Unless you've been living under a rock for say, um forever, then you know what depression is. It's a mental illness that leaves you with persistent sadness and a feeling of hopelessness that lasts for weeks, months, even years. Basically it sucks. And sadly it's becoming more and more common. Approximately 1 in 6 New Zealanders will experience depression in their life and 1 in 7 young people will be depressed before the age of 24. (Source: depression.org.nz)
But enough with the statistics. Here is my experience with depression.
As with most of my issues, I can trace my depression back to the Canterbury earthquake in September 2010. The experience of the earthquakes left me shaken, in more ways than one. I felt unsafe and unsure of everything around me and struggled to cope with the task of existing, let alone being 'normal' again. Not long after the earthquakes, I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which made sense. I was barely sleeping. My heart would race until exhaustion finally let me sleep and I no longer felt safe in my own home, or anywhere for that matter. Ergo, I was traumatised.
Slowly, and I mean slowly, I started to feel like life was getting back to normal and by November 2010 I was mostly okay. Then came February 2011, or The Dark Ages, as I like to call it. At the time of the quake I was at school, and honestly when the earthquake happened, I did not think it was as big as everyone thought it was. I actually coped pretty well, and just tried to keep everyone else calm. It wasn't until I arrived home that I realised how bad the situation really was. Our house and street were a mess, there was no power, water or sewage and the aftershocks just kept on coming. That broke me. I was paralysed with fear and could not sit down or even try to relax. The very thought of having to spend the night with our house in the state it was just terrified me. Luckily, some family friends reached out to us and let them stay out in the country with them for a few weeks and we were able to get away from the chaos.
As time progressed, and life tried to return to some semblance of normalcy, it became harder for me to be positive. I would come home from school and just cry and try and zone out in front of the TV. I was tired all the time and struggled to wrap my head around school work and assignments, and began to fall behind. All feelings of happiness disappeared. Every situation in my life became a negative one, I couldn't see the good in anything and felt completely alone and isolated. This was in about May 2011. My parents, who had witnessed this change in me, told me I was depressed. I researched it and read about all the symptoms and had to agree. It was terrifying. I confided this information to my close friends at the time, who didn't believe me. They thought I was just having a bad day and would soon get over it. At this point I realised that people couldn't understand how I felt. They had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. Because no one understood, I isolated myself. I snapped and ended the friendships with my friends and would spend my lunchtimes alone.
This period of my life was the worst. I became more and more isolated and stressed. My school work began to pile up which just added to my stress. Getting out of bed in the morning was a mission, I dreaded facing everyday. Having to go to school where I felt completely alone just became too much. I hated everything and I hated myself. I couldn't look myself in the mirror without feeling like a failure. I felt weak because I couldn't cope as well as I thought everyone else was coping. As sad as it is, I wanted to die. The feeling of hopelessness, that things weren't going to get better, kept growing and I could no longer see a bright future for myself. I couldn't see any future, period.
But even so, I made it through that year. Not only that but I made it through with a Merit Endorsement in NCEA Level 2 and my restricted license.
2012 was a slightly better year. But only just. I still struggled with feelings of hopelessness and isolation. I was stressed and tired and still felt incredibly weak. I was behind in all my school work again, and had to spend all of my school holiday time trying to catch up my assignments. But it was better. I smiled more, laughed more and cried less. I became more involved in school activities and even ran an opshop through Eastercamp. I discovered a love of exercise, thanks to a friend, and lost 6 kgs. I graduated from high school with NCEA Level 3 and a Merit Endorsement and passed my full license test!
The journey since graduation has been a rocky one for sure. I decided to take a gap year to get a bit of my strength back and try to recover from depression. I had hoped to get a job and start earning a bit of money for the future, but that didn't work out. In fact, it felt like life wasn't working out. I had no money, no energy, no prospects and too much time on my hands. By September 2013, I had to do something, so I went on the benefit. Not exactly a boost to the self esteem for a recovering depressive. This led me to Treehouse, where I earned my Food Safety Certificate and Barista qualification. From there I got my first job.
At first, the job was awesome. I was earning heaps of money (or so I thought) and I liked the environment. Then exhaustion and IBS came along. Work became intolerable. I would be so exhausted at the end of the day that I couldn't talk to anyone. I had no idea what to say. My IBS left me in an incredible amount of pain and sucked all the energy out of me (if you want to read my IBS story, check it out here). The company I worked for didn't treat their employees right and I felt constantly afraid that I was doing everything wrong. This brought out the worst anxiety I have experienced in my life. I would be tense all day everyday. My heart would feel like it was being constricted by a rubber band and breathing was difficult. The anxiety also caused me to develop rosacea, a condition I didn't realise I had until later on. These combined with the pain from the IBS, made work (and life) a miserable experience for me. I started to feel like I was slipping back into my old ways. I felt stressed and exhausted and like I couldn't keep going much longer.
Eventually, after 6 months I finally quit. There I moved to another job which was heaps better! The environment was great and the boss was nicer. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. But for some reason I could not get rid of my anxiety. Everyday when I woke up, there it was. In the daily rush of work, I would be so anxious that I would need to remove myself for a bit to calm myself down. Every situation in life, left me feeling anxious. Even something like visiting a friend for coffee. You name it, I was probably anxious.
From here, it all kind of got worse. I backslid fast into depression again and felt like I was drowning in negativity. I began to have twice weekly breakdowns and would just lose it. Social occasions were a nightmare. I couldn't fathom the idea of having to make conversation with people and would be so nervous before an event that I would feel like vomiting. A couple of times I actually had to leave a party because it all became too overwhelming. The noise, the people, the heat would make me feel constricted and I felt like I was going to cry. In fact, at one party I did cry and had to rush out before anyone could tell. This was terrifying for me. I am naturally an extroverted person and I couldn't talk! At this point I realised that I had burnout. When you reach this stage, you need help. I saw my doctor, who arranged a counsellor for me and put me on anti-depressants. I felt so ashamed and weak that I couldn't heal myself and needed medication to cope. But it has helped tremendously! Over the last few months, my energy, positivity and creativity has slowly been restored. I am taking measures to look after myself and not push myself too far.
So as you can probably tell, I have been through a lot of crap. It has been awful and endless and tiring to say the least, but honestly I would not trade my experiences for the world. Depression has made me stronger, more compassionate and more aware of my mind and how it works. My anxiety makes me a hard worker and keeps me constantly doing my best. Overall, I am much better and stronger than I was a few years ago, and getting better everyday. It is, however, a journey and I still have horrible days where I have absolutely no energy to cope and feel like I'm getting nowhere. But that passes and that is the normal part of recovery.
I want my experience to help others who are going through what I went through. Through this blog, I will share with you some of the things that I have learnt and that have helped me cope with depression. If you are struggling, please don't hesitate to get in contact with me. I will do the best that I can to help you. Don't worry, you're not alone.