Mental illness is still stigmatised in today’s society but it’s slowly getting better. More and more people are being diagnosed each day with some type of mental illness and even more people live with some form of it without realising. I have had my fair share of fun with mental illness too. I was diagnosed at 14 with Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder or as some people call it, SAD. I was also bullied for a long time which definitely didn’t help and contributed to my mental health greatly but that’s another story. People try to push-off mental illness as imaginary or silly and that you shouldn’t talk about it but I’m going to talk about my battle with it and why it’s ok to talk about it and ask for help.
Like I said before, I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety, two of the most common but also the most debilitating combinations you can have. When you have depression all you want to do is stay in bed all day to the point where it can become a struggle to move at all but at the same time your anxiety kicks in and starts making you freak out about missing work or school and failing exams or losing your friends. And then when you think you’re about to kick it and get up, the depression kicks you back down again, and it becomes a very long and hard cycle until you force yourself to get up and try to act normal.
I was a shy kid, always was. I didn’t feel like I had any friends and at lunch, I would sit in a corner in a shed by myself until the bell rang. It was lonely and even when someone did ask me to join in and play, I would decline out of embarrassment and fear. That was back in Ireland. When I moved to Australia at age 10, it got worse. I remember kids teasing me for my accent because they couldn’t understand what I was saying. I actually have people come up to me still and ask me to translate what my mum is saying since her accent is a lot thicker than mine. It’s actually kind of funny to me now but back then it was scary. I got called different names and had kids play practical jokes on me sometimes too. All of that continued into my teens, both in and out of school. This is where the depression set in.
By the time I was 14, all of this got to me quite a bit and I finally went to a GP for help. I was referred to a psychologist for minor anxiety and was put on some strong antidepressants for my depression. The psychologist didn’t work, she basically told me to push through any anxieties as that was the only way it would get better. The pills worked relatively well and I took them until I was 20, I am 21 now. Those thoughts are always going to be there, medication or not, but it helped to keep me from crying myself to sleep at night or thinking bad thoughts more often than not. My biggest turning point with depression was when I transferred high schools in year 12. I hadn’t even thought about that as an option until I was ridiculed by a teacher one day. That was the day I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to drop out of school and never go back. Luckily for me, they wouldn’t give me the forms without parent approval as I was under 18 and my parents wouldn’t allow me to drop out. I was angry at first with my parents but I finally got to go to a school that I would actually feel welcome at. I was also lucky that another friend of mine transferred to that same school that year so I didn’t feel as scared or as shy as I would have if I went alone. This friend is one of the reasons I actually made friends and started to become more extroverted and less of a scared little kid hiding in a corner. I had one of the best years of my life, I got my first real boyfriend, got my first job, went to parties and had fun, and I graduated.
Fast forward a few years to when I was 20. I had my QCE, 5 certificates, a diploma, and 2 years of retail experience under my belt, along with my boyfriend of 2.5 years. Life was good. Yeah, I had my ups and downs with my depression but I had one day where I actually ran out of my medication and didn’t have the money or time to go to the doctor to get a new prescription. Worst week of my life! I went 5 whole days without medication and I had the worst withdrawals. I was completely bed-bound, my head hurt like hell and any movement caused my vision to go blurry and I became dizzy, weak and very disoriented. My boyfriend was great during this week as he practically waited on me hand and foot. I made it out alive though, and while it was a horrible week, it also made me realise that my medication wasn’t working anymore. I realised that I had gotten so used to the medication, after being on them for 6 years, that it basically became a placebo. I found that during that week without any medication, I didn’t feel or think any different, minus the obvious withdrawals of course. That week changed my life and I have been medication free for almost a year and a half now. I still have my ups and downs but I know that I have a good support system and I know I always have someone to talk to on the really bad days, whether that be my boyfriend or a helpline.
I suffered a lot during those 6 years. I contemplated suicide, I cut myself, I put myself in dangerous situations, some of which could have landed me in hot water. I surrounded myself with people who definitely didn’t deserve to have me as a friend, some who didn’t deserve to be given anything. I was surrounded by sex-crazed junkies and binge drinkers, some that I wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole, even now. I had my share of abuse and pain during that time, which screwed me up a little, but now I know that those people aren’t worth my time or thoughts. It may seem that those sorts of people are the only ones that love you but all they want is to use you, whether, for money, drugs, alcohol or god knows whatever they can get their hands on.
I don’t remember much about that part of my life, or at least how I dealt with or lived with depression, it’s mostly a blur but I won’t ever forget that I had depression, how it shaped me as a person and how I was able to conquer it in the end, and that’s the most important part.