December 10th, 2009.
I sat in front of my GP who was wearing a comedy Santa tie. I was new to the practice and had only seen him once before when I needed my ears syringing.
A couple of minutes into the consultation I realised that ear syringing was pretty much all he was good for. He asked only the most basic questions and didn’t look up from his computer while I sat mentally dissolving next to him. In true full scale depression style, I had lost the ability to form a coherent sentence. I tried my best to explain the hideous meltdown of the night before as he typed away, expressionless.
In ten minutes I was out, clutching a prescription for anti-depressants and diazepam in my sweaty, unwashed hand. He had referred me for counselling, which would take 6-8 weeks.
I was shocked at how different it was to access support as an adult. As a young person, I’d got used to being able to find counselling and support very quickly. At college, I’d managed to get an appointment within the same week from the on-site service and before that, I’d received help from the Young Person’s Advisory Service. No waiting, no fuss and no hanging around watching your problems get worse.
I’m aware that waiting lists are long and I know we have probably all had some experience of this. I also take full responsibilty for the fact I didn’t ask for help sooner. If I’m honest, I knew I was very down about 8 months before I crashed to the bottom. I’ll never make this mistake again and I could hit myself over the head with a wet fish for leaving myself to fester in my own depressed juices.
My boyfriend took me home and then had to leave for work. I started my tablets and told my boss I would be off for a couple of days.
What I didn’t realise was the door leading towards being able to cope was shut. It wouldn’t be opening again for some considerable time. I thought the worst part was over, but sadly the night before was only the bread basket, while the starter was still being prepared in the kitchen.
I put Jeremy Kyle on and got about halfway through before another nuclear storm of anxiety built up in my head. This one built up to a terrifying crescendo quite quickly because I was on my own. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, or why I couldn’t control it. I ended up on the phone almost constantly to my boyfriend and a close friend who had seen me through a depressive episode once before.
Over the next couple of days, things got progressively worse. It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work anytime soon. This thought petrified me, as I didn’t want to be on my own feeling that bad. I wanted the routine, distraction and feeling of purpose, even though I knew I was exhausted and overwhelmed. But I also felt deeply embarrassed at how emotional and unstable I was and didn’t want anyone to see me like that. By the end of that week, I was unable to function on even the most basic level. I could hardly eat, was too anxious to sleep and didn’t want to wash or get changed. This caused my anxiety to get a lot worse, as I need to look after myself to keep my blood disorder in check. I felt like everything was spiralling out of my control and I was losing everything that I had worked so hard to create.
Then came the questions about how often I should take the diazepam tablets. I knew my anti-depressants were not going to kick in for a few weeks and so the best I could do would be to keep my anxiety levels down. The instructions on the box of diazepam were to take one tablet twice a day. It was a very low dose and it didn’t have much effect. I decided to try and ride some of the anxiety and then try taking both tablets when it started to escalate. This worked for a short time but then I seemed to become resistant to it. So I took a double and triple dose and the same thing happened. The anxiety was just too bad. I became anxious about being depressed. I became anxious about being anxious. I became anxious that the diazepam weren’t helping.
I could see how people ended up getting addicted to tranquillisers and I could totally understand why. If you are in that level of distress and are given a way of alleviating it, then of course you will take it. I tried taking more and more in the hope that some sort of emotional numbness would result, but I knew if I carried on I would end up with more problems than I started with. I felt angry that the GP had sent me away so quickly without realising how bad things were. That prescription was handed out way too easily. I decided to reserve the diazepam for an ’emergency’, although most of the day was feeling like an emergency at that point.
I don’t drink and gave it up completely about 13 years ago. I’d also stopped using other unhelpful coping mechanisms and was very proud that. It did cross my mind that they served a purpose during other difficult times, but I didn’t want to go down that road again. Those ships had sailed, although this would mean I was facing this crisis with no buffer or safety net.
My boyfriend didn’t think I should go back to the GP. In the middle of another spectacular meltdown, he took me to the local NHS walk-in centre. Although in my case it was more like the drag-in centre.
Although I was humiliated to the extreme, I found the doctor there to be much more understanding. He took me very seriously and didn’t try to minimise my feelings. He told me about immediate sources of help, such as the mental health crisis team and said he would write to my GP and ask for a psychiatric referral.
It made a difference to know there were options available if I really couldn’t cope. But the biggest difference came from being listened to and heard.