I think over the last year or two I may have attempted to draft out this post four or five times. As I wrote this very first paragraph for this working draft, it was January of 2018. I knew I wanted to put this up eventually, and I felt like it was approaching the right time to do so. I also knew that I have always struggled to express the feelings (or lack of) in a proper way that feels like it’s doing my experience justice, so in order to get my words out on time, I started early.
Do feel free to grab some tea.
If you’re a friend I have directed to this post, it’s because I’m crap at explaining this in person or even over WhatsApp, especially when I’ve been caught off-guard on a Sunday evening. All this is just me talking about things I have always wanted to talk to you all about but never got the words right for. I hope none of you mind.
Here’s a Trigger Warning for Depression, Self-Harm and Suicide.
For a long time, I didn’t quite relate to the idea of needing a trigger warning (even if I understood the reason for it) but recently I have been feeling extra sensitive towards this topic myself. It’s not particularly graphic or anything, though. If you’re not sure whether to read on, I’d err on the side of caution and not continue.
Firstly, I may as well tell you what the symptoms of depression are. We can spot them together as I back-track through my life. Here it is, the DSM-5 criteria for a diagnosis of depression:
A. Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either
- depressed mood or
- loss of interest or pleasure.
Note: Do not include symptoms that are clearly attributable to another medical condition.
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
B. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
C. The episode is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or to another medical condition.
The earliest recorded indication that I was depressed probably goes back to 2015 when I was still 17. In fact, it was on this blog because I had no other outlet. I’ve always written my honest thoughts on this blog, as bland as my life was, because it’s just not the same otherwise. To sort-of quote one of my old blog posts, pretending is draining. It’s the same reason that I love to share happy things with others and it’s for the same reason that I am a terrible liar.
So I was looking all the way to 2015, the first year of the blog and my first year of A-Levels (Y12), and life doesn’t seem bad. Mundane? Yes. Occasionally, I got angry, and I got stressed, but within what I thought were normal means for a student of
Hell A-Levels. I went to work, I slept, I tried my best to manage everything and was failing. I was easily triggered, especially by my school reports, and I clung to my hobbies (and this blog) a lot as a means of coping.
My grades were suffering, and teachers were pulling me aside to ask me if anything was wrong. I said no because, at the time, I genuinely didn’t know. Some teachers thought I was just lazy and lacking effort (which I admit I agreed with). I mention Student Support briefly in this post from April 2015 from when I got sent there instead. They thought I was overworking myself and lacking in sleep (the latter being true). I didn’t feel this was the case as I simply was not getting anything done despite always being at my desk. I was stuck in this spiral of unproductivity, lack of sleep, and hating myself all in abundance. It was mostly hating myself, though.
For quite a while, I thought most of my issues were the fault of the school or the education system. Now, after lots of rational thinking, I don’t blame my school for my depression at all, because how could they have helped me out when I had no clue what was going on, mentally speaking, myself?
In October 2015 (the beginning of Y13 and my second year of A-Levels), I expressed a thought on this blog post about wanting to see the GP about my mental health. This means that I must have been thinking about it for quite a while, prior to that post going up. I had probably at least googled the symptoms and taken the quiz on the NHS site. Note the mental breakdowns (I think this means my negative emotions peaking and crying myself to sleep), and note the P.S. where I mention that I was finding it hard to concentrate. Yet at this point in time, I ended up not going to the GP about it.
I mentioned the breakdowns again in February 2016, talking about stupid school assessments, but this time more casually. I was getting the impression that this was a normal thing, that my feelings were not significant enough to seek help for and that this was part and parcel of being an A-Level student. My emotions were fluctuating, even then, but now it was so long ago I can’t really mention any specifics.
Later, I decided to include less of my feelings on the blog and more of what I was actually doing, so there’s not much there that shows what I was feeling until much later.
What I do remember, though, is that during that school year we studied depression as part of the abnormal psychology topic, and I distinctly remember the lesson on diagnostic criteria – looking at the list of symptoms on the board and thinking ‘all of that sounds like me.’
Anyway, I finished my last year of school, and my A-Levels went terribly (I say that, but I didn’t fail any) and I decided to take a gap year. Despite this, life was not particularly awful – in fact, it seemed like a lot of fun judging from past blog posts. Things seemed okay. I was beginning to branch out with what I was doing whilst making time for my hobbies and, well, widened my horizons a bit.
In the latter half of March 2017, I booked my first appointment with my GP for my mental health. I thought of having this post up on the 28th, a year since the date of my first appointment. It would be the first of quite a few that spring/summer. To this day I am still incredibly proud of myself for doing the adult thing and picking up the phone. I was so terrified.
At the appointment, I wanted to explain things logically to my GP, but I ended up breaking down crying, saying something like ‘I don’t know, I just… I just feel so sad all the time’. The truth was, that was the first major step I had taken to do something about my depression and I felt the impact of the moment – I didn’t know whether any of what I was doing would help, but I knew it was important that I did something.
My GP asked me why I was having the emotions that I had (as opposed to the what of early 2015) and I replied that I genuinely did not know. Where earlier I was comparing my experiences with others and not finding my situation comparable to them, this time I was on my gap year and life really did not seem bad at the time. My depression was, and still is, very irrational of me considering my circumstances.
I went to see a counsellor. It helped a little bit, but not that much. I think most of the change in mindset afterwards happened by itself.
A month and a bit later, I was a week after finishing my medication and my next GP appointment was not for another two days. On the 14th of May, I was not in a good mood, and neither was my mom. We got into a heated spat about something very minor. I broke down in the bathroom, and I saw the open cabinet door with the pair of scissors in it.
Scissors are relatively very blunt compared to other sharp objects, so all I ended up with were some very red, raised lines, and the tiniest beads of blood. It took a lot of pressure and self-hate to make those marks at all, let alone draw blood. Had that been a razor (we don’t use hand razors in this house) I might have ended up in hospital or worse. I spent a lot of time afterwards looking at the marks on my arm, ‘trying to figure out what they mean’, according to a diary entry. The lines are unnoticeable now but sometimes I wish I still had a scar to remind myself always that things were worse before and better now.
However, I wrote a private diary entry in an old notebook after my shower, and that’s enough. This is how I can write about it now because I knew it was a new low for me, and one that I needed reminding of. In hindsight, I wasn’t ready to be without the antidepressants yet, and I noticed multiple times later on that if I didn’t take my medication for a few days my mood would crash pretty badly without any other obvious cause. Needless to say, I tried not to go without them again and scheduled my appointments appropriately for the next few months.
In September 2017, I started to evaluate my mood on a scale of +10 to -10. My average mood when I am depressed being around -3 or -4. In general, I was feeling much better. I actually hadn’t taken my medication for months at that point but I didn’t feel awful and I didn’t feel a crash as I stopped. I went out with some friends on the 9th September, and my mood was about a +7, according to my diary: “I felt so good. I can’t stress that enough, I’m so surprised by it.”
Then I managed to crash to a -7 which I now have pegged as ‘suicidal thoughts with minor urges to actually carry it out’. I genuinely wanted to jump out of a window, and I was petrified that I would. I couldn’t sleep and ended up writing in my diary at 2:20am, two hours after getting home, after breaking all sorts of rules. It took me weeks to climb back up from that -7. I thought it might have been the alcohol, at the time, but now I don’t think that was the case. It was at least the first time that I realised how sensitive my mood could be to change even if things were good.
Again, nothing was inherently wrong with my life besides my feelings. There was no ‘why’. I had exciting events planned and I was about to start at my university. There was a complete mismatch between my situation and my mood, objectively, and I think that lead to a dysphoria, a ‘state of unease or dissatisfaction with life’ that was really hard to shake off. When people ask me what’s wrong, there’s genuinely nothing wrong, and it’s hard to explain that I can’t control my mood fully even with all my best attempts to do so.
But I did write that night about how my parents can’t be blamed for things. That they worked their butts off and always did the best they could for their kids and that I felt bad they ended up with a crap daughter like myself. It’s strange, because I’ve never felt so comfortable with myself by my own standards but the moment that the other people I love are involved I’m not worth anything anymore.
That feeling still persists from time to time. I’m working on it.
Since we are on a timeline, I want to also mention Jonghyun of SHINee as I’ve been meaning to say something about him, too. Never found the right words, though. He committed suicide on the 18th December, 2017 after a long battle with depression. He was a successful performer, y’know – world at his fingertips and all, and he still felt that way. He finished all the preparations for his new album, Poet/Artist, and he even filmed some variety shows. His album was released posthumously. It’s fantastic.
I can’t claim to know what he was thinking. From what I could tell, he had been planning it for a long time, all whilst thinking of who and what he loved and was leaving behind. As a member of SHINee and as a solo artist he knew he was very, very, very well loved, and still chose to make the decision to end his life. I think the album and what he left behind were all signs of that – that he cared so deeply for his family, his friends, and his fans. I think one of the few things that kept him wanting to be alive was just that.
That’s something I relate to. For me, I think my life is small and trivial, but my friends are my world. I would not want to wish the after-effects of my death on them, and if it means staying alive for them, then sure. I think suicide, in a sense, is selfish in that way (I’m not sure how better to word that). What I’m trying to say is, I think Jonghyun chose to end his life as a final act of self-care, and still he was thinking of those he loved by planning his album and his suicide. I am sure he has found his own happiness now.
Again, I cannot pretend I know him, and I just wanted to share some thoughts on my point of view, and finally get it off my chest. I didn’t realise it would shake me so badly. I cried reading the initial announcements on the news, and even weeks later I feel tremendously sad at anything involving him, like Lee Hi’s performance of a song he wrote. I haven’t been able to listen to the final track of his posthumous album yet. It’s a piano ballad. I heard the first few notes and noped completely out.
This brings us to roughly the present day. This section is actually the hardest to write, because I never feel like I have a proper grasp of my feelings until long after the time has passed.
However, I promise you that right now, as I finish up this post before it goes out tomorrow, I’m in a good place. Maybe a little muted, but good. Depression never feels like the kind of fight that is won.
Most days I’m good. I have things I want to do, small aspirations, almost never a plan. My modal average day is no longer a -4, but more of a 0 or -1. In fact, the week of my birthday I was consistently at +4/5. That was great, and I long for more weeks like that.
Other days, I don’t feel good, but not bad either. On those days, instead of caring a little less, which can be good for me, I don’t care at all. All my emotions seem muted or absent. Sometimes, I ‘slip’ a little, back into that old pit of sad. Sometimes, I feel without purpose or just aimless, and I have moments of sadness welling up in my chest throughout the day. Sometimes, before I know it, a bad day has become a bad week – time can really fly when you’re depressed.
However, since last year I’ve been hyper-aware of my feelings and as such, I’ve been better at spotting these kinds of days and clamping down on them ASAP. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to have all the important crap started and sorted earlier so I can take time out for myself. Then things are mostly OK.
Although sometimes, my wrists itch, and it’s frustrating.
Even now, I have times where I doubt my experiences. How serious are my symptoms now? I am constantly comparing my current mental state to that of last year and I think it might prove counteractive eventually. For example, I often think ‘this can’t be that bad of a day. I have had worse. I have survived worse.’ It sounds pretty good until I remember that I have never been able to justify my awful feelings and low mood days and I’m not about to start. In reality, it’s ‘this is not that bad of a day, but I feel like crap anyway.’
The third type of day is the worst kind. I’m having a good day, and I am happy, and I’m laughing a lot. That’s good. But beyond that feeling of happiness, there’s a pit somewhere and I am still stuck down it. Is it a crap ton of self-doubt? Is it the sense of impending doom? Is it the feeling of knowing that happiness is more temporary than sadness? I hate that I am this stubborn in my sadness.
I have slowly become more accustomed to talking about my depression to my friends, especially the few I love the most because I know they worry about me and appreciate that they do, even if I don’t want them to. Whilst it’s so easy to let a bad day pass and pretend to my friends that it never happened, these days I can just tell them it’s a bad day.
Not all the time, though. I actually tend to rotate and tell one person each time, so they’re not all worrying about me at once.
On top of that… I’m twenty now. It feels like a happy little miracle. As I told someone one time, ‘my mental health got to a point where I genuinely did not think about being alive for this long. Like I wanted to get better but didn’t know what I wanted to live for.’
As a result of this, I didn’t keep any aspirations over the last few years beyond ‘I want to make it to the end of the day having smiled at least once’.
When I was 13 I had my heart set on writing. I still do, as it’s my Plan A (Plan Ambitious). That said, I wish I felt the urge to be writing regularly and this blog is the closest I am getting to my daily quota of creative writing. My Plan B (Plan Believable) is something more akin to teaching languages, working abroad or working in a field of psychology after I graduate. Perhaps even all three. My short term goals are to study well, save money, and successfully get a study placement in Korea. Heck, guys, I have GOALS. I have things I want to aim for! That’s pretty amazing!
I finally see that I have a life ahead of me. Isn’t that the most terrifying thing?
Thank you for reading this far.