This month Robin Williams committed suicide. Robin had battled with addiction and depression all of his life. Understandably, the world mourned his passing - Robin was a great man, after all. The thing that disturbed me was some of the reactions to his death. People flocked to comment sections saying things like “He was famous, with a ton of money, a wife and a house. What did he have to be depressed about?”, these comments made me so, so sad. Actually, they made me angry and then sad. I felt sad because these are the sorts of attitudes that mental health sufferers come up against all the time. Knowing that this massive stigma still exists pains me. I thought I’d take the time to write a bit about my experience with andxiety and depression, if it helps even one person in any way at all then that’s good enough for me. Whilst the tone and overall conclusion of this post isn’t positive, even knowing that other people are “just like me” can make you feel less alone.
Anxiety (and later depression) crept in to my life when I was around 13. I’d made some stupid decisions, I’d cut most of my hair off, and it made other kids say some pretty shitty things. It was when the bullying started. Welcome to secondary school, probably the most hateful period of my life. Unfortunately it was the period that shaped the rest of my life. I was a fat kid, I had this stupid short hair do, and kids were downright fucking cruel. My anxiety started to creep in at this point. It’s okay though, I still had friends. Or at least I thought it was okay (it wasn’t). By this point I was well aware that I was overweight and ugly.
I didn’t just have the bullying at school fuelling my anxiety. My anxiety was being strengthened daily by learned behaviour at home. My Mum would hide from knocks at the door; she’d tell me and my brother to be quiet and to hide, so as to not alert them to someone being home. My Mum would hide from the phone, she’d proclaim to my step-dad that “she wasn’t home” and wouldn’t speak to anyone that called. I witnessed my Mum playing every trick in the book to avoid going to social gatherings. My Mum would constantly avoid any sort of confrontation. When I say confrontation I don’t mean proper confrontation, I don’t mean an argument or anything remotely intense. I’m referring to something like saying I didn’t like the new type of orange squash we’d bought. I’d be met with recourse such as “I’m sorry, I’m such a failure, I’ll try harder next time”. This led me down a path of never, ever even remotely negatively questioning anything - I didn’t want to upset anyone. Turns out that attitude doesn’t work in the real world when you’re an adult.
I watched this for years. I didn’t think these things were normal, but over exposure had led me down a similar path. I didn’t answer the door. I hated speaking on the phone. I avoided social gatherings. The ones I did attend I had no idea how to act. I avoided telling people how I really felt, for fear of hurting that person.
Somehow I met Cam, my fiance. This paved the way for an escape of sorts, a fresh start. When I was 18 I moved up to Newcastle to live with him, and to simultaneously attend university. These were the most miserable 3 years of my life. I made no friends, a few acquaintances of sorts, but no friends. I lived those 3 years seeing no one but Cam, and Cam’s friends. I attended, all in all, around 20% of my lectures etc. I would skip everything I could. I got email after email telling me that I would be kicked from the course, my reply was always “Am I failing the course?”. Of course, I knew I wasn’t. In fact I graduated with a 2:1, but I didn’t care. It was my wish to not attend the graduation ceremony, but Cam forced me to go - “it only happens once, after all”.
So there I was. I’d graduated. I had a very expensive piece of paper to my name. No friends, anxiety at an all time high, and I’d now battled a couple of serious bouts of depression.
Luckily I landed a job almost immediately in a tech startup as a web developer. For the first 6 months I’m fairly certain I didn’t speak other than to answer direct questions. I made some really good friends, but onyl because those people took the time to speak to me - not the reverse.
Around 2 years in to that job a major bout of depression hit. I had to take a month off work to try and get my head straight. I spent that month crying, sleeping and clinging to my pillow for dear life. I honestly wanted to die. If it had ended at that point I’d have been happy.
But it didn’t. I came out of the other end, albeit broken and at my wits end. At this point I pursued the medical route. I was prescribed anti-depressants and did a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). I never noticed the anti-depressants helping all that much, but I attended every one of my CBT meetings. I “graduated” my CBT course, for some ridiculous reason I thought this was the start of a new, better chapter. It wasn’t.
I managed to keep this new aura of confidence up for a little while. I was managing to come across as far more confident on the surface, but I was still just as depressed inside. I managed to tick off some exceptionally scary checkboxes - I gave some talks at local tech events, real talks, in front of proper crowds. I was asked to give a workshop at the biggest industry conference in the UK for my discipline, I did so. I was asked to write for a magazine, I did. I was voted one of the “top 25 females under 25 in tech”, I responded graciously. All of these seemingly amazing things were happening to me, but to be honest I still felt like jumping off of the nearest bridge.
I still do now. And now I’ve hit an impasse where I don’t think it will ever end. If this is the way I’m destined to feel for the rest of my life, I’m out. I’m done. I’ve done the prescription medication, I’ve done the therapy, I’ve done the countless amounts of personal effort (talks, magazines, workshops they all took effort, I wanted them to be amazing, I wanted me to be amazing) and I’m barely forward from that fragile 13 year old.
When I wake up in the morning my first thought is panic - not how beautiful it is outside, or how sweet the birds sound. I immediately run through all of the things I’ve wanted to achieve in my life, weighed up against all of the things I haven’t. I start to panic about all of the things that might go wrong that day. I start running through situations in my head. If I’m heading to the office that day (I work from home 3 days a week) I worry about how much energy it’s going to take me to be around people for 8 hours.
That last statement sounds so cruel, I know it does. But hear me out. Around others I constantly have to monitor myself.
- I hate my laugh. Be careful laughing out loud at jokes.
- I know how much of a state / ugly I look. Are other people looking at me? Please don’t look at me…
- Don’t say anything controversial, people might not like you anymore…
- Try to appease everyone. But also remember you can’t…
Being around others for that long is exhausting. At home I can hide. No one can see me, people can rarely hear me (other than meetings) and that’s great. At least, It’s great for my will to hang in here.
See, I’m at a point now where I’ve tried to battle things head on. Giving a talk in front of a crowd of 70 people was terrifying for me. Honestly, I can’t explain how nervous I was. But I did it. I even received an abundance of positive reactions. Those reactions picked me up and made me feel fantastic for a while, but then it was back down to earth. Back down to reality.
The reality of it is, I hate myself. I hate everything I am, and most likely everything I will become.
My mind is a constant battlefield, and it’s exhausting. Absolutely fucking exhausting.
It’s so hard to explain to others how tiring anxiety and depression are, but they are. They drain me every minute of every day.
I’ve regularly wanted to pay others a compliment, “nice T-shirt” I want to say, but the room is silent, I don’t have the confidence to break that silence.
I don’t have the confidence to disagree with an opinion head on. I will never lie, or pretend to think something I don’t, but if I don’t know someone well I won’t put up an opposing opinion. It is my belief that that person will hate me immediately. That’s us done.
If I’m alone I will avoid tills that are manned. It’s just another point of interaction, and failure.
I will avoid using the telephone at absolutely all costs. Can I do it online? If so, I will do it online.
If there are jokes / conversations being exchanged that are even remotely linked to appearance I will bail out. I know how I look. I know it’s not good. But I won’t even make a statement like “it’s because I’m sexy” as a joke, because I immensely fear the sniggers and subtle facial expressions that others will make upon doing so. This also goes for others making a joke like that n relation to me.
If I’m walking to the kitchen and I see someone else in there, I’ll walk back and return later. Saves that poor soul dealing with my awkward interaction.
These are just a few select things. A few things that I thought outlined how ridiculous and silly a lot of the suffering is. A lot of these seem totally irrational, and that’s another absolutely horrific part of depression. I consider myself a relatively intelligent person, with relatively sane thoughts most of the time, but thoughts linked to depression and anxiety are not rational. You know that the things you’re thinking are insane and highly unlikely outcomes but it doesn’t matter, depression forces you to construe them as very real and very frightening.
Depression is a black cloud that will follow you and strangle you. It leaves you feeling empty, and facing the outside world is tiring. By far one of the worst symptoms of depression for me is anhedonia, which “is defined as the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable”.
These are horrible periods where literally nothing I do can give me joy or pleasure. Gaming? Nope. TV? Nope. Food? Nope. You feel numb to everything, nothing is worth it. During these periods I’ll waste the day away (on purpose) by sleeping. It’s at this point that you realise you are, quite literally, wishing your life away. This then starts to hurt more, because you want things to be okay, you want to enjoy life, you don’t want to wish it away - but it’s all you can do, because you don’t know how to be okay or how to enjoy life. A catch 22 that eats away at you.
This feeling of hopelessness and a lack of enjoyment from life often leads to suicidal feelings. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about suicide every single day, because I do. I don’t necessarily want to go through with it, but I think about it all the time. Some people may have a random fleeting thought of “that lasagne is going to be great tonight!”, I’ll get a random fleeting thought of “this would all be easier if I were dead”. It’s constantly there in the back of your mind that all of this could be gone with the push of a trigger or the dismount from a bridge. A couple of months ago I actually Googled for “the easiest ways to kill yourself”, and I found enough material to have painlessly and easily ended my life. I always stop myself from making these thoughts a reality - it might be Cam, friends, family or my beautiful pets (a continuation of family) that do it, but it’s still a very real solution kicking around in the back of my mind.
For some reason as a society we have deemed suicide to be “selfish”. I would argue that suicide is anything but selfish. Those that commit suicide are so out of options, so alone and so at their wits end that the only solution they could think to use was one that could never, ever be reversed. These are not weak, and certainly not selfish people. They are people who have suffered for so long that they’ve taken the permanent route. Robin was not a selfish man for taking his life, and reading otherwise is similarly upsetting.
To date I have missed so many opportunities because of anxiety and depression. I would love to volunteer at an animal shelter, but it’s never going to happen. Sometimes when Cam is working a Saturday I’d like to go read a book in the park alone, it’s never going to happen. I’d love to strike up a conversation with someone because something of theirs sparked my interest, it’s never going to happen. Granted, ‘never’ is a very strong word. But in my mind these are things that will never happen. There’s a possibility, of course, that they might. The thing is that doesn’t “cure” you. You don’t do a few good acts and overcome depression forever. The shitty little Devil still follows you.
Personally, as mentioned, I’m at an impasse. And I have no idea which way to head. Lately, I find it impossible to enjoy anything. All of my ‘hobbies’, the things I’m supposed to enjoy, offer me no entertainment. Most of the time I can’t even be bothered to try them. So the next time someone tells you they’re depressed, don’t laugh at them, don’t tell them they have a great life, don’t tell them it’ll get better, don’t tell them to ‘cheer up’ - we know we have good lives, we know we have money, we know we have houses, we know we have partners, we know we have pets; we’re struggling because of a disease, not some temporary factors.