So today I received my final confirmation of my acceptance into Cambridge, along with my allocated accommodation. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while but was waiting for this final little technicality to be confirmed before I potentially jinxed anything.
I wanted to tell you all how I managed to graduate with a 1st class honours degree from Queen’s University in Archaeology and get accepted for an MPhil with Jesus College Cambridge, despite suffering from severe depression. I want to tell you all how, despite almost dropping out of university a dozen times, almost moving home, evening contacting local Southampton University to see if I could transfer, that I succeeded AND I beat depression and am now completely free of mental illness. I wanted to tell you all how it IS possible and how YOU can succeed, no matter what your obstacles are. It is possible. I am a prime example..
I’ve wanted to write a post about struggling with mental illness for a while but never was quite brave enough. I told very few people about my issues because it meant my chirpy happy persona was far easier to uphold. But I shouldn’t be (and I’m not) ashamed of having depression. Through all the hell and the pain, it wasn’t my fault. For people who think you shouldn’t take tablets for depression because you should just be able to snap yourself out of it? I disagree and will happily debate the matter with you. I can honestly say that without being medicated, I would not be sitting here.. the person I am today. I wouldn’t even be sitting here, I’d likely be curled in a ball having resigned myself from all society. So I’ve always suffered from slight imbalances shall we say, but haven’t we all. I used to cry if my socks weren’t inside out (a trait I still uphold…minus the tears), I used to almost split my personality at school to the extent I wouldn’t even wear the same hair tie at school as at home. I could sit for ages, barely blinking and barely feeling anything when I was at college if something had emotionally shocked or upset me. I used to call that my ‘dark mood’ and it would pass. Looking back I can see it was the imbalance in the chemicals in my brain, not quite strong enough to warrant medication or counselling. It was only when I went to university that everything changed. I was quite ill when I first arrived and missed freshers. I knew no one and the people I lived with in Halls were not my kind of people. It seemed everyone just wanted to get drunk and party but I really didn’t. I already felt isolated. I finally got in with a group of people that I can see now were very bad for me. I suddenly thought everything was my fault and was in a very low place. (I am not going to be cruel about people, I don’t have my blog to bitch about folk….unless its like Donald Trump or someone that idiotic). Towards the end of the year, one of these people suffered a fit and I subsequently got PTSD from being there and helping etc. By January I knew something was seriously wrong and I went to a counsellor. She was quite alarmed I hadn’t gone to a doctor yet and sent me immediately. It was reassuring to know something was wrong, it wasn’t just me feeling sorry for myself. That was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done and it saved me.
I’m not saying medication solves problems. I’m saying it helps. After a while and a few upped doses, it restored me to a relatively stable place from which I was able to try and start helping myself instead of lying in my room, feeling trapped, not going outside and not moving. The worst thing people do when you’re depressed is tell you to “go outside, go change your scenery, do some exercise….” All those things are clinically proven to help depression yes but how do you get over the huge weight on your chest that wont let you set foot outside your door? I underwent some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) but for me it didn’t work. I knew what the problem was, I knew the triggers that made it worst but I COULDN’T do the things I knew would help. I spent my second year living with the people I mentioned above. I avoided spending any time in the kitchen, barely ate anything substantial as a result and that meant my energy was even lower. It was towards the end of this year I found out I had an underactive thyroid (one thing after another right?) but a symptom of that is depression. I got medicated for that and suddenly had more energy and was more aware of myself. I’d been living in a house with a relationship that was very bad for me and friendships that were too. It was only when I had the thyroid boosted that I suddenly SAW for the first time the situation I was in. I saw how much I’d changed. From the aspirational young go-getter to this sad, timid girl who thought everyone hated her and who was too scared to pet a dog in public. I’d lost every bit of myself that made me ME. It’s so easy to do when you’re trying so hard to get out of bed each day and put on a brave face. You stop really living and you just try surviving.
I am not going to go into some of my lowest points, no one has to revisit those as they were some of the worst days of my life. Massive shout out to my Mam who would sit on the other end of the phone while I sobbed, across the sea in another country, and then whisper cried when I heard someone near. I lived life in between feeling empty and crying. I did have some great days, some good memories but they’re sadly lost amongst the blackness that engulfed me. It’s scary how easy it is to pretend all is great and how you almost convince yourself that its true. You play a part for such a long time you think its real. But its not… it hides the deep rooted darkness that eats you from the inside out. It’s sad too that so many people I know have gone to university and suffered from mental health issues but felt they shouldn’t really say anything because uni is the best time of anyones life. No! If you feel shitty, you feel shitty and you’re allowed to. Don’t add guilt and expectations onto your already overloaded little brain and heart. Give yourself a break. Live for you and not what you think you should be doing.
Long story short, after I’d been on my tablets for 2 years, and now with my added thyroid, I realised I had to leave the house I was in. That was without doubt the bravest thing I’ve ever done. I moved out and moved in with my auntie and uncle for my exams. My mam came over and helped me move because the situation was so dire that it required urgent removal from the whole thing. I had to get out and I did. I was suddenly homeless and isolated but actually it was the best thing ever and I realised I had friends I didn’t even know cared that much about me. The people I’d lied to and pretended I was happy when really I could have confided in them…should have confided in them and I’d have been a lot less alone. These are the people that helped me become ME again and I happily call them my best friends. They know exactly who they are. I thank you guys for being there for me at my lowest ebb. SO when you think you have no one? You actually realise soon enough you have everyone you’ll ever need because the ones that are there for your lowest days will be with you for your happiest….but it’s not always the other way around.
My third year of uni started with a touch of agoraphobia (being near to the situation I’d escaped last year) but soon that was replaced by the firey desire to be myself and to get back to being Olive. I’d got a tattoo that summer to cover up some old scars (metaphoric and physical) and was determined to put those days behind me. I started uni with new vigour, worked on Thrones and happily spent time with my friends. Things were knocked back when a very close friend of mine passed away just before my twenty first birthday but despite being a crying mess, I was able to pick myself back up. Something I would not have been able to do a few months ago. By the start of this year I wanted to reduce my tablets and I went to the doctors. This was perhaps the most galling experience I’ve ever had. It went something like this…..
Me: I’m feeling more in control of my emotions and my life and would like to reduce my dosage, with the aim to come off them completely?
Doctor: Well, to be honest you’re going to finish university which is stressful, try and get a job, then get married and have kids, which is all very much an upheaval so you’d be best to stay on the tablets until you’re 40 when things start to calm down.
That was exactly what he said. He told a 21 year old girl to stay on anti-depressants for another 20 years. How ridiculous is that!? I was so angry I could barely stop myself from shoving my prescription up his presumptuous misogynistic ass. (I have complained to the surgery, don’t worry). So, screw him, I started reducing my tablets myself. Probably not the best idea because I ended up sobbing for about an hour when Ariel got married and had to leave her family in the ocean, and crying when I dropped something on the floor etc. I went back and got another doctor and she gave me reduced tablets and helped me ease myself off them. I officially haven’t been on anti-depressants for over 3 months now and it’s one of my proudest achievements.
I can happily say I beat depression at the same time as trying to graduate, applying for a Masters, working on a tv show and living away from home. I actually did it. I sobbed when I got my final uni results, not as much from happiness or relief but from pride that I’d actually come through the other side and won. My friends and family helped enormously and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Take heed, if I can do it, anyone can.
If anyone is reading this and is suffering from a mental health condition at university (or life!) ..be it depression, an eating disorder or just feeling low….know that it’s okay. Its okay to feel like your world is ending, its okay to want to give up. But the fact that you haven’t? That’s what you should be proud of. You may feel like your existence is pointless because you feel like a vegetable but you’re still going. You’re still waking up each day and tackling it. Don’t underestimate how impossible that can seem, but you still do it. A sign of strength, however weak you may feel.
I’m not writing this post for sympathy or for praise. I am proud of myself and that’s what counts. I don’t need sympathy because despite all that shite? I’m glad I went through it. It has made me who I am today. I am strong, determined and self-assured. Sure I still have moments when I feel like crap but that’s normal! Everyone does. Depression isn’t just feeling sad or down. Depression is feeling like you can’t move, like you can’t do anything right. Like you can barely breathe properly without exhausting yourself in every way. Depression is different for everyone but it’s not just ‘feeling sad’. The worst thing you can say to someone with clinical severe depression is “Its okay, I feel bad today too, maybe I’m depressed!”……..that happened to me. I’m sorry you feel grotty today but please don’t belittle the pain I went through just to get dressed and manage to leave my room and be in this situation. I dislike the kind of ‘tumblr depression’ that people adopt for attention and/or for a gimic. If you have depression, it’s awful and all consuming. You can’t pick and choose. And anyone who has had depression will NEVER want it again. (P.S not hating on tumblr, I have an account and love it…I’m just using the lingo the kids use). If someone has depression and you want to comfort them? Tell them well done for keeping going, well done for doing so well, and if they ever need a friend that you’re there for them. Don’t tell them to go and “snap out of it”, don’t tell them just to “pick yourself up and be happy” because holy hell if they could, they would. They’re not “stewing” for the sake of it. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken foot just to “go and walk on it” or “just heal yourself” would you? Treat mental health conditions as the illnesses they are, not just as people moping around for the sake of it. Mental illness is an illness, cut people some slack.
So here I am. If you told me a year ago that I’d have been writing a blog post on how I’d battled depression and won, I’d have laughed in your face. I was sure it would never happen but look at me now. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Here I am, anti-depressant free, about to embark on a new exciting phase of my life. Sure I’m nervous but I know I can do it, and I have great support behind me all the way.
I hope this post has encouraged some people… to know it DOES get better. I promise. Don’t give up because you eill eventually win, it just takes time and a lot of crap first. You gotta go through hell before you can rise even higher than before, but you will. And for anyone that knows someone suffering from a mental health illness, I hope this has helped answer a few questions you were maybe too afraid to ask. There shouldn’t be a stigma about depression so let’s ensure there isn’t one! Let’s make this world a nicer place, especially for those struggling.
Writing this post has been like the very final page of a book. I’ve just thrown the ring into Mordor (what I used to call Belfast actually….Hampshire was naturally The Shire) and I’m back in my hobbit hole, about to set sail on new adventures…happy ones. No giant spiders or hideous orcs in this. The demon days are over and now begin the “…..” *enter different album name, something shiny and positive*
Peace out folks