Whilst I was searching for some photos to accompany a blog post on my Facebook profile the other day, I came across a Facebook status from mid-2009 – about 6 months before I met Stacey. It said, simply, ‘Carley is fluoxetine hydrochloride.’. For those of you who aren’t au fait with mental health prescriptions, that’s the medical name for the drug commonly known as Prozac.
I was diagnosed with a depression-type disorder just before the summer exams in my third year of uni. It had been a shitty (academic) year – from a flatmate moving out and refusing to pay rent to a massive falling out with the girl I was attracted to, an episode of Scarlet Fever which lead to me being quarantined for ten days and on top of all that, difficult classes which actually counted towards my degree. It eventually all came to a crux when I arrived at an evening shift at my part-time job, and a colleague / fellow student asked what I’d done since we’d last seen each other. My answer (which was that I’d basically been in bed for four days straight) worried him so much, he frogmarched me to the doctor’s the next morning. (It didn’t help that I’d lost a lot of weight – in part due to the scarlet fever – too.)
In hindsight, my depressive episode is more understandable, because I can see the amount of stress I was under (and how broken my support system was) at the time. I was twenty, living hundreds of miles from home and all my family, and I was really struggling with my identity, my feelings for both my best friend and this other girl, and I’d had a pretty tough year all in all. My response – to both the way I felt and the anti-depressants – was probably more worrying than my depression was.
I don’t suppose that my behaviour appeared to be much different to that of many other students – I stayed up late at night, and would sleep all day unless I had a tutorial to attend. The only things which made me feel better – made me feel like I actually had a life worth living – were things that I shouldn’t have been doing. I got stupidly drunk, I’d kiss entirely inappropriate people and basically tried to self-medicate with booze and other miscellaneous substances – although never anything illegal.
Things got really bad when the friendship between the girl I like (R) and I came to an explosive end. Despite the fact that we were in the same year, and had lived within 200 metres of each other three years running, I only met R randomly at a house-party in October 2008. Very drunkenly (and both of us with our own agendas) – we kissed on a crowded dancefloor. I fell for her pretty hard, but I knew from pretty early on that she didn’t feel the same way. At this point, I should have cut down contact with her – but instead, I became incredibly close with both her and a mutual male (gay) friend. The three of us had a brilliant few months – getting drunk and watching films and stressing over work together – and R even came down at stayed with me in London, where we had a fun night of gay-clubbing. I tortured myself trying to just be friends with her, and when she she was herself cut up about someone else, things between us just fell apart. I remember her telling me, very bitterly, that it wasn’t her fault I was so insecure. That line still hurts, even to this day.
I don’t want to claim that it was this non-breakup which was the catalyst for my depression diagnosis – as I mentioned above, in between catching a highly contagious disease, struggling with living arrangements and my feelings for my best friend, it was a tough year. At the end of the day, the reason for the depression wasn’t the biggest worry for me – and even to this day, I feel most alarmed not by my depression, but due to the things that I did because of it.
Depression, in and of itself wasn’t that uncommon in my university experience, but my response to it that that spring and summer still makes me ashamed. I spent as much of my time as possible in dangerous pursuits – anything to get a bit of a thrill and feel – well, anything. When I wasn’t at work, I was learning to ride a half-fixed motorbike on the (mostly) empty farm roads just outside of St Andrews, cliff-jumping into the North Sea, getting obnoxiously drunk and insulting everyone around me. My problem was compounded by the fact that I was so desperate to feel anything that I would drag others into my ridiculous plans. It’s this that I’m most ashamed of now.