It’s no secret that I have been battling depression, so here is what the last 26 months have looked like for me, every up and every down…
Disclaimer: This article is about my journey and experience with a mental illness and living with depression. I share what depression looks like for me, my symptoms, triggers and coping mechanisms. I take it right back to the first stages, where I noticed that I wasn’t mentally healthy. I share about the different things that were going on throughout those stages – big changes, small changes, different commitments, different expectations.
If at any point you feel like you need support, please reach out to someone. There is also a list of helplines that you can call, at the end of the article.
I hope that for those of you that also have a mental health illness, that you will be able to relate to some of these things and know that you’re not alone in your journey. I hope that you will feel that it’s okay to feel the way you do, it’s okay to have difficult days and it’s necessary to reach out for help. I hope you are encouraged that the dark doesn’t hang around forever, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and to hold fast to hope. You have a future beyond your illness and you are stronger than you think.
I hope that for those of you that have never experienced a mental illness, that you will have a better understanding of what it’s like. I hope that you will understand that it’s not just a low mood or a sad day, but it lingers and leads to hopelessness. I hope that you will understand that this is not something that anyone chooses and it is also not something that you can “snap out of.” I hope that this will give you more compassion to those around you that are suffering and that you will be able to look out for the signs and be able to reach out and support a friend when they need it.
Everyone has mental health and falls somewhere on the scale. I have gone from healthy to crisis and back to thriving in the last 26 months. Whether you are mentally thriving in life or you are in crisis, I hope that my story will be helpful in your journey.
2017 October: UNSETTLED
The first symptoms I noticed was having low energy and feeling tired all the time. Whenever someone would ask how I was, my immediate answer was “tired.” This was during the last semester of my first year of university. I started to fall behind in classes, was struggling to stay on top of assignments and I was pulling all-nighters to hand in work last minute. I have always been a high achiever and want to do my best work every time. I also had a part-time job (just 3 hours on a Monday morning) and I would struggle to get there. This was also the first time that I experienced suicidal thoughts and shared these with Isaac, who was super supportive of my struggles and looked out for me a lot during that time. What kept me going was knowing that the university semester would be over soon and we had planned an incredible six-week trip to India and Nepal, to see family over Christmas and to do some sightseeing. It was the light at the end of the tunnel and I held onto that really tightly.
November & December: HEALTHY & UNSETTLED
The light at the end of the tunnel had arrived and our time in India and Nepal was phenomenal. It was so special to be back “home,” as I very much still felt like India was home. It was an intense time as we travelled to eleven different cities across seven states and two countries over six weeks. Most days, I was thriving off the travel, I was so happy to be in a familiar and loved space. But despite this, I had three days over that period when I was “sick,” absolutely exhausted and I didn’t eat or leave bed the whole time. This was devastating to me, as we were with family and “I should be making the most of this,” and “I have no reason to be so tired,” and “I know I’m not physically sick,” and “I must just be lazy.” But this was the start of the depression and this shows that depression doesn’t go on holiday when you’re taking a vacation. Despite optimal circumstances, there were days when the depression won the battle inside me.
2018 January: UNSETTLED
Returning from this trip, I was still riding the wave of the high. We landed a day before summer camp began and hit the ground running, with no time to get over jet lag or to debrief after the trip. Isaac and I were both moving into separate flats and it was extremely full on to be setting up two flats, coordinating with people and moving furniture from one side of Auckland to the other. The busyness didn’t give me much down time, but occasionally I still felt the symptoms of depression.
On 5th February, I was in a funk. I can’t remember what got me there, but I didn’t want to do anything but nap. I was upset and confused, tired and frustrated. Isaac finally dragged me out of the house, took me to Mt Eden and there he asked me to marry him. It was so huge for me because he showed how much he cared. Even on a difficult day, he loved me and despite the difficulties that we had already been through, he chose to love me at my worst and still saw a future with me. I rode the high of this proposal for a few weeks – the excitement and anticipation of marriage and planning a wedding.
With Isaac and myself both enrolled in university, things got busy very quickly and I had a lot of commitments on my plate. Already fatigued by depression, I struggled more and more as I tried to juggle university, part-time work, church, hobbies, a social life and general “adulting.” I was physically and mentally exhausted and it felt like I was treading water for so long. I finally decided to reach out for help and met with my GP. He was able to suggest strategies to cope better with university – time management strategies and ways to decrease stress levels. He also prescribed some supplements to help increase my energy levels. While this was all extremely helpful, I felt like my struggle and illness wasn’t taken as seriously as I had hoped. I had reached out to a few people in my life and some provided helpful advice while others ignored my calls for help. I don’t know if I was unable to accurately express the severity of my symptoms or if people were being optimistic, but it was all in vain, as I was too far down in my depression to be able to pull myself back out of it. I had been treading water for so long and when I finally reached out for help, instead of being thrown a lifesaver, I was told I needed to swim better.
April: IN CRISIS
The crushing feeling of not being taken seriously and being shut down when I reached out for help caused me to spiral further and further into my depression. I stopped going to university classes, I called in sick to work over and over again before quitting. I didn’t go out socially at all and postponed any meetups with my friends. I couldn’t sleep at night, I wasn’t brushing my teeth, eating or showering. The suicidal thoughts only became louder and more frequent in my head. I missed some critical university assignment deadlines and it was around this time that I started to spend nights at Isaac’s place instead of my own flat.
Isaac was a safe place, the one who cared about me entirely, who had proposed to me and promised to love me through the thick and the thin. He dressed me when I needed to get out of pajamas, took me for walks when I had the energy to walk, fed me when I had the energy to chew and looked out for me 24 hours a day. I had days when I wouldn’t leave the house, or even the four walls of the bedroom. I would wake up with panic attacks in the night and would spend the days sleeping or crying or shouting or a combination of them all. I could see absolutely no hope. My depression had shut out everyone that cared, it had filled my head with lies, it told me there was nothing worth living for, even the promise of marriage. These dark and exhausting days went on for a couple of weeks before an extra awful night had a friend call the crisis care hotline.
Soon after, I met with a psychiatrist and psychologist through crisis care and was diagnosed with clinical depression, prescribed antidepressants and referred to a counsellor. This was such a weight off my shoulders. It was my lifesaver in the storm I was stuck in. Finally, someone recognised that I was struggling, that I was ill and that I needed help beyond what I could do alone. This voice in my head, the tightness in my chest, the fog in my life finally had a name and it was called depression. Something was chemically and psychologically wrong, I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t useless, I wasn’t broken, I was sick. And for the first time in six months, I felt like I could breathe.
My parents were told about how unwell I was and my Dad flew out from India to help me out. Despite some challenges, my Dad was a huge help in getting me back on track after the depression had “derailed” my life over the last month. I was able to get university assignment deadlines extended, I moved back into my own flat and I started a new job which gave me reason to get out of bed in the mornings.
May – STRUGGLING
After the hurricane that had been April began to pass, the recovery journey began. I started to see a counsellor and focused on strategies to help me cope with the stress of university and assignments at hand. I started to meet up with friends and trusted adults about the way I was feeling. The emotions and feelings that had been whirling around inside for so long started to pour out. The medication that I started taking started to ground me and I wasn’t experiencing the sinking lows of depression as frequently as I had before. However, the antidepressants also muted the highs, which was frustrating, but something I learnt to cope with.
June, July, August, September, October: STRUGGLING & UNSETTLED
Over the next few months, I learnt how to cope with my depression much better. I decided to continue with the second semester of university, but taking three papers instead of four. I still had “difficult days” and would take frequent naps when I was struggling. The smallest things could sometimes put me in a funk. Over time, my lows were less and less frequent, spread further apart. I also was able to “bounce back” from my lows a lot quicker than before. Instead of a trigger making me give up on the whole day, I would feel the frustration, anger, hurt or sadness and then I would be able to come back after a few hours.
My family came back from India and lived in New Zealand for a few months, which was a huge help for me. It meant that I didn’t need to stress about the little things – like laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. I was given the space to focus on my university papers and on my emotions. I was able to focus on recovery. I was also surrounded in love by my younger siblings and loved being able to see them and spend time with them.
Through November, my mental health state continued to improve. I finished the second semester of university, passed all my papers and went into full wedding planning mode. At the start of November, the only wedding prep that we had done was have a venue decided and date booked. There was lots that needed to happen before the 2nd of January.
I got stuck in to wedding planning and thoroughly enjoyed the process. When healthy, I am highly productive and love getting things done, especially when it is rewarding! It felt so good to be able to do things for me again, to watch things fall into place for our wedding and to have more time to do the things I wanted to. I started to spend more time with friends, I was eating and sleeping healthily and while I continued to stay on medication, I felt like I was finally seeing progress and it was such a good feeling. This is not to say that I never felt angry, sad or frustrated, but when I did, I was able to express and cope with my emotions, instead of having them control me.
December: HEALTHY & THRIVING
December is my birthday month, we were counting down the days until our wedding day and we were excited to see family over Christmas and to spend time with friends over the summer. Extended family started to arrive in the country, filling the house with joy and laughter. Isaac’s family arrived before Christmas and it was extra special because it was their first time visiting New Zealand.
Another highlight of the month was my best friend surprising me. She flew out of Korea a few days earlier than I was expecting and surprised me on Christmas Eve. It goes down as such a special moment. I was so grateful to have her in the country a week before the wedding as it had been over 2.5 years since we had last seen each other.
Somewhere in the mix, my maid-of-honour threw a wonderful bridal shower, a special day being surrounded by the women in my life that I love. Then, I celebrated my 21st birthday in the week between Christmas and the wedding day, surrounded by so much love from my family, soon to be in-laws and friends. We finalised the details of the wedding and I continued to enjoy the planning process. It was magic watching everything fall into place, especially on the day before the wedding as we set to decorating and setting up the venue.
2019 January: HEALTHY
On the 2nd of January, Isaac and I got married on what’s been the best day of our lives so far. It was incredibly special to share it with so many people, to tie the knot in front of those that had walked through life with us, whether it had been for decades, years or months. The day itself was so special and full of laughter and joy and tear-jerking speeches. It was a highly emotional day, but in the best way possible. And just like that, Isaac and I started forever together.
We kicked off the summer with a buddymoon trip, spending time with our overseas highschool friends who had made the trek to New Zealand during a busy time of year.
It was difficult to start to say goodbyes, as friends and family started to head back, but I continued to ride the high and was thankful for the moments that we had, rather than being upset that it was over.
February, March: UNSETTLED
Heading into February and March, I began to feel a little more unsettled, as the excitement of the last few months wore off and we got stuck into routine. I was feeling in low spirits as I was only taking one paper at university and I didn’t have a job, so I had a lot of time to think, worry and doubt myself. After the productivity of wedding planning and the fulfilment seeing it come together, I struggled not having something to do that I could get excited and passionate about. As a couple we were also struggling financially and it made me frustrated that I was unemployed.
April, May: HEALTHY
Through April and May, Isaac and I made a visit to Nepal to celebrate his sister’s wedding. Again, it was a time filled with love and joy and so special to spend time with family. I really enjoyed getting to be there without any distractions or commitments, but could be present the whole time. For most of the days in Nepal, I was able to cope really well and I began to reduce my antidepressant dosage.
When returning to New Zealand, Isaac and I moved into our own place. It was great being able to set up our own home, knowing that we’d be here for the next couple of years or so. We were eating healthily, getting into good routines and enjoying marriage. In May, I came off my medication completely, what felt to me like a huge milestone in my recovery.
June, July, August: HEALTHY & THRIVING
On the whole, I was doing really well, I was mentally healthy, despite the ups and downs which everyone has! I finished the single paper I was doing at university, I started a new job (which has been amazing and was exactly what I needed) and I also launched this blog. I found a lot of joy through my blog and loved being able to put work into it and create this platform and this space for me to share. I started to meet new people and would plan weekend escapes with Isaac. We planned our Christmas holiday together and went rock-climbing regularly.
I recognised that I no longer had any symptoms of depression. I felt so much better, I was not tired, I ate and slept well, I didn’t have huge social anxiety, I was healthy! I felt so okay at this point, that I even started to write a blog post titled, “I no longer have clinical depression.” I had been off my meds for a few months, I was feeling better than I had in a long time and I remember meeting people and speaking to them about my depression in the past tense, “When I had depression…” I honestly thought that it was over and that I had recovered.
September, October, November: UNSETTLED & STRUGGLING
Long story short, I was wrong. I don’t know what it was that changed, but over the following months, I started to slide from healthy to unsettled to struggling. The symptoms were all too familiar, yet I denied them for a while. The things I used to enjoy became a chore and the things I loved, I started doing less of. Cooking and eating was no longer a priority and my energy would run out a lot quicker. After going out of the house, I would have to sit at home for several hours to recover from a trip to the supermarket. The smallest things would get me into the biggest funk and I called in “sick” to work a few days, crippled and unable to operate. I spent those days in bed, frustrated, angry, hopeless. The suicidal thoughts came back too and Isaac had to take a couple of days off work to make sure I was safe.
The hardest part about this was seeing all the symptoms returning. I felt frustrated that I had relapsed, confused as to why it’s happening again and angry that I wasn’t able to keep depression at bay.
I am really positive that I have been able to recognise my symptoms of depression. While I’m still frustrated and confused, I’ve been able to identify what is going on and have been able to successfully get help. I have started seeing a counsellor again and will soon be deciding whether to start medication again or whether to try and cope without it. I have been more intentional about doing things my depression doesn’t want me to do – things like sleeping and eating regularly, getting exercise, seeing friends, writing and taking photos. I take time to talk about the way I feel, I spend time caring for my body and what it needs.
I don’t know what the next year is going to look like, but I know that this journey is a bumpy one and I try to hold onto hope in every way I can. I’m hugely grateful for the supporting community around me, so thank you if you’re one of the people that has encouraged me, supported me and cared for me through the whole journey over the last 26 months.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
I am so grateful for all my readers, thank you and kia kaha.