It started in fourth year – when the intensity of the workload increased and I tried to continue on and ignore the fact that I always had a pit in my chest, was incredibly exhausted and crying every night. I kept going – kept up my job, extra-curricular activities and forced myself to go to social events until one day I had to leave a tutorial because I was about to burst out crying. I stopped eating as much, felt empty and insisted on spending my free time alone. The turning point for me was when I started self-harming and having thoughts about suicide.
For me, it was easier to confide in a stranger than it was to my friends. It took all the courage I had to approach my extremely empathetic GP tutor after one class and say ‘I’ve been feeling really low lately, and I don’t think I’m coping. Do you know anyone that can help me?’ This tutor was beyond incredible in the way that they sat me down with tissues and just listened, before recommending a psychologist that I still see years later.
When I got home that day, I made the decision to call my closest friend, which involved going through the terrifying ritual of talking about what I’d been feeling yet again. Talking about depression and the thoughts I’d been having made them feel more real – and having suicidal thoughts felt extremely abnormal, scary and out of my control. Her response was everything I needed – she listened, cried with me, said how much she loved me and promised that we’d get through this together – and to this day, we have.
Despite some seeing it as a ‘weakness,’ depression is a disease like a cold or flu – except that once you get through it, you learn a lot about yourself and become strong enough to get through anything. My psychologist taught me many strategies, one of which was to write down five things to be grateful for every day, and I still look back on those when I come across difficult times. After years of therapy and four different antidepressants, I can finally say that in any difficult situation the first words that come to mind are ‘I can cope.’