understand or accept what was happening to me. I’ve always been somewhat of an overachiever, always pushing myself to work, always juggling part-time internships whilst trying to keep my grades up, and suddenly I couldn’t even do the most simple thing, like get up, go downstairs, and get breakfast. I’ve also pride myself on my independence and my ability to be alone; I used to travel alone a lot, used to spend many weekends alone reading at a coffee shop or seeing a movie at the cinematheque. Now, when I have blank spaces in my schedule or if my dinner plan cancels on me last minute, I panic. I don’t enjoy alone time anymore. It’s as if I’ve become a different person altogether. A lot of time was also spent trying to work out what the ‘trigger’ was, and when this started. Was it going to Glasgow and being cut off from my friends? Was it those four excruciating month of long-distancing? Was it all the stress from having to repeatedly move house? To this day I still have no answers.

And even talking about it has been a somewhat frustrating experience, especially when neither you nor your friends have been educated on mental health issues, and you don’t know what to believe. Most portrayals of depression in popular discourse barely even scratch the surface, and it’s not unnatural that all the ideas our peers get of depression are somewhat inaccurate ones. “Wait, you say you think you’re depressed? But you look fine to me now. You’re not sad or anything.” I want to shake her and scream, being depressed doesn’t mean I’m sad ALL THE TIME. But when it hits, it’s so much more than just ‘being sad’. It’s an inability to enjoy the things you usually do, a general sense of hopelessness, feelings of self-hatred, a reluctance to get up in the morning because of the blues – and none of it feels like it’s within your control – that’s what it’s like to be depressed.

Or sometimes I get the “Maybe your condition is self-induced – you’re just overthinking it. Maybe you’re romanticizing the idea of being a depressed person.” As if I could just snap my fingers and ta da! I won’t have problems with getting out of bed anymore, won’t have crying spells that last for hours, won’t have triggers that send me into a spiral, that makes me scared about the future. When I say the future, I don’t mean questions like What am I going to do with my life in two years when I graduate? No, it’s more immediate, more pressing and urgent, more along the lines of a What do I do to get through today? What if I feel miserable like this for the rest of today and every other day that follows? How could I bear it? I’ve heard that there are tumblrs and blogs that glorify issues like depression or self-harm, turn them into a hipster thing, even, to the extent that misguided teens may well in fact be romanticized by the notion of being depressed. Well kid, let me tell you, I don’t know what lies those photoshopped pictures are feeding you with, but the truth ain’t pretty.

I’ve taken the Beck Depression Inventory three times at different points of time, and at the latest my psychiatrist told me I was ‘mildly, borderline clinically, depressed’. It’s only been a couple of months, but the process has been a somewhat excruciating one. First I went to CEDARS Counseling Services; the counselors were nice and it’s a good way to get free talking therapy, but note that they don’t prescribe medication; apparently they can only refer you to an outside psychiatrist. Anyhow, they didn’t really help for me, and I gave up after two sessions. Then I went to a psychiatrist, one that a family member of mine has been seeing; to put it plainly, I hated him. He saw me for a grand total of 20 minutes for the first consultation before shooing me out of his office, gave me his brilliant advice: ‘be polite, study hard, and don’t think about the stuff that’s causing you stress’. As my brother put it, “he sounds like an unhelpful parent”. This first psychiatrist gave me meds that put me in a sedated state and constantly knocked me out; all I wanted to do was sleep and I ended up missing some of my classes, and the more unproductive I was, the worse I ended up feeling (I was by nature a bit of a workaholic before all this began). Then I went to the University Health Services at HKU, and the doctor printed out a list of psychiatrist he and some other doctors in UHS personally recommend, and the next week, when I was having a particularly rough day, I called each of them one by one and asked for their prices, whilst my boyfriend held my hand throughout the calls. Most of them were incredibly expensive and I know there was no way I could see them on a continuous basis without draining my finances. I then went to a psychiatrist that someone close to me recommended, and that was when things began looking up. I started on a new course of meds, talked to him for an hour every two weeks, and slowly I feel a little bit of my old functional self returning. The idea of getting through a day no longer scare me. But I didn’t reach this point without actually wanting to get better, which I’ve been told is the first step of getting help and improving the situation. There were also tons of awkward questions I had to brave through: “Have you thought about killing yourself?” (“Yes, but fantasizing getting hit by an oncoming car to end the misery is still a far cry from actually taking steps to overdose myself with sleeping pills or something, you know what I mean?”) And the awkward moments of bumping into someone at the psychiatrist office you’re pretty sure is in one of your law tutorials.

Like I said, I’m by no means a professional in the area of mental health so I can’t quote you any statistics of the percentage of people suffering from depression, but I can tell you that almost all the friends I’ve talked to about this knows of someone else in their life who’s suffered from this. That guy in your block that you greet in the lift every morning? Anxiety runs in his family and he has regular panic attacks. The shy boy in your Comparative Lit class? He has depression and every so often thinks about killing himself. An old colleague of yours? When you tell her you’re on meds she asks you which one and, conversationally, over a canteen table at HKU, tells you she’s been taking Xanax because of panic attacks, one of which caused her to faint in the exam hall and end up getting a D. One of your closest friends in university who’s landed a killer job in Bali? She’s been depressed for two years and never told you till you shared with her what you’ve been going through. (I’m not making any of this up – all of these are true stories, people I know in real life by the way – I’ve just modified the facts.) The more I opened up to people, the more people open up to me in return, and gradually I realize how common it is – and also how much of it remains silenced, bubbling under the surface. Not many people talk about it, because there’s a huge stigma attached to it. You’re ‘crazy’, and you sometimes catch yourself using the words ‘normal people’ when you compare yourself with them. None of this helps people suffering from such problems to actively seek help from professionals and their friends. As cliché as it sounds, it’s a reminder to be kind to the people around you, because you never know what they’re going through,

For the most part, I’ve been lucky. I don’t have many secrets when it comes to myself (for god’s sake, I just told the entire hKUDOS audience I have depression), but at the same time I don’t want to be springing this at the first person I see, don’t want to look like I’m asking for pity. I’m not asking for pity, I’m just hoping for understanding. I’m not brave for telling you, I’m just hanging in there and praying you’ll be there for me too. Most of my friends have been incredibly supportive. When I missed lectures they recorded them for me; when I had a meltdown in front of them everyone messaged me afterwards to make sure I was all right (big shoutout to you, my BA-LLB family). Having my roommate around, someone to talk to before I go to bed at night, calms me and keeps me from feeling lonely. When she’s not around and I start panicking, I message my best friends and ask if I can crash at theirs, and they say yes without hesitation. On bad days my boyfriend provides me with cuddles, hot tea and Doctor Who. My family tells me not to worry about the extortionist psychiatrist fees, and to focus on getting better. But when people aren’t there for you, try not to be too disappointed or think too badly of them. I once emailed a professor of mine whom I thought I was on pretty good terms with, about how I was sorry I missed his lecture and that I hope he could understand that I was going through a rough patch. He marked my homework attached to that email but never replied. Another close family member of mine, a person that I thought would always be there for me, has been avoiding my texts and calls and my mom let slip that maybe it was because “I had become too depressing to talk to.” And I was hurt, but come on, let’s face it, I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine to be around at the moment, and everyone has their own issues to deal with. Be appreciative of those who are there, but don’t condemn those who aren’t.

To end this, here’s something I wrote two weeks ago when I was feeling really brave. (The irony was that I ended up having a crying spell that night and was practically sobbing while reading it out loud at the poetry gathering I’m a regular at.) I have been feeling better, getting back on track, studying and going to classes again, writing again, but the bad days may still come. For everyone out there who’s struggling with the same thing, my boyfriend always tells me – “two steps forward one step back”. It may be a gradual and slow process, but we’ll weather this. This too shall pass, right? x

Hello, demons,
It is me, your creator, speaking
Too many times have I let you get in the way
of my 9:30am pre-lecture ritual
of Hojicha Latte and chocolate danish with my roommate,
Allowed you to trap me in the vortex of my bed,
Crying in my pyjamas, haunted and paralysed;

Too many times have you shown up before my boyfriend’s door,
For a menage a trois you weren’t invited to;

Too many times have you stopped me from doing things
As simple as dragging myself into the shower
Or picking up my favourite book
Sitting on the shelf less than 10 feet away
Or leaving the house to get a cup of coffee;

Too many times have you made me say to my friends,
“Sorry I have to cancel, I’m just not feeling it tonight”
Or email to my boss the bullshit excuse
“I can’t come to work today I have a malady”
Failing to mention that it is mental, not physical,
Because the latter is somehow easier to forgive.

Too many times have I missed out on reunion dinners,
Drinks with long-lost classmates, planned picnics to the countryside,
movie dates with my co-workers;

Too many times have I woken up scared, scared, scared,
To do things, to get up, to go through another day of life,
Scared of – what, exactly?

Too many times have you wasted my hours
Trying to find the plotted plant of arbitrariness
Searching for an answer that isn’t there
For a trigger that brought about this turning point
The metamorphosis into this person I no longer respect
Questioning why when I look into the mirror
My reflection is sneering at me.

But demons,
You may have fucked with me many times in the past,
You may have won yesterday,
And you may still win tomorrow,
and the many tomorrows that follow after,
But today, tonight, right here, this very moment,
I’m calling you out, I’m fighting back,
And you don’t get to win.

Header image: something I ripped off tumblr, a still from 10 things I hate about you.