Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

In search of a sign

Over the years I have seen the following phrase posted on just about every social media: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it.” Sometimes I had been looking for a sign to hang on, that things would get better. Other times I had been looking for a sign to give up. Luckily, I never listened when that little voice told me to do something irreversible because I had found my sign.

I have struggled with low moods and intrusive thoughts since being a fresh faced 11-year-old. At first I thought I was dealing with the usual teenage angst and accepted that my goth phase had truly begun. As irritable moods slowly transformed into hopelessness, however, I realised something was truly wrong. I didn’t seek help. But this wasn’t sometimes. Slowly a dark cloud grew over my head and before I knew it, my life seemed to be cast in shadow.

I began to try and treat my issues by myself. Initially I tried eating more fresh food and exercising regularly in a bid to become naturally healthier. This helped for some time, but depression can cause fatigue and lack of motivation, which meant I lost sight of why I was putting in so much effort. I allowed myself a cheat day, which lead to a week of eating poorly and not doing any exercise other than walking to and from lectures. My symptoms came back with a vengeance and I was back at step one.

What people often don’t know about depression is that it doesn’t just make you sad. Sometimes depression can make you irritable, and this was the final straw in my case

I then turned to literature (in true Humanities-student style). Poetry became a form of art that I found solace in. Poets such as Shane Koyczan and Neil Hilborn had messages of hope in their work and my loneliness was soothed: I was not alone. Andrea Gibson’s poem ‘The Nutritionist’ summed up why this helped, because “other people feel this too”. These poems were proof that I wasn’t being ‘crazy’, I was facing something that had been experienced and overcome by other people.

The loneliness eased up. Reading and listening to poems about depression, however, only surrounded me with more thoughts of it. Like a child listening to sad music because they already feel upset, I was reading poems about suicide because I already felt miserable. Fueling my own sadness with other people’s sadness made me hurt to the point it became unbearable, and I could not deal with it anymore.

Then came my next coping mechanism: avoid all feelings. I stopped reading poetry, listening to music and would tune out of films when any emotion began rising. After this I tried sleeping all the time, which worked, but left me with nothing to show for my summer but an unmade bed.

What people often don’t know about depression is that it doesn’t just make you sad. Sometimes depression can make you irritable, and this was the final straw in my case. I was growing angry at my family and was constantly rude to my friends: I had turned into what felt like a monster, pushing away everyone I loved and dragging them under the big dark cloud with me.

Visiting my local GP was a positive experience that resulted in referrals and antidepressants

My experience up until this point had been tough and isolated. Whilst struggling with these issues and trying to fix them myself, I told no one how I really felt. After becoming a rude, angry person, I decided it was time to find help. It was one thing for me to be miserable, but to hurt the people I love was something I couldn’t live with.

After I sought professional help, my only regret was that I hadn’t done it sooner. Despite fears of being dismissed or, worse, being not believed, visiting my local GP was a positive experience that resulted in referrals and antidepressants. Having struggled with years of trying to treat myself and failing, I finally began to feel better.

Coming back to Warwick for this academic year has been stressful. The changes in my life over summer meant that I was unsure of what to expect when I returned, or if I would even cope with my studies anymore. But the support from the University has made my transition back to university life easier. It has not come without its difficulties: I had to start a stronger course of medication to deal with the severity of my depression. While I was expecting to be walking around like a zombie, as is often depicted in popular media, the medication has allowed me to have an even playing field when battling my own mind.

I am finally learning to accept my illness and combat it through positive methods

My family are now able to understand me better and my friends have helped me to cope with the social demands of being a student. I still have some days where I cry over salted peanuts and where the walk from my bed to the shower feels like a marathon. Seeking professional help, however, was the best decision I have made this year and I am finally learning to accept my illness and combat it through positive methods.

Although I have not defeated my demons I have made peace with them for now, and recommend anyone struggling with mental health issues to speak out. Professionals really do know what they are doing. Counselling, medication and lifestyle changes are all avenues I can now explore thanks to finally opening up about my issues. If you are struggling with mental health issues, do not suffer alone. If you are looking for a sign that things will get better, this is it.

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