Adam discusses his experience with depression and how treatment changed his life...
Where it all began
I never really understood quite what depression was. I had been on antidepressants for about five years before I eventually sought extra help. Life had become something to be endured; a rollercoaster that I wish would stop so that I could get off.
The crucial point came following a disappointing mid-year review at work. I had been spending more and more time at work, even working additional hours at home and yet I was aware that my performance had begun to suffer.
I spoke to the HR team at work who referred me to occupational health. It acted like a validation; there was something wrong.
They suggested I take some time off and speak to a psychiatrist and so, after going through the NHS mental health service, I eventually made an appointment.
The psychiatrist summed me up within that first 45-minute meeting. I had anxiety and depression and I was experiencing many common symptoms of depression. But the prognosis was good; there was hope for a lasting recovery and he recommended that I go to Priory Hospital Roehampton.
Whatever expectations I had of depression therapy were smashed on the first day. My first session, group therapy, showed me that the other patients were just like me; ordinary people who had given too much for too long until finally something had to give.
It was during that first group session that another patient remarked that they were ill. This seemed strange to me. I did not consider myself as ill. I had no physical ailment, I was simply having difficulties.
Initially, I expected to be in therapy for two weeks. I would have treatment, get better and go back to my life. For the first few days I even tried to maintain both therapy and work, before realising that therapy would be a full time task. Before I knew it, two weeks became four, four became six. In the end, I would spend three months in therapy.
I resisted for the first two weeks. But by week three my defences started to crumble to be replaced with a sense of frustration. I started to question why I wasn’t better yet. In fact if anything, I had started to feel worse.
I came to realise that this was part of the process. Depression manifests differently in each of us. For some, it may be triggered by a single traumatic event. For me, it was an accumulation of events throughout my life, some minor and some major, building into an anxiety that spiralled up whilst at the same time, my mood spiralled down.
I had to tear down the walls I had put up in self-defence, and rebuild the jigsaw puzzle of my mind. It was time to be kind to myself.
Taking off the mask
Priory Hospital Roehampton provided an environment of safety and support. In the outside world, it was often easier to slip on a mask, to be the person that others expected me to be. But here I could be myself, surrounded by like-minded people and professional, empathetic therapists.
Each session was different – from assertiveness to schemas, anger management to mindfulness.
We also had creative writing sessions to help us tap into our emotions, and that helped to reignite a passion for writing that I thought had long since been extinguished.
When I first entered therapy, I did so with the mindset that I was flawed; that there was something missing within me that would prevent me ever being happy. In a way I hoped that this was true; I didn’t want to get better because getting better meant facing up to real life. I wanted to escape. I wanted to wallow.
But gradually, therapy helped me reach a fundamental truth, one that, once I was ready to accept it, would be liberating; I could change.
I was not weak, I was not flawed and I was not broken. I was ill and I needed help to get better.
But there was no magic pill.
Priory does not offer a quick fix for depression and anxiety. Instead, therapy is a tool box of coping strategies, to be opened when required. I had to become the change I wanted to see.
It is a terrible irony that those most in need of help are the ones least likely to ask for it. I had not recognised that I was ill, I thought I was simply weak, stupid and inferior. So what advice can I offer someone who is struggling and wondering if they should seek help?
- It is not weakness to ask for help. In fact, it is one of the bravest things that any of us can do
- You are not alone. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people in the UK. It is more common than you might think
- Things can get better. You can change. I know it because I have seen it, I have done it, I am living it
Life after therapy
My life has changed immeasurably since leaving therapy. I achieved a lifelong ambition as I continued the writing which I started at Priory and published my own book, a collection of blogs and short stories, charting my experiences of mental illness and the many lessons learned in therapy. I have since published two more books and hope to release a collection of children's stories later this year.
I am forever indebted to the support and advice I received at Priory. I am not cured of depression and anxiety. I never will be. These are issues that I must face and challenge every day. But life is a journey, not a destination. And I am determined to enjoy the ride.