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Interview 19

Age at interview: 50
Brief Outline: Has managed to find joy in life through approaches including medication (currently venlafaxine 150mg & chlorpromazine 25mg), counselling, partner support, Christianity and voluntary work (which led to rewarding employment).
Background: Married with children, was anxious as a child and felt ill-fitted with her family. She left university due to anxiety and struggled for years at a bullying workplace before a debilitating 5 year depression.

More about me...

 

Became aware that she was having a 'breakdown' on the bus on the way home from work, so called...

Became aware that she was having a 'breakdown' on the bus on the way home from work, so called...

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And I was coming home from work one night after what had been quite a stressful day just because I didn't know my way around stuff, and you know, the stresses of a new job. And I suddenly became aware that I didn't think I could stand up out of my seat on the bus. I was just aware. It was like I felt this massive chemical change take place in me and completely debilitate me. And I kind of thought, "I'm having a breakdown". It's almost like I knew what was happening to me.  

And I managed to get off the bus and I was saying, "Please God let me get to a phone box somewhere'. Because I knew [Husband's name] would be home. Otherwise it was a fifteen minute walk which I could not have done. I found... I got to a phone box and I just said to him, 'Can you come and pick me up. I'm in such a place. I don't feel very well.' And he came and got me into the car and I was just shaking and I was just weeping and I just said, 'I can't go into work tomorrow. I just feel so completely anxious and ill'. You know I didn't know how to describe it.

 

She felt so bad and so cut off from everyone in her family that she felt she was inside a very...

She felt so bad and so cut off from everyone in her family that she felt she was inside a very...

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I can remember particularly bad days. I would only take the day in ten minute chunks because that was it. I couldn't bear to think oh I've got all day at home here not feeling like I can do anything, yet feeling bored and feeling bad about myself. And thinking all these negative thoughts all the time. Everything in my head was negative. And that I couldn't feel anything. I couldn't feel anything for [Husband's name]. I couldn't feel anything for the children. It was like being inside a very, very thick balloon and no matter how hard I pushed out, the momentum of the skin of the balloon would just push me back in. 

So I couldn't touch anybody, I couldn't touch anything. And I know in my head I loved my husband and kids but I couldn't feel anything at all. My emotions were completely dead. And I was just very frightened. It was the most frightening, terribly frightening experience, and it looked like it was an unending one. I didn't know where it was going to go. And I thought seriously then about suicide. 

Because I just thought I can't bear another day of feeling the way I feel, and thinking there is no end to it. And I think what stopped me was that I couldn't figure out....I mean I'd worked out how I could kill myself. You know, I knew I'd got enough tablets of various sorts in the house for me to easily overdose. And if I did it just after the kids had gone to school, I would certainly been gone by the time they came. But I didn't want them to find me, and I couldn't work out how to do it without them being the ones that would find me. That I didn't want to happen.

 

She had not known that her doctor had treated her for depression in the past, nor that anxiety...

She had not known that her doctor had treated her for depression in the past, nor that anxiety...

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And we called the doctor out which was something we never did. And my GP came and he said, "Oh this is a recurrence of your depressive illness". And I sort of said, "What depressive illness?" You know because nobody had ever said this is what you've got. 

He had been the same doctor who had treated me when I'd had this post-natal depression thing when [Son's name] was born. And I think I must have seen him about my nerves on and off in between, but I've probably missed one or two things out where, you know, something had triggered me to become very over anxious. I remember having a row with a friend and that completely flattened me as well. 

So I had seen him about that. So he said, "This is your depressive illness. I am going to give you some antidepressants." And I said, "But I don't feel depressed, I feel anxious". And he said, "No, it's two sides of the same coin," which again nobody had ever really explained to me. And he said, "We'll get you right. It might take a week or two". And it took five years.

 

Her psychiatrist told her she had a chemical imbalance that caused anxiety and depression, which...

Her psychiatrist told her she had a chemical imbalance that caused anxiety and depression, which...

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By that stage my consultant had said, "Do you realise you've got a chemical imbalance and you've probably had it all your life"? And that was just like, "Oh thank you God that somebody official is saying what I've always known, but thought I must be wrong about". You know, that there has always been something wrong with me. 

And she said, "You know when we find that medication that suits you, if I was you I would stay on it for the rest of your life, and I wouldn't muck about with it". And at first I said, "But, oh but there is an awful stigma to being on antidepressants and stuff". 

And  she said, "Well if you are a diabetic and I said you are going to need insulin for the rest of your life, you wouldn't argue would you?" And she said, "Look on this the same way, it is exactly the same thing. Your body isn't making - in your case certain neurotransmitters or enough of them - You need the medication to balance it out". 

So she gave me permission really to say, "Yeah I've got an illness. You know, this is not my fault." Because I had always felt it was, and I wasn't trying hard enough you know.

 

Feels that the occupational therapists set her challenges that were too hard, and so this...

Feels that the occupational therapists set her challenges that were too hard, and so this...

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And that was a kind of weird experience because the... the OT (Occupational Therapists) girls that I saw were all very young. I am being ageist here but...  I know it doesn't necessarily mean if you are young, it doesn't necessarily mean you've not had any tough life experiences, but you are obviously more likely to have had some tougher life experiences as you get a little older. And I just kind of felt some of what they were trying to do was badly timed. It was.... (interruption of the cat being removed)

The OTs were young in attitude I guess?

They were young. I just felt that they were very much coming from a kind of theoretical thing. And their training seemed to be' you've got to get your clients to progress every week. So every week they were setting me some sort of challenge, even if it was only to go shopping or whatever. And I look back now and think they were well intentioned, but they were pushing me too hard. 

And I said to the consultant eventually when I got well and you know I.... She asked me what my kind of thoughts were about the OT department, and I kind of said well intentioned, but I'm not necessarily sure that they got it right in terms of measuring where I was up to. You know they were pushing me too hard. And of course if somebody is pushing you too hard then you feel anxious and you also feel a failure if you are not managing what they want you to do.

 

When she could not relax during relaxation classes she felt a failure.

When she could not relax during relaxation classes she felt a failure.

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You cannot relax at all, and I would lie there while this tape was droning on about relax your left knee, your left fist and blah, blah, blah. And I would be lying there like, you know like this..... inside all the time just thinking I hate this. I just want to get out. And then I would feel a failure because I couldn't do [laugh] relaxation exercise. And that again was very ill matched help. And now if I am feeling a bit tired and tense I can lie on the bed for ten minutes and kind of do a quick skim through of a relaxation exercise and it helps because I'm at a point where it does help, but to force it on people when they are very ill is completely counter productive.

 

While severely depressed, her doctor told her to get out of the house and exercise, and so she...

While severely depressed, her doctor told her to get out of the house and exercise, and so she...

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So I think probably for a year I hardly went out of the house. I, there was a ladies' group on a local church that I used to make myself go to because I...you know the doctor had said, "You need to get out. You need to exercise". Which was laughable because I could hardly walk, never mind actually do any exercise. But I made myself get on the bus, go to this meeting. I could just sit there really and not say anything, just be amongst people. Felt like hell [laugh] and came home. And just continued to just be vague about what was wrong with me to people. Fortunately I had changed jobs so I didn't really have friends who followed me up from the new job because I'd not had a chance to make friends. People from my old job didn't know what had happened to me because of course I'd left there. 

 

Explains how even though she did not know why she suffered at the time, she now feels God wanted...

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Explains how even though she did not know why she suffered at the time, she now feels God wanted...

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And I mean it says in the Bible that all things work together for good for those that love God. And that's kind of one, that's a verse that is easy to spout when everything is hunky dory, but when you are going through it, it's a tough one. And I know when I was really sick I was saying to God, "Look I don't know what you are trying to teach me by this God but just tell me. Tell me the song then I'll sing it. Why have I got to go through this? What do you want me learn because whatever it is, tell me, I'll learn it." You know, and it was only afterwards I realised that what I felt God wanted me to learn was what it feels like to be clinically depressed for five years because that has been a very helpful thing to sometimes share with people in the right setting. 

You know when... we can go through horrendous periods of our life, where we look at suicide and think it looks like a good option. We look at everything and think I've got nothing and you can come through it. And I've got a job now that I could never have done before. I still get a kick when I see a new client thinking I've got to build a quick bridge to this person, and get them to tell me about their incontinence or whatever if I'm going to do something to do with their health.
 
 

Believes that Jesus was anxious and depressed just before his crucifixion, and so felt it was OK...

Believes that Jesus was anxious and depressed just before his crucifixion, and so felt it was OK...

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Yeah, he (Jesus) went through that. You know, he had that sense of feeling completely at the bottom. And it says he actually, his sweat was like drops of blood, and I know that when people are.... It is a recognised phenomenon isn't it when people are extremely anxious the... when they sweat the capillaries can actually burst in their skin, and they can actually sweat blood. So that, you know, these things can happen, and I just thought then you know if he.... if he was anxious and depressed, it's ok for me to be as well. You know. And that was good.

 

Her boss was a bully and people were relieved when he wasn't around. Her anger towards him turned...

Her boss was a bully and people were relieved when he wasn't around. Her anger towards him turned...

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Well it's like the company from hell you know. And I had the boss from hell. I mean he... he just, he seemed to really get off on power. He didn't.... if he could provoke a strong emotion in people, he didn't mind. If it was hatred, that was fine. You know he didn't have any need for people to like him. He didn't make any attempt to respect people so they would respect him. You know he just ruled by fear, intimidation, bullying.... and because I worked alongside of him most of the time, I used to joke that I ought to have 'whipping boy' on my job description. Because if he was mad at that guy I got it. You know.

How did you cope with being anxious and this awful bullying boss?

Well it was the worst combination I could have had really because I would just... all the anger I felt towards him I just turned inwards because I, you know, I wasn't confident enough to yell at him. And, in fact, the whole company... he had somehow got such an awful hold on the whole company that everyone was the same really. People just avoided him, you know, breathed a sigh of relief when he was out of the office for a few days on business.

 

She was very bright, but her anxiety about her exams was so extreme that she quit University.

She was very bright, but her anxiety about her exams was so extreme that she quit University.

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And I just thought this isn't worth it. I can't, I can't stand any more of this. You know, I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping well, and I just felt so ill all the time with anxiety. So I quit. I quit University, which was absolutely heartbreaking. Got the exam results actually just before I quit and I'd come top of the whole year in physics and maths. You know. I was a smart lady, which is part of the pressure because when you're intelligent, people assume it's easy for you, you know. Oh you'll walk through these exams and..... It never... maybe I would have done, but it never, ever felt like that. It felt like I'd got to study my socks off to pass exams.

 

Therapy helped her to better understand that her family had failed her, rather than being a...

Therapy helped her to better understand that her family had failed her, rather than being a...

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But I think therapy gave me permission to say yeah I was right, rather than just somehow still thinking as a child I was failing because I felt very stressed with my parents. And I.... because I think when you are a child anyway, you tend to think your parents have, or are this fount of wisdom, and they are right and you are wrong. And, you know... to sort of to think yeah I was right when I thought Mum shouldn't have said that, or done that, or that wasn't very wise or whatever. Because I was brought... I was ruled entirely by manipulation. That I guess again is just a different generation I guess. I can be quite magnanimous about it now. I could have killed at the time, but I was ruled entirely by manipulation and controlled that way. Very down trodden kid, only child of parents who were in their late thirties when they had me, which was very old for then. I know it is more of a norm now but very old-fashioned parents. I was an only child so I'd not got any moral support from siblings.

 

While people may be sceptical, there is life after depression, and life can improve.

While people may be sceptical, there is life after depression, and life can improve.

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[Sigh] I would just like to say there is light at the end of the tunnel and I just know that people watching this who are really ill will just be thinking, "Oh yeah bog off you stupid old woman". But I felt like they may be feeling now, and I would never, ever have believed I could be this well. I am more well now that I have ever been in my life. My quality of life is better in terms of... I've got a bounce in my step. I have fun. I don't kind of live for weekends or live for holidays, I enjoy every day. And I guess there's stuff that sounds patronising like just take the best out of every day, but we only have one shot at life don't we? This isn't the dress rehearsal. This is it. You know, I have got well and I'm taking my tablets and I'm happily going to take them for the rest of my life. I'm not going to muck about with them.

 

Advises those who are not responding to medication to ask for a different medication or for...

Advises those who are not responding to medication to ask for a different medication or for...

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It isn't a one size fits all is it? You know, I think I would say to folk if you feel like you're not getting any better, and it's not a quick journey to get well anyway, but if you really feel after say three or four months on the particular medication that you are just not getting any better, go back to your doctor and ask your doctor to change, to consider changing your medication. Ask your doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist if you are not under a psychiatrist. 

And my personal experience is.... is go for a younger doctor who has had more recent training in the more modern anti-depressants. And particularly, I know, you read stuff about people saying Prozac has done this, done that, you know, but any drug, you know has some side effects you know, and don't let that put you off because living with depression is far worse than any side effects. And I... I don't have side effects I don't think. Perhaps I would say I'm not quite as sharp in my mind as I used to be, but maybe that's just because I'm getting older [laugh]. But I am certainly smart enough to be able to function extremely well and do a challenging job that demands my brain to work.
 
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