I’ve always been prone to anxiety for as long as I can remember.
At the end of high school, the overriding sense of helplessness that comes with depression became very real for me.
I found myself in a cycle of anxiety and depression because the familiarity of high school was gone, and a lot of my friends had moved away for study or work.
At the start of university, I felt immense pressure to find new friends, adjust to a new way of learning and do well in my studies. My relationship at the time also broke down and I felt confused, worthless and alone.
For a year and a half, I struggled privately with how I was feeling. I became withdrawn at home and I would avoid my family as much as possible. I started to become suspicious of how I was feeling – something started to feel like it wasn’t right but I didn’t get help straight away because I felt the weight of the stigma.
When things got really bad I started engaging in self-harming behaviours. My close friends noticed I wasn’t doing well but I refused to get help and had plenty of excuses as to why I did not need it. My friends didn’t stop urging me to get help, so I eventually gave in and saw a doctor. My doctor referred me to a psychologist.
I was 21 years old when I was diagnosed with depression. When I first received the diagnosis, I felt offended because I thought that it reflected a personal weakness. However, there was a part of me that also felt relieved because you can’t address a problem without knowing the cause – and now I know the cause.
What made seeking help so hard for me was that I was misinformed about mental illnesses and could feel a lot of the stigma around it. I thought you had to have experience something traumatic to justify being sick, so I felt very guilty for being unwell because my life was objectively very good.
Ultimately, seeking help and getting the diagnosis was the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health.
I really had to overcome my belief that feeling unwell meant I was weak. I now know that traumatic circumstances are only one possible cause of depression. Things like your genetics, or stress, can also be causes. I’ve also learnt that you don’t have to justify having depression. Many people have it and it can be treated. There is no shame in needing help.
I do a lot of things to stay well now, including cognitive therapy techniques and breathing exercises, which have helped me with anxiety and panic attacks. Breathing exercises may sound simple, but they have helped me so much. I don’t like to exercise but I try to do it often because it is beneficial to my body and mind.
Another thing I find really helpful is talking to people about my experiences. It always makes me feel less alone. Through volunteering with the Black Dog Institute as a presenter, I’ve been able to share my story with many people.
I’ve been involved with Black Dog as a volunteer since 2014, when I was still at university. I have since graduated and now work as a lawyer. I started in my role as a Youth Presenter but more recently, I have been speaking to companies and businesses who promote mental wellbeing in their work environments.
Being a volunteer has given me a sense of purpose and community. I find the experience empowering and I feel like I’m making a difference. In my presentations, I am always conscious to emphasise two things: there is help available if you seek it, and no one is alone.