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I was depressed, I'm not now

Depression: it gets better
Image via Uplift Magazine.

I was depressed.

I was sad and and numb and slow and frantic and scared and angry and sometimes drunk but always hopeless.

But I'm not now. I'm well, quite content, and worlds away from these feelings.

Sure, I get sad now and then, like we all do - but it's not all-consuming. It's healthy. It's normal.

In March 2012 I wrote a blogpost about the day to day experiences of living with depression and how it felt.

It resonated with people and seemed to help. It was how they felt too and so maybe it made them feel less alone. But I didn't really talk about moving forward. So now I wanted to do that.

Because if I would have known back then how different I would be now, to leave that depression but also to be more comfortable in my own skin, confident even, well - I wouldn't have believed it. Because hopelessness really is part of the depression package.

But I want to tell you, if you are struggling, that it can, and does, get better.

I can't tell you exactly how, because that will vary for everyone, but I can tell you that it can and does, and how it was for me.

The first time I was depressed (2009) I went for ten sessions of counselling but struggled to get anything out of it. I just couldn't engage. I stopped going to work and I stopped going to university. I basically put my life on pause.

Over time and having to help other people I came through it, and made some big changes in my life. I took a year out of university and worked full time in my retail job. The pressure was off and I got myself together. Or at least I thought I had.

Around a year later, when I was back at university, it came back. Less sudden this time and more of a creeping sensation, slowly being dragged down and knowing of what was happening without being able to stop it.

It was worse this time. It was horrible. I dreaded each day, not wanting to go to bed because it would bring the next day closer. Again, I'd started counselling but it wasn't enough.

At this point my mum encouraged me to go to the doctors. I couldn't just stop everything again, and yet I couldn't keep going like this.

So I started on citalopram. It didn't work immediately, but then, it did. Slowly but surely I started to feel better. I'd really resisted it, for no good reason, but it was what dragged me out of that terrible depression.

Once the depression began to lift I could engage with the counselling: I was open to it rather than completely hopeless about anything helping.

Then, I read self-help books. I've talked about this before, but if you're new here then basically Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers changed a lot for me.

It sounds very peppy and it is, but ride out the twee and you get some incredible life lessons. Rather than being about seeking the courage to do something specific, it explores how life is more about how you respond to what happens to you than it is about what happens to you.

It gives you practical exercises to find a healthier way of thinking and to feel more positive.

I think if I was still in the midst of depression I wouldn't have seen it through, it would have seemed a bit too much so maybe it's one to start on when a bit better.

And maybe that won't be the book for you, but maybe another will. You might cringe at the idea of self-help books but it could really help.

Once I was better I started having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (the waiting list was long). The principles were familiar to me but the process was so helpful, even though I was by this point not depressed. I had issues to work out in terms of my behaviours and attitudes.

While my depression was acute, my self-esteem issues were pretty chronic and I was able to work on this. I learned how to know I was good enough. Even little behaviours I had that bugged me I could work on.

The other thing that helped me get and stay well was being wary of alcohol. If I was feeling low and then drank, I'd drink to excess, feel terrible emotionally that night and the next day, I'd cry, I'd do stupid things and it wouldn't help - not at all. As much as I seemed to think it was a good idea each time.

I still drink now, but not if I'm feeling sad, and not all that often. I don't need it now, because I'm ok with being myself, on a normal playing field. That was a big change.

Something else that comes into moving on from depression is remembering it. Even though I've actively fought the stigma through things like blogging, until recently I still felt a lingering sense of guilt.

I felt bad about how I acted at the time, for some of the things I did. I thought if some of that was "post-depression" then it wasn't an excuse. I realise now I really wasn't well for a good while, and that wasn't my fault.

I can't even recall what made that click into place but it felt like such a relief. It wasn't my fault, I wasn't well. I could move on. Properly.

By helping myself I've helped others, which still helps me. When depressed, or even if not, in this big old world it's easy to feel insignificant, and think why bother, but in a million ways you can help.

Firstly your loved ones - you can be there for them and also they can just generally enjoy your company. You're more valued than you know.

But also in a broader sense. You don't have to have money to give, or even all that much time. Just you.

You could give blood or your time or your truth (a tweet or a blogpost, you wouldn't think it but it could be just what someone needs) or a bit of organising (collecting for a foodbank/refuge/homeless shelter).

You'll feel involved and you'll be doing something.

And that's not coming from a preachy place. It's just true what they say about helping others helping you and boosting your mood. It really does - and also gives you many much-needed moments of having your faith in humanity restored. Depression is a dark place to be, so seeing how wonderful people can be is a brilliant antidote to that.

However you get there, you will get there. 

And you will look back and it will all seem quite strange, and maybe a little sad.

I'm able to talk about this easily now, online or in real life, but once in a while I'll remember certain aspects of it and it will be upsetting. I'll feel upset for my past self, that I used to think that way, that when depressed I didn't know I was worth anything.

I know now, and I am so very glad of that. Life can be quite brilliant, or even just plain old fine, once you get past depression. And it feels all the more special for it.

Basically, you matter. Your shame is wrapped up in your illness, it is not you. You are good enough, you are more than enough, you are wonderful. And you will see that again.

For information, resources and where to get support, visit the Mind website.

I've also written some general advice on how to stay positive, incorporating what I've learned from CBT and reading. You can also read more about my experiences with depression and anxiety.

Please share your thoughts in the comments if you feel able: where you've been, where you're at now and what helped you get through depression if you did. Let's try and help eachother.