A friend of mine wrote the following article, and gave me permission to re-publish it. Types of therapy and medication might not work for you personally; there is no "silver bullet" in terms of medications and therapy, but doctors recommend them anyway to get rid of you and see the next patient. Hopefully this story will resonate with some of you. - SD
My story is like thousands of others in this country. Life started off very good for me, I was brought up in a very supportive family in a good neighborhood. I was quite popular with plenty of good friends. I excelled at sport and I was above average in school. I was quiet in school and never got into trouble. Reaching my teens, I was becoming popular with girls, which was turning me into a confident young teenager. Life was good and the world was my oyster.
However, all changed around the time I was about 16 or 17, I was always a sensitive person and a little bit of a worrier. For some reason around this time, things seemed to just spiral out of control. I found myself becoming nervous and anxious about the slightest little things. At a moments notice, I became consumed by feelings of dread and panic. Insignificant things as trivial as the house phone ringing could set my heart racing, wondering who it was and what they wanted, I would imagine all sorts of scenarios of what I had done or said that may cause a person on the other end of the line to call and scream at me. This in turn led to sleeplessness, which in my opinion is one of the most terrible by-products of depression. Sitting alone night after night for hours on end with only the negative thoughts to keep you company.
I purposely began to distance myself from the world. The first thing to go was sport. I had spent my whole life playing all sorts of sport. I stopped everything. I couldn't handle the pressure of being on a team. I started by faking illness in order not to play matches,as the thoughts making a mistake would keep me up at night.
I began to drink a lot. This was primarily to boost my waning confidence, but more consequently, to put me to sleep. As a consequence of the drinking and the lack of activities I began to put on weight. My confidence lessened, hence my need to boost it increased. This forced me to drink more and socialise less.
During this period I spoke with my parents. I was very open from the beginning. They could not have been more supportive and they promised to do anything and everything they could to help. I was sent to a psychotherapist, which was an experience I really didn't enjoy. I found it very hard to convey what I was going through each week, in a short 45 minute session. I felt that I was being lectured., telling me that I should try harder and they can’t help me unless I help myself. I was made to do exercises such as drawing my feelings, putting objects in boxes which symbolised my feelings and talking at length about my childhood. All of which either embarrassed or bored me.
During my college years I attended a few more psychotherapists and counsellors and being honest, I personally found it of no benefit to me what so ever. That’s not to say counselling and therapy don't work. It just wasn't right for me or more specifically, that type wasn't right for me. During this period, I was offered medication as a means of helping. I always had it in my head that I wasn't going to take drugs. This was mainly due to my father, who told me that, by taking drugs I was only covering up the problem and that I needed to be focusing on solving the underlying issues. I also just didn't like the thought of taking medication that would potentially alter my mind.
After college, I decided to leave my home town and move to Dublin. It was suggested to me that I attend a group meeting for people with depression in Dublin. I decided I’d give it a go. When I arrived I felt very out of place.The first man to speak was a man in his 70's. He spoke about his numerous attempts at suicide. The second person was a girl in her mid-thirties who was suffering from post natal depression. She kept crying and screaming as she spoke of her depression. The third was a man in his fifties who seemed to have severe learning difficulties. Bear in mind I was then 23. I left the room, horrified and I cried the whole way home. Firstly, did my psychotherapist really think that this was the type of place to send me and secondly, was this where I was headed with my life? I was so angry that I decided I would never to go to another psychotherapist again.
I decided to go it alone. As I had been told many times before (and vehemently disagree with now), you have depression. You will always have depression, best case scenario is that you will learn how to deal with it.
I spent the next few years “dealing with it” as best I could, until one day, having felt it coming for weeks, I had a major panic at work. As a result I left my job and never went back without giving any explanation to any of my work colleagues. I decided to take a year out and go travelling. (i.e. run away!) This did me a lot of good. However coming back and facing the reality of being home and being back in the work force brought back all of the old feelings of fear, dread anxiety, unconfidence. You name it.
Back in Ireland, I managed to trudge through a few months until the inevitable happened, again. I knew from day one that it was going to. This time it was a lot bigger than before. I remember feeling my back seizing up and finding it difficult to breathe. I left the office, again, never to return. I was bellowing at the top of my lungs as I tried to make my way home. I managed to make it half way when I just sat on a park bench, crying uncontrollably. I called my parents and they sent my brother who was living in Dublin to come and collect me and take the long way back to my parent’s house.
I went to my GP the following morning. He took one look at me and could see that something was seriously wrong. He literally insisted that I take medication, saying that I had let it get too far. I very reluctantly agreed and thus began the next 5 years of my life where I was on numerous types of anti-depressant medication and when I also became addicted to sleeping tablets.
At first, I liked taking the medication, it shut my mind up. It stopped me continuously going over things in my head and the sleeping tablets were very effective. I felt content. That contentment lasted quite a while until I finally realised that the drugs had changed me. I had become almost completely apathetic to everything. Although they seemed to have gotten rid of the extreme lows, as a side effect, they had also made it difficult to experience any highs. My friends described my personality as being like a straight line. There was almost no difference in my mood when I was very happy or very sad. In fact, I don’t even know if I even did get very happy or very sad. Other side effects included making me very tired and also very clumsy. At that time I was working in a very good job that I really enjoyed. I would regularly make very basic mistakes and was called into the office to explain myself. I obviously couldn't tell them that I was on medication and that the medication was affecting my concentration. The trips to the office became very regular and to try and stop this happening I attempted to try and cover up my mistakes. This could only, and did only last so long. I was covering up so many mistakes that eventually the stress got to me and I was found out.The embarrassment of the levels of covering up led me to choose to take myself off the medication.Things started to get better (for a short time).
I left the above job amicably after a few years and headed for a new job. This time drug free. I wasn't long in the new job, when I could feel all of the old feelings creeping back up on me. Hopelessness, dread, anxiety, worthlessness, panic, sleeplessness and self loathing. They were all back. Inevitably, I left this job due to my depression.
It was also around this period when I dabbled with hypnotherapy. I thought this may be a quick fix or a magic cure, without me having to do anything. Alas, it wasn't.
At this point, I was just coming close to my 30th birthday. Many of my friends were married or planning it. Some of them had children. I hadn't ever really even had a girlfriend and at nearly 30, I was heading back home again to my parents. I was devastated. In my eyes, it was official, I had failed in life. It was at this point that I gave myself an ultimatum. I was going to sort myself out or die trying.
My first tactic was to start talking to friends about what I was going through. Upon reflection, I realised that a large part of my anxiety was due to constantly making up excuses to them, why I left jobs, why I shut myself off the way I did, why I would just leave a bar mid drink and go home without telling anyone, to name but a few. I spent my time making up so many lies to cover up things. One lie led to another and another and another and before I knew it I had forgotten what lies I had told. This was a major stress hanging over me and all because I was adamant that I didn't want anyone to know I was suffering from depression.
One by one and very selectively, I started telling my closest friends. The reaction was very positive. Eventually, I began to speak very frankly and honestly to everyone. I can’t explain how great a burden this was lifted from me. People were either very empathetic or very blasé about it. The more I talked about it, the easier it became to talk about it.
Almost within a week of leaving that job I had an appointment with St. Patrick’s hospital. I was to try a new form of therapy. One which I had never heard of before. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Little did I know that day, that this would be beginning of the end of my depression.
I met with the doctor and very quickly I knew that this was different to all the others I had been to. She explained to me that my actions, caused by my depression were a learned behaviour and, as such, they could be un-learned. Straight away, this was different to what I had been told all along. She told me quite confidently that she would definitely be able to help me overcome my depression. She said it with such empathy and such confidence that I actually started to believe her. She listened to my story and told me she had had a guy, very similar to me in age and circumstance, with her recently who that done the CBT. He had taken to it very well and only needed around 10 sessions until he had dealt with all of his issues and was rid of his depression. I thought that this was just a story she told to new people, but deep down I wished it wasn't. All I thought about over the following few days was that guy. I kept saying to my self that if he can do it, why can’t I?
Everything about this new therapy seemed to make sense to me. It all just seemed to click. Very simplistically, CBT is a form of therapy that helps one to understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviours. It showed me how to identify and overcome the thought patterns that led to the behaviours that caused my depression. During session one, I was asked to name 10 things that terrified me or things that I wanted to do but thought I would never be able to. I was then asked to rate on a scale of 1 – 10, what was the likelihood of me ever being able to do these things over the coming weeks. I listed 10 things. I then began to mark each one out of 10.1 being - under no circumstance can I see myself every being able to do it. The majority of my 10 were 1's, 2's or 3's. The doctor asked me to explain my fears and what would happen if I just attempted trying to face some of them. I came up with wild scenarios of what would happen and named many reasons why I could never attempt to face them. She then logically began to explain that the majority of my fears were absolutely baseless. Years of being depressed had compounded all of my negative beliefs. She explained that while I cannot control every aspect of the world around me, I can take control of how I interpret and dealt with things in my environment. She challenged me to overcome 1 of my fears. She said, it may be as bad as you expect, it may even be worse than you expect. We spoke about all of the many times I had overcome fears in my life. We discussed that the vast majority of times I had done something I had feared, it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected. I agreed that, in hindsight, practically all of the stress and anxiety leading up to such events were almost wholly unwarranted and unnecessary. The only way I could ever overcome a fear is to confront it.
I decided to begin. The first fear I overcame was the one with the highest number on my scale, i.e., the one that I had the most likelihood of overcoming. During the course of the previous 15 years, I had developed a morbid fear of needles. I decided that after my first session I was going to give blood. As I sat in the chair waiting, my anxiety was extremely high. A small prick and it was over. The whole experience was mildly uncomfortable at worst. My initial reaction was to be annoyed at myself for having wasting so much time worrying over the previous 15 years about something so insignificant. This whet my appetite.
I moved straight into another challenge. Having depression, I shied away from being the centre of attention. I held back from doing so many things in my life for fear of making a fool of myself. The fear that everyone would laugh at me or think I was stupid. I now knew that I needed to put myself in a situation where I would be the centre of attention and people would laugh at me. I wanted to feel how this would feel. I wanted to know if the horrors of being laughed at, justified me taking a back seat all of my life. I wanted to analyse it. Armed with my new enthusiasm, I headed to Grafton Street. I stood around a street performer. With a hundred or so people watching, the man with the microphone asked for a volunteer. Without a moment’s hesitation, I raised my hand. Something, that if you had offered me €10,000 to do a day or so before, I wouldn't have dreamed of doing.I wanted to be consumed by this feeling of everyone looking and pointing and laughing at me. I wanted to know how bad this feeling that I had dreaded all of my life was. For the next 10 minutes I stood awkwardly while dozens of people laughed at me. Needless to say, it wasn't that bad. I actually nearly even enjoyed it.
I only ever went to 3 CBT sessions. I felt that I had enough knowledge of the principles of CBT to go it alone. In work, I joined the Sports and Social Committee and I even I volunteered to do presentations when the opportunity arose. I practised making eye contact when I talked. I focused on how I talked, how I walked and my general body language. Basically everything which made me stand out as being insecure, I tried to improve.
For the following few weeks and months I became obsessed with CBT. I became obsessed with trying to unlearn all of the wrong belief systems that I had learned through my many years of depression. I changed my whole perception of people. I quickly began to notice that a lot of my views and beliefs about people had also been misguided. I set myself a new challenge. I wanted to see if it was possible to only see the good in everyone. I gave it a go. From that point on, I only chose to focus on the good in a person. Any time I came across a rude person, I would just put it down to that fact that they were having a bad day. Their reaction to me was absolutely nothing personal. I made it my business to talk to people. As much people as I could. I refused to let my prejudices get in the way. As I began to learn that at least 99% of people are decent nice people with all the same basic fears and worries as me and are all dealing with their own personal issues, it became easier for me interact. Every time I went out I really enjoyed myself. For the first time since I was a teenager I started to really have fun.
My confidence rocketed. I became more comfortable around people. I became more comfortable in all sorts of situations. As a result I became comfortable in myself and in the first time in God knows how long, I really began to like myself.
Liking oneself is an incredibly powerful thing. The result of me liking myself, was that I was now finally able to allow somebody to like me. Previously, I had always thought that people hadn't really liked me or only did so out of pity. I started dating and with this new found confidence it wasn't long before I had met my soul mate, who, for the first time in my whole life, had made me completely happy. Within a year and a half of meeting her we were married.
The reason I write this article,is that I know that there are thousands of people out there who are going through similar to what I have been through. I am hoping that by sharing how I managed to overcome my depression that I can encourage someone to follow in my footsteps. For years I was told “You are depressed and you will always be depressed” and that I would have to learn to deal with it as it was never going to go away. “Enjoy the good days but always expect the bad days”. I used this declaration to justify me not relentlessly seeking treatment to overcome my depression. When I was down, I used it as ammunition to wallow in self pity. I would often cry and think why me? Thinking that nothing could be done, I spent years not bothering to or half heartedly trying to overcome my depression. The fact is that you can overcome your depression. I can categorically say that I have and I also have no fear of me returning to the way I was. The key is changing how you think. It is possible to unlearn all of the negative thought patterns. It is possible to turn your life around and the best way to start is to face your fears and embrace and enjoy life Focusing on the past is not helpful and not relevant.The key is to focus on the now and by doing this it will lead to a better future.
“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Jim Morrison