World Mental Health Day – My Experiences

September 19th 1996 was the day I woke up and everything felt alien. Totally weird. Different, but in a way I couldn’t understand. I felt miserable, intensely unhappy. I had to go to college and everything about it felt strange. Everyone sounded like they were talking a different language. People were moving in slow motion. I felt like I was trapped inside a bubble. Then I smashed my head against a double glazed door and had the strangest looks. I walked out the college and wouldn’t return for over two months. I was “ill” but had no idea what was actually the matter with me. I had suffered my first ever breakdown. I was depressed… but it wouldn’t be until 6 months later when I finally plucked up the courage to see my doctor that I was told I was.

I ceased to exist on so many levels. I could no longer socialise. No longer create. Life became this meaningless void. I locked myself indoors or would go on long aimless wanders on my own trying to puzzle out what was wrong. I had recently celebrated my 24th birthday and now my life no longer made any sense nor had any meaning. Nobody wanted to talk or listen to me. I was totally on my own. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a long traumatic journey that would last for almost 20 years.

It would take me a very long time to go into finer details or begin to list “highlights” of my journey through the dark hell of depression. I did regain some functionality to the degree I relocated and enjoyed a major spell of creativity but that dark shadow was always THERE, waiting to pounce down upon me and throw me wildly off balance.

I suffered at least one breakdown a year. I spent years on a variety of meds. I was placed on waiting lists for NHS therapy then given just 14 weeks of one hour sessions and at the end of that, they didn’t want to know me… just kept telling me to keep on taking my meds. My life had become one groundhog cycle. Breakdown… a few months recovering, slowly start getting back on my feet then BAM… Breakdown. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Some meds I was on were frightening. I spent two years on one course of meds and I was a complete recluse. Totally lifeless and apathetic. Kind of lobotomised. I couldn’t feel any pain. Nor joy. After 2 years, something inside me snapped. This felt unreal. It wasn’t living. It didn’t feel at all “natural” not to feel pain or happiness. I was barely functional and had zero quality of life. I made the bold decision to suddenly withdraw taking the meds. We suffer pain for a reason. Everybody suffers. To cease suffering… yes, it’s blissful in some ways but after so much time, it began to feel abnormal to me hence my quitting and to see what life was like with pain again.

The only “advice” I can offer in this piece to anyone who is suffering and are on meds is never EVER stop taking them like I did on three separate occasions. I just stopped taking the meds completely. I didn’t slowly reduce my dosage. By suddenly stopping, my body and brain would go into a truly screwed up state as withdrawal symptoms kicked in after a couple of days… and the withdrawals lasted for two months. Two months of absolute HELL. The list of symptoms… jeez… let’s see… dizziness, electric shock sensations every time I moved any muscle, insomnia, self-loathing, gastroenteritis… and more. A ton of nasty physical and mental symptoms. At it’s worst point – the final time I withdrew – I was unable to sleep for 4 consecutive days. Yes, being wide awake for 96 hours was one of the worst experiences of my life. I survived and got through through sheer bloody mindedness but it was a living Hell. Unfortunately one is NOT warned when prescribed meds that there will be side effects for a month when you start, but worse, no warning there are worse side effects when you stop.

By September 2015 after 19 years, I decided enough was enough and once again sought serious help. My GP referred me to the NHS who offered me CBT. I went along to the first half hour session and it was blindingly obvious to me this was not the kind of therapy that was going to benefit me in any way. I told the therapist this and that I needed one to one talking styled therapy. He informed me he could refer me, but there was currently a three year waiting list. I was looking at another three years of going round in circles going nowhere. No. I’d lost too many of the best years of my life. As luck had it, I had a major windfall. I was in a position where I could afford to “go private” and pay for therapy.

September 19th 2015, 19 years to the day I suffered my first breakdown, I suffered my last breakdown. By then I was almost an old hand. I knew it was gonna happen. I knew what NOT to do in it’s wake and in spite of my fragile state, I researched and connected with a private therapist. This time, there would be no restrictions. It would go on for as long as I needed it, not be shown the door after 14 weeks. My private therapy lasted for 13 months of weekly one hour sessions. Best investment I ever made as by the 10th month I became conscious I was feeling different. It wasn’t an overnight thing, a gentle and gradual process as I gradually became aware I had a spring in my step. I wasn’t worrying as much. I was even smiling at times.

I had reached the other end of the tunnel thanks to this therapist and their support. We concluded the therapy and I walked away to start my life afresh but ended up suffering 6 months of confusion! I had been depressed for so long, I was used to feeling miserable. Waking up, not feeling miserable was very strange and it took time to readjust to how I was now feeling and experiencing my life.

Since then, I have been enjoying my life. I am functional, happy, and sociable again. I’m making up for all the years I lost. However, I do recognise and admit I am one of the lucky ones. Had I not had that windfall, I would not have been able to pay for private therapy and this is the trap too many find themselves in. Sadly, the NHS is way overstretched and underfunded… this is not the place or time to go into politics and sadly the NHS are severely restricted with what help they can give. Without access to help, too many end up stuck continually taking meds. I recognise that meds do help keep many functional but the internal problem and damage remains undealt with and I suspect a great many people will remain on meds for the rest of their lives. I managed to break free because I could afford it and as stated above, it was the best investment I ever made in my life because I got my life back. I know too many people are not in a position to afford any kind of private help but if it ever crosses your mind or you can afford to invest around £30 a week, you really should consider it.

Ultimately at the end of the day, we’re all individual and depression affects us in different ways. What works for one person may well not work for another. There is no catch all solution. I know CBT has worked for quite a few people. It couldn’t for me… and I guess talking therapy won’t work for some like it did for me. Thankfully the climate has changed since 1996. Back then I felt totally isolated and the stigma surrounding depression was awful. Now there is a much better understanding and tolerance about it though sadly us victims in the worst moments still cannot avoid that feeling we are totally alone so feel seeking help or trying to talk to somebody is gonna be futile. Nobody cared nor understood enough back in 1996 but now there are support networks, more people talking and being supportive, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Seriously.

Three years has passed since I emerged blinking from the dark tunnel. I’m not gonna deny I STILL have occasional “crap” days where I feel vulnerable, useless and low. However I am now mindful enough to not fall into the trap as it’s too easy to dwell on the fact today is crap as then the next day you wake up still feeling crap, brood some more and before you know it, you’re sucked into the vortex. Now, I shrug my shoulders, accept it’s a crappy day and muse that tomorrow will be better. I ALLOW myself to be miserable for a couple of hours then move on to something else. Sure enough, the day still drags on in a low mood but, the next day is never anywhere near as bad. That’s how I get by anyway plus it is OK not to be OK. It is plainly unrealistic that we can be happy 365 days a year isn’t it?

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