Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Well and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.
This is the part of the show where I’m going to talk specifically about me for a little bit (actually, it is a long bit, longer than my other posts. I won’t be offended if you skip to the last half). I didn’t mention this before, but I’m writing this series because I myself have been struggling with depression for years and have found a lot of the advice I’ve been given to be useless as well as encountering a lot of misconceptions (some of them my own) and people (including medical professionals) who don’t understand the kind of thing that is going on and how serious it is. I also feel like I might be able to help some people in similar situations as mine by sharing some of my experiences and my story. So, here goes: my story.
My childhood was pretty crazy. My family moved to Canada from England and we were a military chaplaincy family, so moved A LOT! I was homeschooled, tomboyish, had an accent, and was a priest’s kid too… and I was never labeled or teased at all – NOT!
Then there was the family stuff. Long periods of absence in war zones does funny things to a person and it does funny things to the people left behind, at least, that’s my experience. My dad started going away regularly when I was about nine. It was hard for us all, even though we still saw him fairly often, and it was even harder for my mother. It was around this time that I started feeling very responsible for things and I think this is where my super-helpful, controlling, over-responsible side of things got a bit (ie. VERY) overdeveloped.
Anyway, fast forward a few moves and absences and I’m twelve. We’ve just moved to a small town. I stick out like a skyscraper in Lilliput (not because of my height, sadly), retreat into myself and develop anxiety, having what I think was my first depressive episode. It was bad – let’s just say that I had nothing to live for, puberty was horrible to me and I had no friends. I survived it by building a tree house and reading anything and everything I could find. I just hunkered down and absorbed all this stuff that was going on, all the anxiety, the anger and miscommunication and grudges around me, and it stayed with me.
Two years after that we moved across the country from Ontario to B.C. It didn’t take long before my dad was away more than he was home and I was back to trying to help everyone but myself. It was actually really selfish though, because I used my helpfulness and responsibility to control people and situations in an attempt to minimize the things I had to deal with. It was survival mode – a response to situations where there is no time to process, you just have to try and keep afloat for another day, another week, another year, until you get somewhere safe and just crash.
I think my second big depressive episode happened around that time, when I was about fifteen or sixteen. Being stuck at home in this situation where I was trying to survive, keep on top of schoolwork, control every situation and adjust to a new city as well as missing my dad would be a lot for anyone to take on, let alone a shy, over-responsible, analytical teenager. I blamed myself for everything – my mother’s resentment, my brother’s acting out, my own failures, the dark and deep feelings of sadness – they were all just proofs that I was a terrible person and didn’t deserve to live or be happy.
But live I did, thankfully, and crawled my way back up to some semblance of a life through my first bout of counselling and three months working on the Sunshine Coast, really away from my family for the first time. I stayed away too, heading back to Ontario in September 2013 to go to Augustine College. There I think I was happier, freer and less anxious there than I`d been for years. It was tough, being in school for the first time, but I was doing it! I was on my own, I could fix myself and no one could stop me…
…or so I thought.
By January 2015, after dating a lovely man, graduating, getting engaged and having lots of good thing happen to me, things got really bad.
And they stayed bad. Through going to school part-time, working, getting married, moving into my first apartment with HusBen, I struggled and cried and hated myself and thought I had nothing to live for. Things are still pretty bad even now, although I have the tools to self-regulate, so in the last part of this post I’m going to talk a little more about the process I went through this last year to get here, alive and starting to feel well.
It started with a visit to a walk-in clinic in January, after I finally realized what I was feeling wasn’t normal. It was so scary to go in there and say to a doctor, “I think I’m depressed.” I almost ran away. Thankfully, that doctor was sympathetic and talked over my options with me, and, because I didn’t want to take drugs, sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told me I was too angry and just had to forgive people and feel better… It was sort of true, but the ten minutes I had with him in which he told me this were not very helpful. In fact, they made me feel a lot worse.
The questions came thick and fast and over the next few months as I floundered my way through school, work and wedding planning. I was always thinking and criticizing myself – Why couldn’t I just feel better? Why me? Why now? What if it is all my fault, just like everything else? Why am I not happy with what I have? – and always blaming myself and thinking I could fix things and simply feel better if only I tried. It was awful.
Then two wonderful things happened all at once. I finally got some helpful treatment through a counselling program at a university in which counselling students counsel clients for the hours they need to graduate, supervised by their professors. I met my counselor there, an amazing lady who had been through some of the same stuff I had, and counsels me with sympathy and skill. I feel so understood and able to talk about what bothers me and confuses me – it has helped so much to untangle the mess of my brain and life with someone who really listens and asks good questions.
The other wonderful thing that happened was that I found drugs. I finally got bad enough (and I mean bad, like freezing up, crying, running around in a super-charged haze, wanting to hurt myself, even contemplating suicide at the worst times) in those weeks that I scared myself and decided that something was needed, something that could give me the little bit of help I needed to level out enough mood-wise for counseling to work well. They weren’t great at first. Even though I was taking a tiny dose for the first four months I felt like a zombie for a few weeks before anything felt even slightly better.
Things trundled along for several months, bumpy, but slowly making sense as I continued being counselled and figured things out. I made a lot of connections in that time between what had happened in my early life and the patterns of behavior I learned, and what was going on in the present, when I seemed to have so much going for me. I had some bigger bumps in September as I went back to school. I got more drugs and a family doctor, which helped a lot, as the doctor was caring, understanding, and easy to talk to, and the drugs were strong but helpful.
That brings me to these last few months. Things have continued to make more and more sense as I’ve trawled through my learned behaviors and ways of thinking. I’ve made changes to the way I think and act, I’ve read books and practiced being aware of my feelings and acknowledging undercurrents of emotion I’d never realized were there. The way I interact with my family has changed dramatically too as we talk about things we never dealt with before and HusBen and I have grown together through all of this as well. It hasn’t been easy, in fact, it has been downright terrifying at times, but I’m glad I’m learning all this now and not after years of pain and resentment.
One of the biggest ways I have changed these last few months is in the way I evaluate my own thoughts. Not being constantly critical of myself and holding myself to unrealistic standards has helped me a lot, as has being able to listen to my emotions and let them be felt without getting all judgmental and analytical. Especially when I am getting anxious or upset about something, it really helps to be able to ‘self-soothe’. Its a fancy counselling word for finding a way to calm down and listen to myself and make decisions based on how I actually am rather than how I ought to feel.
Anyway, all this being said, I am finally feeling better after so many struggles and years of confusion and strife. I have no idea what the next couple of months hold, let alone years, but a lot of the hard stuff is behind me. That doesn’t mean I will never cry uncontrollably again, or want to hurt myself, or freeze up, or go walkabout for a bit, but it does mean I don’t have to do those things to feel better. It also means I can identify what’s going on when something happens or I get into a state and deal with it healthily. I have tools now to communicate well with others, to recognize when I am not thinking healthfully or truthfully, and hopefully to continue to grow and live well.