I spent the first day of 2017 crying by myself in a public park. It wasn’t the happiest start to the year, but it also wasn’t entirely unexpected. Less than a month before, I had been signed off work with depression and anxiety, but instead of getting better, I was starting to spiral.
On New Year’s Day in 2017, I contemplated suicide – not for the first time – but that day, something shifted. The ties that were keeping me alive were starting to unravel.
I didn’t reach that point overnight.
My experience with depression started about a year and a half before that day. In the final months of my undergraduate degree, something changed within me. I started to feel disconnected from everyone around me – it was like I was looking out at the world from behind a veil – and I was filled with dread that stopped me sleeping and shattered my wellbeing. In September of 2015, I finally accepted that things were not improving, and I went to a GP.
The doctor prescribed me Lexapro, an antidepressant, and recommended I see a counsellor. After much stalling, I finally did. But that first foray into therapy was a doomed expedition: in my first session, I told my counsellor that I didn’t want to discuss my childhood or my past – I just wanted to find strategies to help me cope better. I told her that I was unable to cry and felt emotionally blocked, but also refused to explore why that might be.
This time, I was going to put everything on the table, even though it frightened me
Needless to say, it didn’t work. After six sessions, I told myself that I had done the work and would be able to continue as normal. I soon came to realise that I had only papered over the cracks in my life – I hadn’t fixed them. As the months passed, I slipped back into depression – and this time it was much worse. I spent so many days lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to find the will to move because I no longer cared about anything.
In December 2016, I was finally signed off work by a GP who seemed genuinely distressed and concerned by how unwell I was. Weeks later, on New Year’s Day, I contemplated suicide in a public park – but even that didn’t prompt me to give therapy my all. I was put on a new antidepressant and put all my faith in it, but months later, nothing had changed. I was starting to feel hopeless – like I would never escape this hole I had found myself in.
It was around this time that somebody recommended a therapist back home in Roscommon. Soon afterwards, I packed up, moved home, and booked in for a session. This time, there was a fundamental difference: I was going to put everything on the table, even though it frightened me. I knew I needed to talk about what I was feeling, especially painful memories that were haunting me.
During that first session, we quickly got to the root of many of the issues I was experiencing. Within minutes, me and my therapist were able to pinpoint a number of toxic relationships, as well as a traumatic incident, that were feeding my depression. Through those relationships, I had come to see myself as being unworthy of love and inherently bad. I realised I was never going to get better until I confronted those issues.
Over the course of six sessions, I tackled these problems head-on. I delved into deeply painful experiences and spent much of my spare time writing about what I was feeling. During that period, I came to realise that there were people in my life who were making my mental health worse while offering little in return. That year, various relationships that I had once considered essential dried up and vanished. This was the hardest part of therapy for me – but it also made me stronger and happier in the long run.
While I spent a significant amount of time in therapy talking about things I had experienced long ago, I also talked through a wide array of other issues. I worked hard to challenge my core beliefs that had built a fragile sense of self, and I learned to silence the inner critic that persistently told me I wasn’t good enough. Importantly, I had to learn to call myself out when I slipped into destructive thinking patterns, and I had to quell my vicious perfectionist streak that only ever made me feel bad about myself.
One thing in particular my therapist encouraged me to think about has really stuck with me. He asked me to challenge the idea that I am mentally ill. Before I went to therapy, I had come to think that I would likely be depressed for the rest of my life. I saw depression as a permanent, inescapable prison, and believed all I could do was learn coping mechanisms to try and deal with it.
For me, talking about trauma helped me to feel like I had power over it
In hindsight, I can see that I had taken this on as a part of my identity. Challenging this idea was essential if I wanted my mental health to improve. Now, when I have a dip in my mental health – which still happens occasionally – my therapist asks me: “Are you depressed?” I always say no – now I say that I am feeling depressed. It might sound like an arbitrary distinction, but sometimes the way we think about ourselves can hold us back.
Therapy completely changed my life, but only when I committed to giving it my all. Now, when friends and loved ones tell me they are depressed, I always encourage them to see a therapist. I always tell them that they need to discuss everything: nothing should be off the table in therapy.
For me, talking about trauma helped me to feel like I had power over it – and it also helped me see how it had crept into so many parts of my life without me even knowing it.
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