Describing yourself as someone with a disability or difference can sometimes feel hard when that disability is to do with your mental health. There’s this notion that still floats around that the only disabilities that can be considered as such are physical ones, but there are a lot of disabilities that are hidden or difficult to discuss which people end up with misconceptions about. I was diagnosed with chronic depression when I started university, and things started to make sense. The self-deprecating humour and negativity wasn’t something everyone experienced as I had previously thought; struggling to get out of bed, wondering what the point in living was, questioning my existence. This wasn’t part of the human condition.
Previously, I had played this all down to teenage hormones, as the adults around me had always suggested, but becoming an adult myself meant I was able to look at my symptoms and realise I know myself better than anyone else. Wanting to die isn’t a normal part of everyday existence, but it is something I have experienced on and off since I was 12 or 13, several times a month, almost every year. I think that’s something that people also have the wrong idea about. I have chronic depression, but just because I have it doesn’t mean I want to die every second of the day. It means I can have a bad day and instead of moping or getting pizza or calling a friend to feel better, I can spiral inside my head within moments and end up thinking about how I could take my own life, for the rest of the day.
I consider my depression an inability to cope with overwhelming things like stress and bad days, in the same way that physically disabled people might have an inability to use the stairs. I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to rude strangers or harsh criticism, when it comes to having others decide my schedule or when it comes to dealing with some of the sh*t life naturally throws at you. I think the worst of myself even when people are telling me those things aren’t true. It really is like that cliché of being in a fog that you can’t get out of or having a weight on you pulling you down.
Writing this is a little strange for me. For almost three years now I have been on antidepressants and the results for me have been amazing. At first, the meds made me a lot worse. I cried every single day; sobbing, uncomfortable (very ugly) crying, over almost anything, constantly thinking I was bad or useless or better off dead. I talked to my doctor and tried something new. I’ve tried different doses, but I’m still on those antidepressants today, a few years down the line. A way to describe it is like hay fever or allergies. Without taking any tablets, you’re still you, you just suffer a bit when the season changes or when you’re in contact with something that triggers your allergies. Taking the tablets won’t change you, but you can cope a hell of a lot better. That’s what antidepressants are for me. It’s the little things, like not having to think about getting up in the morning. Most days I can just do it, without lying around for hours, without thinking about doing things and then giving up and succumbing to a whole day sleeping in bed, even if I’m not physically tired. Where I’ll just feel worse and spiral into suicidal thoughts come evening, when I haven’t done the small day-to-day things that help you feel functional – eating, washing, talking to another person, doing things you enjoy. Antidepressants help regulate me to be someone who feels more ‘normal’ and able to cope. When I feel sad, I can acknowledge it as sadness and try to do the things that I know can help, like cleaning my room, watching a film, talking to my partner. Before, that sadness would isolate and immobilise me. I still have some symptoms like insomnia, but it comes without my mind racing with negativity, and is replaced with theorising about TV shows or playing games on my phone.
Interestingly, I found out recently that my father, whom I had always suspected had depression, just started the same medication as me in order to help him. Depression can often be due to your environment and based on circumstance, but it has been interesting to see how genetics in my family have likely played a role. I really hope sharing this sort of thing can become more commonplace, without negative repercussions. I worried about sharing the fact I struggle some days with my place of work because I worried that they would consider me unreliable. But when I’m on my medication, I can get on with things and I’m good at my job, so really taking a day out because you need to get through a depressive episode isn’t something to be ashamed of. No one is ashamed about getting a cold and needing to recover from it. I know I can be good at my job, be reliable and have chronic depression at the same time. It’s scary wondering if my medicine will always work – the fact I might be fighting my own brain for the rest of my life. But right now, things are working for me and with every pitfall I face, I’ve managed to work through it.
Finally, antidepressants don’t make me happy. I can experience happiness even on a day where I have otherwise been an uncontrollable mess. Taking antidepressants doesn’t make me euphoric. It makes me feel stable in comparison to when I don’t take them. I can settle into my emotions, rather than them being all over the place, and I am able to face the challenges of the day. I know some people who don’t think antidepressants are the right choice and think they provide ‘fake happiness’, without knowing that I take them. The same goes for counselling. These things are so easily linked to the idea that you’re broken, or something is wrong with you, and that these things don’t actually help you. The number of people who have told me exercise will fix me is astounding. Exercise can help relieve some of the symptoms of depression and other mental health issues, but there’s nothing wrong with people who need support for mental health, just like there’s nothing wrong with people who need crutches. When someone is physically disabled you don’t assume physiotherapy will fix them, even if it can provide some help. If antidepressants and counselling weren’t useful and helpful, they wouldn’t exist. Anyone at any point in their life might find they need the support that antidepressants and counselling can provide.
Everyone is going through life differently, and that’s ok. It’s acknowledging and accepting that, which can lead to a more accessible world for everyone. There is no easy disability and there is no competition. There’s just a lot of people going through their own sh*t and keeping that in mind can make you a more open-minded and empathetic person.