Trigger warning: In this article, I talk about how COVID-19 has impacted my mental health, including my experience with depression, anxiety and having suicidal thoughts.
”Depression is an illness, not a bad phase.”
I relearned that this year, and after five years, I decided to go back on antidepressants.
I read somewhere that depression is like diabetes. A person with diabetes needs to inject insulin into their body because their body doesn’t produce it. It’s the same with depression. My body just doesn’t produce the same happy hormones that a ”normal” body does.
This year, I wasted SO much energy trying to function like a normal person, and so I didn’t have any energy left to actually get anything done. I was fighting depression like a warrior, standing on the front line, dealing with shit being thrown at me from every direction.
How the fuck can I make this feeling go away? Drinking myself into oblivion and self-harm crossed my mind.
Nope- we’re not going there, Yvette. We are going to deal with this the healthy way.
While I would never judge someone for going on antidepressants, I always said to myself going back on antidepressants was the thing I would try if nothing else worked.
I somehow thought I was superior and could beat it by myself. I saw depression as a challenge to learn more about myself and heal old wounds, and so I plunged headfirst into a journey of trying to fix something I didn’t have any control over.
I tried reading uplifting books, meditating, going for walks in nature, talking about it, changing my diet, working out, giving up alcohol, creating vision boards, positive visualisation…I don’t think I left a stone unturned. When I realised I was doing everything in my power to just feel normal, and it wasn’t working- it was heartbreaking. I felt like a failure and I felt hopeless.
Hopeless. Yes, that’s the feeling.
It really fucking sucks when you’re depressed and you’re trying everything the experts suggest, and you still don’t feel better.
I’m a believer that leaning into old wounds rather than avoiding discomfort at all costs is an important part of healing and growing. I should know, I have pushed myself into many uncomfortable situations and by doing so, learned valuable lessons I will carry with me for life.
In 2018 when I hiked the length of Scotland solo, there was a point in my hike where I was being terrorised by thousands of bitey horseflies, while climbing a steep, rocky and pathless mountain during a heatwave. I was crying and fending off a panic attack, waving a towel in front of my face to keep the horseflies from flying into my face. I wanted to give up so badly.
At one point I sat on the ground, wrapped the towel around my upper body, and just sobbed. The flies were still biting me through my tights [horrible, wee bastards] and I was bleeding all over. I realised I had two choices: to retreat back to the safety of the hostel, and give up my dream of being the first solo female to complete the Scottish National Trail, or I could just keep going.
It took everything to keep going, but I’m so glad I did. When I reached my destination for the night, I was welcomed by water like liquid glass on the most beautiful loch I’ve ever seen. The mountains reflected back up to themselves in the water, and I watched in awe as the sun sank into the loch, leaving the soft pink sky.
This was my reward for not giving up. It was my perfect metaphor: just keep pushing ahead, there might be something spectacular around the corner.
I learned that day I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I’m still unsure of what was more beautiful, the lesson, or the loch.
But depression is a different lesson. Sometimes there are things that are out of our control that can trigger a depressive episode, and 2020 is a perfect example of this.
This year has been really tough, guys. Really, really tough.
I remember reading articles way back in March about the effect COVID-19 would have on our mental health. I never thought that I would be one of people who would be affected.
Much of what I’ve had to deal with this year has been completely out of my control. The two C-words: Covid and cancer. Being away from my New Zealand family. A huge loss of income which resulted in working to the point of burnout just to stay afloat. The uncertainty surrounding the tourism industry.
The Haggis travels a lot for work, and he’s often only home a few weekends a month. In Scotland we cannot enter anyone else’s home- if we want to socialise it has to be outside or at a cafe or restaurant. I can’t afford to go for a meal every time I want to see a friend, and meeting outside in Scotland during winter…erm, lets not even go there. The restrictions left me feeling isolated and alone.
The unfortunate thing is, not many people would have realised I was feeling this way. Very few people in my close circle knew that I wasn’t coping. I tucked myself away out of sight when I was at my lowest. I didn’t want to bring anyone else down. I didn’t want anyone to see. Everyone else had their own problems to deal with. People were dying. I felt selfish for feeling the way I felt because I was alive and healthy, and had so much to be grateful for.
I would summon just enough energy to act normal in front of the few people I saw, and so nobody really knew. When you’re depressed you can still laugh and joke around. In fact, that is how many people with depression cope. It’s an invisible illness.
When a friend reached out to me and asked me how I was, I opened up and said I wasn’t coping.
Admitting how I was feeling was terrifying. Even for me, when I’ve talked about depression and mental health publicly in the past.
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 19. I was on and off antidepressants for several years. I’d talked to therapists. But talking about it is still scary.
I’ve always said to myself, if things got really bad and I had suicidal thoughts, I would absolutely talk to a doctor. I’ve known several beautiful souls who have taken their own lives. It was absolutely heartbreaking for everyone involved.
Those awful thoughts had made their way into my brain, and I booked a phone appointment with my doctor. When I spoke to him he agreed that I should go back on antidepressants.
I was spending so much energy fighting depression. Even simple tasks, such as getting out of bed, felt exhausting. I was so sick of fighting to feel normal and to be able to do simple things.
I’m so happy to report that going back on antidepressants has given me a foundation in which to live my life.
Instead of it taking 3-4 hours to get out of bed every morning, it takes me 30 minutes [I will never be a morning person].
Instead of it taking me eight hours to get work done because I can’t concentrate, it now takes me between 2-3.
Instead of crying for two days straight because I feel lonely, I feel mildly inconvenienced and have the energy and sanity to know that this too shall pass, and I can carry on.
So yes, antidepressants have given me a new lease on life. I am relieved and thankful that I made this decision for myself. It wasn’t giving up- it was moving forward.
Will I be on antidepressants for life? I don’t know, but probably. Maybe. I’m tired of being on the depression seesaw.
I’ll continue to talk about depression because even though it may feel difficult and scary for me, I hope that for the next generation, and the one after that, and so on- it becomes an easy conversation. I believe that talking about mental health should be just as normal as talking about any physical illness. It just wasn’t talked about when I was growing up.
Some people feel uncomfortable when I talk about depression and anxiety, and it’s usually because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s nothing personal, although it can feel that way when you are opening up to someone and they react in a not so helpful way.
I encourage those who are suffering from depression to continue talking about it, and those who feel uncomfortable with the conversation to read this article and research ways on how you can support someone who is suffering from mental health issues. If in doubt, ask them how they would like you to support them.
If you are reading this and you relate to anything I’ve written, please know that when you’re depressed, you’re not thinking straight. You might feel like you’re alone, but you’re not. There are so many people going through the same thoughts and feelings right now thanks to Covid.
It’s also important to know that everyone is different. Anti-depressants may or may not be for you. Therapy might be what works for you, or a combination of exercise and a healthier diet.
Speaking from 10+ years of experience dealing with depression and anxiety, you will be okay. Things are particularly tough right now, so it’s little wonder so many of us are struggling with our mental health. Talk about it, force yourself to socialise [even if you’ve been crying for two days and your face is red and swollen- yes, I’m speaking from experience!] and do lots of nice little things for yourself. Be sure to not put any pressure on yourself, and celebrate any small wins. If you’re still not coping, book an appointment with your doctor and discuss other options such as antidepressants and therapy.
Life is here to enjoy!
If you are currently having mental health problems, I encourage you to share your story in the comments below. You can even use a fake name if you’d rather remain anonymous. Just writing about how I’m feeling helps me immensely, and it will help others in the same position feel less alone.