Friday, 15 May 2015

Explaining mental illness: Depression

This is a painting I made during my depression. It describes quite accurately how it felt to me.


It took me a while to write this post because frankly, I didn't want to. I didn't want to relive my depression because it is the worst thing that's ever happened to me.
I have been depressed for around 13 years and I am still sometimes struggling with depressive thoughts although I'm doing a lot better than I used to. I am now 24, which means that I have been depressed for more than half of my life. All of my puberty years was basically one big black hole, which reached to its deepest points at age 17 and 20, when I had strong suicidal thoughts.

My depression is caused by the combination of all of the former things I've said in this series of posts.

Depression slowly crept up on me when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and when I moved to a new primary school where I had to start friendships all over again. Since most people find me a bit weird because of my ADD it is hard for me to form friendships. That doesn't mean of course that I don't need them, or that I don't need social contact. My inability to concentrate eventually made the teacher decide to put me separate from the rest of the class, which of course did not work because there was a poster with traffic rules on it in front of my table; so I still didn't do anything but learn that poster by heart. Still, it was more social confinement, and my weirdness and the fact that I was new in class led to bullying at school. Basically, I started to feel very alone and very unsafe at my school.

Around that same time the issues with my family started too. This led to me being confined to my drawing table and my bedroom because I had no social life after school and I started to avoid contact with my family.

When I moved on to high school I did make some friends, but because of my eagerness and inability to understand people I made some wrong, abusive kind of friends, who secretly laughed behind my back and constantly made me do things I didn't want to or pulled pranks on me. That didn't really help with my self esteem either. After they had to redo the second grade and after that were expelled, I had to redo third grade and ended up in the old class of one of my former friends who didn't really have a good reputation there. So, me, as 'friend-of', automatically had a bad reputation too. I have never succeeded in making friends in that class, and my social confinement grew, and with it my dark thoughts. I ended up building an invisible wall around me in class. I used to sit up front on the far side of the teacher, with a row of empty tables around me, and the rest of the class in the other corner so I wouldn't have to face them or talk to them.

The situation with my family grew worse and worse and I found myself locked up in my bedroom more and more often.

Because I felt so alone all the time, the worst thoughts slowly started to creep up with me. Why didn't anyone like me? Why did I feel so worthless? The obvious conclusion was because of course I was worthless. I couldn't concentrate and I couldn't finish anything or clean my room (ADD), and I couldn't make friends, so I was bad at everything. I couldn't get anything done. Even when I finally did make some internet friends and met them around once a month for a while, that didn't help. The other 30 days were still solitary with nothing to escape from my dark thoughts but the internet and my paintings. I didn't dare post my true feelings online because I had attempted to and heard that I shouldn't be so negative all the time. And even the few people that I did talk with at school eventually couldn't save me from my self loathing. They were some dark, dark years. I started to hide my feelings more and more, from all the world, including myself. I tried so hard not to feel that eventually I had periods where I didn't feel anything at all, apart from some violent outbursts every now and then. All the world lost its colour and my life and my mind filled with despair, leaving no room for happy thoughts. I felt trapped in a monochrome cage that I could not get out of.
And at the worst, when someone else nagged me along, fueling my desperation, I tried to end it in my despair and panic. I already wrote about that so I will not get into detail again.

I had promised myself not to do it again because it had scared me, but that didn't make my depression go away. The suicide attempt was in the autumn, just before a long and dreary winter that did not really make things better. About one and a half year after the attempt I finally got a boyfriend that I truly loved, but my long years of social confinement had made me terribly anxious of losing him, while he was very sweet (and handsome!) but had a bit of a fear of commitment, while my anxiety and depression made me terribly clingy. Of course that did not work out well so we broke up and I was left in an almost psychotic state of depression. I didn't have any control over my emotions anymore, and my automatic reponse was to find distraction, which I found pretty quickly in another guy. This relationship stabilized me for a bit because it went well for a considerate amount of time even though we spent the whole time laughing and joking and partying so we didn't have to talk about our true feelings. The relationship still felt very intense to me and I was deeply in love with the guy, and had convinced myself I was finally happy (which wasn't exactly true but still).

When this collapsed in a way that left me with such trauma that it was comparable to the results of rape (according to my therapist), I fell back again into my depression, and this time with a fear of commitment with feeling terribly alone at the same time. Not a good combination. This led to the second worst episode in my depression, where I started to get suicidal thoughts too but my promise to myself kept me from doing it. When I met someone about half a year after the breakup I was a weak, anxious, blubbering mess. I really can't understand how he put up with me because I was an emotional wreck. He was a musician and wrote a song about me a couple of months after we got together. It was a beautiful, but terribly sad song.
This relationship lasted 2,5 years and is one of the most stable and true relationships I've had to date (along with my current one), and slowly, very slowly, my depression started getting better again. I still believe that this stable relationship, and the fact that I finally got my own safe home instead of living with my parents, was the first incentive of the end of my depression. My situation and mood stabilized, even though I did have episodes every now and then but they weren't as bad as they used to be. It gave me a bit more time to get things in perspective. About half a year after we broke up I felt the need to finally accept myself and work on my recovery. That was around one and a half years ago, and fuelled by a new stable relationship with my current boyfriend.

I started with sending a 3000 word letter to my parents, explaining all that had happened in puberty from my point of view. We didn't really talk about it but it felt like closure in a way.  I finally started seeing a therapist who really helped me put things in perspective, and I started this blog around that time as well, and dedicated my life to finding out who I really am and what truly makes me happy. I violently cried and screamed and laughed and let everything out that was stuck within me for so many years. I found out a lot of things about myself already and I found out about my ADD. I discovered paganism and I went vegan, which made me a lot happier and made me learn a lot about myself. And yes, I still struggle with the depressive thoughts every now and then, and some days I don't have the energy for anything anymore, and I don't think I will ever be truly free of it.
But I think I can say now, that after this journey, I am more or less over my chronic depression. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to discover, but the world has colour again and I am ready to face it in full and experience all the beautiful things life has to offer.

If you are dealing with someone who is depressed I might have some tips. These might not apply to everyone but they have helped me tremendously.
The first and most important tip is to be there for them. You don't have to hold lengthy emotional discussions, but just be around for them. Prevent them from distancing themselves from the world around them by being around and caring for them, and give them something stable that they can fall back on. Usually (but not always) a positive contact with someone close to them can save them from committing suicide.
When they feel bad or look awful, try to lessen the pain a bit by (for instance) making them hot chocolate and watching a simple but cheerful movie, and other simple things like that.
Depressed people usually have no energy to do the household. Even though a depressed person might feel ashamed for it, if things in their house are really getting out of hand you can extend your hand by helping them clean up or clean up of your own accord. The filthier the house is, the more depressed the mind is.
Finally, remember that you are dealing with an actual illness. Depression is an illness that can sometimes be deadly. You can't just cheer up from depression so don't ask them to and don't expect them to. It won't make any difference and will just cause mutual irritation. Close social contact, stable friendships or relationships, warmth, feeling loved and cared for and a helping hand are, to me, the best remedies against depression.



  1. You are so strong and wonderful Jopie. Thank you for sharing your reality and your struggles so openly with everyone! I think that a lot of people can relate to this (and find strength in your words).

    1. Thank you Vivi. It is hard. It's still hard. It's hard to realise I will never be truly free of it. But I'm doing ok now. :)