My Story (So Far) | Depression, Anxiety & Recovery

As a long-time sufferer of depression and anxiety, I’ve been seeking a platform and have wanted to get more involved in mental health advocacy for a while. I am excited by the idea of having a place where I can not only share my own story, but also (hopefully) help others and contribute to the much wider (and much needed) conversation surrounding mental health and wellness.

I started compiling a list of topics that I wanted to write about, everything from intrusive thoughts to self-care, and even heavier subjects such as therapy and self-harm.

But then my brain hit the brakes and said “who would even want to hear your story anyway?”. I started to second guess myself and why I was even bothering. Past Emma would have gone down that self-deprecating rabbit hole and ended up at “You Don’t Even Matter” Avenue or “You Aren’t Good Enough” Lane, places I had visited many times before.

But Present Emma didn’t do that. I stopped myself before I got to that point and realised how far I’ve actually come in my journey. That is exactly why I need to follow-through and write this blog.

How many projects, after school clubs, hobbies or friends did I miss out on because Depression Brain told me that I wasn’t good enough?

I’ve only been able to stop myself from escalating in the last few years. I wasn’t always strong enough to stand up to the voices in my head…

[Disclaimer: The aim of this blog post is to tell my experience with honesty. Therefore, some content may trigger an adverse reaction. If this post is beginning to upset you, I advise that you please stop reading it immediately and talk to your support team.]

Where It All Began

I now know (retrospectively at 27 years old) that I was around 12 when I first started getting symptoms of Depression, but I actually believe that I laid the mental groundwork for this condition when I was in Primary School. Which is not surprising given that 1 in 8 children and young people experience behavioural or emotional problems growing up (Source: https://bit.ly/3e53ejB)

The school that I went to wasn’t in a particularly “good” area, but it wasn’t a place I felt unhappy in. I actually loved school as a kid but I remember feeling anxious a lot where friends were concerned. Kids fight and fall out, that’s nothing out of the ordinary, but I internalised a lot of this drama. I remember spending lunchtimes alone, being picked on by older kids and slowly developing thoughts that there was something wrong with me, and that was why the others didn’t like me, which made sense to me at the time. Even though I did have friends I was always worried about the next fight in case that was the fight in which I would lose them forever.

This type of thinking was the key that opened the door to my Depression.

The Catalyst

At this point, though, there was no catalytic moment that sparked any form of depressive episode. That came when I started Secondary School. The first few years were a whirlwind of change that disrupted friendship groups and introduced new pressures and standards to live up to. After the kids from my school were split into separate form groups and anxiety surrounding new people prevented me from forming meaningful new relationships, many of these days were spent alone. I was so nervous about putting myself out there and making friends that I self-sabotaged any efforts that could have resulted in me fitting in.

I felt as though I didn’t belong, I never had, and this new school was just a reality check to prove to me that I was right all along. It was around this time that symptoms showed, but I didn’t know what they meant. I realised I might be depressed when I read an article in a teen magazine about depression and I was displaying 6 out of 7 symptoms, including self harm. A list of symptoms or warning signs can be found here: https://bit.ly/3e53ejB

Despite this, I did end up making friends with other wonderful misfits who were individuals, not just people that followed the crowd. But rather than seeing this as a sign that my own individuality should be celebrated, I still maintained in my mind that I would lose these people, simply because of who I am. I desperately searched for aspects in others to adopt and carry within myself so that I could be deemed as more worthy, but also as a self-defence mechanism. Whether that be how I looked, how I acted, what music I listened to etc. I was always conscious of what others thought of me. On the outside I was still showing my own preferences and personality, but adapting it to suit who I was with.

Combine this with regular teenage stress; hormones, first relationships, first breakups, exam stress, homework, the rise in social media, and just generally finding out who you even are, and this created a surge in negative thinking and an increase in unhealthy behaviours. After a particularly difficult breakup and then a subsequent abusive relationship, I had accepted that I was always going to be different, always going to drive others away and things that were happening were all my fault and happening for a reason.

The Turning Point

Progressing to adulthood and university was a dramatic change that further enhanced these feelings. Although I was better at making friends, I never really let anyone in fully, because I was afraid they wouldn’t like what they saw. Stress and change led me to consulting the university doctor and finally getting a diagnosis: Moderate Depression and Generalised Anxiety. I was relieved! I finally had something to explain my behaviour, something I could now treat and try to understand better. This still did not shake away the feeling of not being good enough and I tried several antidepressants, counselling and CBT therapy to try and ease this, but none of these were able to take these persistent thoughts.

Entering the world of work and following another nasty breakup, I had hit a new low in my self-confidence, my ability to function and to maintain relationships with those around me. It was at this rock bottom where I decided to try private therapy instead… because it was either that or continue down this spiral to a place I wouldn’t be able to return from. This changed my life.

I was learning how to understand my triggers, unravel my thought processes and predict my behaviours. I was gaining the ability to rationalise thoughts, analyse negative moods as they were happening and realise that actually I wasn’t broken. I didn’t deserve anything that happened to me and I was effectively bullying myself and deserved to be treated better.

Now I am much more able to openly talk about my experiences in an objective way and see things from new angles.

I am by no means cured or recovered, but rather have more positive coping mechanisms, resilience and a robust support network in place for if (and when) things get worse.

I am aware that a lot of children feel the way I felt, and that doesn’t always mean that they will go on to develop a mental illness. There are many factors that can influence an onset, just like there are many factors that can influence a person’s personality in general. We are a culmination of life experiences, genetics, familial environments and friendship groups, which means that what can cause one person to spiral may not affect somebody else, and in another life where I had different experiences I may never have developed depression at all.

It is only as I've gotten older that I’ve realised the people that I idolised growing up, the ones who I thought were perfect people and modelled myself off of, were actually going through just as much as I was, and felt equally self conscious in their own way. No matter how alone you may feel, there are more people to talk to, and more people who care about you than you realise.

Even though sharing my experience will not actively solve any problems or fix any pain, either within myself or within you, I'm hoping that it will be a reminder that, together in time, we can get through it.

So at times like this I take a step back, look at how far I’ve come and loudly declare “suck it Depression Brain!” and then go ahead and do the exact thing that it was telling me not to do in the first place.