It’s hard to trace exactly when my depression began, as it isn’t waking up one morning sad. Particularly when it isn’t depression related to a specific event, such as post-partum or following the death of a loved one. I don’t have a fixed reason for my depression; it merely stems from my personality disorder and coping mechanisms adopted in childhood. I wouldn’t be able to guess at all if it weren’t for a diary, I found years later. I’ve never been one to keep diaries, I always stopped after a few entries, but by fate, I had entries for that exact period. I burned the diary in an emotional state, but I recall the specifics of it.
I feel so sad all the time…
Something is wrong with me…
Of course, I’m not depressed though…
There was this bleak emptiness inside of me, a hunger to be loved and cared for. I was only fifteen. I didn’t tell anyone, as I didn’t believe it myself. I honestly did not recognise myself to be depressed, as I was aware that depression needed a cause and reason. I didn’t have those, so I wasn’t depressed. Even when I started self-harming, I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge that I was depressed or that I deserved help.
I can’t remember the first time I self-harmed. That’s such an odd thought to me, given what a big undertaking the act of it must have been. I don’t know what I used that first time, but for the years that followed, I kept a special tool tucked away for precisely that purpose. I won’t name it, as I resent the idea of giving ideas, but I still can’t see it in a shop without flinching. I began self-harming, unsure of how to even do it, learning as I go. I was careful, always doing it somewhere that it could be hidden easily. Someone once saw though, on my sleeve or my stomach, very briefly. I made up an excuse, and I’ll never forget the way that they looked at me, for just a moment too long. We were maybe sixteen then? I think I almost wanted them to see, as much as it terrified me, I wanted someone to see and to acknowledge it, to tell me I deserved to get help. But they said nothing, and they never brought it up. To this day I wonder if they realised if they knew. Writing about your mental illness on the internet can be terrifying, and a large part of that is the people who knew you discovering it, or wondering if they knew all along? Sometimes I feel like messaging them out of the blue, asking if they realised, if they had any idea of the hell I was putting myself through. But I don’t.
Then one day, I walked into a classroom, and a leaflet that someone had made for the last class was still on the table. It was about self-harm, a pamphlet explaining it. My eyes lingered on it, I grabbed it and shoved it deep into my bag. I hoped that no one saw. Once I got home, I took it out and read it. It explained what self-harm is, how many people do it and why they do it. I finally connected the dots, the way I had been hurting myself and feeling better from it, that was self-harm. I had been self-harming. Was I depressed? We weren’t quite there yet, but we could acknowledge that something wasn’t right.
This coincided with an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, where a character self-harms. Her name was Ellie, and that episode was a massive moment for me. I cried, feeling a little less alone in my lonely, lonely world. That episode was banned from a lot of places; I watched it online so didn’t even realise at the time. But that episode is one of the most important that they ever did as there must be so many other people out there like me, who were hurting themselves and not even knowing it, who were depressed and denying themselves the respect of the label. But characters like Ellie are the proof we need, the reminder and reassurance that we’re not crazy, that we can get better. If you are a writer, in film, TV, books, plays or whatever more, please write these characters. The world sorely needs them.
Did I then go out and seek help? I wish I could tell you that ending, that everyone believed me and supported me, that I received treatment and could enjoy the rest of my adolescence. But my depression continued untreated, and it was soon accompanied by an eating disorder that slowly wasted me away. I now recognise that my purging and restriction was also another way to keep hurting myself, almost like self-harm with less stigma.
At eighteen, I finally asked for help. I told select people that I thought I was depressed. Two of the three supported me, but the third is the one I remember most, the conversation that I relive almost weekly.
Them: You’re not depressed.
Me: Yes, I am? I hurt myself, I’m unhappy, I-
Them: Do you have friends? Are you bullied? Do you do well at school? Then you’re not depressed.
This haunted me; I still denied myself the label of depression. I went to university, and I confided in my first friend there about what I did to myself, what I struggle with. She immediately told me that I was depressed, that I had depression. Her words were not enough. I was fixated on getting a label, a diagnosis. If a therapist called me depressed, then it was true, then I was allowed to believe it. Until then, I was just exaggerating; the scars aren’t proof of anything. But I went to a therapist, and they didn’t offer that nice label; instead, they wanted to talk and discuss my past.
Just like I don’t know when it started, I also don’t know the exact point when I stopped waiting for that confirmation. When I realised that I had the proof in the body that had trudged me through this entire ordeal. When I realised that I didn’t need physical proof, or the label because I was depressed and I still am, that’s enough. To know yourself, to understand what is happening with you. You know your mind and struggle better than anyone else, and so you can recognise what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you should jump to a self-diagnosis, but it also means you don’t need one to be respected and acknowledged in your struggle.
At twenty-two, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Everything finally made sense. My new therapist was a specialist in it, and she understood, she had worked with people like me so often. Everything that felt crazy was actually part of it, and something she had seen many times before. But by then, I wasn’t waiting for that label anymore. It helped me to understand my depression, the eating disorder, the anxiety and everything else that had stolen the past seven years from me, but it wasn’t my definition.
My definition is that I’m a writer. I’m a little sister. I’m a loyal friend. I’m a dog-lover. I’m a psychology graduate. I’m a reader. I’m a person. But I have BPD, and that helps me to understand what is part of my definition, and what is not.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!