Depression can happen to anyone at any time. It does not discriminate and does not care about gender, status or wealth. No one is immune to this illness. It can be temporary or chronic. I have experienced depression on a few occasions in my life, often following a period of setbacks or challenges.
My first episode of being depressed goes back to when I was 18. I was a rather shy young adult. I didn’t have many friends, had a very low self-esteem and lacked confidence. I finished high school and secured a place at university, something which came as a surprise to my parents and myself as no one in the family had ever gone to university. My dad used to say that being educated was not for us.
While that was always at the back of my mind, here I was given an opportunity to prove him wrong, but within a few months of starting university, I managed to convince myself that he was right. I didn’t know how to study, I struggled to focus, and just could not do it. Instead of this being an exciting time, it was the loneliest time of my life. I remember sitting in a packed 200 plus seaters amphitheatre where lectures took place and feeling like the loneliest person on earth. I could not make friends and felt out of touch and so different to other students. I imagined they were just smarter than me and came from better families too.
At the end of my first year, it came as no surprise that I had not passed and would not proceed in my second year. I was simply not good enough. I grew up in the 80s and this was the early 90s. If you dropped out, that was it! I found myself with nothing to do. This was the first time in my life when I was faced with the ‘nothingness of days’.
I remember feeling really down and worrying about what I was going to do with my life. My parents suggested I just had to look for work. ‘Look for work’!!! How do I even do that? I had never done such a thing in my life. I didn’t know where to start and felt inexperienced, not clever or knowledgeable enough in any field, and generally inadequate.
This is when depression hit! I would just want to sleep because when I slept, I didn’t have to think or worry about what I should or shouldn’t do. When awake, I would just feel empty, lonely, tearful and exhausted. I could not be bothered to do anything or go anywhere. Most days, I didn’t want to wake up, I had nothing to do… What was the point!
My parents were hardly ever home and when they were, I would just put up a front and pretend all was well, so they never noticed anything. And anyway, nothing was wrong after all, I would tell myself. I’d tell myself I was fine, I had no reasons not to be. I just could not understand what was going on with me and so it was better for them not to know. How would I explain something I did not understand myself? It made no sense. They would think I was making a fuss or that I was being silly. Personally, at that time, I could not put a name on what was happening to me. Only years later when looking back, I realised that this was depression.
This lasted weeks or even months though I can’t remember exactly how long. I do remember however, that from initially not eating and just wanting to sleep I then started to eat more than I should and still slept loads and inevitably put on a lot of weight and that… I could not hide! This made me feel even worse about myself and made me feel like going out even less. When I did go out and met people I had not seen for a long time, I would unavoidably be on the receiving end of unfavourable comments on my changed appearance and that was it! I would again want to hide and never come out again. I just wanted to be alone and left alone.
My mind would play the same record again and again and it was something along the lines of ‘you are no good, you can’t do anything right and you will never achieve anything’. When would I ever get out of this vicious circle? It was like I had fallen into a pit, which was way too deep and too dark, and I could not come out. Sometimes I’d see the light at the top when looking up and remembered the days before depression hit, the days when I could function. I’d remember sitting on the grass in my high school playground with friends on a sunny day, I’d remember enjoying a nice long walk in the woods with my dog or moving the furniture in my room when I fancied change.
I’m not sure when and how this depressive episode ended exactly but it did, and I started to enjoy life again. Transitioning into an adult is not easy and I am sure there are many young people out there who may be experiencing something similar to what I did back then. My prayer is that they find the courage to talk about it and that they also find safe and supportive spaces to do so.
To all those out there who are suffering right now, I want to encourage not to lose hope. The hope that they will be whole again, the hope that they will be made well. Hope is our saving grace, every time, all the time. In every dire situation, there is hope, even when we can’t see it, it is there! “For in this hope we were saved” and yes you might not see it, you might feel like the situation is hopeless, and that’s perfectly natural to feel this way when we go through storms, and indeed when we are depressed, but don’t lose heart, think about it “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we will wait for it patiently” (Romans 8: 24-25).