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Column: A year ago, I walked out of work on the brink of the worst depression of my life

I work full time, I have young kids, and I also have a mental illness. Living with depression is never going to be easy but I’m getting better – and that’s because I’m being open and unashamed about it, writes Fiona Kennedy.

Fiona Kennedy

THIS TIME LAST year, I walked out of work on the brink of the worst episode of depression of my life (and there have been many). At the time, I had no idea how bad things were, and I genuinely believed a few days off would sort me out. Within three weeks I’d been admitted to the Psychiatric Unit of University Hospital Galway. I spent five weeks there, before coming home to spend a further three months off work.

Today, things are very different. Before going any further I’d like to make it clear that I’m not holding myself up as a shining example of success in defeating depression. Far from it. We’re still trying to get it under control. Since going into hospital, my medication has been changed three times, and it’s still not right. I’m currently in the process of weaning off my most recent combination, in the hope that I will be able to manage without it. While I’ve seen small benefit from everything I’ve tried, it never lasts. I don’t get consistent stability and the side effects border on intolerable. I’ve yet to find the right balance of what I can do for myself in order to keep well.

In an ideal world I would be practising yoga daily, running a couple of times a week, getting a minimum of eight hours sleep a night, eating an extremely balanced diet, and having a nice mix of time alone, time with friends, and time with my family. I would be keeping stress to an absolute minimum.

Depression lays bare your soul

But we don’t live in an ideal world. I work full time, I have young kids, and I have a mental illness that sometimes makes it impossible for me to do any of the above. So we muddle through as best we can. The good days are great, and like a breath of fresh air. I can function at work, interact with, and more importantly, enjoy my family, and generally just get on with life. I can see a future. The bad days? Not so much fun, although nowhere near as bad as they were a year ago. Now, the bad days consist of a niggling low mood, inability to focus or concentrate, and chronic lack of motivation, although I’ve learned to work with it.

Conor Cusack wrote an incredibly inspiring piece about his own struggle with depression late last year, and in it, he referred to depression as his friend. This probably seemed to many like a very strange choice of words, but for me, it made perfect sense.

This last year has been the steepest learning curve of my life. Depression lays bare your soul, and brings you face to face with parts of yourself that you never wanted to meet. It forces incredibly difficult conversations. But, from all this, for me at least, have come some wonderful positives. One of the biggest steps I took was to start blogging about how it is to live with depression – the good days, the bad days, the impact on my family, how it affects my ability to work, to parent, to be a friend – everything. The response I’ve had to this has quite simply blown me away – people have been incredibly supportive, and in sharing their own experiences have helped me begin to accept (yes, I still struggle to accept it) that I have depression. In short, the blog, and being open, have helped me learn to live with this.

I will keep talking and keep learning

Some fantastic opportunities have come about off the back of the blog as well. In September, I spoke at the Technology for Well-being conference organised by Reachout and Inspire Ireland, on the positive impact blogging has had on my mental health. I recently ran an event in my home town in conjunction with See Change to raise awareness of the stigma around mental illness. This was nerve wracking in the extreme, but I’m so glad I did it. I plan to train as a volunteer with See Change, and keep chipping away at this stigma in whatever way I can. Aside from all that, I’ve also met some fantastic people, both in person and virtually through the blog and associated Facebook page.

I’m under no illusion that my fight with depression is over. I’m still under the care of a psychiatrist, I still see a counsellor weekly, I still have days where staring blankly at nothing for hours on end is preferable to doing anything else. But every slip, every backward step, teaches me a little bit more about it, and the next time, I catch it that bit sooner.

No more than anyone else, I will continue to have good days and bad days, although the bad may be more pronounced. But, bad days make the good days seem even better, and as long as I keep talking, and keep learning, that’s progress, and that’s enough.

Fiona is a 30(ish) year old, happily married mam of two, living in a small town in Connemara. She has two crazy dogs, wonderful friends and a loving, supportive family. Oh, and clinical depression. She blogs at www.sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.blogspot.ie as a means of helping her on her journey with this illness, and in the hope that her experience may help someone else.

Follow Fiona on Facebook and Twitter @sunnyscattered.

Helplines:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634

  • Console 1800 201 890

  • Aware 1890 303 302

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Column: Depression thrives on secrecy and isolation – it’s time to speak out

Read: Conor Cusack to give talk about depression at UCC

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