So I’m writing this anonymously, mainly because I’m not ready to be open about my mental health issues with depression and anxiety.
Of course my closest family and friends know, but as for the general population I’d prefer to be able to merge into the background.
I admire those who can be so open about these things.
On the outside I’m a jolly person with a lot of achievements and successes to be proud of. Internally I’m a bag of imposter’s syndrome and self-flagellation.
Coming across as a happy well balanced professional takes most of my energy on my low days.
My current struggles are part of a longer story that I shall tell you about and hopefully highlight how the most unlikely people can struggle with this stuff.
I suppose I’ve always had the tendency towards low self-esteem.
Thinking I was the stupid one in my family and my class at school. I would get down and sad and think that things weren’t worth doing as a child.
Luckily while I was a teenager, with the support of my teachers, I managed to snap myself out of this mindset and do well in my GCSEs. One of the top 10 in my school!
“Maybe I can do this” I thought.
It’s around this time I realised my perfectionist tendencies could hold me back.
The mindset is that if I can’t do something to my high standards it’s not worth me doing anything at all.
Logically this doesn’t make much sense but I found that if I couldn’t do something to this mythical self-imposed standard I would beat myself up mentally for it.
This doesn’t do great things to your self-esteem as you can imagine!
So despite going to university and getting a good degree (in physics no less) and getting onto a PhD programme, somehow I still wasn’t good enough.
This nicely sets the scene for my first breakdown and proper diagnosis.
While trying to keep on top of all the pressures of a job miles and miles away from my family and friends plus PhD work and deadlines, my mother was diagnosed with an illness.
It has no cure and would slowly take her away from us probably over many years.
My plans for my family life for the future were cruelly taken away from me. I’d known something was wrong for a while; she wasn’t behaving in the way I saw other mothers with their daughters behaving. I was mourning for the future.
The adult relationship I’d never have with my mother. The wisdom about motherhood she’d never get to share with me. The grandchildren she’d never get to hold and love. The peaceful old age and happiness she’d never experience.
Thinking about all this it’s no surprise my work suffered greatly. This didn’t go unnoticed by my supervisor and university. I’d failed. Darkness entered.
I was so far away I couldn’t be the daughter I wanted to be. I couldn’t academically achieve to the standard I wanted to.
My brain screamed at me that the world was better off without me.
So that’s how persistent thoughts of suicide became my norm.
I told no-one. I suffered in silence and behind closed doors.
My physical health began to decline. I wasn’t eating properly because my stomach just hurt and I felt sick.
Pleas to go to the doctor where I was went unheard by me.
The thought of revealing my thoughts to anyone was abhorrent to me let alone a non-native English speaking doctor or worse a non-English speaking doctor and an interpreting friend or colleague!
So I kept swallowing it and my stomach hurt more.
Finally I was visiting the UK. I went to see the doctor to get another prescription for some regular meds. To this day I don’t know how I managed to get the words out.
But I burst into tears. The doc did a questionnaire; it was now official. The words “severe depression” and “anti-depressant medication” were uttered.
I stammered that I was supposed to fly back out to my job soon. The doc looked me in the eyes and said, “no you’re not. I want to see you in a week.”
Weirdly, this was a relief. Someone else taking control and making these decisions for me. I slumped into my depression and everything stopped.
Getting diagnosed meant the university work and foreign job all stopped. I was officially unwell so this was all good but in my mindset at the time I had failed even more.
“Why couldn’t I cope with all this, what was wrong with me…how dare you” etc etc. I went home to my parents.
I took great joy in the fact I could now freely spend time with my mother while she could still do things.
I left the PhD behind. I realised some things are more important.
My family. My health. My happiness.
Through a mixture of anti-depressants and counselling I managed to pull myself out.
It took a while to find the right anti-depressants for me but once I was settled I found they balanced my mood.
Sure at first they made me feel a bit numb but considering I was suicidal I think this was better!
My counselling helped me come to terms with my mum’s illness and accept things as they are rather than wishing for something else. So it took me over a year but I got through it.
While I enjoyed caring for my mum I realised that I needed to have my own life. With my dad’s blessing and with encouragement of my family and friends I did a masters degree.
I moved to a new town, made new friends, met the love of my life and started on a new career that I’m much happier in.
Looking back even though going through this first bout of severe depression was awful, the outcomes couldn’t be more positive.
I had hoped that as I gently came off my anti-depressants and looked forward to my new life that that would be the end of it.
Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out like that.
I have to accept that depression is part of my life and that I have to deal with it in the same way that someone else with a chronic health problem (with less associated stigma) would have to.
My latest dance with the black dog is different but themes are similar. I take it one day at a time and learn each lesson as it happens.
This is my brain and my mind. This is part of who I am. Learning to live with my depression is part of loving and accepting myself.
And who doesn’t deserve that?