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8 Things I've Learned After A Decade Of Depression

There's no magic cure but it does get easier.

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1. It's OK to ask for help.

Haejin Park / BuzzFeed

Of all the things I wish I had known sooner, this one probably tops the list. Like a lot of people suffering with depression, I knew what I had long before I ever sought help for it. I had diagnosed myself by the time I was 17, and yet I still waited a further four years before being forced by circumstance to get help. Why? Because I didn't know how to.

Back in 2007 campaigns by mental health charities had yet to reach the mountains of mid-Wales, my Twitter feed contained no blogs written by people who'd undergone therapy, and I knew of no one personally who had suffered with depression. I felt completely alone. That changed when circumstance forced me to get the help that I needed.

Getting help was among the hardest things I've ever done, but it has easily been the most rewarding.

2. Not to beat myself up.

Katrin Davis / BuzzFeed

You feel bad, you self-harm, you feel like a failure for self-harming, and so then you feel bad again. It's a vicious cycle. I was 16 years old when I first started self-harming, and at the time I wasn't sure why I was doing it – I just knew that for a few fleeting moments it made me feel better in myself. Looking back I can see that it made me feel like I was doing the work of an imaginary judge, condemning myself to the physical pain that I felt on the inside, and on a less philosophical level it acted as a distraction – as a calming release from the monotony of my indifference.

And it's not just physically that I'd harm myself: On a subtler level I'd hurt myself mentally, too. The mental self-loathing is not necessarily something that ever really stops, but it is something you can learn to manage. It's easy to be over-critical of yourself, but standing up to negative voices takes effort.

Sometimes you've got to find your own little temporary fixes, whether that's hiding in bed watching It's Always Sunny or going for a long, solitary walk. Whatever works.

3. Getting better takes time.

Becky Barnicoat / BuzzFeed

It took me a total of six months, three different medications, and countless doctor's appointments just to find the right antidepressants that worked for me. Even then I was still far from what you'd call "happy", but I was on the right path. After dozens of hours of what have to be among the most awkward counselling sessions ever, I was further along that path. Seriously, I once filled the awkward silence during one session by going on a rant about hang-gliders and, you guessed it, she hang-glided. Who the hell hang-glides?

All the downs, like the duloxetine side-effect of having the dilated pupils of a stoned barn owl, or the hours spent next to coughing old ladies in doctor's waiting rooms, are easily overshadowed by the ups. Four years after starting on the road to recovery, I don't even recognise the constantly depressed, hang-glide-hating person I was back then.

4. Talking helps.

Haejin Park / BuzzFeed

I'm naturally a quiet person – part by choice, part by anxiety. Just writing openly about depression feels like a betrayal to my personality. While counselling isn't for everyone, there's definitely something therapeutic about having someone to listen to your problems. Sometimes just hearing or reading my thoughts aloud helps put them into perspective.

I've found help in the unlikeliest of places, and among people I never would have thought to turn to. The first step of opening up was definitely the hardest, but by doing so a weight was immediately lifted from my shoulders. For the most part people care, and want to see you succeed.


5. I'm going to have bad days.

Haejin Park / BuzzFeed

Depression or no depression, bad days are going to happen. And with depression the bad times can feel downright unbearable. On my worst days I barely resemble a human. I'm a hollowed-out shell of a person, simply operating on autopilot.

Despite having become pretty damn good at managing my depression, I know that its shadow still lingers behind me. The only thing you can sometimes do is to be prepared. One thing that helped me was setting goals for myself – small things, for most people, like leaving the house on weekends, smiling more often, or simply getting to the end of another seven days. If there's one thing depression makes you good at, it's pulling through.

And that's pretty much all that you can do: Live for the days of sunshine and ride out the storms with the knowledge that you've done so before, and you will do again.

6. I do deserve happiness.

Becky Barnicoat / BuzzFeed

One lie that depression tells you is that you don't deserve happiness. That you're the way you are for a karmic reason. It almost gets to the point where you start feeling guilty when you do experience joy. Depression had permanently rooted itself into my identity – at least that's what I thought. I believed that by seeking a cure I'd be changing who I fundamentally was as a person, and worse, that I would be giving myself an award that I didn't deserve.

I got to the point where happiness felt like a delusion and sadness felt like the truth. Like I was seeing the world through unbiased eyes, untainted by the happiness that had clouded the worldview of others. I was an idiot.

You deserve anything that you work hard towards, and happiness is something that I've worked harder towards than anything else.

7. Depression doesn't need a reason.

Adam Ellis / BuzzFeed

Depression is essentially the world's worst lottery, where the jackpot is the prize of feeling like absolute shit. There's not always a reason behind a sudden bout of severe depression, and that can be hard to accept. We're so used to the logic that everything has to have an identifiable cause that we search into our pasts to reexamine things that really don't deserve a second glance. We turn over recent memories looking for a culprit that doesn't always exist.

As the saying goes: Knowledge is power, and while the power may not enable me to completely conquer my illness, it certainly helps. Knowing that it's not my fault, that circumstance and biology have conspired against me, has made my condition easier to handle. And at the the end of the day that's what depression is: an illness.

I wouldn't put the blame for an illness on its sufferer in any other situation, so why do it in this?

8. There is no magic cure.

Haejin Park / BuzzFeed

When I first moved to London I thought that all of my mental health issues would gradually melt away. I thought the bright lights of a new city and a complete change in job would somehow defeat my depression. I didn't know that it would somehow be possible to feel lonelier in a city of 8 million people than I did in a town of 1,000. I knew beforehand that depression was more than just a feeling caused by my surroundings and situation, that it was something that lay deeper inside me, but this was my first experience of realising just how deep it lay.

Almost a decade after first feeling its effects I'm still coming to terms with accepting depression as a part of who I am. But that's all it is: a part. It's not something that fully defines who I am, or something that has to take control over my life. Knowing this would have saved the 16-year-old me a lot of pointless internal dialogue over the course of the last nine years.

I honestly believe that the bad times have helped me appreciate the good. And if I can find as much joy in the good times as I find sorrow in the bad, for me, that makes everything worthwhile.

You can call the Samaritans for confidential support if you're experiencing feelings of distress or despair for free on 116 123 (24-hour helpline).

And you can call the Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day if you're based in the US.