My ongoing struggle with depression

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I was depressed and suicidal. It’s difficult to write those words (and even moreso to say them aloud), but there they are.

I resurrected this blog yesterday with my little thought piece on Ex Machina. As small and pretentious as this blog is, there are many unpublished drafts gathering dust, which I never planned to show the light of day. There is one such draft that I wrote on 28th November 2013 that I now wish to share. Looking at it two years on is interesting, because I’m not currently in that dark place, but I know it always looms just outside my grasp. There’s a very angry and childish tone in the piece below, one which I no longer subscribe to, but I’ve decided to leave the whole thing unaltered, so as to contrast the then and now more accurately.

I’m going to start this piece just as I intend to finish it; bluntly and without holding back. Anyone who fears a strong, honest, heartfelt, and most importantly, an experienced opinion, it might be best to turn back now.

Depression exists, as does suicide. Depression is a severe, debilitating mental disorder, and suicide is the act of killing oneself. I say this because both conditions have gained a taboo status over the years, and humanity has now reached a point at which it is simply ridiculous for either the privileged or the unfortunate to feel uneasy at the sound of a word.



They exist.

I have always been a very introverted person. However, this aspect of my personality has not hindered the strength with which I hold opinions. If anything, it has augmented it. I have never been afraid to speak my mind, and it has brought me trouble more than once. I do acknowledge that subtlety and restraint are important facets to have, but at the same time, honesty with yourself trumps all.

I better get this over with early on, because it forms the basis of this entire piece. At the beginning of my teenage life, a variety of life-changing and unfortunate incidents occurred, the rumblings of which still form a large part of my family’s life today. I only mention this because it is the root of everything I am about to disclose. As a result of what happened (and what is still happening) a sickness manifested in me. Unlike normal sicknesses, this one isn’t obvious to the eye; in fact, it has no tangible physical symptoms at all. My sickness was depression, and it all came to a head last year.

Whatever happened in my life is irrelevant to the fact that this depression has damaged me greatly, and I am still recovering from it. It has defined me for most of my teenage and adult life, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have morbid thoughts every day. The fact is, it has become my reality. Yes, I am dealing with it now and I have had help from some amazing people I’m privileged to have met, but shades of it remain, and probably always will.

Last year, after my teaching placement in January (during which I discovered that teaching isn’t my path), something clicked in my head, without me knowing it. Usually when we say that something “clicked”, it’s a positive thing, but not this time. It’s as if my depression had managed to engulf my brain, like a shadow wrapping its tendrils around me, without me being aware. Whatever happened, I just didn’t have the strength to go back into college. Since I have started recovering, I have found myself able to explain a lot of things, but this is one of the most difficult. Despite attending my teaching placement appropriately and getting good feedback, my strength of will died upon its conclusion. I travelled from Wexford to Dublin each week with the intention of going to college, but I couldn’t. It’s not as if I’m a layabout (and I know for a fact that many people judge me as such) – in fact my school attendance was always close to perfect. Inexplicably, I was just mentally unable to face going into college and seeing people. Most mornings, I woke up on time. I showered and breakfasted, and was literally ready to go out the door. Instead, I turned around and went back to my room for another day of solitary confinement. This was my life for three months. I didn’t answer calls or texts from my friends, and on the rare occasion that I did, I lied and assured them that everything was fine and that I would come in. But I never did. I went home at the weekend and adopted a facade for my family, because I couldn’t bear to let them know that I had been reduced to this, that I had failed when so much counted on me. I was constantly locked in a struggle against myself, knowing that something was seriously wrong, but refusing to admit it to myself and stand up to it.

A lot of people incorrectly assume that depression is simply an elongated case of extreme sadness, and I don’t blame them; that is what it has been brushed off as for decades. I was deeply depressed for months, and I can safely say that no one got a sense that I was sad. In fact (and I’m writing from personal experience here), depressed people seem to be expert liars, and we can fake emotion perfectly. I was frighteningly depressed and on the very brink for three months, yet still I smiled and laughed, and a lot of the time it was genuine. This harkens back to what I said initially – that depression has no obvious physical manifestation, and one of the only ways to notice it in others is in their pattern of activity.

I deliberately left religion out of this piece, because for once in my college life, I want to remove these problems and proposed solutions from the bodies that claim them. No matter what anyone says, regardless of their faith or non-faith, spirituality is not the be ultimate solution. When attempting to deal with human problems, the solution is humanity, and anyone who thinks that saying a few prayers will solve anything as serious as this can fuck off. They don’t, and it’s delusional to think they do. The only way depression can be combatted is through human interaction and care, and I implore anyone who is reading this to take that into account, if nothing else.

I’m writing this piece not because I am someone, but because I’m not. For better or worse, it has become a recent trend in celebrity culture to come out and reveal that depression exists and has affected a lot of people. I’m not famous, and to the majority of the world, I don’t exist, just like that same majority of the world. For this reason, I’m laying myself bare. Depression doesn’t just affect people who are known to many. It can have an effect on anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason. It is not exclusive to any one type of person, nor is it a sign of weakness, it just is.

It has been both difficult and refreshing to finally make everything clear like this. In opening myself up and leaving myself completely bare, it’s going to be excruciatingly hard to interact with others, knowing that they now also know. But I have set myself this challenge because I am now strong enough to fight my illness by myself. This wouldn’t have been possible without a small number of friends standing up and doing something about it. I never realised it before, but I am so lucky to have them. Without them, I mightn’t be here right now, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing this. Someone else might not be so lucky in having the luxury of having such friends. So, for that reason, I implore anyone still reading this with every shred of emotion still left in me to do the following. This time, don’t pray for us, don’t keep us in your thoughts. This time, talk to someone you otherwise wouldn’t have. This time, smile at someone when seeing them, whether you know them or not. This time, make a positive difference, however small, in someone’s life. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

That’s where my head was two years ago, after going through a horrible first half of 2013. My plan was to publish that piece, of course, and hope that in having other people read it, I could help bring transparency to the issue in some way. Ultimately, as is quite common in my life, I chickened out.

The reason I am publishing it now is quite simple. Since I wrote it, I  have gone through one and a half more bouts of depression (I’ll explain this below), and finally done something about it myself. Don’t get me wrong, help and support from others is a key ingredient in the long, hard path away from depression, but ultimately YOU have to make a change in your life to keep the sickness at bay.

The first whole bout came because I never did anything after writing the piece above. I had stopped attending lectures, and spent days inside my own head. Eventually, when my end of year exams came around, I couldn’t attend those either. I failed my third year. I had made laughable excuses to the college that my bus had been late, that I had been sick etc. I had also lied to my friends… and my parents. I have since reconciled with myself a lot of what I did, but it’s the constant lying to my parents that still haunts me the most. I have always been honest and caring with them, as they have been with me, and to find that this horrible sickness would have me act so uncharacteristically is terrifying.

But that’s what depression does. It changes you, and never for the better.

Above, I mentioned that you personally making a change in your life is a strong weapon against depression. I tried to do that by taking a year out of college to shake things up a bit. I got a retail job and worked for nine months. I wouldn’t say I loved the work, but the experience was helpful to my mental health in its own way, and I am thankful for that. During my time off, I redid my CAO and applied to an English and Film course in UCD, just to have another option on the table. I was offered a place on the course. But then I made my worst mistake. I went back to my old college. Those who know me know what college I went to, but as a courtesy I am leaving the name unmentioned. While the events that had occurred when I was younger were the root cause of my ongoing depression, that college was the gaping pit through which I constantly tumbled into it. While I had never been a very religious person, the attitude towards religion in that place turned me away from it forever. This negativity and pure disbelief at the skewed perspectives of some of the staff awoke a monster in me, and together with the depression, turned me into a jaded and deeply cynical person.

Anyway, I went back in September 2015. That was a mistake. This is where the half-bout comes into play. Not long after coming back, I began to feel depression’s same dark tendrils clawing their way back, intruding my thoughts. I endured for a time, but finally decided enough was enough. My year out had done a lot for my confidence, and provided me with the mental capability to do what I did next. I made my decision first, by myself, and then talked to my parents about it. They were fully supportive, and I treasure that. I dropped out of the college that had affected me so negatively. I now plan to get a job and actually begin that English and Film course. I think anyone who knows me will agree that it is far better suited to me than History and Religion.

If anyone has managed to make it to the end, well done. You’re either extremely patient, or there is actually something of quality in my writing for once. Either way, thank you, and I hope you take all of this into consideration. Depression is an ongoing problem, and one that has no single cure. It grows differently in different people, and conditions itself to different ways of life. People who suffer from depression are often insufferable themselves, and impossible to be around. I know I was, and all I can do is apologise to those people who I allowed my sickness to intrude on. I have burned many bridges in the last eleven years, and it still saddens me (but thankfully doesn’t depress me) to think about what I have thrown away due to this disease.

I tried talking, going to counselling, and other methods. These don’t work for everyone, and they only partially helped me. I am fully aware that depression will likely rear its ugly head at a later stage in my life. But the difference is, I have dealt with it before, and I will deal with it again. I am no longer afraid of it. I no longer wake up wanting to kill myself, and then cursing myself for not having the strength to actually follow through.

In many ways, I am now over depression. I can speak about it openly. Most people aren’t, and can’t. While it has changed me forever, it has also given me a new perspective on life and the world that I can now appreciate. I beg anyone who reads this to consider people in their lives who may have depression, and to talk to them about it. They will resist. Then they will resist again. Unfortunately, the only way to help is to cut through the bullshit, and assert that you’re going to help. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice our pride for someone else’s life. Is that so difficult?