It was 2008 when I was diagnosed with depression. It had gone on for 6 months by the time I got help and it took that long because hadn’t experienced it before and I didn’t know what was happening. The way I realised what was going on was I was happening to see a counsellor for a one off thing and they asked me if there was a chance I was depressed. If was the first time I thought about the possibility; I considered myself a positive person, I enjoyed life. I wasn’t a negative person which is what I thought depression meant at the time. Looking back on it, I wonder how I didn’t see the signs. In the end it was my husband who arranged my appointment because I just wasn’t thinking clearly enough to get onto it quickly – which I think people should keep in mind. Sometimes you do need someone to help – you’re often the least likely to see that you need it.
I was working with the Sydney Morning Herald at the time so I got 6 weeks off to see a psychologist to get through it without medication. After a time I realised it wasn’t working and I did need to take medication. That was pretty life changing for me – I’m one of the lucky ones that it had an effect for. I was on medicated for 6 months, came off it and then I was back to my normal self. There’s been two subsequent times – one when I had my second child and I wasn’t getting much sleep and I could feel it happening again. The good thing the second time though, since I recognised what was happening, I was able to do something much quicker.
The third time was last year was in the context of my second to last year of medical school. I was going from a situation where I had enough time to spend with my children to suddenly being told that I was going to another town for my GP placement with two weeks notice and things like that. It was much more like a full time job. As a mature age student I’m also used to doing jobs with some responsibility and power and in clinical placements I found myself at the bottom of the pile, starting from scratch. I was anxious and teary again. I was able to hide it quite well – I didn’t need to take any time off – but I ended up starting medication again.
What was it like to be medicated for depression?
There’s some merit to the idea that you shouldn’t jump to medication straight away, but it leads to the impression that if you have to take medication, you haven’t tried hard enough or are taking the easy option out. What I point out is that it’s not necessarily an easy option because of the side effects and stigma, and even if it is the easy option, so what? What people with depression often do is beat themselves up trying to do things the hard way, taking the tough path. Opening yourself up to the possibility that you’re not perfect and you might need extra help which can come in the form of medication – I think that’s a health personality development.
Why did you hide what you were feeling?
I think in a way it’s easier to hide how you’re feeling than not to. It takes a lot of courage to talk about your vulnerabilities, when things are going badly for you openly. One of the things I used to do was excuse myself to the bathroom when I needed to cry. So I’d go, cry and carefully wipe the tears away so the mascara didn’t run. And then I came back out when I was ready. It’s a skill that a lot of people learn – to hold it in when you need to.
It is also personality driven – a lot of people who do medicine, including myself, are driven people and we’re disciplined. The idea of failing or not doing what’s expected of us is absolutely horrifying and it’s amazing what you can put yourself through no matter how awful you feel. The fear of not getting out of bed and being a good student was so overwhelming that it was easier just to soldier on.
You’ve been very forthcoming about your experience with depression to the public. Why is that?
The reason why I like talking about this is because I think I’m a successful person; I’ve got a good life that I’m happy with, and I also have depression. I hope that people see that one doesn’t stop the other, I hope they can see that admitting you have these problems doesn’t mean you’re a failure.