Breaking the Veneer
My Journey out of Depression
I've always been a person of two sides; one quiet, unconfident, receding, the other a paper-thin veneer of confidence, brought up when I felt like it was expected of me.
I was raised in a nice home, with intelligent hard working parents. From the outside life looked good, but the truth was a child who didn't feel the right to be happy, didn't make personal connections for fear of losing them and who ran away and hid at every opportunity. I developed a front, a thin veneer to cover my emotions, to insulate myself from those around me.
In my mid-twenties, a lot happened in a short space of time; I lost the job I loved, was attacked over social media, and had the thesis I'd spent years writing rejected. The coping mechanisms I had spent years hiding behind failed, I found myself unable to sleep, think, focus on the smallest of tasks, I collapsed numerous times just sobbing. I didn't know what was wrong, but life was passing me by and I was lost.
Like so many people I have spoken to since, I was stuck in a destructive cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, from which on my own I was unable to escape.
Getting Medical Help
My partner may very well have saved my life. She took me to see my doctor who sat with me for an hour and diagnosed me with depression, prescribed me with anti-depressants, and forwarded my details to the local mental health team. Mental health treatment in the UK can be a little hit and miss, but after a month I was assessed and provided with six weeks of therapy. That first therapist, he saw straight through my veneer and helped me understand what was happening. All too quickly, however, my six weeks ended and I was on my own again.
I once again felt alone, scared, unable to fully understand the thoughts and feelings that were a pervasive part of day-to-day life. A friend mentioned a course at his church. Meeting others, learning and sharing changed everything. It was the first place that first taught me I could live without my thin veneer. At the end of the course, one of the other participants asked if they could pray for me. It was the first time anyone had done so, and it changed my life.
Soon after my partner suggested we attend church. It was my first time in nearly 15 years. In my youth, church was a solemn place in to which you went with your head hung low, hiding your true self, chastised because of your sin. My experience in later life could not have been different; the feeling of peace and love I encountered on that day was like no other I had ever experienced. This was a place of love, joyous worship and hopeful prayer. I recommitted myself to my faith and looked for ways to include God in my recovery. I started every day with a section from the bible in one year, this gave me something to be positive about every morning. I found great hope in being able to talk openly to god, seek forgiveness for sins, forgive others and in the knowledge that we are loved.
Finding The Right Therapist
Outside of church, it took another three therapists before I found one I connected with. Every time I left one and started with another it felt hard and scary, but in the end, finding that personal connection, that confiding relationship in which I could be honest and authentic was worth the worry. My last therapist helped me understand how to identify patterns of behaviours which were causing me problems. Being able to reduce the effects of triggers and break damaging cycles felt like lifting a heavy weight off my shoulders. I cannot emphasise enough the effect that having someone to talk to with honesty and authenticity had on my recovery. When I started out, in many ways it was forming honest personal relationships that I found most difficult, sitting with someone and trying to be genuine about life was the last thing that felt possible. But reaching out with the support of my partner, taking that chance, persevering and listening to the advice that was given in return, changed my everyday life.
Over the course of my treatment, I tried numerous different anti-depressants. With my doctors' help, weighing the efficacy of each against (numerous) side-effects. Finally settling on the one which has helped me to get to the point where I no longer need to take them. I know that opinion is so often split on the topic of medication, especially in communities around work and church. It would be nice if there was not such the stigma attached in these places. For my part, I have tried to be honest about my experiences with anti-depressants when asked. My doctor put it best when she challenged my initial hesitation by asking; “...if I would have the same doubts about taking antibiotics for an infection or pain meds for a toothache”.
My recovery was not perfect, I did stumble, often some of the deepest cycles of hurt can be the hardest to admit and deal with. But, I did keep working through and layer by layer, day by day, with the help of faith, my loving family and an amazing professional, I healed. One pastor said of my last remaining vice that it was "a strong-hold of sin" within me. Serious words, but I found great encouragement in being able to pray for release, and strength in knowing that breaking the cycle of behaviours causing this 'sin' was the right and only thing to do.
A Six Year Journey
I don't see my journey over the last six years as a journey to recovery, but of a journey to mental well being. Learning how to care for my mental health, identify issues, be happy in myself and break the cycles which in the past have only hurt me and those around me.
I don't have any grand lessons to teach based on my experience, we are all different, what worked for me may not for you. However, I will say that have and will continue to persevere, there are days when I fail and have to pick myself back up, and days when life is better than ever, but at the end of each I stop, pause and take the lessons from today forward to tomorrow.
Recovering from my depression has given me a new sense of empathy for the mental health of those around me. Often the best thing you can do for others is to be there for them. Simple acts like inviting a friend for coffee if they have been out of communication for a while can make such a difference if they are starting to struggle.
I'm now coming off anti-depressants and slowly seeing my therapist less and less. I see life now as simpler, happier, healthier, honest, no need for my veneer.
Andrew CD, 27/03/2019