The Invisible Beast

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Content warning: personal experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Depression gripped me both slowly and suddenly. It was the twilight sky darkening in imperceptible degrees from blue to navy until the inevitable black of night closed in. Yet unlike the rhythm of the sun, I had no reference for this darkness within myself. No manual to account for the inexplicable feelings that had infiltrated my mind. And worst of all, I did not know then if the sun would ever rise again.

I was twenty and the seemingly perfect life I had begun to build for myself was unraveling. I had finished school with an ATAR in the high nineties and been accepted into a highly regarded physiotherapy course. I was playing elite football (soccer) and had been blessed with wonderful family and friends. But halfway into my course, I knew that physiotherapy was not my passion and I was completely at a loss with what to do with my life. I didn’t want to drop out because then I’d be ‘a failure’, ‘a quitter’, but staying made me feel like a fraud. I felt so uncertain and constantly told my family that I was ‘an imposter’, that I had simply been pretending all this time to be smart and strong but now people would find out about ‘the real me’. Such is the power of depression. It clouds your thoughts and convinces you that this person - the one who is sad all the time, who can’t sleep, who is catatonic with no motivation or interest in life is the ‘real you’; that everything you were and felt before was a lie. You aren’t taught that these distorted thoughts are simply symptoms of a curable illness, much like abdominal pain and nausea are symptoms of appendicitis. 

When I eventually got the courage to drop out of university, things became worse. I withdrew from football, stopped going out and stopped working because I was afraid of people seeing this new side of me. I spent hours contemplating ending my life because in my distorted perception of the world I felt that this was kinder on everyone. I thought that they would be better off without me and could remember me, as I was before - confident, enthusiastic and happy, not as the empty person and burden I felt myself to be now. People think that the despair of depression is the worst feeling but it’s not, it’s guilt; the incongruity of knowing what a privileged life I led and not being able to reconcile that with the terrible feelings I harbored inside. Above all else, I was so  exhausted of fighting this invisible beast. 

It hurts me to look back on that now and think about how scary it must have been for my family. They implored me to seek help so I reluctantly saw a psychologist, but I honestly didn’t believe that it would help. I felt that I was too far-gone. It’s like this joke I heard one time - “how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change”. I was too caught up in the grip of the beast to be ready for change then.

Eventually, the universe forced me to deal with my issues. I had a car accident, where I fainted whilst driving due to low blood pressure causing my car to crash into a tree. The doctors think that this vasovagal episode was possibly triggered by new anti-depressant medication or the chronic insomnia I suffered from during that time. The crash was significant. It shattered my legs and resulted in a long physical recovery. However, it also allowed me the time off and medical help to heal my mind as well. In hospital, along with orthopedic visits I got psychiatric help, a diagnosis - major depressive disorder, medication and ongoing counseling to help me return to the light.

I won’t lie it was a lengthy process. It took time and a whole heap of self-compassion to accept that those depressive thoughts and feelings weren’t ‘me’ and that they’re not shameful. They are a symptom of a curable illness that many people experience. Realising this and knowing that you can and WILL get through the darkness as a stronger, more resilient and empathetic person was life affirming. I can’t express the gratitude I feel for the second chance I’ve been given at life and the unrelenting support of family and friends who helped me through that difficult time. They never let me go or left me to face the darkness alone. They taught me how that accept support and that we are all worthy of love even when we are at our lowest.  

I’d love to say that that was it and since then I’ve been ‘cured’ but mental illness doesn’t work that way. I’ve had a few minor depressive episodes since and whilst they’re still scary it’s not as scary as the thought of all the joy, love and opportunities I would have missed out on if I didn’t seek help. Anytime I feel those familiar feelings return, I take comfort in the knowledge that they do come and go like night and day. Although it may be dark for you now, please know that the sun will rise again and when it does it will be the most glorious light you’ve ever seen.

Written by anonymous 

Edited by Claudia Farnsworth

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Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.

Leanne Westlake