I have worked for Virgin Media since 2013 and have struggled with several bouts of recurring depression over the last 16 years. In August 2016, after continuing to put on a brave face every day for about 18 months, my fear of judgement and personal shame made me feel I wasn’t coping again, so my depression came back and got a strong hold of me.
This was by far the worst episode I had experienced. The symptoms felt much worse than they had ever before – I actually felt a complete change in my head. It was like I was on the outside looking back at a person that I didn’t recognise anymore, and hadn’t recognised for a long time. I knew I should have got professional medical help before things had got to this stage, but I thought I could fight it on my own. This was my first mistake, as trying to fight depression on your own is like stepping into the boxing ring with Anthony Joshua…there will only be one winner!
I couldn’t stand any noise, people talking to me, the sound of the radio and television. I couldn’t stand light, whether natural or artificial. I just wanted to lie in a dark room and forget the rest of the world existed. My head just didn’t feel right and as for my emotional state, well that was all over the place. Crying from the moment my eyes opened till the moment they closed again. I went to see my GP, who knew my history and I was prescribed some Sertraline and signed off from work, which was to become a long absence. The GP also referred me for some more Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through the BUPA healthy minds team, who were great when I spoke to them and made me feel like I wasn’t on my own. The healthy minds team made me feel a little more at ease with my illness.
Within days, I had my first appointment with a psychotherapist and that was a real life line for me. I struggled everyday thinking there was something wrong with me and felt ashamed that I was finding it very hard to cope again. The therapist I saw saved my life – that’s the only way I can describe it! She kept me sane when I thought I was going crazy.
Unfortunately, Sertraline didn’t suit me and after spending nearly 5 months on the highest dose with no signs of improvement, my GP referred me to see a Psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital. Once again, my BUPA cover got me an appointment within a matter of days. It wasn’t like the movies, there was no black leather couch in his office, just a lovely gentleman who just had a simple chat with me about my life.
At the end of the appointment I had been diagnosed with severe clinical depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. This came as a shock to me as I thought only soldiers suffered from PTSD, but once I got my head around it, it all made sense as to why my depression kept coming back, due to certain events that had happened in my younger years. I finally knew what I was up against.
I started some new medication which was more geared towards PTSD and after 6 months, I got a little stronger and my CBT sessions got more intense with some EMDR therapy. This helped me to rationalise past events slightly and try and leave the past behind me. Further medications were introduced; a combination of 3 different types and it seemed to be the best for me. It was a long, hard battle and at times, I didn’t think I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I did. The most important thing to remember is that things will change.
From my experience, you have to keep faith and believe that things will get better because they really will, even though at the time it’s so hard to believe. You also need to be kind to yourself. Why feel shameful for suffering from an illness? Would I have felt ashamed being diabetic or epileptic? The answer would be NO! As hard as it, TALK. That’s the first step to getting yourself back on track. Having a support network around you is really important. Tell your family and friends what’s going on. No one will judge you because these people love you and want to look after you. At the same time, get professional help. GP’s and therapists are there to help and completely understand how you are feeling.
If possible, try and keep a sense of humour about your mental health and what’s happening to you. I used to refer to myself as Jean Slater from EastEnders, as my moods were all over the place, just like her characters. Use apps like Headspace for meditation and mindfulness. It’s so important to try and stay in the present, if you can. It will help in the future to try and control worrying and rumination. Set yourself realistic goals. Don’t try to join a gym or run a marathon while you are depressed. Setting yourself simple tasks such as running the hoover round or washing a few pots up will not overwhelm you but will give you a sense that you have achieved something. Access the help that Virgin Media offers us through BUPA, we are very lucky to have such good medical cover, so use it.
If you can, read other people’s experiences of depression, as this will make you feel like you can fight it. All of these stories and experiences from others are living proof that you will survive! A fantastic book called “Sunbathing in the Rain” by Gwyneth Lewis is worth a read, I can’t recommend it enough. A quote from the book which has impacted me starts with: “When you’re in the middle of your depression, pay good attention to it, because, tended carefully, you never know where it might lead you.”
This is so true and when you come out on the other side, you realise again that the world is your oyster. I’m happy to say that I came back to work and organised a Mental Health Awareness day in May for our department. The day was a huge success and has given me a great sense of self-worth knowing that I was helping others through my own personal experience.
Never give up!