My message is simple. You can recover. My aim in writing this, equally simple. To give hope to others.
Depression has been a companion for various periods of my life since my early twenties. My first experience of depression came in 1992 when a period of prolonged stress tipped over into my first episode. I had just ended a long term relationship and started a new job and I began to experience emotions I had never felt before. I became detached, intensely lonely and experienced a growing sense of hopelessness with my life. I felt suicidal for the first time and took an overdose ; what is often termed as ‘a cry for help’. I never wanted to die but to end the relentless and all pervasive emotions depression gives rise to. I was never referred for any therapy at the time. Having no real understanding of the nature and impact of depression I did not challenge this as I just wanted to ‘move on’ with my life.
Five years passed. I became successful in my career which I found immensely rewarding. I was far from home and my parents went through a protracted and painful divorce. I then split up with my partner and this triggered another episode. I was prescribed Seroxat which helped me to recover but I came off it far too quickly which led to another episode. The depression was so deep that I would lie in bed and not leave the house for weeks on end. Such is the all encompassing nature of depression you feel your life no longer has purpose or meaning. I remember waking in the mornings and the beautiful sound of birdsong was almost too much to bear – I had to face another day. I attempted suicide by setting myself alight but was saved by the miraculous coincidence of a passing doctor and an air ambulance. My family was told I had a 50 50 chance of survival but somehow I did and I truly believe the resulting trauma has made me a more accepting and more compassionate individual.
Since then I have had several episodes of depression but I am a different person now from 1992. Medication and therapy have all played a part in my recovery but the real sea change came when I met other people with lived experience. By listening to their stories I came to realise that depression is not a weakness or something to be ashamed of. It is part of the human experience as our path through life can be difficult and challenging. Depression can be a natural response to that. That simple truth changed my perspective. I let go of blame and have been able to manage my condition much more effectively. The unwavering support of family and friends and simple things such as taking exercise, practicing mindfulness and being in nature have also been pivotal to keeping well. I have taken part in recovery based initiatives in Devon which has been a continued source of inspiration; working together to make the system better for others. As for the NHS consultants, CPNs and support workers who have really helped me on my recovery journey, they share one common attribute – compassion. Compassion can give hope and it is that hope, that for me, is the key to recovery.