It had been a long time coming, but the first time I said it to my family I don’t know who was more relieved; me or them.
It was a Sunday morning in September 2016. I called my parent’s house phone, my mum answered, we said are usual salutations (no, I would never say that word in real life), and then I suddenly broke down in tears and started hyperventilating.
My mum asked me over and over what was wrong, but I don’t think there was anything but snotty-sounding sobs coming from my end of the phone in Leeds.
She went quiet and then she calmly said: “Come on, Mandy, you can tell me.”
She waited, and then after I don’t know how long, I said it: “I’m depressed.”
She let out a sigh of relief and replied: “I know.”
I can’t really remember the next 24 hours, but I booked myself a doctor’s appointment the following morning. I had reached that point where I didn’t think I could feel any lower (or didn't want to know if I could) and I knew that enough was enough, I couldn’t keep up this charade of pretending to be ok. I was desperate for help.
In the build-up (which spans years and years, maybe decades) to my life-changing phone call with my mum, I had several secret behaviours that had become “the norm” for me…
Sometimes I could be stood in front of the mirror, and I’d just cry. Nothing in particular would have triggered this and nothing had upset me, I’d just suddenly look at myself and it would happen. I don’t remember the first time that happened, which probably indicates how many times it must have.
I can remember being about 18 and I’d be driving from mine to a friend’s house (perhaps a 10-minute journey across Southport from Birkdale to Ainsdale) and the whole journey I’d have tears running down my cheeks. This sort of thing happened regularly for years.
EVERY time I hugged my family goodbye I would be fighting back the tears. I’m pretty sure they knew what was going on, but they could tell I didn’t want to let it happen. We just carried on saying goodbye pretending I wasn't fighting back tears... or maybe I thought they knew and just assumed they were in on the act!
I’d divert conversation away from me to avoid having to talk about anything to do with myself. I think I still do that (old habits die hard an’ all that jazz).
Regularly my mood would drop when I was with particular people (mainly my immediate family) and I’d just sit silently. My family would try to make conversation with me, but I think the one-word answers stopped them after a while. They never stopped trying though.
The doorbell would ring and before I’d open the door I’d be have a quick practice of the fake smile I needed to put on. I think other people tend to check for spinach between their teeth and their general appearance in a mirror.
From time-to-time I’d avoid making plans with close friends, not because I didn’t like my friends, but because I was so comfortable in their company I was scared of the genuine Mandy, the desperately low and tearful Mandy, making an appearance. I didn’t want to ruin their perception of me.
Every so often (perhaps a handful of times if my memory hasn’t blocked out the true amount) from about the age of 18 to 30 I would break down in tears in front of my immediate family. They were obviously concerned and would be trying to get me to open up about what was wrong. I think that they and I were aware it was a build-up of emotion and inability to keep my infamous “I’m ok” mask on. But I can vividly remember three particular occasions where I was trying to say everything but I couldn’t explain myself properly. The most I’d say was “I’m such an unhappy person”.
I’d pretend I was looking forward to social events – nights out I genuinely dreaded. To me there was nothing worse than having to be out “on show” in public, feeling as though I was constantly under the spotlight being judged by anyone who saw me. My favourite part of the night was when my friends said they were ready to go home. I know I often used to vanish part way through the night and just jump in a taxi to go home (without saying goodbye to any friends) because I couldn’t take the pressure (that I was putting on myself) anymore.
There’s definitely more things to add to that list but I don’t know if I’ve got enough energy or time to write them all down!
Over the years, when my guard was down far enough to let my family encourage me to open up about being an unhappy person, they helped to arrange for me to try speaking with a counsellor. I tried it but it didn’t work though.
I think the first time I saw a counsellor I was 21. At my first appointment I walked in to this office and was asked a series of standard questions by this counsellor-chappy, and then suddenly I burst out crying and kept calling myself stupid. At the end of the hour-long appointment, I walked out having said nothing but “I’m stupid” on repeat.
The second (and final) appointment I had I just sat in silence for an hour in a foul mood. I didn’t mutter more than a couple of words.
I guess I’d pulled up the drawbridge and had no intention of letting it back down any time soon.
My family tried to reassure me that I was doing the right thing by talking to a counsellor, they suggested I tried a different one, they even got me to consider meeting a hypnotherapist instead to try and get to the bottom of things. But I don’t think I'd reached the point where I’d fully accepted that I had a real problem and that talking was the path I needed to go down.
It’s hard to accept but you can’t really help someone who isn’t ready to be helped. I’m fully aware of that from personal experience of trying to help other people battling with their own issues. But I am beyond grateful to my family and friends for sticking by me. I can imagine that I have been a frustration and a concern to them over the years. And I am sorry for that, I can’t help but apologise.
But thank you to everyone for helping me along the way to finally admit what I needed to. The journey might not be over, and it may never actually end but it’s already so much easier – purely because I admitted it and I said it out loud.
If you know anyone who you think might be depressed, please don’t give up on them. Obviously give them the time and the space that they need, but just keep letting them know you’re there and ready to listen when they’re ready too.
Depression is enough of a lonely place without people giving up on you. Saying those three little words “I have depression” out loud is the hardest and most personal thing I’ve ever had to say. But I’m so relieved I finally did it.