By Karly Stilling
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK so Karly is sharing her experience with depression. If you are struggling with your mental health, you are not alone! There are people who want to help – we’ve listed a few resources at the end of this article and you can find many more online.
For years, I believed that I was broken inside.
It seemed like the only logical explanation for the deep, enduring sadness I felt in my otherwise fortunate and happy life. Better still, if I was broken then I could be fixed. Made whole—made normal.
I’ve felt it, sadness like a black hole, for as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade, I had a hard time making friends and focusing on learning. I cried a lot, I was put into special education. My teacher worried that I was being abused, only I had no scars or bruises. In reality my home life was very safe and very happy. But I felt things very deeply.
I grew from an emotional child into a moody teenager. At least, that’s what I believed I was—moody. Most of my friends had what I considered real problems: learning difficulties, abusive, neglectful, or absent parents, issues with drugs. My life was dull by comparison; my parents were both middle-class professionals. We had a beautiful house, frequent family holidays, and my sister and I got along better than any other siblings I knew. I had become good at schoolwork and was active in school clubs. I knew I was lucky, so I stuffed my feelings deep inside. I smoked and I drank; I filled journals with dark and terrible poetry; I rebelled in quiet and predictable ways.
I was pretty much your typical moody teen.
My understanding of what was going on started to change once I reached my early twenties. I met a boy and I fell in love, hard—the kind of obsessive, unhealthy relationship where my sense of identity became entwined in his adoration of me. But I wasn’t really happy and as the cracks started to show, he pulled away and grew distant and harsh. At night, I’d be in so much pain that I’d go into the bathroom and wail into a towel.
I was becoming aware that there was something very wrong somewhere deep in me.
Eventually we broke up. I didn’t have the emotional scaffolding to deal with it, so I went to my doctor. She diagnosed me with anxiety and depression and started me on antidepressants; they made me numb, which was fine with me—anything was better than what I had been feeling.
I also started seeing a psychologist. She gave me the first glimmers of hope that I had felt in a long time, and I started to accept my emotions instead of blame myself for them. She recommended I read ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainier Maria Rilke and I began to build a sense of perspective. I started to wonder why I was the way that I was. I realised that my anxiety and depression weren’t new—they had always been with me in one guise or another: emotional child, moody teenager, anxious adult.
“Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away, you write, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.” -Rilke
A short while later, I visited an ashram for a few weeks with my mom and started to learn some powerful tools for personal development. The approach they took at the ashram made me feel accepted, and it made me feel like I had some control. Two years later, I went back for an intensive yoga development course. I spent three months looking deep inside myself, peeling back layers of unhappiness and protective, isolating behaviours. I emerged more convinced than ever that there was something inside of me that I could fix—if I could only find it!
I was coping better, but I still suffered. Whenever I got truly quiet, I felt something like a downwards pull inside me. My anxiety flared up on occasion, but I tried very hard to believe I was better. I was terrified: if everything I’d tried so far hadn’t worked, what was left?
I met another boy. Actually, I met many but most of them didn’t stick around, then I met one who did. And every time I got too sad, too upset, too emotional and tried to run away, he held me tight. I didn’t want to scare him with the intensity of my feelings like I had with my ex, but he was unscareable. Slowly, with him by my side, I opened up and started to accept myself a little bit more.
We were together for four years. During that time, my father got sick and passed away, and my partner was beside me for all of it. When I felt the deep pangs of grief for the first time, I also felt something that surprised me: relief. I recognised grief. It was the same dark hole that lived deep inside me, and now I had a word for it—and it was okay to feel it. I could even share it with others. I was still in pain, but I wasn’t so scared of it anymore.
I started to think that maybe I wasn’t a broken something that needed to be fixed. Maybe I was just me.
Not long after my partner and I broke up, I moved to London to become a writer. I felt happier, closer to something that was real and true. I had dark moments, but by then I’d built up a robust self-care routine to help me cope.
My first summer in London I met a guy, a sweet and silly man who didn’t care about my mental health history. After dating for ten months, we moved in together. I’d never lived with a partner before. I expected happiness and cuddles and cohabitational bliss.
But the black hole was still there inside me, and it was growing.
I was so frustrated—I’d done everything I was supposed to. I was in counselling, I exercised often, ate well, had happy and stable relationships. There was no reason to feel hopeless. Nothing to suggest that I was, in fact, worthless. That the world would be better off without me. But that’s how I felt.
Things got worse. I started having intrusive thoughts and they terrified me. When I was feeling the lowest I had in a decade (and when my partner was about ready to give up on me), I went to the doctor to get back on anti-depressants. I didn’t make the decision lightly—the first time I’d taken them, I became a zombie. That was fine then, when I had a break up to get over, but I wasn’t looking to heal from some sadness this time around. At least, not one I could name.
I felt like it was my last chance. If I tried meds again, and if they didn’t really help again, then I was doomed to feel that way forever. It was an unbearable thought. But I knew that pharmaceutical treatments had advanced a lot since my last go with them, so I gave it a shot. I got on new meds.
And they worked.
Not right away, but when we got the dosage right, the fog of sadness dissipated. That feeling that had been pulling me down for most of my life disappeared. I didn’t feel numb, I didn’t feel elated, I didn’t feel anything except what I was supposed to feel.
After decades of emotional pain, I finally felt free. I felt happy when I was happy, and I felt sad when I was sad. But when I got really quiet, what I felt was neutral, and that was the best feeling in the world.
It’s been three years. In the absence of my depression, I’ve discovered for the first time how to be really, truly happy. The medication hasn’t cured me. It hasn’t fixed what was broken inside me. What it has done is given me the step up I needed to discover, once and for all, that there is absolutely nothing broken inside me.
I am, and always have been, good enough.
Odds are, the medication won’t work forever—it tends to lose effectiveness over time. I worry a little about what might happen then, but not a lot. The happiness I’ve found inside myself over these past two years isn’t going to go away.
I know it’s there now, and I know how to find it.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek help. Here are a few resources you can use, but there are many more available worldwide. There are many people who want to help – please don’t struggle through it alone.
If you need urgent help, please contact your emergency services.
In the UK:
In the US:
- National Suicide Prevention Support Line – call 1.833.456.4566
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention – visit the website to find resources in your area