Trigger Warning: Depression, Suicide, and Self Harm are discussed at length here!
During this mental health awareness week I’ve been thinking more and more about my first depressive episode where i was catatonic and weepy 99% of the time. I’m unsure why but I feel the need to go into this period in more detail.
It makes me unbearably sad to think of this time. All I can see when I look back on it was every wrong move I made and how badly I damaged myself and those around me. All I am able to see is a 17/18 year old who didn’t have a clue what was going on and thought he was dying, all I can see is the guy who honestly thought he didn’t need help or was simply beyond the point of help. My days were spent lying in bed praying for a heart attack. I honestly thought the situation would fix itself, somehow. Looking back it’s laughable that I even thought this.
I can’t really recall how it all started. Depression obliterates memory and this time was no exception. I do remember, though, that things came to a head as I sat my final A-Level exams. Or perhaps the impetus lied in earlier times, as I can recall the reason why I’d never learned to drive was that I was sure I would drive the car straight into a tree.
I convinced myself that this depression had come about due to exclusively environmental factors. That way, I didn’t have to face having a condition or a mental illness per se. I was adamant that it didn’t have a biological cause. Due to this belief, I abruptly and without warning left the family home. Naturally, my family were angry at confused at my very sudden actions. I continued to sink and sink.
Luckily, I avoided homelessness and some friends of mine let me stay at their houses. If I had known the irreparable damage this would do to my friendships I doubt I would take up their offers of shelter now.
I was excessively clingy as I didn’t know what else to do. Every relationship I had I had essentially checked out of. The damage done to all my relationships in this time is unfathomable, and in many cases I’m only beginning to fix them now, years later.
I was catatonic, and couldn’t bear the torture chamber that my mind had become. What little information I could process went through a filter of absolute blackness, anxiousness, apathy and self-loathing. Looking back on this period I see a person with literally no hope who could believe nothing those around him said. Any consoling remark was useless and general frustration around me grew. A few incidents stand out from this time.
At my friend’s houses I was still catatonic and my behaviour was erratic. I often wouldn’t eat and would starve myself. Sporadic crying was common, and I penned many suicide notes. I was so ashamed of the state I was in that I would often hide in the crawlspace underneath my friend’s bed as I honestly thought I was too parasitic to be worthy of being seen.
On one occasion my friend had made me beans on toast, and they’d brought it to me. I stared at it as if a bomb had just been placed in front of me. Frustration grew and they left. At that moment it was as though years’ worth of inexpressible pain erupted into guttural wails. I was on the floor and crying like a baby. I went downstairs, apologized to my friend and left.
I went to school, if at all, in a daze. On the days where I would actually stay there all day and not play truant, staff tried to cajole me back to my previous spirits. They failed and I often felt like everyone around me was merely propping up a corpse and wasting their time. I was so sure I would die if this was allowed to go on that I begged to be put in hospital in my counselling sessions.
One day I walked out of my sixth form in the middle of the day, in the sweltering heat and I walked a few miles out of my village toward a neighbouring village called Theberton, and I had no intention of coming back. I had a vague plan. Things had to stop and I simply saw no other way. I called a friend of mine, intending to say goodbye and it didn’t go well. They cried and hung up. I felt like more of a failure than I already did. I called childline, and asked them what I should do. I was sure I was going to die and that nothing would help or save me.
When I think back on this time I can only remember disjointed snapshots. I remember what happened when I went to my GP as childline suggested, sheepishly talking about how I felt and the suicidal thoughts I was having. She got me an appointment with the local mental health team a day or two later and it was set. I was in the system and I loathed that fact.
When I was assessed I wasn’t exactly pleased. My sleeplessness was written down to being on electronic devices and I was sent away. What little morsels of energy I had left I used to weasel out of the system I hated in any way I could. Bizarrely, I often said I was fine and downplayed my suicidal ideation.
I remember my GP taking my friends mom who I was staying with into a separate room to talk to her. I don’t know what she said but she came out looking concerned. I imagine I had been honest about my suicidality and that she’d been told to not leave me alone. In between this and the home visits I felt suffocated by people who, to my eyes, were not helping the situation.
I was calling child line every day, several times a day. It granted me the anonymity that I felt I desperately needed, and allowed me to air out my thoughts. I’d often call them as I would be sat on a nearby beach, waiting for my body to register what my brain wanted it to be, hurl itself into the sea. At some point, the local mental health team started doing home visits, which I loathed with a passion. I simply couldn’t bear having depression affiliated with me, as it went against my self-identity and core beliefs about myself. I thought of myself as strong and relatively intelligent, and now I’d been reduced to someone who could barely get out of bed or who could not read a single line of a book or someone who thought of death as casually as someone else would think about breakfast.
At some point my life became dominated by phone appointments. I’d get sent questionnaires to fill out and I did just that. I answered “every day” to virtually every question and often the person at the end of the line didn’t quite believe that things were this bad. I felt as though I was blowing things out of proportion in my answers and I kidded myself that I was overplaying how I felt and that really I was fine.
I can remember an appointment where I waited for six hours in the waiting room. I was led upstairs like a stray dog and the guy I’m talking to cracks a joke about English literature having all the depressives. I didn’t laugh. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to laugh or to feel happy. They asked me if I thought of suicide. I was too sapped of energy and too catatonic to make a serious suicide attempt. Suicide was often out of the question as I couldn’t even move, let alone engineer a plan or way to end my own life.
Suicide hung above me like tantalising fruit, within view but ultimately unreachable. I was staying with friends and would often sit in their kitchens with a knife on the table, waiting for my body to do what my brain wanted it to. Then, though, I never moved. I just stared blankly into space, wishing that I could either spontaneously combust or have a heart attack. Suicide presented itself everywhere, in every car that passed by and in every high ledge. Each day my friend gave me my medication as I couldn’t be trusted to not end my life with them. Looking back I can see that nobody, including me, really knew what to do with their suddenly catatonic friend.
Looking back on it, there were subtler means that I was trying out, too. I would walk to and from my sixth form without looking across any roads that I crossed, hoping to be squashed. I would stop eating. I isolated myself and could no longer remember what I used to be like, how I used to feel when I was healthy.
Looking back on this time I can see that I put a lot of strain and pressure on my friends. I was aware of this even then, I can remember that. Every move I made seemed to make the situation worse. There was no way out and my brain became a place I longer wanted to be in. I wasn’t sleeping and to call myself lost to humanity would be an understatement.
On my eighteenth birthday I saw a psychiatrist for the first time. It was July, and the plan was that I would be off to university that September. He was the first person out of the many I had seen that seemed approachable and who conveyed information succinctly and with grace. At this point though, I’d wanted out of the system. I felt as though the NHS mental health system was a system that I would never escape the grip of, a system where the walls were closing in on me. The doctor I saw recommended that we try a course of anti-depressants, as that way we could know if they worked before I left for university. I was petrified that these drugs may alter my behaviour or personality in some way, and I replied that I needed time to think about it. I knew nothing about anti-depressant medication then and seeing my beliefs know it’s almost laughable.
We made a follow up appointment but I never showed. I ignored any and all phone calls, and eventually I slipped out of the system. I was free. I took a gap year, and went to university in the September of 2015. In the intervening period though I isolated myself from my friends who had looked after me, as I felt that they had simply had enough of me and I convinced myself that the feeling was mutual. I spoke to no one and would often not eat for days or shut myself away in a dark room for weeks. Bizarrely, I didn’t see this as a continuation of the depressive episode that I never truly pulled out of.
I had my second depressive episode after Xmas, which I’ve written about before on this blog. This episode was more dangerous as I had the energy to act upon the thoughts I was having, whereas before I was totally catatonic. To cut a long story short I self-medicated with alcohol and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I was there for a little over a month and I’m back at university now. When I think back on my first depressive episode though, I see everything that could have gone right and did not. The friendships that were damaged then are only now in the process of being fixed, years after the fact.
The overwhelming feeling I have though is almost akin to loss or grief. I lost my seventeenth and eighteenth year to depression, and subsequently lost more time in my life due to refusing treatment until I t was far too late. If there’s a message to take away from this, and to generally keep in mind during this mental health awareness week, it’s that if you’re suffering right now please get help, research treatment, and accept the treatment you are comfortable with. That way, ideally, you won’t miss out on too much time in your life.