Today I realised that it has been almost exactly 2 years since I started taking anti-depressants (Citalopram). It seems crazy that it’s been so long! I remember when I was first prescribed them that I thought that I’d be on them for a maximum of 6 months. How wrong I was!
A lot has changed since then.
I met my ex-partner, who gave me my first binder; I went to counselling which led to me requesting a referral to the Belfast Gender Identity Clinic (GIC); I started attending the GIC; I came out to friends and family as non-binary transgender and changed my name and pronouns socially; I changed my name officially and I now am known by my chosen name, Naomhán, by almost everyone in my life; I received a referral to Dr Yelland for top surgery (double mastectomy); and I’m on the waiting list for endometrial ablation (to stop my periods), freezing my eggs (for peace of mind) and endocrinology (for low-dose testosterone).
In this time I have also completed an 18-month traineeship in the TV industry which led me to my current job – working as a freelance editor. I’ve also performed in two circus cabarets on aerial silks; continued to write this blog; started vlogging for the My Genderation YouTube channel; went to two Trans Prides in Brighton; become involved in local trans activism; helped run events at the local Outburst Queer Arts Festival; joined a queer performance group; and managed to get through a particularly difficult episode in order to be with my current partner, Lindsey.
All in all, it’s been a busy two years! I’ve had lots of ups and downs. I could never have imagined, two years ago, that I would have achieved all of these things. I’ve had the hardest two years of my life, but all of these changes have been crucial for my mental health and well-being. I’m the first person to be hard on myself, so it’s particularly satisfying to write all of these achievements down and to know that I’ve done all of this while learning to live with my depression.
I still remember vividly the day when I decided to ask for help. I was in my old apartment, where I lived alone. It was a week night, about 1am in the morning, and I was distraught. I had been crying on and off for 2-3 hours, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had a voice going around in my head telling me to do all sorts of terrible stuff to myself, and it scared me so much. It felt like there was a being inside my own head that I couldn’t control but who could control me. It was talking to me about suicide and self-harm, telling me there was no other option, no other way out.
I didn’t know what to do, so I opened the door, despite the rain and the cold, and I paced out on the steps, trying to control my breathing, trying to silence the voice in my head. I made a decision, there and then, to ask for help. Making a decision calmed me down loads, and eventually I managed to get into bed and have a few hours sleep. The next morning, before going to work, I called my doctor’s office and asked for an emergency appointment. They told me to come in at midday and that I’d have to wait for the doctor to fit me in.
I cried that day, at the doctor’s. I was prescribed 20mg Citalopram and I returned to work that afternoon, pretending that nothing much had happened other than a boring, routine check-up. It’s taken me a long time since then to come to terms with my depression. I’ve started to see patterns in it. I start off on ‘a level’, and steadily feel better and better until I’m almost manic – running around the place, taking loads of jobs on, socialising all the time, incapable of sleeping and not needing it. After a few months of this ‘high’, I crash spectacularly into deep depression. Sometimes it comes out as anxiety, sometimes it comes out as extreme exhaustion, and sometimes I feel suidical which is the scariest part. After a few months of this, I’ll slowly claw my way back out, most recently with the help of meditation and lots of self-care, until I’m back on a level. Then the cycle repeats itself.
I think that depression manifests itself differently for each of us, depending on the individual. One of the hardest things for me was learning to treat my depression like any other illness. If I had ME, my exhaustion would be excused, my inability to get up and go accepted. If I had high blood pressure, I would be expected to take tablets, scolded if I didn’t. But for some reason, accepting that the medication would help the mental part of my depression, and that rest and self-care are crucial for the physical symptoms of my depression, was the hardest part of all this. Once I accepted it, I found it much easier to tell others about it, to be open about living with depression.
I’m not ashamed any more, as I once was, to accept that I live with depression. And I’m not ashamed any more to ask for help when I need it. I still struggle every day, I still can’t work full-time, and I still have really bad days where I cannot get myself to get out of bed. But I have accepted, now, that I have these days and that they are part of me, part of my illness. Acceptance has been the hardest part of my journey so far, and it continues to be. But only with acceptance can I learn, not only to live with my depression, but to thrive with it too.
So here’s to two years of acceptance, two years of medication, two years of struggle. I’m glad I kept going. Learn to accept yourself as you are, and hopefully you’ll still be here too, in two years time.