When I celebrated my 21st birthday five years ago, I thought life couldn’t get any better. I was about to start the final year of a degree course I loved. I had just completed a work placement abroad, where my employers were delighted with my talents. And most importantly, after years of loneliness and being bullied at school, I had found a group of friends who seemed to really like me and accept me as I was. But life as I knew it was about to fall apart completely.
Within days of going back to uni, I began to feel extremely panicky for no reason I could identify. At times I could not take in anything I read, and I would have to go home early from lectures to try and calm myself down. I went to see my GP, who prescribed beta blockers. These helped at first, but soon began to lose their effectiveness. I couldn’t get to sleep at night. I drank heavily because it was the only way I could relax. Life lost all its pleasure and meaning, and I began to get images in my head of me cutting myself. I went back to the GP on numerous occasions, but struggled to talk about what I was going through, and she concluded I was just suffering from normal final-year stress.
After Christmas I became ill with glandular fever. This was a relief – for a while I could stop the struggle, and spend all day watching DVDs while my essay deadlines were extended. But I knew I couldn’t hide from my uni work forever, so I made an appointment with a different GP and managed to tell her some of what was going on. She diagnosed me with depression and put me on Seroxat.
At first I thought the Seroxat was helping. I stopped feeling anxious all the time, and I began to have a few good days. But it soon became obvious I was having horrific mood swings. Some days I’d feel just about OK, others I was suicidal. Worse, any attempt to do uni work was guaranteed to send my mood crashing back down. I continued to drink heavily and started cutting myself with razor blades. At the time, I had no idea why I was doing this; looking back, I think it was a desperate attempt to “prove” that something was wrong with me. I despised myself and felt like a total failure. After stumbling through my exams and simply not doing the final essay required of me, I scraped the degree result I needed and moved to the other end of the country to begin a master’s.
My new GP changed my medication to Efexor, and I managed to get some counselling at a local youth centre. Unfortunately, neither of these things made a difference. Five days after my 22nd birthday, I reached my lowest point, and attempted suicide. I was saved by an unlikely phone call from someone I’d met on a self-harm message board just weeks before. She has been a close friend to me ever since, and is now my partner.
I was referred to the community mental health team and offered eight weeks of group CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I was amazed to discover just how negatively I’d been thinking, and how little these thoughts reflected reality. At last I had some tools I could use to fight back against the depression. However, this was just the beginning of my recovery, yet when the group ended I was told I “should not need” any more help.
The next 18 months were very difficult. I had dropped out of my master’s as it became obvious early on that I couldn’t cope with the workload, and I struggled to hold down a job. I would manage to work for a month or two, then become so overwhelmed I would need several months off sick. Eventually I compromised by getting a part-time job. This was easier to cope with, but didn’t pay enough to cover the bills. Despite all this, my GPs would not change my medication. Their attitude seemed to be that depression was just part of who I was, and there was no point trying anything to change it. Even when I asked to be referred to a psychiatrist, he said that since Efexor had not worked for me, it was unlikely any antidepressant would. However, he offered me a choice between trazodone and Buspar to treat my anxiety, and I chose trazodone since I knew it was also an antidepressant. To my psychiatrist’s surprise and my relief, it worked! My mood began to lift and I was able to get – and keep – a full-time job in a field related to my degree.
Now that I know more about antidepressants and the many med changes some BtB members have been through, I am baffled by those doctors’ attitude. They seemed to write me off as “treatment-resistant” very early on. I cannot understand why they didn’t try me on other medications, or why I was told that eight weeks of CBT should have been enough. If they’d said, “You need more therapy, but unfortunately it’s just not available on the NHS,” I would have known to look elsewhere. Instead, I was left feeling as though I “should” be better and as though any remaining symptoms were my own fault.
Since then I’ve been slowly rebuilding my life. I recently changed meds to mirtazapine after trazodone stopped working for me, and I feel better than I have in years. All my old energy and enthusiasm for life has returned and I’m planning to finally go back to uni and complete my master’s this September. I also pay to see a private therapist, and she’s helping me work through some painful issues from my childhood. I realise now that my depression and anxiety did not come out of the blue at all, although it seemed that way at the time.
I could not have got through the past five years without the support of people here and on other message boards. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking about reaching out by posting on BtB for the first time, I strongly encourage you to do so. It may well save your life.