From a very young age, I suffered with anxiety issues. I was always afraid to answer out in class, always trying to hide and blend in so that nobody would notice me. In fact, my school report from second class states this! I had my first full-scale panic attack while I was in primary school. I felt like I was suffocating and was beset with an overwhelming feeling of terror. Thankfully it didn't last long, but the thought of it happening again scared the life out of me.
Nobody ever explained panic attacks to me, so at the age of 12 I honestly thought that I was dying or going crazy. If you're thinking like this, let me tell you that having a panic attack doesn't mean that you're crazy and it most definitely won't kill you, though it can be very scary. My anxiety was so bad that if I had homework to be corrected aloud in class, I'd rather say that I hadn't done it and take the punishment instead. I couldn't help but think: What if I get it wrong?, What if they think I'm stupid?
Living life in constant fear of being judged badly by everyone else started to take its toll on me.Some time between the ages of nine and 14, depression crept it. By the age of 12, I had experienced a lot of loss, had moved home and started two new schools. There were days when I'd cry for hours, feeling hopeless and lost, with no idea why. The first time I told someone about how I felt, they dismissed it as "teenage mood swings". I was heartbroken. It had taken me so long to build up the courage to confide in someone and I was dismissed straight away.
If this happens to you, please don't give up, talk to someone else and keep talking until they listen. Somebody will help you. Shortly after that incident, my mam insisted on me going to our GP for advice on the panic attacks, which were still ongoing. It was here, at the age of 14, that I first heard the word depression, along with my name. The best way I can describe my experience with depression is that it is like a little devil sitting on my shoulder whispering bad thoughts in my ear, day in, day out. To cut a long story short: I was in a very dark place; it was the lowest point of my life.
I felt like a burden and thought that those I loved would be better off without me. I won't go into any more detail, but I'll tell you that I did try to kill myself. My school principal found out and informed my parents. I was told I'd be leaving school and not returning for a few weeks. That day was so hard for me. It felt like the bottom had just dropped out of my world. I didn't realise it at the time, but this was the beginning of my recovery.
So began my time in therapy. I think people have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to depression and treatment. The thing that I hear most often is that depression is just attention seeking. Let me set the record straight – depression is real. It isn't made up, it's not attention seeking and there is help available to treat it. In my experience, counselling can be very daunting, but it is worth it once you get used to the idea.
Counselling places do tend to be 'fake-cheerful', there are usually other patients/clients waiting too and depending where you go, you may be asked to fill out some questionnaires. Be honest with whoever you are talking to, they are there to listen and help. If you do have to fill out any forms, don't try to find the 'right' answers because there aren't any; the purpose of them is to find out what's going on in your life and what will benefit you most in terms of treatment. You might be offered medication, depending on your circumstances. If you are over the age of 18, the decision of whether to accept it is your own. If you are under 18, the decision isn't entirely in your own hands, but do voice your opinion – it will count.
For me, the hardest part of therapy was realising that talking about my problems and getting help didn't make me weak. If anything, it made me stronger. However, I so want to point out that therapy won't make you 'better' or 'fix' you. It will provide you with the tools you need to manage your day-to-day life. You will still have to put in the effort. In the beginning, it can feel impossible, always having to correct your thinking, but eventually it becomes second nature and you won't even notice it. I have been medication free for almost a year.
Up until now, there have been a lot of false starts where I have finished therapy and stopped taking medication only to find myself back there again, but it was important for me to stay hopeful. At times it's still hard, but I've learned so much from my experiences, including the bad ones. Whatever situation you find yourself in, don't give up, talk until someone listens and remember that there will be a stage where life is actually pretty good.