Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Online Support

I have suffered with depression for, I think, about 9 years.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started as you don’t just wake up one day with depression; it creeps up on you unawares.  What I can do is pinpoint the exact moment I realised I needed help.  One day I went into the local village shop after dropping the children off at school.  The lady serving that day was a friend and she greeted me, as she always did, with a warm smile and a welcoming hello.  Her easy cheer stopped me in my tracks and I was in tears before I had even made it out of the shop.  I cried all the way home and it was all of a sudden glaringly obvious to me that my reaction to someone else’s happy, relaxed nature was completely abnormal.  I was way more than unhappy; I was so desperately low that someone else being normally, every-day, happy threw my own feelings into such sharp relief that I could no longer ignore them.  I called the doctor as soon as I got home.

I was severely depressed by the time I sought help.  I had been sinking lower and lower each day for months and months and by the time I realised I was virtually catatonic.  My condition was made worse by the fact that I also had extremely low iron levels in my bloodstream, which rendered me physically exhausted in addition to the mental maelstrom I was experiencing.  Each day I got up and got the children fed, dressed and ready for school.  As soon as I’d taken them to school I’d go home and often either go back to bed or sleep on the sofa until it was time to collect them.  After the day I was woken by a phone call from the school fifteen minutes after I should have collected my youngest, I always made sure I set an alarm, even if it was 9.30 in the morning when I went to sleep.  I’d collect the children and then play ‘Mummy’ until after tea, when I’d crash again and my husband would take over for a while.  During this time I tried very hard to ensure the children were cared for.  I always kept the washing up to date and made sure there was food in the house, although going to the supermarket was, and still is sometimes, extremely traumatic for me.  I am conscious though that they did suffer during this, my darkest period as I was not able to interact with them as I should have and I regret that deeply.

The medication the GP prescribed me, antidepressants and iron supplements, gradually dragged me out of the worst of the dense fog but I reached a plateau in my recovery after about six months and I felt I needed more than just medication to help me.  I was fortunate that I was able to (not quite) afford the private psychologist that my GP referred me to.   He was great and really helped me to address some of the issues that were contributing to my illness.  Sadly, part of this process led to the end of my 18 year marriage, which was incredibly painful for all concerned.

I have never returned to that absolute depth of long-lasting, non-functioning depression but nor have I succeeded in achieving the recovery that my GP assured me was possible all those years ago.  I have had periods, some as long as several months, of being relatively symptom free but by and large my depression has stayed with me, colouring all aspects of my life.  I have good days and bad days and have pretty much resigned myself to living with depression for the rest of my life.  I am no longer in a position to be able to pay for therapy and, as therapy on the NHS is virtually non-existent, having online support has really helped me to cope with my condition on a day to day basis.  There is, of course, no joy in knowing that other people also suffer with an illness that drains the pleasure and energy out of them most days, but to know that others understand exactly what you mean when you describe how you are feeling can take some of the pressure off.  Having my feelings validated, affirmed and understood makes me feel more able to keep pushing for the help and support I know I need. 

My illness can often make interacting with people face to face extremely difficult, or even impossible, for me so access to support online has proven invaluable.  I read a lot of mental health blogs and follow many people on twitter that also have various mental illnesses and all of them have helped me at one time or another to feel more ‘normal’ and less isolated.  Online forums, organisations like Mind and SANE and projects like SANE’s Virtual Black Dog all comprise an online community for raising awareness, sharing experiences and providing support.  Certainly for me, support from people who have, or have had, similar experiences to mine means so much as I know it comes from a place of acceptance and understanding.  I am blessed to have a wonderful, close family who try very hard to understand and support me but, as I have written before, sharing too much with those closest to you is not only difficult, it can cause other, knock-on problems that affect your relationships and the dynamics within them.

Blogging is a good way of exploring my own feelings and experiences and to try and make sense of them.  Very often I have started to write a piece thinking it will go in one direction only to discover, as I write, that it veers off at a completely unexpected tangent.  This has occasionally resulted in me revealing perhaps more of my personal experience than I had originally intended, but it almost always helps me have a new insight into how events have impacted on my illness and emotions.  In a way, it’s like the more positive experiences I have had with therapy, in that the process itself can help me to see solutions for myself, rather than having them suggested for me.  I blog mostly for myself, exploring events in writing is a well-known way of coping with difficult situations and emotions, but also for others.  I have had so many positives from reading other people’s stories and from interacting with people online and I hope that reading my blog will make someone else feel that maybe, just maybe, they are not as alone as they thought.


  1. Really interesting post - a blog to follow :)
    lots of similarities with some of the stuff I have experienced/written about - online support and writing in particular.

    This one is about 'writing my mind' online and offline - http://fostresswrites.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/writing-my-mind-some-thoughts-about.html

    and this one is about metaphor, mental health and online support -


    Would love your thoughts :)Have you tried Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy? Works well for me in helping prevent relapse.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing your blog posts. I was very interested to read your distinctions between private, 'in the moment' writing and public, more considered writing. I agree with you that I would not write publicly when in the midst of a depressive episode, as this writing would, by definition, be very negative and, I feel, would exacerbate my low mood and certainly prove unhelpful to many readers.

      The post about metaphor was also very interesting. Using metaphor is something I think most of us do unthinkingly when describing our depression as it would be impossible to give an accurate reflection of how we are feeling without it. I think it is useful to examine the use of language surrounding mental illness and the different ways language is used by people with mental illness, those who work with them and those who don't understand mental illness.

      I have had a short course of therapy based around CBT principles with some success in some areas. The only treatment I currently access is the pharmaceutical kind, therapy is like hen's teeth around here!