Although I’d suffered depression most of my life, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 31. But being diagnosed i.e. having someone else acknowledge I was depressed, didn’t make any difference to me. I’d known for years I had a serious problem. I just didn’t realize that not everyone had dark thoughts like me.
Growing up I thought that things would change when I left home. I couldn’t wait. Life was going to make me into a superstar, rich and all my feelings of self-destruct and self-hate would disappear.
Those dreams had one purpose: to keep me alive.
Of course, when I did eventually leave home, nothing changed and I dragged my depression with me. Or perhaps it dragged me. We were one and the same, a ball of angst and darkness rolling through life like tumbleweed.
I stumbled along a road of demons shouting hate at me. Existence was simply hanging on whilst trying to stop myself falling into a pit of despair and death. There’s no escape when you see yourself as a nothing.
After college I moved to London and shared a house with friends. There were endless nights of drug parties: LSD, speed, coke and hash. It was a year long hedonist’s dream. My friends were in the film business and their m.o. was to treat drugs as aperitifs before heading off to Groucho’s, Ministry of Sound or a photographer’s studio in the City for a 24-hour rave. I kept up for as long as I physically could.
Drugs went some way to dull the senses but I wasn’t like the others in that I couldn’t take them to excess. Truth be known, I was mainly scared of them but my friends seemed to love them and, to fit in, I attempted to be cool too. I tried alcohol but, again, was limited to a few before I got sick and I really didn’t like it. I was always the first one to leave the party.
The three things that helped me run from feeling the depression were food, relationships and work.
The food stuff started at college where I began secretly eating until I was sick. It didn’t have a name back then but all 3 of us girls did it and we all thought we were doing it without the others knowing. Then came the anorexia where I felt better and better the thinner I got. I knew what I was doing…I wasn’t in any denial but my family were because I went back home for a visit, down to 6 stone, and they didn’t mention it.
With relationships it got desperate. I embarked on a series of love affairs where the term ‘serial monogamist’ was coined just for me. I couldn’t be alone. If one guy started to look fidgety, I set up the next relationship - like an alcoholic lining up the drinks on a bar. I felt bad about the men I walked away from without a backward glance but I was desperate.
My savior came in the form of Herbalife, an American nutrition company that had just set up its network in the UK. Wow, I’d never seen anything like it; they were swinging from the chandeliers!! I became a distributor and set up a little business and within a couple of months I had a steady stream of customers. It was the first time I tasted a little success and I loved the natural ‘high’ that accompanied it. I embraced the wholesome lifestyle that the company projected and found myself cleaning up my diet and taking up exercise.
I also made a lot of money. In fact, I became the highest earner in the UK and, for two or three years, it seemed as if all my dreams had come true.
But one day, after making more money I could have dreamt of, I was walking up Kensington High Street to put £8,000 cash (a lot money back then) into my bank account when it occurred to me that I could buy anything I wanted in the street. Anything! Jewelry, a car, the best sofa, a new kitchen, the holiday of a lifetime or a wardrobe of clothes!! My life goal of being somebody with money had been completed yet I wasn’t happy and my mantra became “If that can’t make me happy, what can? Nothing!” The light went out and the depression returned. Running from the emptiness had stopped working. And so had I.
Aged 29 I had some kind of breakdown and I couldn’t see the point of going on. All that success and lifestyle, all those dreams fulfilled yet I was now swimming through a black fog of despair and numbness. More than anything it was the dogged hopelessness…it robbed me of any self-esteem. The accomplishments had simply distracted me from the depression that lurked in the dark hallways of my mind. There was no escape.
It wasn’t that the depression suddenly got worse, it was that I had stopped pretending. I’d stopped because I’d caught up with myself and there was nowhere else to run. My relationship faltered and ended and the money ran out. All my props had gone. Whereas a few weeks before I’d had my eye on the prize, now I was laying on the floor in the fetal position, unable to cope and incapable of functioning.
When people say that depression is overwhelming sadness, they have no idea what they’re talking about. If it were sadness you would cry and feel better.
No it’s something altogether different. It’s a black numbness that pervades every part of you until you know the world would be a better place without you. It’s feeling so lost you lose sight of yourself and your place in the world has been erased. It’s falling downwards into a black hole where there is no a bottom.
It really is beyond loneliness. I was trapped in a glass jar looking out into the other life where everyone else lived. Banging on the glass didn’t help; instead it increased that sense of not belonging or being weird.
I’d been seeing therapists but they didn’t seem to really get into me. Or, maybe I couldn’t let them in. I chopped and changed, trying to find someone I could resonate with. Then, one psychotherapist said that – in her opinion - I was in the top 4% of people who’d suffered emotional, childhood deprivation. That spoke to me. That went in. That made total sense. Someone had heard me…for the first time. There was a name for it. It wasn’t just me.
What I would call ‘proper recovery’ began when I turned 32. I paid attention to things that worked and turned away from self-destructive patterns. I stopped taking drugs, I properly cleaned up my food and started taking better care of my body through exercise, albeit kick boxing – a great way to discharge buried anger!
But it didn’t come easy. Oh my God…fighting the urge to give up and go back to the old ways of making myself numb was exhausting. (I still have the compulsion to self-destruct and it’s something I have to challenge every day particularly with eating sugary junk food and smoking cigarettes both of which act like drugs to me.)
And it took so long! I spent 2 years crying. I cried on buses, in Tesco's, baby and toddler groups and the office. I couldn't help it, the tears shot out of my eyes like mini hose pipes. It was harder to feel the anger, anger that I'd not had a fair start, consequently messed up so much of my life or unable to get traction on my future.
I moved to the seaside, took up Transcendental Meditation and went to 12-Step meetings where I started talking about my depression. Then I booked onto a year long ‘Here and Now’ group with 11 other people. That was eye-poppingly awkward because I was challenged each week to re-examine my self-image. It worked. When you have 11 people telling you the way you see yourself (negatively) is incorrect, you're obliged to believe them!
Because my depression had been with me since childhood, I also began to look at my early emotional patterns and coping tactics. I’d been raised in a very dysfunctional family, and I was STILL continuously trying to change their opinion of me - as if that would fix me. But I was barking up the wrong tree. Why would I ask the people, who were themselves flawed, to make me better?
I can honestly now look at that 29 year old curled up on the kitchen floor with not one iota of hope left in her soul and know that was the best thing that could have happened. I’d kidded myself that success, money and relationships were my salvation yet I would have only lived half a life if I had continued on that path.
If I could tell my younger self anything it would be:
It’s not ‘happiness’ I need, it’s peace.
It’s not ‘success’ that makes me feel good, it’s fulfillment in the job I’m doing.
It’s not getting the relationship I want to make me feel complete, it’s being myself which completes my relationship.
It’s not being the way my body looks, it’s the way it feels.
It’s not looking to the future as my salvation, it’s being present in the here and now.
It’s not about being the best version of myself to make other people love me, it’s about me being open and receptive to the love that’s already there.
It’s not about trying to be ‘special and different’ to everyone else, it’s about taking my seat at the table with others who know how I feel.
It’s not about trying to control life, it’s about letting life happen to me, through me and with me.
To anyone who’s feeling depressed please let me encourage you to NEVER GIVE UP. There is a reason why you're depressed. You weren’t born depressed, something has happened along the way to make you depressed. And that’s great news because you can undo what’s been done to you. I did and I’ve recovered. No matter how embedded the depression is, there’s always a way to climb out. X