I am 44 years old now and it took me over 25 years to conclude that I have depression caused by a physiological issue. I think it started when I was 15, I cannot be absolutely sure as it crept up very slowly – just like failing eyesight.
Like many teenagers I would come home from school very frequently and fall asleep due to exhaustion. This daytime sleep probably fed into an issue with insomnia that I am still learning to control.
After my first failed attempt at university I went back to school when I was 24 to improve my grades. I remember standing on the station platform and looking at the other people going to work. I could not understand how they could face it every morning. I felt wide-eyed and disconnected from everything around me. It was a struggle just to get to the station. I got good grades because I only took two classes.
I had my second try at university when I was about 26. I would wake up feeling exhausted and it felt like walking through treacle to get to classes. This was the first time I thought that I must swallow my pride and get support. I went to the doctor but I was sent way without any help and wondered why I had bothered to go at all. I dropped out in my second year.
I became a self-employed juggler because the work was piece-meal and it was all I could do. A full-time job seemed impossible. When I started getting more bookings I once again ran into trouble. I took a contract in a stage show. I was still feeling disconnected from the people around me, I often had a headache and my limbs were aching. The contract involved an early start and I would drive about 750 miles a week. I visited the doctor and described my symptoms telling him that it had been getting worse for years. He told me to come back in two weeks if it didn’t get better. I never went back – as the problem had come on so slowly I didn’t know if this was normal or I was just a hypochondriac. One night on the way home from an evening show I fell asleep at the wheel and nearly drove the car off the road. It was too difficult to carry on, I felt like I had the flu. The exhaustion was also becoming dangerous. Again I left the job.
A few years later and I had re-trained into computing. The worst time of my life was about to start. By the time I had a shower and was ready to leave to work I felt twice as tired as I now do at the end of a long day. My head would nod after lunch, I could not concentrate and it became an exercise in pretending. This time my doctor listened to me, probably because I was in tears and told her that I was thinking of killing myself. I was sent to a psychologist and put on antidepressants (Prozac and then Amitriptyline). They didn’t help. I got no further help and by this point I had also lost my job.
For the next 10 years I went to the doctors while scraping a living being a self-employed web developer. Almost every time I was sent away with no help. It is difficult to go to doctors who ignore you when you are not even sure if you are a hypochondriac or not. Remember that this came on slowly, like failing eyesight that you only notice when you first wear glasses.
The same pattern repeated. I got more work and took a half-time contract in computing! The work was impossible as I could not hold my attention for more than 20 minutes at a time. I was weeded out of the job by late payments, poor treatment, bullying and lies about my work. I was working as hard as I could but I was still far behind the quality of people with only 1/10th of my experience.
Luckily I had some savings. I wrote a piece of tracking software and started trying every treatment I could find. The doctors were useless now and I knew there would never be any help. Eventually I got lucky. I read an article on sleep in the Guardian where a commentator wrote that he knew two people who tried magnesium and it helped them sleep. I tried it and was astounded to find it was a huge improvement. I am still working out the kinks but life is now far better. I put 4 handfuls of Epson Salts into a hot bath and soak for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. I still need the Amitriptyline but I am not sure if that is because of an addiction or a need.
It turns out that I was never lazy, stupid or a hypochondriac. I just needed some help, but that help wasn’t there when I needed it. It still makes me angry to think of all the time I went to the doctors and they did nothing; or worse – they got in the way.