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Column My long journey out of the darkness

Would I change my experience of crippling depression? No, because it made me who I am today, writes Agnes Rowley.

EVERYONE REMEMBERS where they were when significant events happened – like September 11 or when John F Kennedy was assassinated. I remember where I was when I had my first panic attack. A panic attack, for those who have never had one is a very frightening experience – all rational thought goes out the window. You can experience sweating, shaking, shortness of breath and heart palpitations and think you are having a heart attack. Very scary.

Thus began my journey with depression. I went to the GP and was prescribed medication which I only took for a while. There was no diagnosis given at that time but I learned afterwards that panic and anxiety can be associated with depression in some people. I struggled on for a few years until things got so bad that I made my first suicide attempt. I spent the night in A&E ,and again there was no diagnosis or help given. I tried to move on with my life still struggling with the anxiety from time to time. I left Ireland for London and met my husband there: we married and moved overseas for the start of our life together.

Things were good for a number of years and I had two beautiful children. After my second child was born we moved countries again and the anxiety came back along with a bout of post-natal depression. I met a very kind GP who sent me for ‘talk therapy’. Things improved; I had another baby, and got on with my busy life as Mum to three amazing kids.

However, as often happens with the type of depression I have, it came back with a vengeance. I gradually went down to the bottom of the ‘black pit’ as I call it. Sometimes sliding down in freefall and not being able to stop myself. There were days when I could not get out of bed and I drank very heavily to ‘self medicate’, thinking it was making me feel better when it was really fuelling my depression. I shut people out of my world: I hated going out to social occasions or interacting with people. If I had to go it was a real struggle. I felt so tired all the time, but I could not sleep because of all the negative thoughts going around in my head. My self esteem was so low. I wanted to be as invisible as I felt. It is the nature of the beast that is depression to feel isolated and alone.

‘A place I never thought I could come back from’

Living with someone with depression is very difficult and it can affect family members. My marriage suffered and sadly we separated for a while. Although I never physically neglected my children I was not there for them emotionally for some of the time and this was very hard on them. This was the darkest period of my life – a place I never thought I could come back from. At this time I had my second suicide attempt and fell even further down the pit. This was when the diagnosis of depression was made. This was over 20 years since my first panic attack.

One morning I work up and said to myself ‘I have to get help or die, because I can’t live like this anymore’. To this day I don’t know where that came from but it saved my life. I went into hospital for three and a half months and had many different treatments until one finally worked. Eventually I began to climb out of the pit with a lot of help. Luckily my family was there to help me put the pieces back together.

It has not all been plain sailing since then and I have had a few more ‘down’ times but have managed to stay out of the pit for a good number of years now. I work hard at maintaining my mental health and I try and help others who have depression.

Would I change my life and my experience of depression if I could? No, because it has made me who I am today. I take my medication every day and am glad for it as I never ever want to go back to the ‘pit’. Some people may have an issue with taking medication long-term for depression, but remember depression is an illness and should be treated as one. If I was a diabetic I would take my insulin everyday, so why should it be different for depression?

There is hope for anyone who has depression: No matter how long you have had it. You can recover just like I did: You can come out of the darkness.

Agnes Rowley is in her late 50s and lives in Ireland. She loves traditional Irish music and travelling. Agnes is also a volunteer with Aware, an Irish organisation which supports people with depression and their families.

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