The mid years of my 30s were Really, Really Bad Years for me.
I felt my emotions were ‘out of control’. I got angry quickly, then found myself subsiding in tears. My house was in a mess and I didn’t have the energy or motivation to clean it up. Some days I struggled to shower and look after myself properly. It didn’t matter because I was ‘stupid, worthless, pathetic, a loser’.
I found myself struggling more than ever with my overwhelming and profound sadness, frustration and disappointment in myself and in life. It was not until I become physically unwell that I knew I had to seek professional help.
But that didn’t happen for a while yet.
As I was completing my PhD in archaeology, my attention shifted from life in the ancient world to the current political situation in Australia, particularly in relation to humanitarian issues.
Refugees were coming to Australia from war-torn East Africa via the offshore humanitarian program and I felt a calling to work somehow with this group of vulnerable people.
So I completed a migration agents’ course and found a job with the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre in Footscray, a western suburb of Melbourne.
I loved working in the multi-cultural setting of the centre and found great satisfaction in advocating on behalf of our clients. I learned an enormous amount about the conflicts raging in Africa and about the culture and history of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.
I felt better. I felt like I was making a difference and mood seemed to brighten somewhat. I still spent too much time alone and my thought patterns were not always constructive, but I felt things might finally be improving.
Then I lost my job.
My anger at the way the MRC had been mismanaged financially and how that had left our clients without support kept me from plummeting into a dangerous low mood but as the weeks rolled on the impact of what had happened hit me and I fell into a really bad, deep depression.
Have you ever found yourself suddenly without work? It’s one of the most traumatic experiences you can have.
Six weeks later I gained a similar job but yet again found myself without work within the year because the organisation decided to reconfigure the role I had. I was ‘welcome’ to apply for it but there was a strong insinuation that I would be unsuccessful and so I found myself without a job yet again.
In fact, I had been very miserable in that job and had struggled through the previous six months or so. The values of the organisation were at odd with my own. They were more concerned with doing the right thing by the funding body, building their corporate message and offering the minimum service possible. I remember driving to work, my face clenched in tension. I barely kept my tears at bay and was unable to focus on anything at work.
The organisation’s philosophy was at odds with my own values and I felt lost and confused.
Are you unhappy in your job, feel it’s just not you, but you’re not sure what to do about it? We spend so much time at work. It’s a horrible feeling to wake up each morning and drag ourselves to a place we don’t like, with people we can’t relate to and perform a job we don’t value.
When mood is very, very low and your emotions all over the place, making sound decisions is pretty hard. I made extremely poor financial decisions (the worst was a $5000 bed which promised to solve my poor sleep) which resulted in several thousand dollars-worth of credit card debt.
Somehow, I decided that working for myself might be the right path to take and so I set up my own immigration consulting business, AusArrivals Immigration Agency. I managed to find a tiny office and had some nice letterhead printed and even set up a website.
I’d never run a business before; I was way out of my depth. As my savings began to run out I became more and more depressed and less and less able to get moving.
I was always tired, lacking in energy, irritable or just bland and numb. Everything seemed such an effort. I went over and over things in my mind. It was impossible to switch off the racing thoughts. I found it hard to go to sleep, or to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. I spent much of night awake, staring numbly into space, tears pouring down my face.
I bashed my head against the tiles of my shower cubicle, trying to dislodge the fuzziness that had taken over my brain once again. Things had Really turned Really Bad.
I began to wonder how I had got to this point.
It was my beloved and loyal dog, Frances, who kept me from sinking even further down. During those really bad years of
depression I honestly believe that the key to my survival was the ongoing loyalty and love from my dog, Frances. For years, my furry Bear was my antidepressant.
For a start, she provided a focus for me. Despite ceasing to care for myself, I could never stop caring for her. Thus, we walked in the park daily, sometimes more than once and in summer would remain there for some hours, reading or just sitting.
In the park I would avoid human contact at all costs. In rain or shine I wore large, ugly sunglasses that covered half my face, and if I saw someone coming, would turn off the path or choose another. I jammed plugs in my ears and surrounded myself with sad music in D minor or ‘self-help’ lectures that made me feel even more defective and were no help at all.
I ensured she had juicy meat for dinner and bones to chew and while I bought vegetables on the turn from the bargain table at the grocers.
We lived in a crappy wooden house with cracks in several windows and a constant draft. The whole place
was old and tired, just like I felt, but I lived there because it had an enormous yard where Franny could run and play
I loved her way more than myself.
I could not bring myself to tidy the house and it got messier and messier so much so that I was eating of take away container lids. The sink was always full of dirty dishes; the table covered with newspapers and old unopened letters.
I didn’t shower. I barely changed my clothes. I rarely left the house except to stagger around the park with Franny.
I didn’t care.
I was desperately unhappy, in debt and feeling like life had well-and-truly gone off the rails. More importantly, I didn’t know the first thing about getting it back on track again.
Part of me knew I wasn’t well. I knew it wasn’t normal to feel so lethargic, so unmotivated, so lacking in energy.
I knew it wasn’t normal to sleep so badly, lying awake through the early morning hours, the thoughts going around and around in my head.
I knew it wasn’t normal to walk around as though I was wearing an old-fashioned deep-sea diving helmet, pressing me down and making it very, very difficult to think straight.
I knew it wasn’t normal to keep losing things, lock myself repeatedly out of the car or the house, forget to do things, or make really bad decisions.
I knew it wasn’t normal to feel so down, burst into tears constantly and live with a sense that nothing would ever change, that this was my lot in life.
I did wonder if I was depressed.
And yet I resisted getting help.
Part of me thought my inability to get my emotions under control was a character flaw, that it was my fault. I wondered if my introversion just made me like that. I just needed to pull myself together, eat more green leafy vegetables and learn to relax.
I thought I could just snap out of it.
I didn’t think I had anything to be depressed about. There were people in the world far worse off than me. I just had to pull myself together.
It was only when I finally dragged myself to the GP after having the flu for 3 days, unkempt, weepy and dazed, that the word ‘depression ‘ was mentioned. The GP gave me a prescription for low-dose antidepressant and an appointment with a local psychologist was made. I cried with relief that finally, finally, I might be on the mend. Maybe the really bad years were over.
I searched for information about persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, which is a chronic form of depression1.
As I read description after description, I quickly realised that how I was feeling definitely fitted those ‘symptoms’:
I knew it. I was sick and now I had the evidence.
Chronic low mood is very distressing to live with; it sucks all the enjoyment out of life.
It may allow some day-to-day functioning and decision-making, but it’s like staggering uphill, pulling a boulder behind you.
You may hold down a job, and fall, exhausted, into bed at the end of the day, desperate for the weekend when you can just sit at home in isolation and not be bothered by the outside world.
Maybe people call, friends or loved ones who want to spend time with you but you ignore their calls and never phone back.
This is not life. It’s a colourless world; a dreadful existence.
…But finally, now I had actually seen a doctor, I felt a glimmer of hope I hadn’t felt during those really bad years. Maybe I needn’t live like this.
Clutching the prescription she had given me, I marched into the chemist (drug store), filled with confidence and optimism. I stared at the packet of tiny white tablets. Was this it?
Was this all it would take to make me well again, to give me my life back?
If you'd asked her 15 years ago if she believed life could be a wonderful as it is today, Vickie would have answered, 'I just don't know, but it doesn't seem likely.' Now she knows that if she can turn her life around, it's possible for you too. Ask Vickie how she can help you design the life you'd really love to live and say goodbye to depression forever.