When I look back on my life, a lot of it is quite blurred or I am unable to recall it at all. My life, as I had envisaged it, has taken a detour. Having depression and anxiety has changed my life in every way. I think people under estimate how serious it really is.
I have always been an active person - playing basketball since I was 8. And was a good student, excelled at schooled but I also loved socializing and was always a bit of a clown.
But from the age of 14, I gradually lost interest in everything that made up my life - basketball, socializing, hanging with friends. It wasn’t that I wanted to - it was like something had taken over my body and I was too exhausted mentally and physically to live my own life.
I became very sensitive and angry at myself, I felt as if I didn’t deserve to live and that I was a burden on my family and friends, blaming myself for things that were out of my control.
Everyday my mind was polluted with negative thoughts that I couldn’t control. And By this time I had started to self harm …it was how I coped.
Just To feel something… anything…I was numb to the outside world.
I also had physical symptoms as well - everyday I felt nauseous and suffered migraines and stomach spasms that had me curled up in a ball for days. My family had no idea what was going on, and neither did I!
My mind was at war with itself. A “black mess” I call it, a mass of negativity that was always there in my mind, weaving itself throughout my mind.
By the time I was 16 that “black mess” had taken over.
The colours were literally drained out of my life.
I went and saw a GP. I chose one that I knew my family would never see, because I wanted to avoid them finding out. The experience was daunting and awkward, and it felt like the Doctor was just as uncomfortable with the situation as I was. Then and there I was put on a basic anti depressant which only my friend knew I took.
My physical symptoms were now competing with the already scary thoughts in my mind. My mum was very worried and took me to doctors to try and find out why I was in so much pain, but she didn’t know what was going on upstairs behind the mask that I wore so well. The mask is what everybody else saw… it hid from the world what I was really thinking and feeling in my head.
My family eventually found out when mum stumbled across the antidepressants and following this, I saw so many doctors and specialists in order to deal with my physical symptoms yet this time they were aware of my depression. I had numerous tests and procedures to try and find out why I was in so much pain and in the end, my GP could only put it down to my depression, as my head was coping with the mental pain by punishing my body with physical pain. It was crippling.
Most nights I would have an anxiety attack - I was scared of going to bed, unable to sleep, scared of my own thoughts, as I was unable to distract myself or control them. It was just me and the depression alone.
The anxiety became so bad I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. My mum would have to hold me to calm me down. I tried a few alternative therapies, which helped a bit with my anxiety, but my depression was running strong, it was toxic. I was so exhausted and fatigued. I was like – “ great, I’m in VCE, attending school maybe once a week, I can’t function or concentrate, I’m constantly fatigued, will I ever be me again?”
Early in 2006, February 20th to be exact, in Year 12, I hit rock bottom. I will never forget the day, no different from usual. No dramatic lead up or signs. My family assumed I was getting better. But… I was hospitalized with an attempt on my life.
This illness, this poison, had me convinced that the world, my family, my friends would be a better place without me. The feeling of absolute failure, hatred and pain when I woke up in hospital is the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my life. And now the fact that people knew I wasn’t ok in the head made me hate myself even more. To this day I look back and promise myself that I will never let that happen again.
I started seeing a psychiatrist and saw her for the rest of Year 12. I had seen psychologists previous to my hospitalization but I’m very secretive, so I found therapy hard, not to mask my feelings as I had taught myself to do so well. Not only did I put on a “mask” and fooled the people around me, I fooled myself as well. The mask, the hiding my thoughts and feelings from people is what held me together, it is what kept me somewhat human.
Once I graduated high school I moved out of my small town and up to Melbourne for university and a fresh start. My illness had alienated me from my friends and people had heard about my suicide attempt. The rumors were hurtful and I lost a lot of friends because of it. Although I was still getting physically ill a lot and my immune system seemed to be nonexistent, I kept going and studying when I could.
It has been a long and painful journey and as I said, this isn’t the life I envisaged for myself – but I’m learning to accept it, and live with it all. People are often surprised when I tell them my story: “REALLY? You have depression? But you’re always a happy person, so outgoing.” But this just goes to show, depression doesn’t have a demographic. It doesn’t discriminate.
I have tried several different anti depressants and have found one that suits me and get regular counseling from a psychiatrist. I have had time in a psychiatric hospital in Melbourne, but I chose to admit myself because I felt I was at risk of relapse and wanted to tackle it straight away. I also get regular GP check ups and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes playing sports, eating well and going to the gym.
The combination of all these things is what helps me stay on track and that’s why this year’s National Youth Week theme resonates so strongly with me. Being active to me is a part of my therapy, living a healthy lifestyle and keeping in contact with people, even when I haven’t felt like it has contributed a great deal to my recovery and helped me take control of my body again.
These days I know when things aren’t right, and I have learnt to recognize when I need to seek help or when to take a step back and reduce my stress levels. It has taken me a long time to be able to understand myself and my illness, and realize they are separate things. Despite missing a lot of school, and taking a year and a half off to recover and really focus on my health, I am as of last month a graduate.
I don’t deny that I still have bad days, but I’m learning to accept my life and my illness. I have adapted to the changes and honestly don’t remember what my life was like before my depression. It hasn’t become a part of me, but the treatment has become a part of my life.
When I doubt myself and feel that the black mess seems to be taking control, I remember what I have come through and that my illness does not make me who I am. I’m not a freak or crazy, I have a mental illness and I’m now not afraid for the world to know.
Last year I awoke from my slumber as me, or as close to me as I’ll most likely ever be, albeit at the age of 23. I am the happiest I have been since I don’t know when. I can’t change what happened to my life and in my case there wasn’t a lot I could do to prevent the path my genes had paved…But I want to use my negative experience to help create a positive future for people suffering from depression and anxiety. Ten years ago I would never have imagined I would be standing here in front of you…and if I hadn’t sought help I wouldn’t be. There is always a silver lining, so don’t be afraid to fight for yours.