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Student Life With  Depression

 

My name is Kurt and I am a 26 year old guy from a small rural village in the county of Rutland.  I was officially diagnosed with “clinical depression” about seven years ago whilst I was a student.  At times it seemed like I would never complete my course and my future seemed bleak.  In the end I changed to a more challenging psychology degree and graduated with a good 2:1, which at times I would have never thought possible.

 

I don’t really look at depression as an illness any more, but more a result of the way in which my mind interacts with the environment.  I wouldn’t say that my mind is ill, as I’m quite intelligent, I’ve got a good imagination and I’m very creative.  I don’t feel I really have any deficits, however I often feel that I am different to many in the way that I think.  I have recently read psychology books which have suggested that depressed people are actually more realistic in how they think and it’s all the non-depressed that are unrealistically optimistic. 

 

Here’s My Story

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I first developed depression at the age of nineteen.  Three months prior to this I had moved down to the South of England to study graphic design at university. I was having an exhilarating time.   

It was my first time living away from my parent’s home and I was finally independent! Over two hundred miles away from my mum, dad, friends and relatives, yet I wasn’t alone.  I was living in one of many buildings full of hundreds of other people in the same boat as me.  It was time for me to shine, and I was, I was really shining. 

 

I had made some great new friends. I was physically in good health; I had quit smoking and was regularly working out at the gym, partaking in Tae Kwon Do classes once or twice a week and generally very active.  I felt fit and healthy, and I thought I was maturing into a good looking man with a lot of potential.   I had loads of ‘borrowed’ money to spend in the form of student loans and overdrafts, which didn’t have to be paid back for ages, so I had a great wardrobe, a new TV and Video and pretty much everything I wanted.  I enjoyed a busy social life and a fantastic nightlife.  In a nutshell it felt great being me.

 

So what happened? 

 

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Well I guess depression kinda crept up on me.  There were a couple of signs, but nothing that would have prepared me for what was about to happen.  There were a couple of days when I felt a little unhappy.  Nothing major, but just the occasional experience of feeling a little low.  This was usually for a reason, like a disagreement with someone, a snide remark taken badly or maybe I was just missing my friends and family.  These feelings seemed greater then the cause would warrant, but I just shrugged it off and put it down to a change of life style.  Maybe I was just tired.  I had spent most of my nights since I had got down there going out to bars and clubs, getting drunk, making friends, meeting gorgeous women and really enjoying myself.

 

However after a couple of months something started happening when I was out drinking with my friends.  It started occurring after I had had a few drinks.  Instead of feeling the usual energetic, outgoing self who was often the centre of attention, I became quiet, sorrowful and felt really negative about myself.  It was horrible.  All my friends were having a good time and suddenly I’m feeling really awful in myself, and I didn’t really know why. 

 

I started going back to my halls of residence early still feeling really down.  Usually the following day I would feel alright again, so I generally put it down to the drink.  This happened several times and each time seemed worse then the last.  I started to lose my confidence when I was out, and didn’t really talk that much.  I certainly didn’t want to be the centre of attention any more.  All my friends would come up to me and say stuff like ‘What’s the matter?’ or ‘Cheer up mate’, and I’d just make up an excuse like I had a headache or something.  I can’t really remember the sort of things I was thinking when in these states, but I remember feeling very inferior to everyone, and having all kinds of negative thoughts about my future.   After a while I didn’t really want to get drunk any more, so I started going to clubs sober only to find that I was having the same feelings.  Eventually I decided to avoid nights out and in doing so avoiding my mates.

 

After a few weeks, the occasional negative feelings I had been having about myself during the days and the unsuccessful nights out developed into a massive loss of self-esteem.  There seemed to be an over-riding thought that I wasn’t really as good as the person I thought I was.  It seemed like I had been living as a big fraud, and my mask was becoming more and more transparent.  I started taking things to heart that were said in jest.  I had become a person I had hated, 

My confident exterior seemed to mask a timid and nervous little boy.  My trendy hair cut and sun tan seemed to cover up an ugly and insignificant runt.  My talents in Art and Music seemed to become worthless.   It seemed more and more like this was the real me and my beliefs about myself had been totally wrong.  I spent a lot of time reflecting on this and wondering what I was going to do.  Regrets started emerging from the back of my mind.  “I should have done A levels! I would have had more options,” or “I should have gone to the same University as some of my friends,”

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As days passed I didn’t seem to feel any better.  I felt tired, and whilst I have never really been an early morning person, getting up a started to become a real killer.  My bed became my sanctuary, my place of peace where my problems could not attack me with such a horrendous force.  I found the thought of the gym and tae kwon do exhausting and didn’t attend so regularly.  I started doubting whether I really wanted to be doing a course in graphic design, however the thought of any other course or career seemed equally unappealing.  More and more everything started to seem bleak, it was as if a dark cloud appeared over the city.  I stopped going into university so much, missing most of my lectures and things that were not compulsory.  Then I missed full days, and one day became 2 and 3 and so on. 

I had just seen my self in a mirror of truth and the person looking back at me disgusted me in every way.  I just slept, it was the only place I was content and safe.  When you feel this down about yourself, a normal day becomes such a horrible struggle.  I bet I was sleeping 15 hours a day, and after all this sleep I still felt tired, but guilty for sleeping so long and cowering away from my problems.  The guilt would usually lead to another attack of depressive thoughts which made me want to sleep again. 

Cooking meals was a relentless chore, going to the shop was a chore, and whilst I hate to admit it even showering became an effort.  My friends thought I was ill and started attempting to get me to go to the doctors, but as I hadn’t enrolled at surgery yet it seemed like an implausible mission.

 

Things got worse and worse, and I had become so introverted and analytical that socialising had no priority any more.  I started wondering about life and death, what was real and what was not, and it all seemed so pointless. 

I finally got to the doctors and in what possibly seemed like the quickest examination ever, he said, ‘I think you’re depressed.’ He prescribed me with an anti-depressant called Seroxat and gave me a letter to my tutor explaining my absences stating that I had moderate to severe depression.

I remember walking back feeling more positive then I had felt for weeks, looking forward to trying these Seroxat hoping they would make things good again, maybe even better then before!!!

 

Well they didn’t; the first couple of days I had what I know now as a placebo effect, but it didn’t last.

 

After having depression for a while you can start to understand the ways in which it makes you think.  More recently I furthered this understanding by studying psychology, and in the process meeting lots of people with depression. 

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When you are going through a depressive spell, it’s really difficult to imagine that anything could make you feel better.  It becomes very difficult to envisage being happy again.  You become trapped in so many negative thoughts and habits, that changing them all would have required more energy then you could afford to spend.  Also I didn’t even know which way to go.  What often seemed like a good idea would be destroyed with negativity before it was implemented.    

There also seem to exist a lot of negative loops with depression that are difficult to break out of.  What’s the point in starting this if I know I’m going to fail, you then decide to start it, but have such a negative outlook that you fail it anyway.    Like “what’s the point in going to the gym if I’m never going to look good,”

 

Returning home to my parents for Christmas perked me up a bit.  However I felt quite odd around my friends.  I found it difficult to talk to them and felt like they were judging me.  I had gone down to Uni this happy out going person and come back a withdrawn quiet person.  Even my posture had changed.  I was slouching a lot, almost as if I was trying to hide. 

Never the less, the short break rejuvenated me.  I went back to University and had a good week or so, but before long depression started rearing its ugly head again.

 

Upon my tutor’s recommendations I went to see a University counsellor for one hour sessions once a week.  It was certainly good to be able to talk to someone, but what I really wanted was someone to give me an answer.  The counselling seemed to be about trying to get me to generate an answer, but I found this really difficult.  My mind was so negative and I seemed to just jump from one depressing thought to another.  On the odd time that we did come to a positive solution during a session, it was soon over ridden by negativity before I implemented it. 

 

Living had become extremely difficult.  My attendance at University was poor.  I didn’t really want to socialise any more and started spending more and more time alone.  I would lock my door and if any one came knocking I would pretend I was not in.      

I went back to my doctor and told him that the Seroxat were not working.  He changed me to Prozac. 

I did notice an improvement with the Prozac, it wasn’t instant but it was certainly noticeable after about three weeks.  They had a subtle effect; I seemed to feel more content.  More content being depressed.  They didn’t really make the depressive thoughts go away but they helped me accept the way I was feeling.  I started smoking again whilst I was on Prozac.  I’m sure they weaken your will-power, but I must admit that smoking did seem to provide a sliver of enjoyment to my life.  As well as the smoking I started going out a little more, socialising and of course drinking.

 

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After a few months of being on Prozac and having counselling, life became a little more tolerable.  I had started going into University a little more, and started meeting people again, I started dating a girl from my halls of residence and also made a few trips to see an old girlfriend at a different university, this was a boost to my confidence as a few months prior to this, I thought I was about as attractive as Mr Bean.  I think that it would be a good idea to mention another little problem with anti-depressants - They can sometimes hinder performance in bed, which can be a little embarrassing to say the least.

 

My confidence around people had actually come back.  Not totally, but enough to feel comfortable going out.  This was when I noticed a very peculiar side to Prozac (these are my own experiences and will not apply to everyone).  When I went out drinking on them, I became excessive in just about every way.  I would drink silly amounts, and do silly and dangerous things.  It certainly put the spotlight back on me, but it got me into a whole world of trouble.  I was kicked out of bars and clubs, for doing the stupidest things.  It makes me cringe to just think about them.  

 

I seemed to become fearless when I was drunk, and my stupid behaviour started to become violent to others and dangerous to myself (and I’m not a violent person).  I started being really rude and insulting to people.  I was often getting into arguments with people and even had a few drunken brawls.  I was doing disgraceful things to myself like putting fags out on my arms, punching through windows, doors etc (broke my hand doing that once).  It was like I was trying to hurt myself.  Once coming back from a club, a friend and I snuck into a building site and I climbed one of those tower cranes and started hanging precariously from the top.  I had become a liability to myself when I was drunk, but I’m sure it was down to the Prozac.  Maybe I felt a little insecure and thought I had to prove myself, and the Prozac mixed with alcohol were making me express myself in uncharacteristically peculiar ways.           

 

There are a lot of blanks in the next bit.  One of the things I have noticed about depression, is that when you are depressed it is difficult to remember what it is like not being depressed, and this works the other way round.  When you are not depressed it is really difficult to remember how pathetically helpless it feels to be depressed.

 

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This was the first spell of depression I had, but it was certainly not the end of my depression story.  The Prozac initially worked but had several side effects.  I started going to the gym and eventually stopped taking them.   Since then I have been off and on Prozac a couple of times, I have been on Effexor XL, Ciprelax and St Johns Wort.  I think that all of these (excluding St Johns Wort) eventually have the effect of reducing your imagination and zapping your motivation.  Life becomes less urgent, and you really take a back seat.  Beware of this, because you can waste a lot of time sedated on antidepressants.  After changing course and University and taking some time out I did eventually graduate with a 2:1.       

 

If I knew then what I do now about depression, I think I would have been able to have made my life a lot easier.

 

My recommendations to students with depression

 

  • Tell your tutors that you have depression.  At first this was difficult for me because I didn’t know how they would react.  Al the tutors I have ever spoken to about my depression have been helpful and accommodating. 
  • Discuss other options before anti-depressants.  They may not be right for you.  Be aware of doctors who hand out antidepressants before discussing other options with you (this can happen).  If you do have to go on anti-depressants, don’t do what I did and stay on them longer then necessary because you are scared of relapsing into depression.  When you stop taking anti-depressants it is often a good idea to reduce them slowly.  Not only does this reduce withdrawal effects, but it is also a boost to self esteem as you regain control.
  • Take regular exercise.  Even if it is just walking.  Exercise helps boost the flow of depression-relieving chemicals in the brain.  A lot of books on depression suggest that exercise is as effective as anti-depressants.  A really good exercise for me was Yoga.  This had an unbelievable affect.  Admittedly it took me ages to enrol in a class, but I did learn it from a book and a video at first.  It really surprised me.
  • Try to stick to a routine.  When you become depressed it really easy to slip out of everyday routines.  I slipped out of my everyday routines and slept, washed and ate at different times each day.  I did this for ages.  I often found that by forcing myself to get back to a routine helped alleviate things. 
  • Two therapies that helped me were Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy. CBT was very effective when I relapsed back into depression.  Ask your doctor about it.  Hypnotherapy was also very effective but not really what I expected.  It was not like hypnosis shows on television where people are put into a deep trance and told what to do.   I guess it was similar to meditation, but with someone giving you helpful ideas.  Unfortunately I had to go privately for this, but it really did help.

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