Mini-Series: Sharing Our Stories to Stop the Stigma #4

This week’s story is one that I personally really identified with. The person who wrote this accurately described what it can feel like when you are living with depression. I have to say that after reading this story and seeing how great this person is doing now it helped me turn a corner in my own life. My stronger self is starting fight back against depression now and I hope that this story can help others too.

My battle with depression seemed to hit me very suddenly. In reality, it was a long time coming.

My struggle started around the time of my 19th birthday, in the summer between my first and second year at university. After arriving at uni with some mild, but controllable acne, I went to see the doctor to get a repeat prescription. The doctor decided to put me on some different drugs, one of which ruined the skin on my body, turning me into a sore, red mess. Fortunately, as this was always hidden by clothes, I was able to hide my skin and with it my feelings. I felt bad about how I looked, and it affected my confidence quite badly, but I still felt like I was doing ok.

Then, after returning home for the summer, things got out of control. My body had improved slightly over the spring, but another failed trial on a different cream had meant my face was starting to go the same way as my body. An attempt to curb this with cocoa butter oil (which had helped the skin on my body recover) made things much, much worse, and within weeks I had become a complete mess. Not only was I now suffering from severe acne, but I was now an emotional wreck.

I reached a low point a few weeks later, when on a family holiday. My face was sore and I was utterly distraught as to how I had ended up in such a mess over such a short period of time. I was very embarrassed about the state of my skin. I didn’t want to go out with my family. When I did I moped and almost immediately wanted to come home. I felt twice as awful for making the holiday suck for my parents and two sisters, but I couldn’t control my mood. To this day I feel atrocious about the way I behaved.

Part of the problem was a lack of understanding from my Mum. Her attempts to tell me to “cheer up” and “it might help if I thought more positively” were counter-intuitive due to the fact that I was trying to do that anyway. I tried my hardest to be happy for my Mum, and I couldn’t. It was heart-breaking for both of us.

The problem was that I had become a guy who was solely focused on his skin. I was convinced that if my skin got better, I’d feel better too, but I couldn’t see how that was going to happen. I couldn’t get the thought of how bad I looked out of my mind. It made me feel awful about myself, and regretful as to how I’d got into such a situation. Anyone who has been in a similar position (not necessarily about their skin) will know the feeling. It’s almost like you’re at the bottom of a pit that you can’t get out of, and the more you try to escape, by trying to socialise and interact, the deeper the hole gets.

The holiday ended, and after a couple of weeks at home I returned to university. I had told a couple of my friends what had happened over the summer, and had convinced myself that seeing them again would reverse my feelings as my skin got better.

It was a nice thought, but it wasn’t long after returning that I realised how fanciful that idea was, and how dire a situation I was now in. Forgetting my friends had their own lives, I almost returned expecting a 24 hour counselling service. It was not the case, and I began to grow resentful of my friends for the time they weren’t devoting towards me and my problems. This then spilled over when I was with them, meaning that almost every single attempt at conversation I had with anyone ended up with me feeling like I’d been victimised or people were taking the mickey out of me. I thought coming back to university would sort my problems. In fact, they just got worse for the first month or so, and I felt like I’d alienated all of my closest friends.

I had an appointment booked with the dermatologist for the end of October, but before that I had decided to use the university counselling service. They offered 5 sessions for free, but I was initially reluctant to go due to the stigma attached. I didn’t want to be the guy who had depression and had to go to counselling about it. I wanted to be carefree and normal. I decided to give it a go because I had run out of obvious ways to get out of the funk I was in. I was sceptical, but I gave it a go.

Walking through the door for my first session was the best thing I ever did. I told my counsellor about how I was feeling, and she listened expertly and provided comforting advice. We delved deeper into my life. I told her about my Dad’s cancer diagnosis in 2012, how close I came to losing him and the role I had to play in keeping my Dad (and also my Mum) as happy as possible as Dad fought this horrible disease. At the time, I had told myself I was lucky, due to the fact that one of my best friends lost his Mum to cancer whilst my Dad got better. Only after seeing the counsellor did I realise that I had gone through a pretty tough time as well.

Each session with the counsellor was tough, and I felt drained straight after, but soon my mood began to pick up. She taught me some ways to meditate and encouraged me to find my own ways to find a calmer place if I ever felt bad. I began writing things down when they upset me. I created playlists of sad music on Spotify and then listened through them until I felt better. I would do everything in my power to calm myself down and recover my senses if I was sad.

By the time I had finished my counselling I was a much happier person. I was facing a long road ahead with a nasty treatment plan for my skin, but now had a way to look forward at the improvements that lay ahead rather than looking back at the misfortune that got me into the mess I was in. I learnt to try and find a positive light on any event, and that the scars (literal and metaphorical) are just a sign that you’ve had a tough time but they each represent a lesson learned.

Now I’m 20, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I appreciate I’m exceptionally lucky to have received some excellent counselling that got me over the first few tricky hurdles, and some people will not get the same benefit. My advice would be to try and walk down every single avenue of potential help. They may not all be for you, but some will make a difference, and it might be the difference you need to make progress, no matter how minor that progress may seem.

Even now, when I’m in a good place, I still have to calm down occasionally and fight off any demons that chose to emerge on a down day. You learn how to deal with things, and you learn more about yourself. It was a horrible time in my life, and whilst I’d rather it hadn’t had happened, it was not wasted time. In fact it was possibly the most important year of my life.

If you would like to share your story please contact me by email (completelyrambling@gmail.com). I would also like to say that even if you do not want your story posted, my email is open for anyone that needs to just vent how they feel. I’ve had a few people do that already and sometimes it is nice just to share it with someone and take some weight off. I will not post your story without consent.

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