Dealing With Depression
Updated: Nov 10
I have been mulling over this blog for years. And a few days ago, I had that “aha” moment in my shower, the words started flowing and here it is.
We say that things get worse before they get better. This is especially true when it comes to depression.
We are the leaders of our own lives. But sometimes, we can lose track of that, get lost and sink deeper, deeper and deeper.
I spent most of my childhood in a privileged and, on the surface, sheltered environment. I was also a complete product of my environment, blissfully ignorant of what was going on around me and with seemingly little life experience.
My parents were successful entrepreneurs and came from a family of the same. One of my grandfathers was the first to import LEGO to France in the 60s. My father, uncle and other grandfather were running one of the largest industrial cleaning companies in the country employing, 1000s of people.
The money was flowing around. I grew up in a mansion surrounded by horses and people to do the work for us. By the time I was a teenager, I had had meals in many Michelin star restaurants, was close to being a professional skier and had my own horse.
One morning, all of that changed. This is one of those moments that will remain with me till the end of my life.
I was 15. It was a Wednesday on a rainy and sad day, and I was off school. As usual, I woke up and made my way down to the kitchen to have my breakfast. As I got close to the kitchen door I overheard my parents talking to my sister.
I somehow realised that this was something serious and I decided not to enter the room, and to listen. My parents were explaining to my sister she would have to stop studying and start working for my father. His company had gotten into financial trouble and he could no longer afford to pay for her studies.
Later that day, I cornered my mother in the living room and required she explain to me what was going on. The long and short of it was, that we were close to financially losing everything.
My childhood was officially over that day! In a matter of months, we were virtually homeless, living with friends. But the financial aspects were really only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, they were never really the problem.
As our financial situation deteriorated, the little psychological safety I had growing up went up in smoke. At 15 I became “officially” party to all the personal, financial and other problems my parents had accumulated over their lives and were unable to deal with.
For the next three years and until I left home at 18, my daily routine included running away to school where I was strictly on my own – I let no one in! - and then bracing myself for impact on my way back from school to be ready for whatever I would find there. I never experienced physical violence, but my time at home was filled with constant psychological violence and emotional blackmailing.
There was no place for me in that situation. I was constantly responding and managing my environment and I had no energy to deal with me that fact of being a teenager never mind being a gay teenager.
As I reached UNI, my mental health was starting to deteriorate. I did not realise it at first, in fact my first year in university was fun. But as I reached 19, I was beginning to feel less and less well.
I realised many years later that despite the environment I had grown up in, I had still managed to find some sort of balance. I was doing tons of sport every week and I was reading a lot to extract myself from reality. I instinctively spent countless hours in nature trying to find peace on the back of my horse. I had seemingly managed to shield myself from my environment.
A lot of that disappeared when I moved out and went to university. I was left with only myself, lots of unresolved issues, not least the fact that I was gay and enable to deal with it.
By the time I was 21, I was in a complete downward spiral. It felt that my mind, my personality, was breaking down. I was unable to deal with my past, with my suppressed sexuality and all the emotions I had accumulated over the years. And it all came crashing down on me.
This is how I learnt that there isn’t such a thing as reaching rock bottom when it comes to depression. I kept sinking deeper and deeper and deeper.
And no one could really help me, as I was completely consumed by my own personal breakdown and I would not let anyone in.
This stopped on the back of one fateful night. Another of those moments that will remain with me forever.
We were out with some friends and I began feeling increasingly bad. My mind was going into a complete free fall. So, I decided to leave and go back home. As I arrived home, I crashed on to my bed. I was completely losing control swallowed in maelstrom of thoughts and emotions. In that storm, a thought started to emerge –
“What if I were to just leave, and forget everything? Take my car, drive somewhere, anywhere but here! Leave all of this behind me!
And then that thought led to another
“I will never reach rock bottom. I can keep falling further, or bounce back or make it stop.
As my mind increasingly got hung up on that thought, the realisation of what “making it stop” meant gradually made its way to me as well.
What I was thinking about at that point absolutely petrified me!
I can still picture myself to this day at that very moment, gripping both sides of my bed as tight as I could and remaining there, in the dark with my mind completely frozen, for what felt hours.
I must have fallen asleep at some point as I woke up the morning after having made my choice. The choice to stay and to live!
Recovering from Depression
That decision made me feel almost immediately better and for the first time in a very long time I felt my mind was whole again. The storm had almost instantly stopped. But clearly, it was only the beginning of my journey to recovery.
My relationship with my parents, though physically distant, had not really changed. They were still making me part of their problems and had a material emotional impact on my life. I needed to put a stop to it.
So, I decided to have a serious discussion with them. As I boarded the train on my way there, I was rehearsing everything I was planning to lay at their feet; everything they had done to me in the first 22 years of my life.
But, as I arrived home and got ready for the discussion, I realised that would be futile.
So instead of confronting them, I told them I loved them. I had accepted they were not perfect and I no longer had any expectations of them. I told them the way they interacted with me was destroying me and I would no longer tolerate this. I needed to focus on myself and they were preventing me from doing so.
I told them I no longer wanted to see them, hear from them, have any direct or indirect contact with them. And I would take the time I needed to recover without interference. It could be weeks, months, years or never.
And indeed, for several months after that day, I had no contact with them. Since then, our relationship has completely changed and for the better.
Being gay had also had a material bearing on my mental state. I was unable to face up to what I was and all the emotions and feelings arising from it. So, I put a stop to a “friendly” relationship that had become the epicentre of all my undealt with “gayness”. But I did not come out; in fact, I buried what I was even deeper. It was simply too much at that point.
At the time, I was about to enter the workforce and work would become the anchor to rebuild myself over the months to come.
When I finally decided to seek out some help and go through counselling many years later, the first thing I realised was that my problems had started when I was an infant. Not when I was 15.
I had learnt from a very young age to deal with the emotional unavailability of my parents by suppressing my own emotional needs. Of course, no one ever makes their own emotions disappear; they are there, buried and can come out in a fury.
The 18-20h of sports per week I used to do growing up had help me to channel some of these emotions … but without dealing with them. When I stopped exercising and changed my environment in university, the dam broke.
And the second biggest learning from counselling: I was strictly unable to recognise or even name the emotions I was experiencing. I tended to ignore them till I could not.
I have been learning to recognise and to express what I feel ever since, whilst doing my best to deal with the “backlog”.
Having been on the verge of mental collapse, I learnt that I owned the key to my own recovery. And I developed subconscious checks on my mental state. For example, I would – and still do nowadays – probe myself to make sure my mind is whole.
That in turn has significantly increased my ability to sustain stressful and difficult situations.
And all of this manifests itself in surprising, and sometimes not so great, ways.
Several years ago, as I was attending a party with some colleagues, I was introduced to the “girlfriend” of one my female colleagues (she was not officially out) and we started chatting.
Without really understanding why, I told her about what I wrote in this blog. She was a complete stranger and the first person I ever talked to about all of this – not even my now husband knew about this at the time.
As I finished my story, she told me: “From the moment I saw you, I somehow knew that you and I were similar. I went through the same thing. I have never talked to anyone about this before”
Over the years I met some people that exhibited that inner strength and self-confidence driven from similar experiences. Somehow, I can immediately recognise them for what they are. It is like a “gaydar”, but for people who suffered and recovered from depression.
This also turned out to be a bit of a problem in certain circumstances, especially when the situation was emotionally loaded.
A few years after I started working, I unwillingly hurt a colleague who had, with insights, more than friendly feelings toward me. As I could not recognise his and my own emotions –I also was not out at the time -, I was unable to diffuse the situation immediately. Instead, I suppressed my own emotions and entrenched myself.
The less I responded to the situation, the more violent his attacks became. And the more I came across as an emotionless individual, the more everybody else around me reacted negatively toward me.
Of course, I could just about sustain this situation … in fact, I did exactly that for 9 months without flinching and got effectively bullied and morally harassed during the entire time.
As I finally came out, I started looking at the world through a different lens. I realised that a lot of people were “not living their life”. And that was explaining a lot of the hardship and suffering too many people experienced.
They were living a life that had been dictated by their environment. They had not been able, and at times were not willing, to come “out” and put themselves back in control.
I reached the conclusion that as humans we always choose. Whether we recognise that choice for what it is or not. However difficult or unfair that choice may be. And knowing that doing nothing is also a choice.
As I faced a choice between life and death, I chose to break the cycle. I chose to come out of it. And I realised that for better or worse I was the master of my own life.
I would love to hear more about your own experience! Please feel free to share your thoughts in comment.