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Tom - Interview 35

Age at interview: 21
Brief Outline: Tom is 21 and a fulltime university student. His experiences of depression started during his university placement year in industry. Tom says the combination of a hectic lifestyle, missing home and a very pressurised work environment contributed to him starting to feel unwell. After a few weeks of severe anxiety and despair, Tom's GP diagnosed depression. Since then, Tom's been on antidepressants and his life is back to normal now. In addition to medication, keeping active and going to the gym h
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Tom is 21 and a fulltime university student. His mental health difficulties started when he was doing a placement year after his second year at university. The combination of moving to London, away from his family and friends, working in a very busy and pressurised environment and also doing his uni work all started to get too much for him. At first, after a night out, Tom woke up feeling “dazed” and very strange. The feeling got worse and worse over the next few days and weeks and Tom describes the time as “living in a trance”. First he thought there was something wrong with his sight because his vision was altered and things around him appeared “unreal”.
 
After a couple of weeks of trying to ignore the experiences which were just getting worse, Tom took some time off sick and went back home. There everything just “erupted” – he experienced severe anxiety, violent retching and was going “hysterical”. Tom had no idea what was going on and feared he was “going insane”. He went to see his family GP who happened to have a special interest in mental health. The doctor immediately diagnosed Tom’s experiences as depression, although the diagnosis didn’t immediately resonate with Tom who was just “in a bad state”. After a week or so, Tom went back to his GP who prescribed him antidepressants and very shortly his panic attacks stopped and his anxiety started subsiding.
 
It took Tom about a year to get back on track with his life – he finished his placement as planned and went back to Uni. He’s still on antidepressants and experiences low levels of anxiety but says he now knows how to manage it. His moods are also affected by seasonal changes and get worse over the winter.
 
Tom has found that, in addition to the medication, doing exercise helps him a lot. In the beginning he also used to write down his feelings and irrational fears over a certain situation and try and list the rational and most likely outcomes of that situation, or what his friends would say would happen. Trying to focus on the positive and more rational side of things helped him through his initial anxiety. He’s also talked about his experiences openly with his friends and family who’ve been very supportive. Depression doesn’t affect Tom’s social life or friendships in any way now; he just has his bad days as anyone else. Tom’s hoping to come off the medication soon and will time this to happen in the spring and summer time.
 

Tom describes his changed perception of the world. He compares this to living in a video game.

Tom describes his changed perception of the world. He compares this to living in a video game.

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And then, I don’t know what it was, it was just kind of all of a sudden like, I never knew I had depression at all, I didn’t know what it was, I thought oh you know, I’ve got some kind of like, I don’t know. Just felt a bit weird in a bit of a trance, almost like, in a bit of a bubble. Do you know what I mean? Just like things didn’t really seem the same, the key into your perspective has changed. Your perspective on life has changed which is a bit strange.
 
So, you know, you’re looking at things and you think this is a bit weird, this is, what’s going on here you know, and it’s really hard to describe that, because it’s obviously very subjective, you know people, people’s experiences are different but,
 
Absolutely.
 
I’d look at things and it would almost seemed like you were in some kind of video game, like you know this, the things are super vivid and you’re like, “Okay,” so then you’re in meetings and you’re thinking, “What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right. This is…” you know you’d feel a bit strange, people don’t look the same, anyway so I was thinking, “Well there’s something wrong with my eyes or something, what’s going on here?” ‘Cos I didn’t, I literally didn’t know anything about depression.
 

Overheating is another physical symptom of depression for Tom. He says it has “a major impact” on...

Overheating is another physical symptom of depression for Tom. He says it has “a major impact” on...

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Another symptom actually, which is worth noting is over heating. I don’t know whether you’ve heard this before, and people, people take the piss out of me for it, but yeah. That’s a classic, yeah. As soon as I, as soon as I get in everyone knows, yeah, and lectures and I’ve known, people next to me have got a coat on or whatever, it’s winter, they’ve got this uni heats the building really hot but anyway, I’m sat there like in a t-shirt just overheating, like, taking my socks and shoes off ‘cos I’m like, I’m boiling and can’t concentrate, and my concentration suffers as a result of over heating as well, but it does suffer sometimes when you’re like, during the day before like, before you’re properly wake up you know.

 

It does, it’s a major impact. ‘Cos you’re sitting there in, you know, in a time where you need to concentrate, take in information, or especially when you need to present information. You know you’re sitting in a meeting with you know your manage hrs and you know 30 people and you’ve got to present on a topic. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning, you are exhausted despite trying to go to bed at 10 o’clock, and you’re over heating, you can’t concentrate. I’m just, it does have a massive impact on your day to day wellbeing.
 

There’s a connection between sleep and depression. Sleeping was a coping strategy for Tom as it...

There’s a connection between sleep and depression. Sleeping was a coping strategy for Tom as it...

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What I did get and I still get now , is kind of, is to get quite tired, and I think one of my kind of coping strategies you know on the basis that I have depression is, is to kind of sleep during the day. I don’t want to sleep during the day, but like it’s more of like a, even if you’re not tired if you think, “Oh I’d really love to just have a nap.”
 
You know where most people’d be like, “I don’t, what the hell do you want to go to bed for now?” You know you’re awake, having a good day or whatever, and you just and you have that desire just to go, “Oh.”
 
I think it’s almost like you just turn life off for an hour. You go to sleep, turn life off for an hour and you get back up again, you know start afresh for the day. I don’t know what it is it’s just, I used to have that all the time, I used to come in from school and then I’d have no desire to do my homework, that’s normal, but I used to just go and just go and have a nap and then wake up again and it doesn’t mean you feel any better after that, but you know.
 
And people just say, “Oh you know I had a nap then,” but I, nearly every day have to have one just like go to sleep for half an hour or whatever, you know, and it is, it does annoy me actually, ‘cos you don’t, I don’t want to it’s just you have this overwhelming desire to go and have a sleep.
 
And it’s, I think like, I’ve thought about, I’ve thought about it a lot and it’s like a coping strategy, it’s kind of the way it shows itself when you’re okay you know and , when you’re kind of half asleep, you experience almost like a kind of anxiety in your chest, when you’re like trying to wake up or whatever or you know, have that, a very similar feeling, so I think especially you know going into the technicalities of depression, serotonin in your brain and how it’s governed and how it governs your day to day activities, there is definitely a connection between sleep and depression.
 

Tom thought he was going insane when his depression “erupted.”

Tom thought he was going insane when his depression “erupted.”

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This like this depression, which I didn’t know what it was, just literally erupted. And, I was in a seriously bad place, it just like, couldn’t do anything, was just house bound, just in floods of tears, couldn’t sleep. I had severe anxiety, retching, just like you know you’d end up in a ball on the floor, just like going hysterical. Just literally you go, you’d get, you get panic attacks. That was the first stage, you get panic attacks. You know when you’re ambiguous about the idea, so panic attacks start. And panic, panic attacks are relatively you know amicable compared to like, compared to the next stage which was just complete despair, and you just, you just don’t know what’s going on. It’s undiagnosed and you’re thinking, you know, crap this is, this is, you know a mental ill, you don’t know what’s going on, are you going insane, thinking what is this all about?
 
And then I thought, you see all these horror stories and you think, you know, people being sectioned, taken out of society and just you know for insanity, and just… anyway, I spoke with the GP and he was really good, he was saying, “People that go insane,” which is your main concern at the time, you know. “People that go insane don’t know they’re going insane.” And it’s the opposite so the very fact that you’re extremely aware of what’s happening, is just the biggest indicator to me to say that you’re not. And yeah, so he was 100% certain it wasn’t that.
 
 

Tom describes the state of acute anxiety as “a parallel universe”.

Tom describes the state of acute anxiety as “a parallel universe”.

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You’re in this place, this state of anxiety with you know a different perception on life, just like you’re in some kind of parallel universe, literally like some kind of parallel universe, where people are talking to you but it’s not getting through, and it just looks really weird, and you’re thinking, “What is this all about?” You know.
 
So your Mum’s saying to you, “Look,” okay, it gets to, it got to the stage where I was sitting there, and my Mum’s going, “Look you’re safe, there’s nothing wrong, you know you’re at home, forget all the worries that you have. It doesn’t matter.” You know, she was great. But it didn’t mean anything; it didn’t mean anything because the person that was saying it to me didn’t look real. She, you know, she looked like a, you know I could see perfectly well, but my perception of things was just out of the window, it was just, you know is altered. And I think a good description of how it was at the time was it could be said to be like, if you won the lottery, you won 50 million, it wouldn’t make a difference and you’d just say, “Oh,” you know you’d just think like it’s completely irrelevant, don’t need it, doesn’t matter. And it’s that important, well it’s that significant that you would just, you wouldn’t care.
 

Tom says diagnosis is the most important thing and gives “a little bit of hope”.

Tom says diagnosis is the most important thing and gives “a little bit of hope”.

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Diagnosis is just the most important thing, just, of having I think to trust that you’ve got depression, regardless of whatever that means is a good step. ‘Cos at least then you know you can kind of visualise how long an outcome would be till you’re ready to, you know, wanting to lead a good life again. So, diagnosis would at least give you the hope, you know that you’re gonna be okay in x-amount of time. You know, that’s dependant on you. But at least you know, on average is x-amount of time, or whatever. Which gives you a little bit of hope.
 

Tom got through the initial period of depression and anxiety by writing down his “worst fears”...

Tom got through the initial period of depression and anxiety by writing down his “worst fears”...

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Write you know your worst fears during anxiety, whatever you, you know my case is you know related to like that, you know the experience of your perception changes and you’re just like, “This isn’t real.” Whereas other people could be experiencing different types of anxiety. I don’t know, like they’re gonna die, or they’re gonna, you know, things like that are probably a common one or whatever. So just put your worst fears on one side of the paper and then put what you can describe to be a logical outcome, what is likely to happen. You know what society says is gonna happen. People, you trust are gonna say will happen, your GP, family and friends or whatever, so then write it down and then you know you might want to show your GP that, and confirm, again reiterate why it’s logical for the left hand side to be right. You know you’re, the likely things that are gonna happen,
 
And then, you know, you’ll then look at the right hand side and think yeah it is illogical and it’s silly and I need to, whenever, whenever I get these feelings, get the list out, and just associate a you know positive side, people that you trust, past experiences of people, you know and case studies, so they got through it and stuff, so that’s how I cope with it, for the initial period.
 

Sleeping is a coping strategy for Tom.

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Sleeping is a coping strategy for Tom.

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One of my kind of coping strategies you know on the basis that I have depression is, is to kind of sleep during the day. I don’t want to sleep during the day, but like it’s more of like a, even if you’re not tired if you think, “Oh I’d really love to just have a nap.”
 
You know where most people’d be like, “I don’t, what the hell do you want to go to bed for now?” You, you know you’re awake, having a good day or whatever, and you just and you have that desire just to go, “Oh.”
 
I think it’s almost like you just turn life off for an hour. You go to sleep, turn life off for an hour and you get back up again, you know start afresh for the day.
 

Tom describes his early experiences of depression as living “in a trance” and like being in a...

Tom describes his early experiences of depression as living “in a trance” and like being in a...

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I don’t know what it was, it was just kind of all of a sudden like, I never knew I had depression at all, I didn’t know what it was, I thought oh you know, I’ve got some kind of like, I don’t know.
 
Just felt a bit weird in a bit of a trance, almost like, in a bit of a bubble. Do you know what I mean? Just like things didn’t really seem the same, your perspective, the key into your perspective has changed. Your perspective on life has changed which is a bit strange.
 
So, you know, you’re looking at things and you think this is a bit weird, this is, what’s going on here you know,  and it’s really hard to describe that, because it’s obviously very subjective, you know people, people’s experiences are different but,
 
Absolutely.
 
I’d look at things and it would almost seemed like you were in some kind of video game, like you know this, the things are super vivid and you’re like, “Okay,” so then you’re in meetings and you’re thinking, “What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right. This is…” you know you’d feel a bit strange, people don’t look the same, anyway so I was thinking, “Well there’s something wrong with my eyes or something, what’s going on here?” ‘Cos I didn’t, I literally didn’t know anything about depression work wise.
 
So I rang up like NHS Direct at work in my lunch hour, thinking what’s going on, you know. And they were like, “Drink lots of fluids, you know, make sure you do this and have you had a heart attack in the last five weeks, have you whatever…?” And I was just like, “This is useless.” So, clearly useless, they haven’t got a clue what’s going on.
 

Winter months are the hardest time for Tom.

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Winter months are the hardest time for Tom.

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I go and have a run, you know, things like that, you come back and you know, uplifts a little bit. So during times, you know winter, dark, cold, you don’t want to go outside. You’re stuck in and it’s like you know no, there’s no natural light for a long time, you’re just, you know, it, I noticeably it makes your day a lot worse.
 
When did you notice that?
 
I made the correlation kind of, February, like I went up to like a couple of months afterwards I realised that you know it’s a very big contributing factor like driving home from things like long journeys in, you know in the dark, on your own, just continuously. And then, getting up when it’s dark, going home when it’s dark from work, you know, so that you’re sat in an office all day. So you don’t really get a chance to go out much at all, so you don’t see, effectively, any natural light for all day, apart from the office, which is just like strip lights, so at the weekends you know, that’s all you get.
 

Tom describes the experience of going to his family GP in acute crisis as “horrific” but said he could trust him.

Tom describes the experience of going to his family GP in acute crisis as “horrific” but said he could trust him.

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It was horrific, my Dad just came with me to try and, ‘cos I was just a, a complete mess. My Dad came in you know, with me and he tried to assist me in describing what my symptoms were, and I was just hysterical in this in this doctor’s room, just, it gets to the stage where I was just was just going, you know mental in this, not mental, just really, really emotional in this room, ‘cos I’d reached the end, complete despair, that’s it, and so the doctor was just really great, he was very professional obviously, he’s the fact is I trusted this guy because he’s been my family doctor for 20 years and he’s in his sixties. Well late 50’s, 60’s, and he knew a lot, one of his passions was mental health, so it was very lucky and he was like, you know I trusted this guy and he said, “Look I understand a lot, this is very common, and it does, it does end, you know. There is a treatment, whether it’s counselling or prescription medication whatever, so.” I did trust him. But it took a few times to trust him.
 

Help young people relate to someone else similar who’s gone through the same.

Help young people relate to someone else similar who’s gone through the same.

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I think would be to if possible find someone you know, that they would kind of, find a suitable case study to relate to, so if you can, like if you can, if I could’ve been associated with someone that had gone through very similar process of events, then and saw the guy or the girl that’d come out of it, you know, and was doing, having a great life, so the same, similar symptoms and the desired outcome you want you know, then great.
 
‘Cos it, what made things so much worse was knowing that, not, not knowing about the subject you know, the doctor saying, “Oh yeah, this happens all the time.” But you’ve got no proof of that at all. And it’s just him, you could, you know I know doctors don’t lie, but at the same time you’re thinking well, is there really someone else that’s gone through this?
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