My year with depression
It would be understandable if I said that the events of 2020 have made me depressed. Most of us in the accountancy profession have felt low at one point or another this year. But I wouldn’t be being 100% truthful if I said that.
In all honesty, I think the thing I now call depression has always been a part of me. It’s ever-present lurk felt all too familiar. When it took hold, I distinctly remembered its grip - like a smell from your childhood that reminds you of a particular place or time. I knew this feeling. I have definitely had extended periods of time when I had felt this way in the past.
It’s just that in 2020, with increased pressure and fewer travel plans and events to distract myself with, it has very much made me aware of its presence. No longer a ripple or a ghost that could be beaten off to the shadows with some R&R, depression was there in full HD.
And yet it took me months to fully accept it. For months I expected myself to just work harder. Do more. Be better. Cope.
You know how you always catch a cold over the holidays? The moment you relax, your immune system gives up the fight and lets the sniffles in?
That’s what my depression did.
2020 overwhelmed me (and everyone else) with worry, uncertainty and decimated plans. Swimming against the current to stay in the same spot. At some point, exhaustion was bound to set in.
Depression snuck up on me.
Like so many business owners this year, I leapt head first into fight mode when the pandemic hit. There was always something to do, always a problem to solve. And I am a problem solver - it’s how I get my kicks. So even though our plans were shattered and our worlds shifted overnight, I felt OK. Good, even. I felt good. Hyper-productive, driven and jittering with endorphins; I was being The Best Me.
The thing is that adrenaline and caffeine will only get you so far before you crash. You can’t operate at DEFCON 1 indefinitely.
Cracks started to appear.
My sleep suffered. And then when I woke in the morning, still tired from a restless night, I felt like I had a weighted vest on as I went about my day. I could still function, but everything was so much harder.
I was tearful; even for me who is known to be a crier. Previously a good cry would clear the mood and I’d hit a reset. But now when I started crying I couldn’t stop. Words stuck thickly in my throat and eyes stayed watery for hours.
I felt no joy. It was almost as if someone had disconnected the switch in my head that let me experience that particular emotion. All the things that used to spark joy just didn’t work any more. They had all become dull and grey.
Increasingly I felt disconnected from my own life. A bit like when you’ve driven somewhere on autopilot and can’t remember the journey - that’s what so many days felt like to me.
My short term memory became practically non-existent. I was struggling to remember conversations I’d had just hours ago. As a person who typically has an excellent memory, this was one of the scariest symptoms to experience.
I’ve always suffered with anxiety, so spotting and treating that has become second nature to me. I’ve accepted the impact it has on my life, both good and bad, and I know how to deal with it.
Realising that I had depression was new.
Realising that I had depression was a relief.
Despite this, it wasn’t until the antidepressants had started working that I fully comprehended how much I had been suffering. I was flooded with yet more relief as it dawned on me that what I was going through was distinctly chemical. My brain had just stopped making enough serotonin and it needed a boost.
In the same way that when you start wearing glasses you appreciate how bad your vision has gotten, I recognised what a long way from happy I had been.
Antidepressants aren’t a quick fix. They aren’t happy pills. You don’t suddenly start feeling euphoric or giddy. You just slowly start to notice a return to your baseline. And then one day you get to 9pm and realise that you haven’t felt depressed all day.
I’ll be on antidepressants for six months and then I’ll slowly come off them under the supervision of my GP. Depression can be a short or long term thing. My hope is that in six months time my brain will have recovered enough to cope without help. But if it hasn’t and I need help for a bit longer, that’s absolutely fine too. And if depression sneaks up on me again, I’ll know what to look out for and hopefully be able to act more quickly.
So why am I sharing this?
If my experience helps one other person reach out and ask for help, then it was worthwhile me writing this. I’m someone who is pretty dialled into my mental health - and it took me longer than it should have to realise that I had depression.
The funny thing is that you can still feel happy and have depression. You can still laugh at a joke or enjoy walking the dog. It doesn’t necessarily render you incapable of working, or loving your partner or appreciating music. Like all things, there is a scale. I think that I hadn’t fully appreciated how wide that scale was until I was sitting further along it than I wanted to be.
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, this year has been monumentally tough. Everyone’s mental health has taken a battering. Check in on yourself and give yourself permission to seek help if you need it. I promise it’s worth it.
If you think you may be suffering with depression, speak to your GP. They can refer you on for talking therapy and/or look at a treatment plan for you. You may also find the following useful places to seek advice and support:
- NHS guidance and mood self assessment
- Mind -
- Depression UK
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Lucy speaks more about the effect the pandemic has had on mental health in this review of the year podcast, where she is joined by Accounting Excellence award winner Ria-Jaine Lincoln.