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Saturday, 28 March 2015

You're Not Alone...with Depression...Keep Fighting

In response to the many news articles on the recent tragedy of the Germanwings plane crash I considered writing something today about my views on the way that press coverage of this awful event has set back progress towards developing better understanding of depression.

However, I find that in this New Statesman article, Stephanie Boland (@stephanieboland) says what I want to say, and picks out the same nuanced stigmatising language from (for one) the Daily Mail's coverage of the crash. I would like to recommend that everyone read this article for an analysis of journalistic styles, and how inappropriate these are at times.(In case you're wondering, I was actually incredulous at the massively inappropriate and misleading use of the word 'Incredibly' in the Mail's article, like Boland, and I also took great exception to the word 'heinous' being used to describe what appears to be a completely fictionalised version of a statement of ambition that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz made to his then girlfriend, a few years ago.

What really stands out for me from reading all the press coverage of how lonely it is to be depressed. I feel this especially when people make assumptions about what you can and cannot do based on your diagnosis of 'depression' without understanding more about how each person's symptoms manifest themselves and how severe they suffer, how often they present with symptoms, how this affects their life etc.

I have felt like this. But there's more to it...

I only started talking openly about having depression last year because of behaviour from others that I - rightly or wrongly - have perceived to be negative perceptions of me. I experienced various occurences where I felt there was a question as to my ability to perform work in a quality way, to be able to continue to function at a normal or above normal level, linked specifically to the fact that I was in therapy or that I had previously suffered with depression or was suffering from a low episode where my depression was worse than normal.

Spiralling negative thought focus is one of my worst symptoms,
worsened when I shame myself again and again for every wrong I've ever committed

I found that when I was ill with depression it was particularly exhausting to function because of my self-imposed rule that I must at all costs conceal it. Trying to live each day and say 'I'm fine' when actually I was anything but greatly aggravated my condition: I was not only unwell, but I had shamed myself and felt shamed by others into hiding what I believe to be a condition that many others suffer from, and that is nothing at all to be ashamed about.

What's more, while having depression over the last twenty years, I made it through school (just), got into Oxford university, managed to achieve a 2:1 degree, then was accepted onto the TeachFirst programme and taught hundreds of pupils aged 11-16 at two outer London comprehensive schools over three years. I then left teaching to become a management consultant at one of the largest and competitive firms in the market. I developed sufficient business acumen to be promoted there - twice - and to be accepted as a transfer candidate with sponsored visa to live and work in New York. I moved back and gained my current job with another large and prestigious consultancy firm.

Me, 2005, punting on the Cherwell in Oxford.
I was suffering from depression when this was taken

The year I got into teaching I was still grieving for a dear friend lost a year before, my father had cancer and I suffered from depression as a result. I had also moved to London only a year before and was in a new relationship. All this was made more challenging by the fact that I was working extremely long hours to become a teacher in a learning curve I can only describe as 0-60 in 10 seconds. The children I taught were at times very hard work: most were keen to succeed but reluctant to learn! I had six weeks of training (combining some practical and some theoretical elements in a crash course) and then started on an almost-full teaching timetable.

Most children were very easily distracted and many had all kinds of special educational needs ranging from dyslexia, non-verbal autism, other levels of autism / aspergers, having ADHD (either diagnosed or non-diagnosed), suffering from trauma, coming from abusive homes, coming from foster care, coming from many different other countries and not speaking English. I could go on and on.

Bristol 2006.
I was on medication to treat depression and sleep problems at the time.

It was wonderful and awful in equal measures on many days but even though the stress of that work helped me develop terrible psoriasis all over my head and brought on worse symptoms of depression I still managed to do the job and qualified with the highest possible grade as a teacher, and was awarded a 1(the highest assessment) during our Ofsted inspection when I was teaching year 8 (the WORST year 8 in the school's history) Romeo and Juliet. I spent weekends planning lessons which would (I hoped) engage the individual needs of every child. I produced many new resources and worked with other amazing teachers to try to grow into a teacher who would give the children the success they wanted. The majority were able to improve their English (I taught English) in spades and for GCSE students achieve the Cs or above they were looking for.

While I was in teaching I took medication for depression but rarely took time off.
Most time off was related to bugs caught from germ-sharing at my schools!

After the first 7 weeks I was burnt out to use the familiar expression used by others to describe Andreas Lubitz. I went to the doctor and received antidepressant medication to help me to improve my mood, cope with work (I missed one week of work due to sickness, including but not limited to depression) and get back on track. Things did improve. I got better and life went on. I didn't miss more work for depression (I did get terrible flu and tonsilitis from schools which remain for all who are parents, students and teachers a breeding ground for all manner of lovely germs!).

2010, after running the London 10K. 
I was suffering from depression at the time.

I finally left teaching for management consulting because I wanted to make more of a difference. My ambition at the time was to lead an education charity one day. Now (8 years on) I still want to run a charity, but currently would prefer it to be one linked to mental health services, though I'm still equally passionate about education / children, so perhaps I'll find a way to do both. It would be a highly appropriate statement for me to say, as Lubitz is reported to have done, ‘One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.’

Sydney, 2010, at a wedding. 
I was suffering from depression at the time.

Since joining consulting I've worked in 6 different countries in many industries to learn about how business works. I have worked long hours to produce quality work for my employers and my clients, and I've tried to build a CV that shows my passion for people, for technology and my intellectual curiosity.

2011, just after returning from 3 months working in Ghana and Ethiopia.
I was suffering from depression at the time.

 I've also mentored students through the HEAPs scheme, iMentor (in New York), have coached teachers and other professionals and have supported Mind and Time to Change as an advocate for better understanding of mental health and by being a media volunteer. I was in hospital last year with depression but took only a limited amount of time off from work, because I find work (and activity) supported by others, makes me flourish rather than flounder. I hope that my non-profit activities give value to those whom I work with - I certainly enjoy them because I love people and want to do as much as I can to help people out - it makes me happy to do this. 

Cape Cod, summer 2014.
I had just come out of hospital after suffering a severe episode of trauma-related depression

All the while, I have still had depression. I've taken different varieties of medication, I've attended and still attend CBT with a fantastic therapist who helps me try to get through tough times. I still feel like not being alive on quite a few days. I didn't particularly want to wake up on Thursday morning, just gone, for example, because - and I will not lie - depression can feel unrelenting and it is bloody knackering to keep going with your life when you're worn out from all the negative feelings that you wish would just sod off so that working, exercising, eating, seeing people, and just functioning weren't so drainingly difficult.

Sometimes the simplest activities are as hard as any other task imaginable.
They represent how hard 'living' compared to not living can be.

I am now not alone. I have friends from my support groups to hang out with. I have my beloved husband who supports me even though - I feel - it surely must get quite old when your wife greets you at the end of each day in floods of tears and can't make a decision about what she wants for dinner, despite having polished off a high quality bid and managed multiple projects and written a blog post during the day. I have my other friends who send supportive messages and put up with me being flaky when I can't always make appointments if I'm suddenly unwell. I have my family who are loving and kind. I have a lot. And at work - importantly - I have grown in the confidence to say when I'm not well and expect (and demand) that people to treat me without discrimination because I happen to suffer from depression. I speak out here. I speak out wherever I can. I believe I have the right to a life and the right to work, respect (as long as I show it to others) and fair treatment as an individual.

On days like today, when I feel 'okay' - not great, not terrible, I still hold on to my ambitions and think about the future I want to have. And I say, honestly, and with hope, ‘One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.’

Just Breathe...Live.

And I really hope that I do - something positive that allows me to be the change I want to see in the world.‘One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.’ And, "incredibly", I will do with depression. 

Me 2015, on medication and seeing a Cognitive Behavioural therapist to help with my depression.
Working, writing, coaching, painting. Living.


  1. Good post. Photo sequence especially powerful.

    1. Thanks for reading. It was funny to look back at the photos and realise how long I've had depression throughout my life and how different I've looked on the outside, while having similar struggles on the inside for what feels like nearly my whole life. x