It’s taken everything I have to be brave enough to share what I am about to publicly. I have knots in my stomach and feel like I am going to puke…. But if the stigma is to ever end people suffering from mental illness should be able to share their stories without fear of judgement. Depression is real and it’s something I would never wish upon anyone. I hope what I am about to share can in someway help anyone going through depression or any sort of mental illness know that it’s not something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. Depression is out of your control, you don’t choose to feel a certain way. It’s a real medical condition that affects you physically and is extremely painful emotionally.
On May 30th, with some hesitation, fear and anger, I was admitted to the hospital where I spent just over a week in a Psych Ward. Let’s rewind a bit here.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. I had no idea what depression was or that I had been suffering from it for years. I just thought being sad was part of my personality, that my feelings of worthlessness were because I just wasn’t as cool as the other people around me. I felt terribly, terribly alone. I made an appointment with my doctor and was given a prescription for an SSRI medication and was told to take it for a year. I learnt that depression runs through a family and chances are someone else in my family had it or is currently going through it. I learnt that my brain had a chemical imbalance where it did not create a “normal” amount of Serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that aids in a person’s feelings of well-being and happiness. I was distraught knowing I had to take a medication for a year but if it was to help me feel better, the choice was simple. I had nothing to lose. I took the medication for a year and couldn’t believe the difference it made in my life. It was like opening curtains after you have been asleep and being blinded by the sunlight. I felt amazing and finally realized how beautiful life and the people around me were. I was and have been a social butterfly, trying every hobby and life experience that I can, always being able to make people smile and laugh. Fast forward to seven months ago.
In November I had noticed I was not feeling like myself, I was distancing myself from the things and people I loved, I did not want to get out of bed, I was exhausted 24/7 and I was pressed to find joy in anything. I love everyone and everything and not being able to feel that is the most frustrating thing. I realized I was having the symptoms I used to have when I had depression back in 2008. I quickly went back to my doctor and explained how I was feeling, they told me that someone who has suffered from depression has a 50/50 chance of relapsing after treatment. I was told there is a high chance I will have to take a medication for the rest of my life, just to be safe. I was completely devastated. I never ever wanted to feel the way I had before ever again and taking medication every day for the rest of my life?! I didn’t want to believe it. My doctor suggested I go back on the same medication I had been on previously since it worked so well and to look into seeing a therapist. I had never seen a therapist before and was really nervous but I was ready to do whatever it took to get back to myself.
I started the medication and started seeing a therapist near my house, I had 8 free sessions with them. The therapist during those 8 sessions only touched on self-esteem and issues I had kept with me from being bullied throughout elementary to high school. It was really nice being able to work through those issues that I had kept on the back burner for so long. The therapist introduced me to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a method to help you work to solve current problems and change unhelpful thinking and behaviors. It was really helpful. My 8 sessions were over and I could not afford to continue any longer. Fast forward to January.
SSRI medication unfortunately takes up to four weeks until you will start seeing changes. I didn’t feel any. I still felt that crippling feeling of sadness, getting out of bed was becoming harder and harder. I didn’t want to be around people, I wanted to stay home. I am such a social creature, not wanting to interact with others was so hard on me. I felt so alone feeling like I couldn’t go out because people would instantly judge me for being sad for “no reason”. I didn’t think anyone would understand how I was feeling, explaining it I even felt crazy, I couldn’t imagine how others would take it. I kept telling myself that it was just going to take time, that I would be back to myself really soon. It was soon February, than March, than April…still nothing. I was feeling so hopeless and drained. I cried at everything. I cried during work, I cried when I got home, I cried myself to sleep. I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night, I was hardly eating, I was stressed and anxious and extremely sad. I went back to my doctor and told them what was happening. I was told that I was on the maximum dose of my medication and to just ride it out. I trusted them, they are the professional after all.
May. I have never been so sad in my entire life. Going to work was a chore. Making food was a chore. Cleaning my house was a chore. Washing my hair was a chore. Going to dinner with friends was a chore. I became numb. I felt like I was completely made of darkness. Smiles became fake, laughs became fake. I put on a brave face for everyone because who wants to be around someone who is falling apart? I was completely alone with a depressing dark cloud looming over my head. On May 30th I had extremely dark thoughts, so dark I did not feel like I could go on this way anymore. I felt I had no other option, why would I want to carry on this way for the rest of my life? Why would anyone want to be my friend or my partner? I called my boyfriend and told him how I was feeling because I was scared. He took me to the hospital as we didn’t know what else to do. I was so afraid, they were going to lock me up forever for what I was about to tell them. I started walking towards the hospital, stopped and tried to turn around and leave. My boyfriend encouraged me and said that this was the only way to get help. I was so angry, confused, sad and hesitant but I gave in. I was so tired, at this point I just wanted to go in so I could lay down.
We spent 9 hours in emergency, I was asked the same questions over and over, had blood and other work done and my vitals checked every hour. At 3:30 AM I was told I was being admitted and transferred to another hospital. My boyfriend was not allowed to come with me, I was scared but I went willingly. I rode in an Ambulance to the other hospital and was shown to my room. I was sharing a room with another women who was fast asleep, there was zero privacy. We shared a bathroom and a window. I got changed into hospital clothes and laid down on my rock hard bed at 4:45 AM. I was scared of being somewhere so foreign by myself but quickly fell asleep as I was exhausted. Before I knew it a loud voice came over the speaker announcing that breakfast was ready. I did not leave my bed, I was afraid to go out into the main area of the ward. I didn’t know what to expect or who was out there. A nurse came into my room later on and woke me up, she explained how the ward worked, talked to me about everything I was going through and asked if I had any questions. I drew a blank as my head was spinning. My boyfriend showed up at 11 AM and I have never been happier to see another person in my whole life. He came to see me every single day (he has been my #1 supporter and I can’t ever thank him enough). I was not allowed to wear my own clothes for the first day, I didn’t want my family or friends to see me that way but I decided they needed to know where I was. It was really hard sharing I was in there with people but I knew they needed to know as I had been open with them about my struggles with depression. They came right away to see me.
Life on the Ward was very interesting… You saw a doctor in the morning, did your own laundry and had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time everyday. They had room checks to see if you had any objects you were not allowed, we were not even allowed dental floss. There were two TV rooms, board games and puzzles. There was usually one course during the day and one in the afternoon. I made sure to attend anything I could as visiting hours were not until 5 PM on weekdays and I could only read so much during the day. It felt a bit like a jail sentence at first. They offered a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy class every Monday and Wednesday. They were amazing and I benefited from them a lot. The programs were run by a couple of people and were sometimes cancelled due to them having a meeting or being ill. That always made for a long day when you only had one activity to look forward to. I made the mistake of trying to do a puzzle one of the days there was a cancellation. I had it all sorted and after putting quite a few blue pieces together, I realize there was no blue in the picture. All of the puzzles were mixed together! I began talking to other patients in there with me, we all shared stories and what we were going through. But we also talked about normal things, like normal people. Our favorite movies, places to eat, hobbies, what we did for a living, our other halves. Everyone in there was there for a different mental illness and it was really comforting being in an environment that was completely judge-free. We all had some tough days and nights. The first day I was there a patient screamed for hours on end and she started throwing herself against the glass walls. I as well as others became really distressed, I read in my room most of the time that it was happening. I felt so sad a person was that upset and that they were going through something I could not even comprehend. The people coming to visit me had to see and hear that, I was really nervous about that. I was so worried my visitors were going to judge me because of where I was. That patient started screaming at 3 AM that morning for hours, I couldn’t sleep, so I just cried and cried hoping it would stop.
I became pretty close with the woman I shared my room with, she was suffering from a very specific and short-term illness. I walked in on her talking to her nurse about how she felt very alone in there and had no one to talk to, so I made sure she knew that although we were not going through the exact same thing, she could always talk to me. It was easy to feel very alone and to feel like you were in the “loony bin” in there, so having someone else to assure you that you’re going to be okay was really wonderful. I met with my doctor everyday, on the first day she gave me options of treatments to help me. After talking with my GP I didn’t think there were any other options. She recommended I take something at night to help me sleep and it would also boost the medication I was currently on. I was desperate to try anything at this point, I would have drunk my own pee if it would have helped me feel better. I took the new medication that night and within half an hour I fell asleep. I slept throughout the entire night, I can’t remember the last time that has happened. I woke up feeling so rested. I met with her everyday for the week and a bit I was in there. She gave me so many amazing resources and books to read, she told me I was the most motivated person she has met. I became quite fond of her, knowing someone was assigned to you with the sole purpose of making sure you were ok, was an amazing feeling. Finally, I got the help I searched for. The fact I had to be in a program like that to get the proper help I needed, when I had been so proactive stills upsets me. I am so thankful that program exists but do people really need to get to their darkest point before they can get proper help? Some people don’t make it, I was lucky I called someone first.
I was discharged Monday evening, I was feeling so much better. I felt with the tools I had been given, the therapy sessions and my new medications that I was going to be okay. I had the support, even if they still didn’t understand depression, from everyone around me that I loved. I was signed up for out-patient therapy groups, given a prescription, gained the contact information of friends I made in the ward and was on my way home. I left and didn’t feel any embarrassment of where I had been, I didn’t feel ashamed of my illness. New people were admitted everyday and it just made me realize how common mental illness is. I have some wild, funny and heartfelt stories I could share about the people I met but I will not do that publicly to respect everyone I was in there with. That place really opened up my eyes and I think also opened the eyes of people who came to see me. Mental Illness is alive and unfortunately well.
Since I have been open about my struggles with depression I have come to learn that 70% of the people I have talked to either have been or know someone with depression or a similar mental illness. That is a high number of people…yet we are all so afraid to talk about it and make it known. If you don’t understand or know anything about depression, please try to educate yourself. Go into it with an open mind. I understand people have a hard time with it because you can’t physically see the issue. Some people don’t think medication should help, you think this person should just “snap out of it” and go and have a good time. Would you deny a person with asthma a puffer? Or a person with a heart condition their medication? Depression needs to be treated like any other illness, it’s real, I had gone through and am currently battling it. If what I have been through doesn’t make you a believe it can cripple and make a person physically ill, try harder. It’s not an easy fix and as much as I would love for it to disappear, it’s something that I need to be patient with to be able to overcome. Everyday will not be easy but it will be one more step closer to healing myself.
If you’re going through depression and feel alone, know you’re not. I know it’s hard to think that someone else might get it, but we do. Please come and talk to me if you’re willing. If I have learnt anything it’s that you can’t beat it on your own, no matter how hard you try.
Be kind to everyone you meet, you may never know what they have or are going through.