Sitting at a restaurant on the seafront I see Sarah*. Sarah meets me to tell me her story about mental illness. She looks at the sea and tells me how one day this was not possible for her as the waves crashing on the rocks gave her severe panic attacks. Panic attacks that were uncontrollable, restricted her breathing, took over her mind and above all were totally embarrassing.
Sarah suffered several bouts of depression throughout her life with combined anxiety.
As a child she had what appeared on the outside to be a relatively happy childhood but what was going on behind closed doors was a different story. She believes that suppressed emotions from her childhood as well as genetics brought about her depression.
As a child she would feel sad but could never understand it. She sometimes even contemplated suicide and would takes pills to “perhaps knock her out for a few days”. But not being aware of what was going on she never sought help.
Her first episode of diagnosed depression occurred when she was about 20 years old following a break-up with her boyfriend. Sarah tells me how suppressed memories do not allow her to remember exactly what happened but she recalls how she was put on medication and that was it.
Sarah remembers how she came to depend on the medication even ending up in a hospital emergency room because she had forgotten to buy her pills and felt she physically could not cope with the withdrawal symptoms. That episode scared her and she eventually stopped the medication (by herself) and tried to get on with her life.
The problem was that she never learnt how to deal with her emotions and the next trigger set her off into another downward spiral. This time was worse than before.
Sarah would wake up every morning and go outside and stare for hours willing herself to get to work. There were times she says were she could barely get out of bed and felt apathy towards everything she did. She could not look forward to anything but felt buried in her own darkness.
Sarah is a reserved person and when she tried to discuss what was happening to her with a close friend she was told that she was not that bad and she really should just try to get on with her life.
So thats what she did but instead of getting better she got worse and worse until every little thing would trigger off a panic attack. She got to a point were she felt she could not go on.
On her own accord she went to her GP who told her the only way of getting through this is to go on medication again. She was reluctant due to her past experience but she had no choice. Despite protest from her family members she took the medication and started getting better. However she decided that until she actually resolves what was triggering her depression she would never be rid of the disease.
Sarah started seeing a therapist and slowly she started to become the person she once was. She is now stopping her medication but will continue to see her therapist.
We discussed at length our opinions about medication, therapy and the stigma on mental illness. She believes that yes medication is needed – if required – but unless you actually deal with your problems depression will keep haunting you.
Do not let the stigma of mental illness scare you. It is not worth living this way. Help is out there.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.