Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What do you do with the left over you?

I thought I should do a blog post about how I told people about my Depression following my diagnosis. It’s a very, very difficult thing for anyone to share their diagnosis whether it be a mental health difficulty or for anything else. And I know that it’s something a lot of people struggle with. I know I did. It might seem like it's 'easy' for me. For someone who now openly shares their mental health experiences, it is odd to look back at the time when I tried to hide it from friends and family. While I can now talk about my mental health with confidence, not so long ago I found it difficult to even put words to it.
Hopefully by sharing with you my experiences with the people I told, and how I told them it can help anyone who is not sure about letting friends and family know.

As I discussed in an earlier blog post, a diagnosis makes your illness more ‘real’. It puts a name on how you have been feeling; you finally have a word that you can share.

Before my diagnosis I tried telling people how I had been feeling. When I initially knew that something was wrong with me (although not quite sure WHAT that was) I told a close friend who, unfortunately, immediately dismissed how I had been feeling. I had used the word ‘bipolar’ to try and make sense of my highs and lows; and they, perhaps knowing something that I didn’t, told me that I definitely wasn’t bipolar.

Others told me that everyone goes through down spells (which is true), but that it was nothing to take seriously (not so much true). My suicidal ideation they said could easily be dismissed as I was ‘too smart’ for that.

The diagnosis put my own mind at ease. But it was also a proper medical term, an illness. And that was something my family needed to know about.

That evening I told my mum that I had been to a doctor. I told her I hadn’t been feeling well lately, and the doctor sent me to a counselor straight away. They’d gotten me an appointment with a psychiatrist too, but they were sure I had Depression. The thing is, and I’m not proud of this, but I was in Dublin at the time and telling my mum was difficult. I didn’t want to ring her, so instead I text her the news. I text my mum that I had Depression, and then I went to bed and slept for what felt like the first time in weeks.

I hate that I broke the news to my family that way, I do. But it was easier for me. It was easier than a conversation over the phone whereby I would end up crying and barely get the words out. And it was easier than waiting 5 days until I was home to do it face-to-face. Instead I was cold and I was distant. It was undoubtedly hard on my mother however, and I do regret that. I nominated my mum to tell the rest of my family. And that also saved me considerable tears and pain.

In the first few months I couldn’t get the words ‘Depressed’ out without tears. It was hard for me to come to terms with what was wrong with me; even harder for me to tell others.

I was asked questions. ‘What exactly is Depression?’ ‘What does it mean?’ 'Are you on tablets?' 'Is this the same thing as people in mental homes have?'
Some people accepted it; full of a concern that has never since subsided. Some people forgot about it. In a way, I guess I am grateful. Other people I never heard from again. That is something that becomes easier over time.

There was one person that it was hardest for me to tell; my best friend Rachel. While my family had to love me unconditionally, and I was sure that they did, Rachel had a choice. She had been my best friend for years. We shared the same interests, especially music. We told each other pretty much everything to do with our families, our crushes, our lives. But I feared what telling her about my Depression would mean. I was sure I had been a bad friend. I was also sure that Rachel, being Rachel, would worry about me now, and I hated being the person that other people felt responsible for. Deep down, I also feared Rachel's rejection. Telling anyone that I had Depression over the years came with the fear that I would be rejected. I rejected myself when I didn't care for, or look after myself during my Depression. So it was natural for me to presume everyone else would reject me too.
And so I cared most about her reaction. It took me two, three months to finally sit Rachel down and explain to her what I’d been going through.

And Rachel could not have been more accepting. She told me about people she knew that had Depression. She told me she understood what I was going through. She made me feel silly for not telling her beforehand, and I did; I felt stupid for not trusting in her. My behaviour and personality change over the past months now made sense to her. But more importantly, she made me feel normal. Rachel never treated me differently over my mental health. To her, I was still the same person. Instead, she was there for me. She shared in my highs and my lows; in my journey and my recovery.

Me and my Rachel 

Today, I am used to telling people about my mental health. All of my close friends know. I have brought it up in speeches and talks. I have told students who came to me for advice and help. I have mentioned it in job interviews; two successful ones may I add. The UCD Talks video. My blog.

Most people in my life now know, yet I tend not to announce it unless it’s relevant. Through the video and my blog, people I don’t know, I haven’t met, people I haven’t seen in years know about my journey. And that’s a strange feeling. But it’s a powerful one. And it’s something I’m getting used to. 

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