"I couldn’t bring myself to face anyone - I could hardly face myself in the mirror." Cliona's story of depression
My story of depression - from AWARE Volunteer Cliona McCarney
Work? A headache? Cramps? Babysitting again? Which excuse hadn’t I used for a while? I’d used all of them, and more, a lot recently. I was tangled up in a web of my own lies as I struggled to come up with yet another excuse for why I couldn’t meet a friend for a coffee. Depression. The darkest, most terrifying time of my life. The truth is that I couldn’t bring myself to face anyone - I could hardly face myself in the mirror. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, but at this point, my whole life was spiraling out of control and I felt powerless to stop it. I am 20 years old, and I have never felt so low in my life.
Let me circle back a little bit. It was late summer in 2014. I’d just returned from an incredible summer in America and on the face of it, I had the whole world at my feet. I had spent my summer with the most extraordinary group of people I could’ve ever imagined and I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. That’s the trouble with finding your happy place. You don’t always get to stay there, and sometimes it’s far from real life. Nevertheless, I returned home excited and optimistic, full of plans for the future. I wasn’t due to start back to my part-time job for another 4 weeks and still a couple of months away from starting back to Queens University, Belfast. I was bored. I went from living at 100 miles an hour to doing nothing and I couldn’t cope with it. The excitement and optimism I felt soon turned into pressure, pressure to achieve and succeed, I felt the weight of a thousand expectations on my shoulders, so heavy I could have sworn they were blocks of concrete.
Things went from bad to worse, to worse again. Most days, I felt like I was watching myself from a distance and felt disgusted at this lazy, unmotivated disgrace that I felt I’d become. My self-loathing increased on a daily basis to the point I didn’t even want to say my own name, because I felt that it represented failure. If I thought these horrible things about myself, I dreaded to think what anyone else thought of me. At this point, I’d started back at university. I’d gained a lot of weight due to my cycle of not eating, binge eating and not eating again. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to see myself. The hardest part of it all wasn’t the crying or the feelings of emptiness and despair, it was the dishonesty. I was quite literally living a lie to everyone in my life. The effort of having a chat on the phone with my best friend exhausted me to the point I felt I’d just run a marathon.
It was just before Christmas time when I realised things would have to change. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore. The sadness and the feeling of the weight of the world on my shoulders was literally killing me. It took every bit of strength that I possessed to convince myself that it would be a bad thing for that to happen. That sounds melodramatic and maybe it is, but that was the point I’d gotten too. I went to my GP and for the first time, I faced up to the true extent of the problems I was having. It took me several attempts to make an appointment. I waited in the call queue for what felt like hours and then I hung up in fright when I heard a voice. Even when I eventually made it through to reception, I refused to tell the woman the nature of my problem, saying it was a check-up I needed about my asthma.
A couple weeks later, I faced my doctor and I told her I couldn’t be sure that I would keep myself safe anymore and she needed to help, to help me help myself. She prescribed me my first course of anti-depressants and they absolutely knocked me for six. Again, this was around Christmas time when I would ordinarily be rushing around, busy, but I felt so lethargic I could barely stand up. On Christmas Day in our house, everyone mucks in to help get the dinner out and dishes done, but I physically couldn’t do much more than plonk myself on the sofa. I was aghast with despair, but mainly frustration. I thought that opening up, taking this medication would make me feel better, but so far I was almost worse. Nevertheless, I persisted. I fought the demons inside my head every day that told me I was beyond help and not deserving of it either. I took a deep breath and counted to 30 inside my head. I began to trust that if I could make it through the next 30 seconds, then the next, that I could will myself onwards.
Fast forward a few months. I had finally opened up about what I was feeling to the people closest to me. A very lovely friend had helped me make some decisions and defer my exams at university. I continued with my medication. I stood down from my political roles to allow myself time to heal. The support I received from within my political party is something I’ll never forget. Slowly, very slowly, but surely I started to feel like myself again. I took things day by day and always remembered that I had survived 100% of my very bad days so far, and that was a track record I was proud of and bloody determined to keep. With the support of my friends and my truly magnificent family, I put myself together again.
Two and a half years later - I’m me. I’m Cliona. I’m not perfect. I don’t always like myself and sometimes I get bad days, sometimes they turn into bad weeks and I start to panic, but now I know that it will pass. I survived the worst time of my life and I think my best days are still ahead of me. I’m working in a job that I love, trying to give a little back to the health system that helped put me back together. Depression isn’t a cop out response to a bad day. It’s an illness that can be debilitating and life destroying. Mental illness is no less of an illness.
It’s been a long journey, and I don’t know when I’ll be finished with the journey, if ever. But the one thing I can say, with every confidence, is that it’s worth every single step. I am stronger now than I ever have been. I hope that by sharing my story, that it will help other people to seek help. AWARE does amazing work, please never suffer in silence the way I did, you are worth seeking help for.