Depression, Sooty Footprints And Cornettos

My first thought when I saw on Twitter that the Mindtank blog was looking for submissions was: ‘Brilliant! I have both the skills and experience necessary for this!’, which, if you’ve attempted to apply for any job in the last few years, you will know is a feeling of almost unimaginable joy. I thought to myself, ‘I will tell a story but not face to face like in that therapy session because we know how that goes, don’t we Sarah’ (hint: it involves having more mucus than face).

I’ve had depression since I was 11. It started when my parents separated and I didn’t really know what to do about it, so I spent the following few years pretending to be dandy in the daytime while simultaneously being scared shitless about the night time because that’s when it would get me. I changed schools and things got better. I got better at not crying. Depression had left its sooty footprints all over my family tree and I was just another one that would grin and bear it.

I’d had depression on and off for 15 years before I got treatment. In hindsight, this was unwise. If you’re wondering if you should get treatment for depression, don’t wait 15 years. If you’re thinking about it you should probably do it. It was 2010 and I was living in Plymouth in a flat that had no doors. I had a bit of a breakdown (surprisingly not due to lack of doors) and my friend Kim told me I should go to the doctor, so I did, I had a good cry and I got some Prozac. I imagined the world would appear thus:


It sort of did.

Prozac is supposed to take two weeks to kick in, but the feeling of actually having done something proactive about my sorry mental state meant that I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was Christmas morning when I was 6 and knew I was going to get a Three Wishes Sindy and an orange. Before long I was back out on the town in my blue lightning suit being offered bottles of champagne by birthday lesbians. Stellar!

I left university where I was failing spectacularly at a BSc in Ocean Science, I left my job where the manager told me I should be in a mental hospital. I moved back in with my parents in Norfolk, where I regressed to childhood and discovered the immense benefits of yoga and meditation. I stopped taking the Prozac because I didn’t need it anymore due to the three hours of yoga I was doing every day. All was going wonderfully, I was listening to a lot of Canadian folk music, my brother got married at what was probably the best wedding I will ever go to, I was thinking about travelling again – and this time further than the time I drove to Hampshire in my slippers.

As I mentioned previously, depression is a bit of a family affair with us, and my dad’s side of the family is full of it. My cousin Tom had been suffering with depression for a long time, I didn’t know how badly because he was very good at hiding it when we saw him. I secretly hoped I’d find the answer and he would get better. By May 2012 it was too late.

If anything losing Tom pushed me to travel almost immediately, in the standard ‘any day could be your last’ way American people with neon teeth and ponytails talk about. I quit my job and went to France. I listened to a lot of Elgar in a chateau. I got the bus to Budapest and spent a lot of money on Cornettos.

Soon after my return I decided it was time to move somewhere new. I chose Edinburgh. I got a job at a company that I hated. I was overworked, stressed, and the industry was awful. I was told by senior management that there must be something wrong with me if I couldn’t get another job. Soon enough the depression caught up with me with added anxiety attacks, and I was signed off by the doctor for 2 weeks.

I’d been thinking about going it alone as an artist for a while (pretty much since I was 5), so I sent in my notice and got signed off for that too. That was last March and I’ve been self employed ever since. There have been bad times – huge money worries mostly – but mostly thanks to the support of my family and friends it’s been a dream. In terms of my depression, if I wake up feeling terrible I know that yes, I can spend my day in an exceptionally well made blanket fort listening to The Lemonheads and watching Columbo repeats, I don’t have to feel bad about it. I’m not letting the team down. I won’t have to have a meeting with HR because I’ve had more than the average number of sick days this year. It wouldn’t be the answer for everyone but it’s definitely right for me. Things are looking up.


Take Home Messages:

  • Get treatment. Don’t wait 15 years. It doesn’t have to be medication, just telling a doctor will help. They’ve heard it all before and should be supportive. Proactivity is one of the best antidepressants I know.
  • Talk to someone. If you have depression or if you think someone in your family or one of your friends could do with a chat/laugh/whatever, just talk. It doesn’t matter if you cry, you’re not a robot, you won’t go all rusty.
  • Have adventures. You’ll meet fun people and do fun things. Laughing is good. If you drive to Hampshire in your slippers make sure that you also take shoes.
  • Look after yourself. Whether that means making sure you’re eating properly, going for a massage, or actually putting on the central heating (I live in Scotland, this is a big one for me).
  • If you have a job that you hate and that makes you depressed, leave. Life is much too short to waste somewhere you hate. You’re too important. YOLO! Oh god what have I done.
  • Try meditation. It really is good. It takes time but it’s worth it I promise.
  • Try to spend time outside, especially with dogs. If you don’t like dogs and are wrong, maybe a cat or a pigeon or something.
  • Listen to Elgar in a chateau and get a bus to Budapest. Spend a lot of money on Cornettos

Sarah Barnard (@sarahs_mindtank)