After decades of suffering from depression, which sometimes made me so catatonic that all I could do was stare at walls in silence, I have now fully recovered from it. For many years I wanted to kill myself, getting very close on one occasion. Thank God I did not take that irrevocable step, as I am now happier than I have ever been with all my mental health problems and addictions, so numerous they could fill a football stadium, in complete recovery.
My depression started at the age of 12/13 when my father left home to live with another woman. I had always been incredibly close to my father, who is white, and had almost no bond with my black Jamaican mother. This was because she had been out of the house six days a week working while I was growing up. After the breakup of my parents’ marriage, both of them became extremely hostile to me. My mother threatened to put a contract out on my father, saying I was “just like him” and denying that I was even her daughter. She also frequently tried to throw me out of the house, because I was untidy, taking me to a lawyer’s office to evict me when I was 15. The lawyer said it was not possible to evict me, but the threat of being thrown out on the street was ever present. I asked my father if I could go to live with him but he said no.
My father, as I grew up, started to tell me I was ugly and out of proportion as, he said, my head was too big and my legs too short. He dismissed my academic achievements describing it as “boring” when I came top of the class at secondary school. When I got into Oxford University at the age of 16, he said “that’s all very well but why don’t you just grow.” He would also sit around with his white girlfriend taking the piss out of Jamaicans and saying it was important to realise black people were “different” as they “had a different pelvis shape.” He would frequently question me trying to get confidential information about my mother’s financial affairs, as they were going through a bitter divorce squabbling over money.
By the age of sixteen I was very depressed. My parents took me to see a psychiatrist who said it was their fault that I was in a state. I believe this put them off from continuing treatment with him as I only saw him once or twice more.
During my first year at Oxford University I was extremely depressed and withdrawn. My bedroom was filthy, so much so that people from other colleges would come for “tours” of the room, and I was living in a fantasy world where I was the Queen of Spain. My tutor said I needed to see a psychologist and I started looking for a therapist. Unfortunately I could not find one in Oxford.
My depression became even worse. I frequently contemplated suicide wondering how I could kill myself and make it look like an accident. I did not want to upset my parents with an open suicide attempt, which was ironic given their behaviour.
The depression reached its darkest period in my early twenties. This was because, having been rejected by a man I thought I was in love with, I had gone off men and thought I was gay. I went to see various therapists, telling them that I was only attracted to women. But they said I was not gay. I was consumed with thoughts of suicide and was referred by my doctor to a psychiatrist at St Mary’s hospital. I was there diagnosed with clinical depression and offered in-patient treatment at a psychiatric hospital. I declined this, not wanting to take time off work. I was by then working for the BBC as a producer and trainee reporter and was very committed to my job. I was prescribed paroxetine for the depression, which did not lift it, merely taking the edge off.
After the failure of a relationship with a man I considered my “soulmate” at the BBC and who I hoped would “rescue” me from being gay, I became more actively suicidal. I ended up with a carving knife at my throat about to cut my throat. Apart from wanting to kill myself, I had also had a phobia of serial killers cutting my throat since the trauma of viewing such a scene in Friday the 13th on American cable TV when I was 8. Such was my fear of having my throat cut that I thought I had better prevent this by doing it myself. Luckily I was interrupted. The psychiatrists advised I was too depressed to go into therapy. And indeed I was often catatonic not able to speak or move. At the BBC they said it was obvious I had “severe emotional problems.”
Although some people cannot work because of depression, I think my job helped keep me alive. It was very stimulating and the fact that it forced me to get out of bed every morning and leave the house distracted me from the depression. Despite being suicidal, I still had a desire to succeed in my career as a journalist. I was also determined to recover from the depression and, ignoring the psychiatrists, began efforts to look for a private therapist. Having found one, I began to see her twice a week.
For the first time, I talked in depth about what had happened during my parents’ divorce. One theory about depression is that it is anger turned inwards and I had certainly not been able to express, or even connect with, my anger towards my parents as a child as it was too unsafe to confront them.
After three years of therapy, the clinical depression lifted, and I realised I was angry with my parents. However I still felt too unsafe to confront them, believing they would cut me off if I did.
I continued taking anti-depressants throughout my twenties, as I was still depressed but not suicidal.
At the age of 32, I became suicidal again. My mother, who’d moved to Jamaica, had become distressingly ill after multiple strokes. She was paralysed but shaking uncontrollably, having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am till midnight every day. Her mental age was that of a baby. I had moved to Jamaica to spend more time with her but found the effects of living with her constant screaming made me want to kill myself. Partly because of pressure from my family, I felt I had to stay in Jamaica, despite the impact her illness was having on me. I started drinking on my own at home, deliberately trying to get drunk, which I had never done before. My drinking out of the house also escalated, leading my family to say I had a drink problem. In denial about my alcohol issues, I said that everyone in England collapsed on the floor of toilets in nightclubs and then practically caused a car crash by kicking the person who’d rescued them in the head. I genuinely believed this was true. In my mind to be an alcoholic you had to be filmed on reality TV attacking the police in Newcastle. I had never been to Newcastle so clearly my drinking was fine. Instead of cutting back on my drinking, I started taking more cocaine.
I was soon taking cocaine all day and night. This exacerbated the depression, leading me to not only want to die, but to take incredible risks with my life in pursuit of drugs. I also had rampant bulimia and was told by the doctors that, every time I made myself sick on that quantity of cocaine, I could have a fatal heart attack. But I thought I wanted to die as that was the only way to escape the unbearable situation with my mother’s illness. I was still taking anti-depressants but doubt they had much impact, as I was using so much alcohol and cocaine. I would also sometimes snort the anti-depressants, mixing them with cocaine to make it go further, which I doubt helped their efficacy.
I was forced into treatment by my family after admitting I was addicted to cocaine. I went to an extremely expensive rehab, St Chillin’s, where I briefly came off the anti-depressants and did the first 3 steps of the AA 12 Step Programme. After relating a catalogue of disasters with my mental health to the psychiatrist at St Chillin’s he said I had too many problems to be treated in the private sector as I would bankrupt my family. I decided that I would follow his advice as my own decisions had ended me up in rehab, totally broke. I therefore transferred to a state funded rehab in South London, bristling with ex-cons, after my local council agreed to pay for me.
I was in residential rehab for the whole of 2005. And the experience I had was instrumental in permanently lifting my depression. My depression had started when my parents turned their hatred for each other on me. I was surrounded by love and support in rehab as all the staff were incredibly kind to me. I felt cared for in a way I had never done with my parents. The government also paid for my year’s treatment, giving me a drug support worker when I left, so I felt looked after by them. I started a serious relationship with a man who was very in love with me. This was an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer, who’d forgotten how long he’s spent in jail, who I’d met at the South London rehab. Throughout the relationship I insisted on calling him “mummy.”
I continued taking the anti-depressants in 2006 but felt much better and was really no longer that depressed. At the beginning of 2008, I came off anti-depressants as I no longer felt depressed, although I still had other mental health problems. The relationship with my boyfriend broke down after he hit me and smashed up the house. This caused me a lot of problems with my mental health, including thinking a demon was possessing my brain, but not a relapse into depression.
I started seeing a private therapist at the end of 2009 who I am still seeing and have a very close relationship with. She is an attachment therapist, who re-parent the client, and this has re-wired my brain, not only further alleviating the depression but leading to a feeling of positive happiness. I started the therapy with an emotional age of two but have now been re-parented and left secondary school.
I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013, because of financial problems and the fact that my ex-boyfriend, who I was still involved with, was having a baby with someone else. I started doing crazy OCD checking rituals for 10 hours a day, not able to sleep until 5am. Although I could see the irrational nature of what I was doing, the OCD actually made me want to cut my throat again. I reached out to my friends, both in and outside 12 step fellowships, and had a lot of support to pull me through the nervous breakdown. My therapist describes this as creating a “circle of care.” This is a much more stable support network that I had in early recovery, or before recovery, where I would be dependent for all my emotional needs on one person and, if the relationship with them fell apart, so did I. During the nervous breakdown, I went back on medication because of the OCD so am now taking a high dose of Prozac every day as an anti-anxiety medication. This no doubt has an impact on the depression although my experience is that, while SSRI’s like Prozac have an amazing effect on OCD and anxiety, they have a very limited impact on depression. Apart from the medication, the support I gathered during the nervous breakdown has stayed with me, meaning I have a lot of caring and loving friends also contributing to my feeling of happiness.
I get very angry when I hear in 12 Step meetings that the Steps can “cure” depression as I think this is dangerous nonsense and could prevent people seeking proper treatment for their depression. This, along with the antipathy to psychiatric medication from many people in 12 Step, is what I most dislike about the Programme. Nonetheless, my participation in 12 step programmes has been an important factor in my recovery from depression. If I hadn’t done Steps 1, 2 and 3 in my first rehab, which talk about handing over your will to a power greater than yourself, I would never have followed the psychiatrist’s advice and moved to a state rehab. I would never have opened myself up to receive such love. After all, despite being given three months to live by my psychiatrist in Jamaica, I entered St Chillin’s thinking I was a socialite and party animal and that St Chillin’s was just the latest stop in the party circuit. State rehabs were part of an entirely different, very undesirable, circuit involving the courts, police and social services.
12 step fellowships also encourage you to create a network of support and pick up the phone and ask for help so, when I had the nervous breakdown, that is exactly what I did. And although I am single and have almost no family support, in fact barely even have a family, I have meetings to go to and recovery people around me so I am never alone. I have spent every Christmas with recovery people since I got clean at the beginning of 2005. Although I am now in family therapy with my father, my only relative, which is improving our relationship.
I have had so many breakthroughs with my mental health in the last year and am now in recovery from all my addictions and mental health problems and am happier than I have ever been. But I still, after so many years of depression, find it difficult to sit with sadness as a voice in my head starts to panic, thinking the paralysing depression is coming back. I don’t know when that voice will ever go. But the voice telling me to kill myself has disappeared.