Anyone that’s experienced MH issues can probably recall the moment they realised it was a problem. I was recently writing a short piece for my new project, The Nopebook (plugplugplug) and accidentally gave the 100 words I was writing 800 words of context. Not one to let copy go to waste…here you go.
I was 23. I’d been out of Uni long enough to work an 18 month contract that was, through some miracle, relevant to my chosen vocation. But since the contract had ended, yet my need to pay rent had not, I was working in an outbound call centre in Holloway, 80 minutes from my house. It was hell.
Each day I woke up, went to work for twelve impossibly long hours, came home, ate and slept. My boyfriend worked similar hours, building his business from the ground up. We were exhausted, but in love and therefore happy, right? That’s what your twenties are for?
Except, I wasn’t. I slipped off to the bathroom at work at least once a day, pulling the pencil sharpener blade that I’d stashed under the sink out for a little light relief on the top of my thighs, just to keep me going. I’d run scaldingly hot baths entirely from the hot tap and jumped straight in, wincing in pain as my skin turned red. I’d stand over the washing up bowl, staring for hours at the kitchen knife I was washing until the water went cold, tracing the point up and down the protruding outline of my radial artery and wondering “what if?”
I called in sick or cancelled shifts almost weekly, spending days at a time on my sofa, drinking and watching Grey’s Anatomy in great long stints and never really enjoying it.
I stopped mid-walk home to sob for no reason. I was hollow, and clueless, and miserable. And I told no-one. No-one except for my friend L. She, at the time, was the only person I’d ever known to have been diagnosed with depression. She always answered her phone, she always let me cry at her and rant at her. When I felt I was becoming too much for her, I rang the Samaritans. I cried at them, and ranted at them.
But I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me, if you can believe that. Because sometimes, I was high as a kite. I’d think up new plans and projects. I’d start up event nights and book groups and join teams and get excited and lose my shit over a good project. I was unstoppable, I was a genius, I had it all. Until I didn’t.
I knew I had anxiety. I’d realised at Uni, discussed it with my doctor, but not been prescribed anything. But still, nothing clicked.
One morning, completely out of the blue, I awoke to the sound of my alarm. My boyfriend was in bed next to me, reading something on his phone. I stared at the creeping splotch of mould on the ceiling of my first-ever-flat and said gently, “I think I’m depressed.”
He couldn’t have been kinder. He said I should call in sick for work, and make an appointment with the GP. He drove me there just two hours later.
It was a standard GP appointment. Like being asked about my eczema or an ear infection. He read the questionnaire I’d seen online, typing answers into his outdated PC, and I answered honestly. “Have you hurt yourself?” Yes. “Have you considered taking your own life?” Yes. “Do you plan to take your own life?” No.
He sent me away with a prescription for Citalopram, instructions to return in a month, and an appointment with a counsellor.
I met with the counsellor some two-three weeks later. She was a middle-aged blonde woman in a floral polyester shirt. She was soft spoken, to the point that it made me cringe. She spoke to me like you’d ask a five year old “where does it hurt?” after she falls of her bike.
I was three weeks into the Citalopram, and they’d made me vomit several times. They’d also made me feel a little strange – outside myself, separate and numb. Despite this, though, I was having an okay day. I felt I had to put myself back into that depressed state before I spoke to her. I spoke quietly, and sadly, and avoided making eye contact –despite actually feeling alright. Because she spoke to me so delicately, I acted delicate.
I explained that I sometimes felt fine. I explained my fits of productivity and crushing pitfalls.
She suggested I go back in a week. She suggested I go back to my GP in the meantime and explain the highs and lows, as she felt I may be bipolar. I didn’t go back. I didn’t make an appointment. I didn’t get my prescription refilled. I hid from the doctor. I knew it was the right course of action but it just felt too strange, too alien. I didn’t want to do it anymore. “It wasn’t for me” I told myself.
I survived, I dealt with it myself, I pulled myself up (for the most part) and now I am surviving. It helped that my loved ones knew now, and could offer support. I felt less alone, which lifted an immense weight.
But I still feel that ignoring the medical advice was the wrong thing to do, and I’m so lucky I didn’t do anything stupid.