Wednesday 3 October 2018

‘But I’m not depressed enough’: Don’t wait for crisis point to seek help

Romana writes about her experiences of mental health difficulties and the importance of recognising the signs, speaking up early and asking for help.
- Romana

‘By allowing myself to reach such a low point of my life before I finally got help, I made my recovery so much harder than it needed to be’.

I always knew that I was probably a little depressed. I displayed plenty of symptoms; low mood and self-esteem, avoiding social events, feelings of emptiness, self-harm. But, I was in a good relationship, I had good friends, and often, I was genuinely quite happy. Plus, I argued that because I didn’t match every symptom, I was probably coping fine. I didn’t struggle to concentrate. I was quite often tired, yes, but that was probably normal. And I definitely wasn’t suicidal. ‘There are people out there who are really struggling’, I thought, ‘I’m not depressed enough’. 

However, a friend urged me to visit a counsellor. I went, and I started a 6-week course of CBT. Although this was probably the right thing to do, I didn’t really engage with the therapy. I liked sitting down and talking to somebody about my thoughts, but I made no effort outside of the sessions. I didn’t attempt the activities that the therapist recommended. I didn’t journal my thoughts and feelings, or push myself to go to any social events. I just thought: I don’t need to have my life organised by a counsellor, I’m not depressed enough’.

When therapy ended, I carried on as I had been. I’m hardworking, so I spent a lot of time at university studying. I didn’t join any societies, I didn’t do any sports, and I definitely didn’t socialize if I could help it. Instead I would mostly just work alone in my room. I was putting immense pressure on myself to succeed and, coupled with my consistent low mood, it became a very delicate emotional balance; one which was nearly at tipping point. 

During exam season, I was confident. But then one day, I was having lunch alone, and I had a terrible panic attack. I was terrified: it felt like my entire mind and existence were falling away from me. Sitting in bed with a cup of tea afterwards, I had another. Then, that evening during dinner, another. My mind connected the dots in the wrong places, and I blamed mealtimes for this awful panic that I was feeling. The obvious solution seemed to stop eating. By my final exam, I was weak, overwhelmingly anxious, and felt like I might break down at any second. Somehow, I made it through the two-hour exam, but by the next day I had been taken home from university very ill. 

I spent the entire summer attempting to recover, trying to crawl out of the hole that I had fallen into. The hardest part was overcoming my fear of eating. I was referred to the psychiatric liaison team at the hospital, and then to the depression and anxiety service. At this point, I was really struggling. I felt helpless, and without hope. I found it hard to envision my future anymore, and struggled to fathom how I could ever be happy again. Gradually, my wellbeing improved over the three months of summer, and I was able to return to university for my final year. 

To get to where I am now has been such a long and difficult journey. By allowing myself to reach such a low point of my life before I finally got help, I made my recovery so much harder than it needed to be. Rather than accepting the help of a therapist early on, or reaching out and talking to my parents about how I felt, it took letting myself completely break down before I finally believed that I was depressed enough for help. 

The reality is: any behaviour, thoughts or feelings that are out of the ordinary for you are worth your attention. Whether your diet and sleep patterns are suffering; or you can’t find the energy to socialize anymore; or maybe sometimes your mind wanders to dark places. Ask yourself why this is happening, and make an effort to change it. It is so important not to ignore how you’re feeling, just because you don’t match all the symptoms, or because you don’t believe that your problems are valid enough. Maintaining a positive wellbeing is always important, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to speak up and ask for help as soon as you notice that something is wrong. 

You can find more support on depression here, anxiety here, and eating disorders here

My name is Romana, and I am a fourth year Maths student at the University of Exeter. I have never been one to open up about my struggles with mental health, but I have decided to write for the Student Minds blog as a way to express and understand what I have been going through, as well as to hopefully bring reassurance to others who are feeling as I have.

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