A little more than two years ago I was officially diagnosed with chronic major depression and social anxiety disorder. I’d been keeping fairly quiet about my problems – the emptiness, the panic attacks, the days of hiding in my room or even in my bed – for some two years before that. The people I was close to were aware I’d had some bad experiences while I was living in Peru, and that the escape to Argentina was only partially driven by a desire to step down from the backpackers’ I was running and take up an exciting internship in Buenos Aires.
Nobody knew the extent to which I was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.
Nobody knew I had been date-raped on a night out in Cuzco. Nobody knew I was raped again while travelling through Chile.
Nobody knew that throughout my year in Buenos Aires I would lie in my studio apartment for days on end, eating my feelings – this is a city where you can have ice cream delivered to your door – and staring at the walls.
Things got pretty bad eighteen months ago, and that’s when I began to seek help. It’s been a rough ride since then: I dragged myself across the finishing line of my Honours in Economics, then got two months into my PhD before collapsing into a quivering mess of unprocessed trauma, social isolation, and self-loathing. I was speaking to a psychologist and taking antidepressants, but I was also downing a couple of bottles of wine a day: I didn’t want to see any of my friends, but nor did I want to spend time with myself. That kinda limits one’s options. I stopped running. I stopped finding any joy in books or music or cooking. I stopped looking at Facebook, writing, or planning dream backpacking expeditions. If somebody had asked me what I liked doing, I would have been utterly baffled by the question.
And then things got really bad six weeks ago, and that’s when I picked up the phone and called my mother in Brisbane. “Come get me.” She did. We packed up my Melbourne apartment and my one-year-old cat, and installed me in a flat some five doors down from the unit she shares with my stepfather in Brisbane.
I went to a psychiatrist, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, placed on a cocktail of sedatives and antidepressants and anti-craving pills to replace the alcohol and sleepers and prolonged release sleepers and plenty of talking therapy.
All the while things were spilling out of me. The secrets I had held on to, because I blamed myself, hated myself, thought myself weak and deserving of the things that had happened to me.
But my mother and stepfather were my rocks; my father, although he lives abroad, sent enough puzzles to keep a semi-bed-bound (and very sedated) patient busy for months, and offered much moral and financial support; my not-so-little-anymore brother sent flowers. I arranged them where I would see them each morning when I opened my eyes, and along the windowsill I placed pictures of the friends I miss so much.
I’m home again now, after seventeen days in hospital. I still go in a couple of days a week: group cognitive behavioural therapy (GCBT) twice a week, tailored therapy discussion groups once a week, fortnightly appointments with both psychiatrist and psychologist. Basically there are a shit-ton of professionals combing through my brain right now, which is actually pretty reassuring.
But the biggest difference, I think, has come from honesty. All those fragmented, painful memories I had been pushing down, down, down for year after year after year are out. My parents and friends know, and have cried with me and for me. I feel better, lighter; even if I do still have the odd bad hour, afternoon, or day.
The internet now knows, too. I wanted to write this post because there are so many of us – 3 million of us in Australia live with depression or anxiety – locking our secrets inside, drowning them in booze or sex or drugs or food. Pretending that if we don’t look at the bad stuff, it’ll go away on its own.
Links and Resources (Australia):
- The Black Dog Institute provides a wealth of information on mood disorders, including where and how to seek help.
- Lifeline can be reached on 13 11 14 and provide crisis support.
- SANE Australia
One of the hardest things I ever did was to tell the people close to me how I was feeling. It can be hard to explain depression to people who have never experienced it, and often their attempts to commiserate by comparing your situation to times when they’ve “felt a bit down” just make you feel weak for succumbing to depression when others have had it as bad or worse. This is an illness. You are sick. Help others to understand how best to support you using resources like the video at the start of the post, those listed immediately above, or the incomparable Allie Brosh‘s work on the subject:
So, that’s what I wanted you, denizens of the internet, to know. This isn’t going to turn into a mental illness blog; largely it will remain a sporadically-updated journal of my political rants and so forth. But the facts that I was raped, that I suffer from mental illness, aren’t things to be kept secret or to be ashamed of. It’s a tiny fraction of who I am, and it’s time to integrate that part of myself and keep on living.