I have been living with depression for about thirteen years now.
That’s how long I’ve been on medication, and that’s how long I’ve been feeling this way.
My depression comes in ‘episodes’; that’s what my mum likes to call them.
My parents are very supportive and understanding and can always tell when I’m about to sink back into the old pit. I’m currently getting over a bad patch which had me bedridden on and off for weeks. When speaking to my mum the other day, she said “well, it’s good you’re coming out of it, let’s hope it’s a bit longer before the next episode.”
Yeah, that would be good. That’s how this thing rolls. As I get older and start to make some serious adult goals, I have learned to recognise the symptoms of an episode, and I try to catch it before it catches me. When I say ‘it’, I guess I mean the horrible dark cloud that covers me in its entirety: altering my thoughts, my energy and the way I see myself and the world. I never seem to catch it soon enough though.
My partner really struggles with my depression and anxiety. He finds it difficult to understand why I can’t get myself out of it before it completely consumes me. But of course he does, he hasn’t been affected by the illness in such close proximity as I have.
Don’t get me wrong, he is incredibly supportive and always knows when I’m about to go in to my dark hiding place. He tells me he knows and will try anything to keep me from falling down. Unfortunately, he rarely succeeds.
I think what people who haven’t suffered from mental illness don’t realise is the physical impact it can have. For me, after days/weeks of horrible thoughts and wanting to die (yes, it’s that dramatic), I eventually stop feeling and become numb; I can’t move; my entire body feels about ten times heavier than it should. I manage to go to the toilet and sip down some water but that’s generally it. Depression takes over your body. It’s like a parasite gate-crash. The smallest things make me cry. I remember after I was first diagnosed with depression at age 15, when I was getting ready for school, I couldn’t find two matching clean socks and I collapsed in a heap in the bathroom and cried for a long time. That’s what it does.
I have been surrounded by wonderful friends and family, I have had boyfriends (some a lot nicer than others), and incredible opportunities. But depression is always waiting for me, ready to try and ruin the good things.
It’s only been over the past two or three years that I’ve come to realise that depression isn’t something I can fix - it’s something I need to learn to live with.
I need to be prepared for the episodes, to talk when I feel it coming on. Finding ways to manage it is the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that I can manage it those couple of times a year when it hits really bad. The physical effects don’t want that.
Don’t get me wrong, I know all the right things to do; take my medication regularly, exercise, get fresh air, meditate, eat well and spend time with friends. I think I speak for a lot for sufferers when I say, please don’t expect us to be able to snap out of it. We know the right things to do - but it’s not that easy, in fact, it’s incredibly hard.
Holding down a job has always been difficult for me. In the early years of my illness, I was unable to voice what was wrong with me to my employers. This resulted in many sick days due to ‘the flu’ or ‘food poisoning’. I got ‘food poisoning’ a lot. It has also resulted in me being seen as unreliable to many people, one aspect that I can’t stand. However, there are always people out there who will support you through the worst and will try to understand.
When I was 23 (a few months after the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes), I saw a friend post something on Facebook about how her Aunt needing hospitality staff in Lake Ohau working at a ski lodge. This sounded like utter heaven to me. I got the job. It was heaven; mountain air and snow, the most beautiful place with the most wonderful people. I learned so much about myself at Ohau: that I am capable of doing normal things, like making of friends and snowboarding, I learned that people actually like me and think I’m funny. I learned that people are so incredibly caring and supportive if you can just open up.
I ended up working at Ohau off and on for five years. Louise, my boss, came to know about my depression. It was hard to hide given I lived with her for some time. Also, Ohau is a tiny community and it’s hard to hide anything there. Louise was the first person I met who gave me the tough love I really needed.
Not many people can say their boss has been to their house, got them out of bed, made them shower and taken them walking by the lake to help them feel better. Probably the most beneficial thing she did for me was convince me to go in to work and explain what was I was going through, to my co-workers. It was one of the hardest things I have done, but it was also a huge relief, and I was shocked by how incredibly supportive everyone was.
Louise always has time for me and she has been so understanding. I know I do a great job when I’m feeling good, but when I’m not, I’m useless. And unfortunately, that is more often than I would like it to be. However, to this day, she still writes me amazing references and is a big support. Where most employers would have given up on me, Louise sees the good in me and showed me that this outweighs my illness. For that I will always be grateful.
Coming through that experience, I wish I could say that I am better than I was. But I’m not. I am more responsible and I do more to help myself, but not always. I wish I wasn’t on medication, I wish I could just think and feel normally – whatever that is – but I can’t. I will be on medication for probably most of my life. For me, nothing in particular has to trigger an episode. I can dress up in my favourite clothes, eat well, feel good, be getting on with my day, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, everything seems pointless and it’s like the energy and positivity has been sucked out of me. This is what I really hate. When I’m feeling good and I’m doing good things and it just comes and whacks me in the face as if to say, “I’m still here, I’m not going anywhere”.
When I was younger I took drugs in a social way. Everyone was doing it. I would take acid and speed and go to work the next day, but boy did it bring me down. I also took cocaine regularly for about a year when I lived in Spain. I thought it was awesome; however what it did to my body was something else entirely. In 2013, I believe because of excessive cocaine use, I developed an anxiety disorder on top of everything else. This is like nothing else I can describe, and thankfully, is a lot less severe now and rarely affects me. Anxiety, like depression has very real, physical symptoms. I would wake up in the night unable to breathe; yelling, crying; convinced I was about to die. I went to every doctor around demanding brain scans and all sorts of tests, because I was convinced something was attacking my body. Everything was hard and scary and I was always tense. My physiotherapist said he had never seen someone with such tense muscles around their neck and shoulders. I was scared to see friends and family and I became incredibly shy and withdrawn. I eventually convinced myself that I had a parasite in my brain. That’s how physical it felt. Luckily I can say that now I rarely get severe anxiety. The depression, though, that’s staying.
As I approach my thirties and start thinking about long term goals, I am scared. I am so scared. This illness has stopped me from doing so many things I love. I have let friends down; I have dropped out of courses, left jobs, ruined relationships and thrown so many opportunities away. I don’t want this to keep happening as I get older.
When I’m at the bottom of the pit I lie there and think, “How can I be a mum? How can I be there for a child physically, financially and emotionally when I can’t even look after myself half of the time?” This kills me because I really want children one day. But what if I let them down, what if I can’t be that strong person I see my friends being for their children, or that my mum is to me?
I also dream of owning my own café’ with excellent food, wine and coffee (three of my biggest passions), but what happens when I can’t function, who will run the show? I don’t want mental illness to stop me from missing out on the really special big things, like raising a family, being in a happy relationship, owning my own business and being a reliable person and friend. So, I will have children and I will work towards owning my own café. But for now I’m going to keep chipping away, one day, one week at a time, working on making myself feel good, and getting out of the dark pit when it decides it’s my turn. Don’t get me wrong, I will read this the next time I am feeling low and convince myself that children and owning a business aren’t an option. I will get through it though.
I have always been affected by suicidal thoughts, but have never really tried to hurt myself. That shows that there is so much to live for.
When you’re down it doesn’t feel like you can get back up again, so listening to happy stories doesn’t help me. But, there are things, people and places to live for. I have tried to teach myself to appreciate the small things in life. A good flat white, the sunset, laughing with my friends, family or partner; that helps.
We are all more understanding, caring and altruistic then we get credit for. I have had groceries delivered to my house, I have had support in the workplace, I have friends who don’t seem to ever stop understanding, I have parents who will do anything to make sure I am happy, and I have a partner who puts up with me, my highs, my lows and my bedridden, smelly, unwashed, undressed state. He not only puts up with me, he makes me feel like I will be okay again. And I know I will. Right now I know I will always get better because today I am feeling good. Tomorrow could be different.
That’s the thing with this little curse called depression, you never know when it’s going to hit, it doesn’t need a trigger, it just comes when it feels like it and it wrecks everything in its path. I am holding on to those times where I am happy, because life is worth living. Everyone is battling something, the right people are always willing to listen.
There are people out there who will help, and although it doesn’t feel like it, there are people going through the same thing, wanting someone to empathise. I am okay with the fact that I have to live with this. I am not always okay with it, but I have to come to terms with it and I have to try and live my life doing things that make me feel good. It is worth it, we are all worth it. We’ve just got to figure out a way to co-exist with this thing. I’m still trying and I will always be trying, that’s really all we can do, try and enjoy the good times, the times when you’re so happy your face hurts from smiling. Some of you won’t have felt that for a long time. But I promise if you keep trying, you will.
If the content on this website is distressing or triggering, or, if you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, we have provided in contact details below for you to speak with a professional. If you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call the police immediately on 111.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
•WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757