When I tell people how happy I am now, how different things are to how they were last year sometimes they ask me how I did it.
I wish I knew. There’s no magic solution, and to be honest I don’t think I am recovered, but still recovering. It takes time, lots of time.
This post deals with how I personally have dealt with depression and got myself out of the “hole.” This is not medical or professional advice, in fact it’s not even advice – these methods may or may not be helpful for other people, it’s just what I personally have done to help myself recover. Maybe it can help people who are stuck have some hope that things can get better, because they really can. It’s important to have your GP/psychologist/psychiatrist/etc to help support you, and even more importantly; remember you do not have to do it on your own…
CBT was a big help, I know that. It was painful, and in reality, I have not finished dealing with all of the issues, but I’ve dealt with some things. I’ve learned how to deal with my anxiety differently, I’ve learned how to see my behaviour differently, and sometimes (on a good day) I can cut myself some slack, and say it’s ok not to be perfect. That was a big step.
I have tried 5 different anti-depressants, all at various doses. After 5 with no effect, I thought there wasn’t any anti-depressant that could help. Then the psychiatrist increased the dosage of the 5th medication (lofepramine), just to check and after that things got better. I do not know whether the medication is what helped, or if it was the CBT, or pure coincidence, but I think it was more likely a combination of the CBT and the medication. So my tip is don’t give up, sometimes it takes a lot of different attempts to get it right but trust the doctors, they are trying to help, and maybe it’ll pay off in the end.
And I opened up to people, I didn’t keep it all inside. I told people I was struggling. I asked for help, and I got help. You don’t have to do it on your own, and sometimes talking to people helps… it shows you that they care, and it lets out some of the pain that you are dealing with.
Once I started feeling a bit better, life became easier. My concentration improved and I could work again (a massive help when it came to revision and exam time!) And it has a knock-on effect. When you feel a bit better, you are more open to do things that you might enjoy, and then before you know it, you’re actually smiling because you’re happy instead of that old pretence you’re so used to.
Another thing I did was I started climbing. It doesn’t have to be climbing, anything active is good for you (physically or mentally) or even something that’s not sporty – a hobby, something you can do for fun, preferably something you can improve at. Then you start to see your progress, and see that you can achieve something, you can grasp every victory, even if it’s completing a new level wall or just getting one hold higher. If it’s knitting your first scarf, or even your first stitch… it’s all progress, it’s all an achievement!
Then I moved to Germany. It was make or break time. A whole new life, where there are no memories to hurt me and no one I know. I got the chance to start again. A lot of people won’t have this option, but I’m glad I did. I was so unsure about doing this year abroad but I can now safely say, 6 months in, that it was the best thing I could’ve done for me, for my health, for my happiness. And I’ve been taking every opportunity, making the most of this year… Last week I went on a cabbage tour, despite the fact I don’t like cabbage, and it was fun. I got to talk to the teachers outside school and it was nice. And I found myself telling one of the teachers that I don’t want to go home… a massive difference to the way I thought I’d be dealing with this year. I didn’t think I could do it, I thought it would go slowly, I thought I’d want to go home, but I was wrong. (And I’m so glad about that.)
Today I did the depression questionnaire on the NHS website, the same one I used to fill in every week at CBT and everytime I saw my GP about depression, it is scored out of 27. Today I scored 9, indicating mild depression. What a difference from last time I filled that in… I used to get scores of over 20. Turns out I’ve come quite a long way. But it also shows that even though things are much much better, and a lot of the time I am happy, I can’t just ignore it now.
It’s not just about getting out of the hole, it’s about staying out of it… Because depression has a very high relapse rate, and looking after your mental wellbeing is something everyone should do all the time, not just those suffering from mental illnesses, and expecting that once you’ve “recovered” it’s all over is a big mistake, and one that can lead to a bigger fall. My next post will deal with staying out of the hole (once you’ve climbed out of it.)