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Keeping company with misery

  • 08 October 2014

At fifteen years of age, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t the sort of thunderbolt where I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a veterinarian or that my sexual orientation was other than straight; it was that suicide would be the best way to immediately deal with the acute unhappiness and distress I was feeling. Like a tattoo of your ex-boyfriend’s name, a permanent solution can seem like a good idea at the time… 

In retrospect, my problem-solving may have been a little overreaching, like fixing the flat tyre on your car by pushing the whole thing off a cliff, or cutting your leg off because your shoes are giving you terrible blisters. I certainly had second thoughts about the wisdom of my epiphany when I ended up in hospital with a stomach full of tablets and spent the next few hours crying and throwing up into a plastic bowl in the Emergency department. Suicide was actually a rubbish idea, as it turned out. 

When a child and adolescent psychiatrist came to see me the next morning, I learned that the way I had been feeling had a name – clinical depression. Its sudden presence in my life may have been linked to the serious bout of glandular fever I had recently experienced, the doctor said, or perhaps I was going to be the latest instalment in a story of mental illness that spanned generations of my family. There was no way of knowing, and even if there were, it wouldn’t have made a dent in the way I felt. Only time, and television, would help. I spent months at home, recovering in solitude and becoming embarrassingly addicted to Days of Our Lives.’

The saying ‘Misery loves company’ couldn’t be further from the truth of my experience with depression. Misery loves isolation, sleep and lethargy, sure, but company was something I could absolutely do without. 

For the next six years, I attempted to manage my mental health with good intentions, stern self-talk, guilt and cigarettes. Finally, exasperated and desperate, I started taking an anti-depressant medication, and when it actually worked, I was stunned to feel happy. 

Like any new relationship, the honeymoon period is brilliant… and temporary. My love affair with medication was euphoric for the first few months, and soon became boringly familiar. In the blink of an eye, I took my newfound mental stability for granted and barely noticed that I