Robyn McCue, Contributor
Why is it that so many people experience mental health issues, yet so many keep it to themselves because they feel alone? I was scared to write this, but it’s important to speak up.
This year, my brother and I lost our parents to their own mental health issues, just nine months apart. While I would turn to ice cream to self-medicate, they, like many others turned to drinking. This year was filled with sadness, regret and guilt, but it was not the first time I had encountered the dark cloud known as depression.
This year, I like to think I won the war.
Throughout my teens I preferred my own company. I spent my days reading, writing, watching films and television. So when I found myself becoming more and more isolated from people as time went on, flaking on plans and constantly making excuses for why I couldn’t meet up with friends, it didn’t really surprise me. I told myself that I liked being on my own.
From the age of 16, I became more and more exhausted, despite practically living in my bed. I went to see the GP. I remember them asking me, ‘Do you think you could be depressed?’. A tiny voice in the back of my head answered maybe, but I told them no. Sure, I may have felt exhausted and struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I may have avoided looking in the mirror because I didn’t like what I saw, and it made me feel worthless. I may have had frequent thoughts about falling asleep and not waking up, but there was no way I was depressed. I had never tried to kill myself or inflicted self-harm. I had no difficulty sleeping. In fact, I slept all the time. I certainly never lost my appetite (food, glorious food). It couldn’t be depression. I told myself it was just my hormones.
When I wasn’t revising for my exams, I was lying in bed with a quilt over my head, wishing the world would swallow me up or disappear. Most of the time I felt empty. No thoughts, no feelings, no desires. Just empty. I was no stranger to anxiety either. I would replay scenes in my head where I thought I had embarrassed myself by saying or doing something stupid. These thoughts would haunt me for weeks (and years…) afterwards. I was petrified of social events. Other times I was angry and irritable. At times, it felt like I was at war with myself and everyone around me.
When I started University, I had hoped that things would turn around. They didn’t. I struggled to make it out of bed and into lectures. I felt like I couldn’t make friends as easily as everyone else and I panicked any time there was silence in a conversation.
The first person to get me talking about my moods was my partner. For a while, I felt the positive emotion and affection that had been missing from life, return. That was until my anxiety and insecurity manifested themselves as jealousy and paranoia. I turned irritable, angry and moody and he faced the worst of it. I was confused as to how someone could like me when I didn’t like myself.
Thankfully, instead of telling me to hit the road, my boyfriend encouraged me to speak to my GP. I thought it was a stupid idea, a waste of their time and mine. I didn’t understand what a GP could do to help. I was worried I would become a ‘zombie’ (as if I wasn’t one already). I thought taking medication would mean I was weak, incapable of overcoming the challenge on my own.
I went anyway. I told the GP how empty I had felt, how inadequate, how hopeless. I burst into tears of relief as they listened. They prescribed an anti-depressant. It helped get me up and out of bed in the mornings so I could start caring for myself again. I felt better than I had in a long time. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel excited and optimistic about the simple things. The feelings we often take for granted.
If I hadn’t been made aware of the support available to me three years ago, I don’t know how I could have coped this year. I knew exactly where I could turn when I felt myself slipping into old patterns and routines after my mum’s death, and after changing medication, I was able to grieve my mother, and later my father, without falling into a pit of despair. Medication hasn’t made me weaker, it’s made me stronger.
If I had one piece of advice this Mental Health Awareness week, it would be to speak to someone. Having anxiety and trying to gather the courage to speak to a GP is a challenge in itself. If it helps, bring a friend along. Even ask your friend to call your GP to book the appointment on your behalf. Don’t suffer in silence. You are not a burden. Don’t feel that you don’t deserve help because you’ve convinced yourself that everyone around you deserves help and you don’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not weak. It’s brave.
This week, QUBSU are promoting the Think Out Loud campaign. To get involved, visit www.qubsu.org/WhatsOn/ThinkOutLoud/