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Belinda - Interview 05

Age at interview: 35
Age at diagnosis: 25
Brief Outline: Belinda was misdiagnosed with epilepsy in her early 20s, then referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with depression. With her first experience of depression Belinda took a low dose of sertraline which was helpful. However with her second bout she chose to see a psychologist and utilize a range of complimentary therapies which she found very beneficial.
Background: Belinda is a solicitor who works full-time in a community legal service. She finds her work enjoyable and her colleagues supportive, and enjoys spending time with her network of close friends and family. Ethnic background' Malaysian Chinese.

More about me...

At the age of 23 Belinda began collapsing for no particular reason. A neurologist incorrectly diagnosed epilepsy and placed her on anti-epileptic medication for a year and a half. However Belinda began collapsing more frequently to the point where she could not get out of bed and was subsequently taken to hospital. It was discovered that the anti-epileptic medication was making such episodes more frequent and it was unlikely that she had epilepsy. Belinda was forced to take a few months off work to undergo tests to rule out epilepsy and was later referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as having depression. At this time Belinda believed her problems were more related to anxiety than depression. Belinda was placed on a low dose of antidepressant medication which she found helpful, but stopped taking the medication once she felt better.
 
However with the breakdown of her relationship and the pressure of starting a new job Belinda experienced depression. Feeling that she wasn’t as devoted to her work and having lost a lot of weight Belinda returned to her GP who wanted her to go back on antidepressant medication  but she felt it important to not be ‘on chemicals’. Her GP accepted this and Belinda was referred to a psychologist and found counselling to be more helpful than medication.
 
While being supported by a psychologist Belinda went to another GP for an unrelated condition that she found upsetting. The GP advised that it was nothing to be worried about but instead asked her if there was anything else worrying her. Belinda told of her of an incident the night before with her ex-boyfriend. The GP then asked her a series of questions regarding her sleeping and eating patterns, finally telling Belinda that she was ‘clearly depressed’ and urging her to take a prescription for antidepressants, which she did reluctantly. This upset Belinda and her mother, who is a nurse, advised her against taking the medication. Belinda is still annoyed about this encounter, as she felt patronised by that GP and pushed towards a particular treatment she did not want. Belinda finds talking about her feelings and experiences helpful and has been greatly supported in her workplace and by her friends. She has also pursued many complimentary therapies, of which she has found Chinese medicine and kinesiology to be most helpful. Belinda found self-help books interesting at one point but became critical about the ‘particular agenda’ some of these books advocated and now feels that she has moved on.
 

Belinda has grown as a result of her experience of depression in that it is something that she will always have to deal with but she now feels able to. She points to growing up in a competitive environment and also the experience of racism as being possible causes. Belinda defines depression as a feeling of futility and what she terms the descent of ‘black clouds’ that affect her perception of the world. Whereas once she wore a ‘mask’ to hide her feelings she does not feel stigmatised by her experiences and believes that she is better able to manage those feelings when they occur. Belinda found talking through her feelings particularly helpful and would advise others in a similar situation to not be afraid to do the same. 

 

Early experiences of racism and growing up in a migrant family which lacked a secure sense of...

Early experiences of racism and growing up in a migrant family which lacked a secure sense of...

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But yeah, I remember always not feeling very great about myself and feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
 
And you know racism in the early 80s where I grew up was a constant feature and so you know I was very aware of what I looked like and very aware that I was a target and my family were targets. So I think I became quite self-conscious about all of that and I lost any sort of you know any sort of unselfconscious behaviour, because I was so conscious that people would see me as you know the you know one of the three Chinese people in (suburb) in the 80s, that yeah and would just hone in on that. 
 
My family all, well certainly you know my family who are living all I think have got an element of what I have got. You know some members of my family perhaps are more anxious rather than depressed. I saw unhappiness as a child and I you know I wouldn’t describe my childhood as happy at all. So I don’t know if that comes from it. 
 
I remember a lot of competition as a child, if you know within my family, at school, extracurricular things you know with family friends. I remember competition was a major feature and I don’t like that, I don’t, I’m not a thriver on competition at all. Fear of failure has always loomed as this major thing. So yeah competition freaks me out, unless it’s card games and or trivia.
 
Yeah, so I probably think it’s that sort of thing and I wonder if you know the stuff I have explained before about, particularly you know around when I was in my 20s, I wonder if I sought out a particular type of social circle or whatever because of what I saw at home as well. And you know but I am not blaming my parents or anything, it’s just what happens. And I don’t know if it’s also a first generation migrant rather intense experience, and you know my dad spoke with an accent and was you know his English wasn’t you, wasn’t like mine at all and it was very noticeable and I always felt responsible for that and wanted to protect him but also be really ashamed. So you know first generation migrant experience of their parents. 
 
 

Feeling cold and slow was a part of Belinda’s depression experience.

Feeling cold and slow was a part of Belinda’s depression experience.

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Sure. Okay so it’s felt, you know, it always feels heavy. Ahh it feels heavy here, so I guess on my heart, around here. And I had felt in the past that there was just like black clouds or a – people talk about a black crow or something over their head, and I fully understand what that feels like. It feels like there’s no sun coming down and shining on me. There is no warmth. I am very cold. And because there is no warmth, there is no life, for me, in me. The heaviness translates for me into like sludgy, sort of slow walking, slow talking, you know tiredness and stuff and just immense sadness, ahh sadness and just feeling like there is no point in ahh living essentially and just pain, just pain around my heart and just, and just constant leaking of tears is the way that I get depressed. 
 
And so what happens for me is that I turn it in on myself. So I might feel that what’s going on in the world is futile, but then somehow you know I have not made enough of a contribution to you know help alleviate that futility. So you know I know that what happens for me is that I turn it around and blame myself for things, which you know is a pattern that I have learnt to try and break and you know, I am better at it now, but, as I describe it, I am a bit so. It’s a bit of a, you know, it’s a constant struggle to – well constant vigilance to just keep it, to just keep it at bay. 
 
 

Belinda was misdiagnosed with epilepsy before she was diagnosed with depression.

Belinda was misdiagnosed with epilepsy before she was diagnosed with depression.

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I was told in about 1999 that I had possibly some type of anxiety issue, because I kept collapsing for no reason. So I was…I’d be walking down the street and just collapse, but I was awake and I was fully lucid and everything but I just was collapsing for no reason. So then I was referred to a neurologist who believed I had epilepsy and it made perfect sense that he would think that and I was put on anti-epileptic medication for about a year and a half, but it still didn’t stop, my collapsing didn’t stop and I was feeling really sad as well and very upset with my job that I was having at a particular time. I found it very difficult to get out of bed to go to work. 
 
And so it got to the stage where I was at my job and I ended up collapsing so much that I couldn’t actually get up and then I was taken to hospital. And when I was taken to hospital the doctors worked out that the anti-epileptic medication I was on was actually causing me to sort of collapse even more and not be able to get up and that it was unlikely that I had epilepsy. 
 
So I took a few months off work, because I was forced to take some months off work to try and work out what was happening. And after I was given some type of test to check all the electrons in my head, not the electrons in my head, sorry, I had this like sort of thing on my head where it was conclusive proof that I didn’t have epilepsy. Then a psychiatrist was referred to me. The psychiatrist spoke to me about essentially about my anxiety. And I was feeling very anxious about my job, about what was going on generally in my life. And so then she suggested that I might have some form of depression. And so she suggested that I try Zoloft (sertraline), which is a type of anti-depressant. I was on a very small dose for about a year. Then I took myself off Zoloft, with the assistance of my GP. 
 
So after that I was feeling pretty good for a while and I had always believed that I had anxiety rather than depression.
 
 

Belinda spoke about feeling stigmatised by a GP who insisted she was depressed then made...

Belinda spoke about feeling stigmatised by a GP who insisted she was depressed then made...

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I think it was about 2001 or 2002; I had gone to a GP because of a completely different health issue. I had some sort of you know health issue I was worried about and I was quite anxious about it. And when the GP saw me I was crying and I said to her I am really worried about this particular lump I have. And she said to me, no I don’t think you need to worry but what else has happened that is making you so upset. I said, well, I saw you know an ex-boyfriend last night at a function and he was with his new girlfriend and you know it was a bit of a shock for me; I found that quite difficult to deal with.
 
And she said to me, well you are clearly depressed…You, no. First thing she said to me, did you sleep last night, and I said no, because I didn’t, because I’d seen an ex-boyfriend with you know looking very happy you know with his current girlfriend and that made me sad, so I hadn’t slept. She said did you eat last night, and that night before I hadn’t eaten. And she said well you are clearly depressed because you haven’t slept and you haven’t eaten and therefore you are suffering from depression and I want you to go back on to Zoloft. And I remember saying to her, look, I really don’t think that this is necessary. I’m being, you know, really greatly supported by at that stage a psychologist, like really greatly supported by her and I was seeing her regularly and I was doing, you know, eating healthily and trying to look after myself, but she was, this GP was particularly insistent that I take her prescription. And I had said, no, I had said no about three times. In the end she said to me, I don’t know what’s wrong with depressed people, why they always refuse to take my prescriptions. I think depressed people like being depressed. 
 
I felt like she’d shamed me into taking her prescription. So I took it. And I was, I think anybody could have seen how upset I was. That I was, I thought I was really being forced to do this. And then when I took it she said to me, well that wasn’t very hard, was it, and I thought well it’s actually really hard. I don’t want this. And I took it home, and I was living with my mum at the time and my mum, my mum took it from me and said don’t fill it, you don’t need it and you don’t fill it. I don’t want you to have to worry about that sort of thing. It was only because my mother said to me and, you know, mum is pretty conservative and, she is a nurse by training, and she normally agrees with what doctors say but she said to me, no, I don’t want you doing it. If you say you don’t want to do it, then you shouldn’t have to do it. 
 
And that was, that’s quite a big thing for me in my, you know, in my experience with depression. That particular experience with that GP has really makes me quite angry; that somebody who I had gone to you know and you know, who I wanted to seek advice for, from something completely different as well, sort of turned it around and sort of caused me to feel stigmatised about you know something that I’m you know that I live with and it’s okay. You know I don’t think there is anything wrong with having depression at all. Or know that I, you know that. 
 
She says I have depression so I am assuming it’s the medical sort of diagnosis, you know, but it does, it does make me a little bit angry and frustrated that somebody in that position of power was able to do that to me, and I am pretty assertive even when I am feeling low, you know, I can still be pretty assertive. 
 
 

Belinda felt medication was not going to work for her. Her GP suggested counselling and she found...

Belinda felt medication was not going to work for her. Her GP suggested counselling and she found...

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 I want something that’s going to that is not going to be medication that is going to help me get through this and so she suggested that I see a psychologist. So I saw a psychologist, let me think, I probably started seeing the psychologist earlier, so maybe in 1999 or 2000 and I felt that I could, I felt really greatly assisted by the psychologist rather than medication. 

 
So I think the last time I had, what I would call a bit of a bout of the sads or you know not feeling great about the world, was about maybe six months ago, maybe a bit more. It didn’t last for too long, it was, and it was about a particular event and I knew it was about an event. So I just worked quite hard with my counsellor to sort of sort out what I really felt about this particular issue and, yeah, I am feeling pretty good about it. 
 
 

Belinda thought it was important to seek help when needed from people who love you for who you are.

Belinda thought it was important to seek help when needed from people who love you for who you are.

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Talking. Talking with people who are, you know, talking with people that are non-judgemental, talking with people who you know love you and love you the way you want them to love you. So, you know, supportive you know but not, not making out like you are a child or anything. Letting people know when things are not okay. And I would say to somebody if things are feeling like you are going to get out of control or that you are going to do something that might hurt you, let somebody know that that might happen and let somebody you know that you trust and is not going to create a drama for you, but who will look out for you. That’s what I think. And people have said that to me as well. 

 

Belinda embraced complementary and alternative approaches and benefited from most of those she...

Belinda embraced complementary and alternative approaches and benefited from most of those she...

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I‘ve done stuff like gone to acupuncture, counselling obviously, kinesiology and Chinese herbs as well and apart from them all making me feel [like] virtuous, I’ve found that it has really helped me a lot. 
 
I think with so I started off with you know psychologist counselling and she I think had suggested to me at one stage that maybe might want try a Naturopath or something like that. 
 
And so I got actually I think it was a manager at work who gave me the name of a Chinese herbalist in town and I went off to see him, and it was you know I had to take some disgusting herbs and stuff, but at the same time I found his explanations really interesting. 
 
Being Chinese myself and my grandmother who, the one I remember as my first memory, was a Chinese doctor and so I always feel that I should do it because my grandmother did it and I loved her very much.
 
Then also a friend of mine at the time had told me he was seeing a kinesiologist and he found it very helpful. So I went to one kinesiologist and.... she was fantastic. What I really liked about kinesiology for me was that I could talk through what she would firstly identify as issues with my body and she, you know, I don’t know if you know much about kinesiology but yeah it’s pretty amazing, so it’s about like adjusting energies and stuff like that, which I feel really helps me, like I feel, I don’t know it just resonates with me for some reason. 
 
So yeah and she and also as part of the treatment I talked about what was going on for me in relation to certain things that she picked up, but they would seem quite random you know and then I’d just sort of say certain things and it just seemed to help me feel good. And I think it is probably the talking as well that helps. So yeah that is what led me to do all that. 
 
You know massage as well helped me because I, because of being anxious and depressed I became very tense and ended up just having some other associated sort of muscle tensions and stuff, so I went off to a massage therapist who is also fantastic. And yeah so that helped physically and because it helped physically it helped me sleep and you know helped me get through the day. And it was just really nice; non-judgmental, you know, I’d say stuff to her about what was going on in relation to my depression or you know feeling basically shit about myself and she would hear it and then you know just talk to me about it and it just helped when she was massaging me. And she, you know massage therapists don’t, the good ones don’t just massage. Yeah, so I guess that’s what I. 
 
 

Belinda talked about the benefits of her work colleagues’ generous support.

Belinda talked about the benefits of her work colleagues’ generous support.

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So there was a lot of very unhelpful sort of behaviour then, and, but when I started work at a in a you know (place of employment) out in the (location) where I worked, my managers, I had two really great ones, and I was just so sort of upset I think about what was going on for me. It was a little bit of a shock for me as well to be told you have depression. You know I did think it was stigmatising at that time when I was first time, and I told them you know, and they, and they said to me and this is probably why I don’t think it any more, they said to me that’s cool, so do I, you know. That’s fine. So, it’s not a big deal. It’s okay. so you have it. Okay. This is what I do, you know, and they told me some good things and some bad things, but (laughs) you know but they were really great about it. 

 

Belinda described recovery as the realisation that having depression is OK.

Belinda described recovery as the realisation that having depression is OK.

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I reckon for me recovery would mean being able to live with knowing that having depression is okay and that it will you know it will come and go but that the lows are not so low and that the okay times are just around the corner. I don’t think that, for me, that depression will go away altogether but you know I’ve sort of learned over the years that I can live with it and that it might be there but it doesn’t mean it needs to affect other parts of my life as much as it used to. 

 
So yeah that’s what I reckon recovery is.
 
 

Belinda expressed scepticism about self-help books because some of them had ‘very clear agendas’...

Belinda expressed scepticism about self-help books because some of them had ‘very clear agendas’...

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I loved them, I loved them but I think; well now I am not into them at all but I certainly tried to find the answer to why I felt so empty. And you know, you know, I read through a lot so, but now I am not into them because maybe I feel that they don’t apply to me anymore. I don’t feel that I can find the answer in them. Plus, also some of them just say some ridiculous things. You know some of them have got, not all of them but some have got some very clear agendas and I’m not into that. 

 

Belinda talked about diverse experiences of support from family and friends at different phases...

Belinda talked about diverse experiences of support from family and friends at different phases...

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Yeah, the first time the people that I was sort of hanging around with at that time, who I don’t have any contact with now, I think they meant to be supportive but I remember feeling at the time it wasn’t, their behaviour wasn’t helpful. So essentially I was told that I was fragile, from my social supports and that I wasn’t allowed to go out and I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my friends or talk on the phone or anything that would cause my fragility to break. 
 
I always them as, I always saw that as a big thing for me, that they were very supportive in that way. So when I moved away from my personal supports at that stage, it was a big break, it was a substantial, you know I left essentially a family behind when I left a relationship and it left a major hole for me. I was very lucky that I had my workmates and also some old friends from high school in fact who had not been close to me for a long time, but you know with significant break ups we always need to go back to try to find our old friends who mean a lot to us (smiles). And they, I had two in particular who just really stepped in and were really fantastic and continue to be in relation to my depression and understand that sometimes I just need to have downtime and understand that I can’t, you know, I can’t always be up.
 
And yeah, so that’s, how I sort of evolved from it, I suppose. And my own family, my, I have all my family, except for me, are in the medical field and one of my sisters is a doctor, well both are doctors but one of them is a doctor but has chosen to leave the medical profession, and she was particularly supportive of me trying you know other things other than medicine other than you know pharmaceuticals to work with my depression.
 
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