I started this blog to talk about being a neonatal nurse and my experiences at work. I didn’t intend on writing about my mental health but somehow, just like in every other aspect of my life my mental health has found a way in.
So I’ve decided to start a fortnightly guest spot for bloggers (and non-bloggers) who would like to share their mental health journey. Every other Thursday I’ll be sharing a post by a guest writer as part of ‘Mental Health Matters’ and to begin I thought I’d share my story of how my battle with depression began.
If you’d like to share your experiences with mental health (whether you blog or not) then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @23weeksocks and be part of ‘Mental Health Matters.’
Hope to hear from you
When I applied to university the first time round I intended to be a doctor. I’d wanted to work in the medical profession for as long as I can remember, I was achieving the grades needed, I’d done the required voluntary work for the application and I couldn’t think of anything I would want to do more than be a doctor.
Applying for a medical degree is slightly different than applying for other degrees in that you are only allowed to use four of your six application slots for medicine. The other two slots must either be used to apply for a ‘second choice’ degree or be left blank. This is because medical degree courses are so competitive and so oversubscribed that many people are either not offered a place after interview or don’t achieve the required grades and so it’s considered prudent to have a ‘back up’ choice.
I diligently filled in my application form; four medical schools and two back up choices but to be completely honest it never occurred to me (or to anyone else) that I would fail to get a place at medical school. I picked my back up choices by spending a few hours looking through the UCAS website for courses that sounded interesting, safe in the knowledge that I was going to be a doctor.
This may sound rather arrogant but at no point was I encouraged to take the selection of my back up choices seriously. I broached the subject with my careers adviser but was told not to worry about it, so I didn’t.
I attended interviews for two out of my four chosen medical schools and was offered places at both.
I picked which one I would attend after I got my A-level results and went for a tour of the university and the accommodation.
My parents started to buy things in preparation for me leaving home; cutlery, crockery, towels, pots and pans and kitchen utensils.
I was so unbelievably excited.
Then results day came.
I walked into the room where my personal tutor (and careers adviser) sat next to a pile of brown envelopes.
Sick with nerves I tore open the envelope, scanned the page detailing my results and the bottom fell out of my world.
I hadn’t made the grades.
I wasn’t going to be a doctor.
I practically ran out of the room, trying to choke back the sobs but failing miserably. You only had to take one look at me swollen, tear-stained face to know that I hadn’t got the results that I wanted or needed.
The rest of results day passed in a blur of tears, hugs, headache and confusion. I had never been so disappointed in my life but at the same time I had to be pleased and excited for all of my friends and also decide what I was going to do next.
I had two options; accept that I wasn’t going to be a doctor and take up my second choice or decide to not take up my second choice and apply again next year.
I was the first person in my family to go to university and so my parents had no idea what I should or shouldn’t do. My personal tutor and my other teachers were useless and had no advice for me at all; they just kept repeating, over and over how no one had every thought that I wouldn’t get the results that I needed.
Eight weeks later I was sat on an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room filled with boxes, in a city I’d only visited a handful of times. I wasn’t ready to leave home, I wasn’t ready to be an adult and what I really wanted to do was run after my parents and beg them not to leave without me.
Instead I resisted the urge to curl up on the plastic coated mattress and started unpacking my boxes to try and make the tiny, room feel like mine.
That was how the six weeks that broke me began.
I found myself in a world that seemed to consist of drinking every night, doing as little work as possible, being alternately bullied and ignored by the five other girls I shared a flat with and spending most nights listening to pounding music (or worse) through the paper thin walls.
I hated that university and it hated me.
I went to the lectures and tutorials, I wrote essays and did revision but I the course was badly run and the course leader compared a job in the field I was studying to a TV programme. I joined teams and clubs and tried to be friendly and open so that I could make friends but I still dreaded having to get up in the morning and cried myself to sleep most nights.
I tried so hard to make being at university work; I knew that all my other friends, the Northern One included were having the time of their lives but for some reason it just wasn’t like that for me. I tried to tell my parents how difficult I was finding things but my mum got upset and my dad told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t to upset my mum.
Six weeks into term and I couldn’t take it any more.
I was barely eating, spending most of my spare time locked in my room sleeping and I kept bursting into tears in random places and in front of random people. I was called to see my course tutor so that he could see how I was settling into the course and I broke down in front of him.
I cried until my head hurt and in between the hiccups and sobs he managed to piece together how I’d found myself on a course that I clearly wasn’t enjoying and that was aimed at students of a far lower academic level. He phoned my parents and told them that they needed to come and collect me because I wasn’t suited to the course and I wasn’t coping with being away from home.
I sat in the back of my parents car watching the rain run down the windows as we drove home with the contents of my room packed into the boot. I had never felt like such a pathetic failure in my entire life.
When we went back a few days later to collect the rest of my things and sign the documents that officially terminated my registration as a student one of the girls I’d lived with told me that all five of them were glad to see the back of me.
One I got over the initial shock of leaving university I thought that by going home the loneliness and misery would vanish in a few days. I didn’t think it was possible to feel any worse than I already did and that I would quickly be able to pick myself up and start planning what I was going to do next.
Instead, I ended up in appointment with my childhood GP begging him for something, anything to make the pain go away. I left the appointment with a prescription for antidepressants, a course of 4 NHS counselling sessions and mental health issues that continue to plague me to this day.
I will never be free of depression.
I have made a promise to the Northern One and to myself that I will continue to take antidepressants for the rest of my life. There may come a time when I can reduce and even minimise the dose but it is unlikely that I will ever be stable enough to stop taking them all together.
This is how my depression started.
The day that my life as I’d planned it ended and I found myself without any idea which direction to head or what to do.