Written 7 years ago by Louisa Rose
Once upon a time I had depression, and then it came back…and then it came back…and then it came back… So why if I have suffered before did fail to welcome back my old friend? The answer is because it is as invisible to sufferers as it is to the 3 in 4 people in one year in the UK who don’t suffer from it. The phobia created about mental health, in my case, depression, is created most by those who have suffered in the past.
By us creating this phobia in our minds, we encourage its deterioration – by catching its signs early we could save ourselves a lot of pain but instead we put the exhaustion down to ‘having loads on at work’; the rumblings of anxiety are the come down from an amazing holiday and the thud with which we hit reality upon our return. Simple, no? Well, yes, but not for those going through the pain of anxiety, fear and dread on a daily, probably hourly, minute by minute even, basis. Because although we have vowed never to let ourselves get to that ‘dark’ place again, we have joined those consumed by the all-encompassing stigma placed on mental health issues that only compounds our fear and we have missed those vital, early signs. So who created the initial stigma that made the fear of mental health more powerful and in turn, more debilitating, than ever? I’m sorry to say that it is you reader.
You saw the 1 in 4 Time To Change campaign but you didn’t consciously absorb its information – its ethos dictates that YOU could be one of the ‘invisible’ illness sufferers at some point in your life but much like the smoking cessation or STD awareness campaigns, you didn’t believe that IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.
You heard about ‘depression’ but put it down to that person’s laziness and lack of positivity (how many time have you said, if you don’t think positively, then you won’t feel any better?).
You signed off your OCD friend as just really liking cleaning – ‘they find it therapeutic’.
That girl in the canteen just wants to fit into her bikini on holiday and look like the models in the editorials we skim.
Our consumerism has given us a reason to fob off 3 mental illnesses in one fowl swoop. So, if you were and still are just as scared of it as I am, why would I want to believe that it was back? I don’t negate the power of alternative therapies and positivity but this is not an essay on the merits of pharmaceuticals either. Let me be clear, these are serious illnesses that have a vast number of levels on their spectrum before suicide (yep, I said the S word), and you can’t ‘positive away’ a near suicidal person. To personalise this a bit let me begin by telling you that this is my story – and by the way,this is not written by some word conscious journalist looking to fill a space in your free daily paper. I suffer from depression. It’s taken me to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital to feel like that’s an acceptable sentence to say out loud. I have friends who are sufferers, loved ones who have battled for years against it, but I have consumed the same as you and I still wanted to believe I wouldn’t go back to being 1 of those 4 – oh how my perceptions have changed.
So let me ask those of you who felt the sinking feeling when they read the word ‘psychiatric’. Would you go to a specialist eye clinic if you suffered from glaucoma? Would you want an ENT specialist to remove your tonsils or a GP? So why wouldn’t I go to a ‘mind’ specialist to fix my broken mind?
My depression began as a reaction to my parents’ divorce. Back then I was prescribed antidepressants as if they were sweets and went to umpteen therapists. Unfortunately, being an adolescent sufferer during a time when organic food and yoga weren’t yet fashionable meant there was zero chance that I would admit an official ‘head case’ diagnosis! I stuck with the pills for years (12 to be exact) and having gone through this last, most darkening and thought depressing episode, I would still refuse to advocate a long-term prescription to antidepressants from a young age as a first resort – I believe in trying alternative methods at the early signs and maintaining a watchful eye if prescriptive medications are involved (specifically during adolescent years). Unfortunately, I was not as educated about depression as I am now (nor it seems was my doctor at the time and for that I give him no excuse). So, I stayed on the pills and throughout university years the depression that I hadn’t properly addressed (pills just masked it) manifested itself as anxiety. Of course, this was my first denial – off I went to a gastroenterologist instead of a therapist who diagnosed IBS and anti spasmodic medication instead of CBT and thought breaking techniques.
After years of IBS and weaning off the antidepressants, I learned to deal with the anxiety and I entered a long-term relationship and a new job. This job prompted the onset of panic attacks that in turn evolved into agoraphobia so back on the antidepressants I went (there’s only so many times that you can have a panic attack on the tube before you give up using it etc etc) and thus concludes our first step of the professional ladder stopped short due to mental illness. I finally went to an anxiety therapist who helped a little (note the lack of CBT still) and I got married. Fast forward a year or so and my fairy-tale marriage wasn’t so picture perfect but rather than face neither the reality of that nor the reasons for my years of IBS, panic attacks and depression (not dips!) over the years, I continued along the dreamy wave of serotonin boosters. I decided to wean off the drugs a couple of years later (this time with the advice of a psychiatrist) and experienced withdrawal symptoms in the form of panic attacks and IBS (again!) I was finally introduced to the wonderful world of CBT.
In laymen’s terms CBT is a way of teaching yourself a new toolkit of thought processes to use in place of your pre-existing, conditioned ones that are producing negative effects – this was a place where I could challenge panic, fear, dread and their manifestations; IBS, panic attacks and depression. It also provided a safe place for me to explore the admission of an unhappy marriage and the acknowledgement of traumas caused by men in my life. This subsequently led to the final breakdown of my marriage which of course produced more panic, fear and dread but now that I could challenge these thought processes, I could repair myself emotionally from a place of strength (I thought!) I thought I was on the road to recovery; that the answers to all my problems lay in those three words, cognitive behaviour therapy, and I continued to wean off my long-standing affliction of antidepressants.
I felt new, like I had been released into the wild. I could see how green the grass was, smell the fullness of newly baked bread, hear each musical note of a melody and I loved it. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic but you get the picture. I was free from mental illness once and for all and was going to proclaim that we all encourage CBT in schools. I read about the grief cycle and I moved through denial, grief, depression (this was different now, I said, more just a sadness), bargaining and acceptance. I met a guy who enjoyed sharing with me the things I am most passionate about in life (totally different to my ex-husband!), who introduced me to new places, people, ideas and our relationship was great. After a few months of feeling like ‘the real me’ and this new relationship, I began waking up from anxiety but ignored it (there was no way I was going back there). The anxiety was ‘work related’ I was sure so I decided to explore my options (job wise). My focus and concentration had gone but I had put it down to work so I wasn’t worried. I continued in my new relationship and loved every minute of it.
Then the anxiety began waking me up even earlier. I started to question if it was my relationship so took a time out while I worked on myself. I was hungry all of a sudden but nauseous so couldn’t eat (hmm, that probably wasn’t normal). I was tired but had slept well the previous night (doing too much during the day maybe?) I couldn’t stop crying (was I just hormonal maybe?) I began to think on the edge of mental illness and asked myself what alternative methods I could use to get rid of what I was feeling so after a month of positive thinking books, some yoga practice, thought field therapy and extra exercise, I went to the doctor who prescribed some Valium. I didn’t want to go back to medication so I resisted and the symptoms worsened. I went to a psychotherapist who I thought would help because finally I would deepen the self-magnifying view and look beneath all my symptoms, further beneath even all my CBT work to finally discover the one root cause of all this evil but I was in such a state that I couldn’t even comprehend what I was thinking. I was experiencing a washing machine effect of thoughts; each one intertwined with the next, each one more negative than the previous. I finally gave in and consulted a new psychiatrist, one who diagnosed me as suffering from recurrent depressive disorder. He claimed that I was ‘severely depressed’. He prescribed the same antidepressants that I had weaned off from after the breakdown of my marriage. I left the appointment hysterical but sure I didn’t want to return to medication. I struggled and struggled but eventually I couldn’t get out of bed and my mood was severely dark. I was officially dangerously depressed. I relented and began taking the antidepressants but it was too late. I called my mum from a desperate state and moved in with her to remove the ‘danger’ concern for a while but it wasn’t enough and the medication wasn’t kicking in as quickly as I needed it to. After one more consultation with my psychiatrist he referred me to a psychiatric hospital. I was floored. This was the ultimate pit of doom and I was completely defeated. It had come to this and I was officially a ‘psycho’. Welcome to the inspiration for this piece.
Why was I so reluctant to admit to the signs of depression? Why was I so adamant that I should be antidepressant-free and weaned off them during (let’s be honest) such a vulnerable time in my life? And why was I so alarmed at the prospect of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital? My hospital stay began and I was prescribed a course of therapy that would delve into my past intensively that included art and dance therapy for my creative mind. My mental state improved marginally at the beginning but then I experienced another dip into the negative thoughts and darker mood states. During a 24-hour return to my mother’s home I danced with death.
Depression is a monster that creeps into your mind and removes all belief in yourself and your potential. It recreates positive memories adding a cloud of gloom that defies all hope of returning to those positive states. When that monster is there, there is no light. I believed that my only escape was death. If I succeeded I wouldn’t know the pain anymore and if I didn’t then maybe I would finally find the right help. I truly thought in those dark moments that this decision would be best for my friends and loved ones. It would release the burden of this depression that didn’t just affect me, but them too. I won’t tell you how I did it because I don’t want to give anyone any ideas but I tried to take my own life at that moment. Because of the love of those same people (and the quick actions of the NHS ambulance service and hospital staff) and their crumpled devastated faces I am here to tell the tale.
It’s this dance that has made me believe in the power of the mind because the same mind that made me believe death was the only way out has in turn made me believe that if death is that easy, we may as well fight a little longer. That’s a notion I choose to remember because its that notion that is moving me further away from the darkness and closer to the light. Depression isn’t something to be ashamed of, its something to recognise and deal with at the first signs.
This article was written immediately after Louisa’s stay in hospital seven years ago. There has been a shift in the awareness and profile of mental health since this article was written but there is still a long way to go.
About Louisa Rose
Louisa Rose is a freelance social media consultant and mental health advocate working with clients including Maggie & Rose, Eile, Hope Virgo, Mimi’s Bowl, Susan Caplan, Colefax & Fowler among others. After over 20 years of lived personal experience of mental ill health including depression and anxiety that culminated in an attempt to take her own life in 2012, Louisa began her journey to mental health maintenance.
She hosts mental health events called #UOKHUN and speaks about issues including; maternal mental health, the impact of social media on adult & youth mental health; and her own personal battle with depression and anxiety.
She is a mum of 2 and married to her husband, Dominic.
Follow on Instagram @louisanicolerose
For further information please email Louisa@louisanicolerose.com