- Rebecca Down
Depression tells me that if I died, it would be fairly inconsequential. People would move on with their lives perfectly okay without me. The world wouldn’t miss me. The only thing that keeps me here is the hope that if I stay around, I might be able to prove it wrong; I might be able to achieve things that make myself proud, and I might be able to reach out and give back to my family and friends some of the love, encouragement and faith that they have given to me. Where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s depression’s weakness. That’s what I’ll use to defeat it. And those are the days I’ll live for.
- April 2015
A couple of weeks ago I was looking through old documents on my laptop. Inside a folder I’d left unopened for almost two years was a copy of a blog post I submitted to Student Minds and Students Against Depression in early 2015 – A Portrait of Anxiety and Depression. I’d written this post in the second term of my second year at university, and just a few months before I’d made the decision to defer my studies for a year in order to recover from a depressive episode. At the time of writing, I would never have believed that the world I am living in now – the world I was clinging on to life for – would actually exist.
Two years on from that post being published, I am back at university and successfully balancing the demands of my course with a happy social life and time spent pursuing projects outside my academic studies. I have re-established my sociable, motivated identity, my sense of self-worth, and I’ve gained the ability to cope with my illnesses so that they no longer dominate my life.
I can’t say exactly what it was that allowed me to recover – it took a combination of hard work, patience and practice to challenge my thoughts and gradually change my perspective. At times I felt hopeless and my efforts seemed futile, but I was continually encouraged to try new things, break out of comfort zone and keep myself going. During my year away from university I found a part-time job in a primary school which gave me the structure I needed to use the time productively. At weekends I travelled around the country visiting friends, or exploring new places with my camera.
For the same reason, I expect, that people are changed by journeying to different continents and experiencing different cultures, I found that paying attention to the lives and work of others around me allowed my mind to break out of the restraints that depression had created. Undoubtedly one of the most important reasons for my recovery was the love and support that I received from some truly exceptional friends and boyfriend. Opening up to them has been one of the very best things I’ve done for myself, and it's something I will always be extremely grateful to them for.
Even after two incredibly challenging years, I wouldn't choose to go back and change my experience. I am grateful for its lessons, I am grateful for the way it has shaped me, and I am grateful for the clarity it's given to my view of my life. I now have a much better awareness of the values I hold and the things that I want to achieve, and have a much better ability to embrace and confront new challenges.
In many ways, I consider my period of illness a necessary lesson that prevented me from following a path of endless self-hatred and unhappiness. I have learnt that life does not abide by a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy, that perfection does not exist, and that there is no defined way to be – the best thing you can do is to simply be yourself. For two dark and dreary years I lost myself, but now my identity is stronger than ever and my biggest struggles have become my greatest gift. It does get brighter.