Disclaimer: This piece touches on depression, anxiety & the treatment involved in this individual case. The author has requested to remain anonymous, and all views expressed are their own. We are not medical professionals, so please consult a doctor if you are experiencing any similar symptoms. And, if you need to talk, or want to share your experience, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Shit You Should Care About… My black dog, depression.
I often sit and wonder about what advice I would’ve given myself two years ago.
I still have no idea what exactly I would say, but one tip I wish I’d given 17 year old me would be to be nicer to myself.
It was 2018 and I was so excited to move out of my home town into the big wide world. Home made me feel like I was living in a cage or I was a character in Lord of the Flies. I was so eager to see what the world had to offer me and to watch my life fall right into place the moment I left to University.
Many things did fall into place, but just as many things didn’t.
I arrived at the airport with way too much baggage, so I ensured that I left my emotional baggage there. This was my new start, this scene was going to be the first chapter in the biography I’d write about my successful life - I was ready.
My first year at University was filled with amazing friends, a lot of late nights and some terrible hangovers. I decided to study some very demanding and competitive courses, but I was eager to work my ass off - and I did. I pulled all-nighters after all-nighters. No-dose and coffee became my best friends. Even as the stress grew and the pressure I put on myself worsened, I still had a great support system to get me through.
After completing an almost picture-perfect year I got back on the plane to fly home. This time I was carrying a lot of baggage - in the form of happy memories and amazing friends.
Once I arrived home, I did what every student had to do over summer break - I worked and worked and worked. Over summer I had about 10 days off from the end of November to the start of March. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job and I equally loved the money.
But I’d set myself up to crash and burn - everyone could see it but I didn’t care. I thought I was invincible.
*Dumb context stuff: In order to get into my second year course I needed to get a grade high enough to fill one of only 330 spots available. There were about 1,100 students competing for these spots.
I had put so much pressure on myself all year to get into this particular second year course, to the point of complete exhaustion and insanity. I had created a really unhealthy relationship with studying and success because I was so determined and obsessed with getting in. I thought once I got into this course anything bad that ever happened at school or before this moment would never matter again. This would be the spell that would break the unlucky curse that had been cast upon me on my 17th birthday.
On December 8th I didn’t get accepted.
I don’t think I have ever felt so worthless in my entire life - I fell into a pit of temporary depression. This pit consisted of a lot of crying and feeling like if I couldn’t achieve this one thing that I had set my heart on, then how could I achieve anything?
Little did I know that this temporary pit of depression was about to get a lot deeper and a lot more permanent.
I decided I would go to a different University in 2019 and continued to work to the point of exhaustion. This was a bad attempt to distract myself from feeling as though I had lost everything I have ever wanted and worked hard for in my life.
I told my new friends I wasn’t coming back to live with them - I didn’t even really care. I couldn’t feel any worse than this. I cut ties with some of the most amazing, caring and loving people I had ever met, in a city that I absolutely adored.
I boarded the flight to my new University, this time with no baggage - because this is what depression does. Depression makes you feel like you have nothing left, like you aren’t actually living, like you are watching everyone live their own ’amazing’ lives from the clouds. I didn’t care about where I was going to live, the friends I was going to make, or any of the good things that were going to come from a new city.
I arrived at my new hall. I thought that when I arrived that this cloud of self doubt and self hatred would disappear. I spent the first couple of days settling in, going to town and meeting new people. At this point I was happy - I felt that everything had gone back to normal.
As the weeks rolled on everything felt like a major task. This feeling grew until I couldn’t get out of bed or go to my classes. For anyone who knows me this was a major, because I was always the high-key girl who never missed a lecture and who actually did the readings before class. My family and close friends started to click on that something was very wrong, very quickly.
I felt nothing, I didn’t care that I was going to fail Uni, I didn’t care that I hadn’t showered in weeks, I didn’t care that I hadn’t eaten more than an apple a day for as long as I could remember.
I went to the doctor and told them everything. The Uni doctors were amazing and got me to a councillor, a psychologist and set up regular appointments for me to see the doctor and councillor every week.
I was given the ‘devils medicine’ of fluoxtine, and a shitty diagnosis of anxiety and depression. The doctor told me I was going to get a lot worse before I got better. I didn’t care. It couldn’t get any worse than this.
I started taking my new meds and they really were the ‘devils medicine.’ I got worse and worse. I plucked up the courage to tell my family. They were so supportive, I always knew they were going to be. But by telling them I thought I was becoming a burden. Irrational, I know.
As I started to be able to leave my room again, I did make a new friend - panic attacks.
I couldn’t make it through one lecture without having to leave because of an attack. The worst moment came when I had a panic attack in my lecture theatre and the whole class stopped while I was hyperventilating and banging myself against my seat. As you can tell this wasn’t the best way for me to make friends or find a rich husband.
Things continued to get worse. My parents came up to see me in an attempt to get me to move home (no way!) They moved me to a different hall and encouraged me to drop a paper and quit my new job. I didn’t care.
I felt like a baby again - I had to be told when to sleep, move, shower and eat.
Time passed and the medication started working. I started to feel better - very very slowly. I managed to get the credits for all my assignments and exams that I missed. I slowly got my life back.
The biggest question on my mind was how did and something as seemingly insignificant as not getting accepted into a particular course at University put me into a state or severe depression and anxiety, when up until this I’d been fine?
I don’t have the answer to this question; apart from that my brain wanted to introduce me to this 'Black Dog.’
But amongst all this, here’s what I learnt:
Your parents can be your best friends. I tell them everything, even if it’s 3am and I’m crying about not having slept in 5 days. TELL YOUR PARENTS THINGS, they very possibly have been through something similar. You are their offspring after all.
You’re not a burden. I got closer to my friends and I credit a lot of this to my best friends who always reminded me that I was not a burden to them - they wanted to help. Good mates will always want to help. If they don’t want to help they aren’t really your mates.
You actually have to listen to your body. You have to eat, you have to sleep. Your grades are incomparable to your mental health. On another note: alcohol isn’t a ‘cure all’ the only ‘cure all’ is time and support.
You are not defined by your failures. My Dad always said to me when I was really struggling: “You are not what you think.” This was the best advice I had ever gotten.
Be nice to yourself. No one has a perfect life. So stop thinking that you are the only one failing - you are not alone.
ASK FOR HELP. Simple as that.
I wrote this article to introduce you to my black dog, and show others going through this that you’re not insane.
Depression is a health issue - not a label of insanity.
One day I will update this story and tell you about how I got through all of this, but right now I am still in the thick of it.
This is not the end of this story, but it is the start of a new chapter.