Being diagnosed with depression can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.
Chloe struggled with depression and anxiety in her early teens. She was self-harming and developed bulimia by the age of 15. She attempted suicide for the first time at 16 and again at 18. She is now in recovery after a long journey through different therapies.
This interview has been sourced from Healthtalk Australia. Healthtalk Australia is the Australian collaborator of healthtalk.org (UK) which conducts award-winning research into patient experiences in conjunction with the Health Experience Research Group at the University of Oxford, UK.
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Chloe first attempted suicide at the age of 16, but it was never discussed in her family, who saw it as ‘attention seeking’.
As soon as I hit Year 7, Year 8, it just kind of blew up into this mass, like, anxiety and depression.
And my self esteem plummeted and all of a sudden I was like fat, hideous, a loser, just, you know, I didn’t think too much of myself, and - so I was about 14 when I really started getting quite depressed. And I got symptoms like self harming and kind of like suicidal thoughts and it was - and - when I was about 15, I developed an eating disorder to try and - I don’t know. I guess I wanted to feel better about the way I looked and just - I’m not too sure.
And on my 16th birthday, I attempted suicide for the first time and I was in Year 10. And, no one knew, like, at school because mental illness wasn’t mentioned at school so it would – if you went - if anyone knew about that I would be like an outcast and people would spread rumours about me. And my family had this whole persp - perspective that it was more of like an attention seeking thing and that I didn’t mean to do it, and. My Mum basically just said, ‘Don’t do it again!’. And, ‘You’re fine; be a good girl,’ or whatever.
And I saw a psychologist twice after that through the hospital and he was really intimidating so I didn’t go back to see him. And from there on it went kind of a lot worse, I guess, because I’d reached a really low point; possibly the lowest you could get and because it wasn’t addressed then, it just went downhill, and Years 11 and 12, it was like I got into the drinking and the drug taking and really badly self harming and just a bad eating disorder.
And I kind of, I was really happy though, like to people, like I had this really great mask on so at school I was actually like the class clown. Like, it was ridiculous; like I was the, the loudest, funniest kind of, you know - I partied the most and it was just funny because I’d go home and I wouldn’t sleep at night and I was just so depressed but no one knew about it, like not even my family.
Chloe remembered feeling better after she could name her distress.
Well… it’s hard to remember. I guess… in a way it did make me feel a little bit better because all those things that I’d been experiencing were caused by something and that was comforting. But then you know, you go through the whole, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why do I have this? Why don’t they have this?’ And then, then yeah. But , it was good because then you had a label for it so when you were like seeking help or looking for a service provider or another doctor you could say, you know, ‘I need help with depression,’ rather than, ‘Oh this is going on; I don’t know what it is’, and yeah. So it was good in a way. Yeah, it was good.
Chloe found psychiatrists too cold and clinical.
Well I’ve been through a lot of [laughs], a lot of psychologists and a few psychiatrists. From my experience with psychiatrists, most of the ones I’ve seen are very cold and clinical and they kind of are - almost judgmental, is the vibe they gave me. So like I think I saw one psychiatrist actually who was just so like cold and she didn’t smile and she just, was very intrusive and treated me like not like an equal almost. I actual left feeling 100 times worse than when I walked in which was scary because I went in to talked about depression and I walked out being more depressed like, oh my God. She made me feel really horrible. And after that, I swore I’d never see another psychiatrist. But psychologists - a bit hit and miss. Like I’ve had a few where they’ve been a bit similar, like a bit intimidating and then but the other ones I’ve seen have been really good; like just really good to talk to, and yeah.
Chloe compared two workplaces: one unsupportive and homophobic and the other supportive and how these opposite attitudes made a difference to the way she felt about herself.
There’s a lot [laughs] I could add to my story. I wouldn’t mind mentioning… mental health in the workplace. That’s. In my, when I got my first full time job, it was in like a big kind of corporate office. And I had really bad anxiety and depression but and I came out to my workplace as being gay, like because I had a partner and obviously they’d just find out. And then there was a bit of homophobia afterwards unfortunately and then I was already anxious and that made me extr – like even more anxious.
And I brought it up with, one of my managers and they responded in a really bad way, which was really unfortunate. And that made me realise that mental health in the workplace is probably - like needs to be addressed.
They were just kind of like, - almost like you shouldn’t bring that to work kind of, you know - we pay you to look happy [laughs] and greet our clients and you know yeah, it was more like that.
So your work environment is clearly markedly different now?
So you feel comfortable talking about yourself and your situation and who you are in this new environment?
Oh definitely yeah. Well I work in a youth homelessness agency. I actually run a support group every week for same sex attracted young people and we always talk about mental health issues, and just. It’s a really great space for them especially considering the majority of them are homeless or like at risk of homelessness. So it’s just a great space for them to connect with other people because they’re, they’re quite isolated. And we always talk about mental health and yeah, mental health in our workplace is just - because our, most of our clients have mental health issues, it’s just, it’s common; it’s day to day basis. It’s yeah, [nods] a really, really great environment to work in.
Chloe talked about her experiences of living through phases of depression and recovery and what helped her most.
Yeah then I just started working full time and yeah I’ve been in recovery for the last couple of years. It’s been like - I’ve been doing really well and at the moment I’m seeing a really great psychologist and a psychiatrist and on some really good medication that I found really helped after I tried like I don’t know how many [laughs] different medications I’ve tried.
And yeah so things are finally [laughs], are finally doing well [laughs], 10 years down the track but yeah, it’s been a really long process, so, that’s…
I think recovery begins the day you decide that you don’t want to live like that anymore. It’s making that first decision to change the way your life is and the way it could possibly end up. And then from then on, it’s seeking support from whether it be friends, family, doctors, health professionals. For, for me, support from my partner was the most important aspect. Just having someone to talk to is really important otherwise you just keep it inside and no one, you know, will ever know about it. And it kind of yeah gets all bottled up, and then. Yeah recovery, yeah is just taking positive steps. You know they can be really slow. Like it can take years - it could take months to years to recover, you know, and I’m not sure whether you can fully be recovered. Like you know there’s always a chance of relapsing. Like for me I was – [laughs] I had some really bad health problems a couple of years ago and I had to have some surgeries and stuff.
And then I was diagnosed with just chronic pelvic pain so I had like really severe chronic pain where I couldn’t walk or work. You know, and this was after I started working and it was all going really well and then I just got really sick which I think could’ve been from all the stress. And just sitting there with all this pain thinking, ‘I can’t do all those things that I really like doing, like you know hiking and cycling and stuff anymore’. And then I relapsed straight away into depression because my quality of life went way down and I’d worked so hard to get it up there.
And then you know it happened so quickly. I just went down again but luckily, because I’d been through it before, I kind of knew which supports to go to and what works best for me, and yeah, I made it through so I’m still managing the pain side of it as well and then all the other mental stuff, so yeah.
Chloe suggested seeing a doctor as the first point of call.
Best advice is to see a doctor [laughs]. Just to yeah make an appointment with like a doctor; either one that you’ve seen before so that you know them or just - I mean you might not get the right doctor first but just keep persevering until you find one that you can talk to about what’s going on. And hopefully they will refer you in the right directions. And also, equally as important is just to open up and talk about it with someone, like even a phone helpline. Just that initial getting it off your chest, it doesn’t matter who to, just people really underestimate how powerful that is. And I think that’s really important - to just talk about it, yeah.
Source: Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia, 20-29 Chloe
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Last reviewed: September 2013