Depression Is Not A Dirty Word

Belle About Town writer May Owen shares her shame and survival of the darkest blues

Yesterday marked the start of Depression Awareness Week, an annual campaign organised by UK charity Depression Alliance. You may already be tempted to stop reading this article here, confident in the belief this is an issue that will never affect you.

‘Weak people get depressed. I’m an emotionally-balanced woman who has led a happy life, depression afflicts only people who have suffered trauma.’

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time for a re-think. Latest statistics indicate that one in four of us will suffer from this debilitating illness – yes, that’s exactly what it is – at some point in our lives. Quickly translated, that means even if you are lucky enough to escape it, someone you love will be blighted by it. Like your successful, attractive, gregarious, popular best friend, for example.

I know this from excruciatingly painful personal experience. This Christmas I was crippled by the most terrifying, life-threatening, cruel and severe episode of clinical depression.

And I’m not talking about feeling a little blue because I had no one to kiss under the mistletoe, or a bit stressed by nerve-crunching pre-holiday work deadlines.

My life became a nightmare, every minute of every waking hour – of which there were many thanks to terrible insomnia (a tell-tale symptom) – almost intolerable. I was a shell of myself – that successful, attractive, gregarious, popular person I mentioned above.

My mind raced with incessant negative thoughts I had no control over – I am a failure, I let people down, nothing I ever do is good enough, I am a bad person, I waste my time on trivialities… I don’t deserve to live. Yes, that’s where the ‘life-threatening’ aspect of the illness comes into play. I was plagued by constant suicidal ideation, convinced that I was never going to escape this living hell.

To admit to yourself that you want to end your life is horrific in itself. It’s difficult to comprehend when you feel mentally well but, to use Winston Churchill’s description of his own depression, it’s like a black snarling dog. As much as you try to run from it, there it is, jaws clenched, ready to pounce and rip you to shreds.

Knowing I had lost all ability to cope by myself – again something incredibly difficult to admit to oneself – I sought the help of my GP, who prescribed me anti-depressants.

[callout title=And You Are Not Alone…]All these famous, talented and intelligent people have suffered from severe depression:
Angelina Jolie
Stephen Fry
Halle Berry
William Blake
Courteney Cox
Jon Bon Jovi
Sheryl Crow
Ewan McGregor
Gwyneth Paltrow
Charles Dickens
Anne Hathaway
Abraham Lincoln
Natalie Imbruglia
Beyonce Knowles
J K Rowling
… to name but a few!

Thus began a long, agonising battle to survive – panic attacks when I was put on a medication that didn’t suit me, sleepless nights, foggy days and endless self-loathing. And if this sounds self-indulgent to you, it felt three-fold for me. Guilt plays a major part in depression – feeling that you are self-absorbed, selfish and should just get over yourself.

Four months, seven medications, five doctors, three psychiatrists and an amazing therapist later, I am finally – fingers crossed – on the long and bumpy road to recovery. I can wake up and feel, sometimes, at peace with myself, the overbearing chest heaviness and churning stomach – caused by crippling anxiety – are subsiding and I am finally beginning to feel that I do have a life worth living and something to offer the world.

I’m aware and fear that some people will dismiss my experience as self-indulgent garbage. During darker days I would scour the internet for forums and features on the subject and was appalled to come across one article by prominent mouth-piece Janet Street Porter, who rubbished ‘claims’ by middle-class women – people like you and me – that they were suffering from the condition. The headline: Depression? It’s just a trendy illness. As I said, if you haven’t been there or cared for someone who has, it is impossible to understand the enormity of it.

That’s why campaigns like this – and charities like Depression Alliance, Mind and Samaritans – are invaluable in not only helping sufferers, but breaking down the stigma.

I felt so ashamed of telling people I was depressed. It was only two months into treatment, when my GP sat me down and told me to compare it to a physical illness, that I began to give myself a break. If I’d had diabetes, this would have been treated with medication to correct an imbalance in my body. I had an imbalance – in this case a chemical one in my brain – that was equally valid and just as important to rectify.

My case is an extreme one – retrospectively I missed the warning signs (insomnia, voracious craving for carbs, spending entire weekends home alone, constantly down on myself) and what could have been nipped in the bud at a mild or moderate stage was left to worsen and poison my mind. I write this piece not because I like the sound of my own voice, but because I want to prevent anyone I can from going through the trauma of clinical depression. Or to give hope to anyone reading who may right now be wading through that dark and scary pool of despair.

Don’t worry about feeling that you are weak by admitting there is a problem. Cliche alert – it takes a stronger person to do just that and ask for help.

Depression Alliance’s website offers excellent information on what to do if you feel you may be in the grip of this terrible – but extremely treatable – illness, including a questionnaire that will help indicate if you seeking medical advice would be useful.

Don’t suffer in silence – help and a brighter future are out there. And if you are one of the fortunate people yet to be affected, I beg that you take one thing from reading this and help break down the misjudgment and lack of understanding of this horrible mental illness. That black dog doesn’t discriminate and can appear to anyone at any time.

Depression Awareness Week April 22nd to 28th

by May Owen
[picture credit: clotho98]
Miss B

Miss B

Miss B is a Belle About Town who likes to bring a little bit of style into every aspect of her life. An experienced journalist with over a decade in the industry she turned to the web to fill a gap for tech-savvy stylish women who want the best life has to offer at their fingertips. She loves a decadent cocktail bar, a beautifully cut dress, the perfect pair of heels, quality over quantity and is partial to Asian-fusion food, enjoys holidaying in the sun and shopping breaks to New York. But her first love is of course London!


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7 Comments on Depression Is Not A Dirty Word

  1. Reading this has given me the courage to be more open about my battle with clinical depression – or major depressive disorder as I know it. It’s such a hard thing to explain and talk about. Thank you!

  2. May,

    thank you so much for your beautifully written, moving account of depression.
    So many people are still struggling in silence not knowing where, or who they can turn to.
    We hope that your story will encourage people to come and join us to meet other people who fight the battle every day and share experiences of the best ways to maintain recovery!
    Lets try and end the loneliness that comes with depression!
    Very best wishes, Emer O’Neill
    Chief Executive Depression Alliance

  3. i know i am depressed but i am not going to admit it. it all started when i moved over from my country to study in the uk. i always felt so alone, friendless,useless. i just wanted to go home. but it wasnt as if home was any better i always managed to make mistakes and my parents would always get mad at me. i know they always pretended to be proud of me but i know deep down they are scared what im going to do next. i wear my heart on my sleeve, i believe in happily ever afters, i believ in prince charming so im one to always have a boyfriend at any point in time. i know it sounds bad but please understand, i cant bear to be alone. i need someone to talk to me, someone to fill the silence. because of this i started dating a boy in my new schoo. at first it was a thing of convinience but then i fell in love with him and i love him with all my heart. but the relationship turn bad, we used to fight a lot and he will beat me up but i always thought i was the problem and i kept on going back. but after the 4th time i got tired of him and i left. i started dating someone else the same week. not because i was in love with him but cause i needed him. and now my ex hates me. i dunno how to make him undestand. i left because i feared for my life. my parents are really strict and i cannot dare to talk about this with them. everyone thinks im the evil one because i broke up with him. im just tired of everything. i mtired of hoping things will turn out better and they dont, im tired of believing, im tired of praying. all my life ive been a support to others. nobody cared what i was going through. i just wish someone would understand me or jst talk to me. try to figure out what i am going through. i know this is a really corny story but this is how i feel and all this just makes it worse. i think about ending it sometimes but i dont have the courage to. i feel like at least maybe my dad loves me and endong it would hurt him. i dunno, i really dont. im just alone.

  4. May Owen // July 29, 2012 at 11:35 pm //

    Hello Kemi,
    Thank you so much for posting on Belle, beneath my feature. You’re incredibly brave for talking about your feelings. You may not realise it, but you sound very strong; you’ve battled these issues for a long time and that takes courage. If you don’t feel you can talk to friends and family – and I really understand that – I would recommend getting in touch with one of the amazing charities at our disposal in the UK. The Samaritans helped me through my darkest hour, but Depression Allianace and Mind were also invaluable. The forums are especially good – you can talk to people who are going through similar to you. I know there is help and a brighter future for you – you just need to open up and let people help. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but being with a boyfriend – be him good or bad – won’t help until you learn to care about yourself. You’ve made the right step moving away from the abusive ex. That’s an amazing achievement. Please check out the charities and speak to your doctor – and don’t be embarrassed to say you’re depressed. It is NOTHING to be ashamed of. Since I wrote this article I have got considerably better and continue to improve. Life can be wonderful – as can the people you deserve to surround yourself with. I hope this helps – and if you need any further help or advice, come back to Belle. Be strong and believe in yourself.

  5. Thankyou x

  6. Just the fact that there are other people like me doesn’t make me feel so depressed anymore. : )

  7. Thanks for the article May. It took courage to write it.

    I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression when I was a teenager. Thankfully, I never accepted the diagnosis. Why? My younger brother was diagnosed with depression. He was given a new anti-depressant called “Paxil”. That anti-depressant pushed him into Bipolar Disorder and a cycle of manic episodes. He has lived the past 12 years of his life spending most days sleeping, struggling with 3 different medications that keep him almost comatose. No. I thank myself for never agreeing to take medications that play with the brain’s neuro-chemistry. Doctors themselves will admit that they are not exactly sure what the neuro-chemicals in the brain are doing and their complex interplay, and what happens precisely when you manipulate their levels.

    My brother was a human guinea pig : and he lost, 12 years of his life and counting.

    What I’ve come to realize, is that I just need to talk about my problems.
    I might be called a loser. I’m 34. Not working at the moment. Have moved back home with my Mother (she’s a beautiful person. i’m blessed) and my poor younger brother.
    I have never had a career I could be proud of. I feel lost and confused quite often.

    But I don’t need drugs, I need to be understood and accepted and wanted for who I am.

    I have jealousies (I’m jealous of my successful friends with their families and good careers). I have anger. I have pain. I have sadness. But, it’s because I need to talk about those problems, and stop suppressing them.

    I plan to join the Experience Project. I intend to share my thoughts and stories.
    I plan to ask for people to chat with on Reddit about my problems.
    I plan to ask for people to chat with on Yahoo Answers about my problems.

    Let me conclude by saying May Owen, I admire your courage for writing the article, but I don’t think drugs and doctors were what you really need. You need the same thing I do, the same thing everyone does, to be wanted and accepted and loved for who you are (warts and all). Try the Experience Project (I’m going to). Share your stories, your ignoble feelings. There is no shame in feeling jealousy or anger or negativity in general, and those feelings need to be expressed.

    P.S : I sincerely hope you do not take offense. I can only offer my thoughts and opinions. I don’t have any answers any surety. I just have the contents of my own mind, and you should only take what you think has any value. Disregard the rest. I, again, greatly admire your courage for writing the article. I hope you find your way. (I hope I do too).

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