Depression. Not an easy thing to talk about.
A couple of weeks ago I asked (on Twitter, because that’s where I get up to all my social shenanigans) if there was anything specific people wanted me to write about. I only got one request, and it was a tough one.
Nicole asked me to write about my life with depression. Twenty-plus years ago when the first signs of the Black Dog showed up, I was ashamed of it. Teachers attributed my mood to puberty. My amazing science teacher used to call me Genis, and said I was so negative I could be developed in a dark room. I don’t think she’ll ever know how grateful I am for everything she did for me. This is a long tale, and I hope you’ll stick around for it. I’m going to break it up into a few posts, though.
I had a happy childhood. I never went without the essentials – I’m sure my parents made a lot of sacrifices I don’t know about to ensure my brother and I had everything we needed, and sometimes, wanted. A big part of my happiness was my maternal grandparents. Possibly the only other person in the world who had a grandfather as wonderful as mine, is Sophie Dahl. So when he passed away, my gloom became a little bigger. I will never forget the feeling of sadness I felt I was drowning in the night before he passed away. It was a Sunday night. My dad was working night shift. My mom was in the Free State helping to take care of my grandfather, and my brother was in his room, watching television. I was staring out of the window, Elton John’s piano music playing, and couldn’t understand why I felt so hopeless. When my father woke me up way too early the next morning, I knew, as soon as I asked him why he was home so early. I knew before he said anything. My grandfather would’ve loved social media. He’d have his on blog and maintain it a lot better than I do mine!
But we all soldiered on.
Deciding on a future
The next year I was in matric and had to decide what I was going to do after school. A gap year wasn’t an option. I wanted to study drama, and my mom said, sure, if I was going to pay for it myself. Which, despite my weekend work at a fashion store, I couldn’t. I applied to NWU Pukke to study pharmaceuticals, did the admittance test and was placed on a waiting list. In the meantime I also applied to TUT (still Pretoria Technicon back then) to study Biomedical Technology. I got accepted and started what I thought would be a great new chapter in my life. But I failed the theory sections of Immunology and Biochemistry, almost passed out in my first Histology practical, and realised I would not be able to complete this degree. Having only failed at maths once in high school (not helping my mental state at all), I was devastated.
A forced gap
After quitting after three semesters, I didn’t know what I was going to do during the next six months until the new academic year. Fortunately, a family friend asked if I’d be interested in a three-month contract at the large national brewing company. The needed an intern of sorts. I passed chemistry one, new how to calibrate for and test pH, and was willing to work for minimum wage. After three months they extended my contract with another three months and asked if I had ever considered studying biochemistry. Ha! By then I’d applied to TUT again, this time to study International Relations. It was a relatively new course, and no one knew exactly what it entailed or what I could do with that qualification. I knew I wanted to write, but didn’t want to limit myself to journalism. I started this mix of public relations, international relations, media studies and communication science the year I turned 21.
The emotional canine that could not be ignored.
I was surrounded by kids fresh out of high school. Having saved two thirds of my SAB salary, I could pay for my studies and driving lessons. I had learned about the responsibility of adulting. When you work, you show up every day. These kids, when they didn’t feel like it, or were hungover, simply didn’t come to class. How naïve, I thought. I felt old and tired. I spoke to my media studies lecturer, another amazing woman, about how I felt out of place. She referred me to a campus counsellor. And finally I could get to the bottom of what was wrong with me.
I went to my GP who prescribed fluoxetine, and I started to feel more balanced.
It happened after a few months, and a couple times more when I was medicated, that every time I felt stable I’d think how other people were coping without meds (I assumed no one else in my life needed the chemical crutch) and that I can do it too. So I’d go cold turkey. This was compounded in my second year when I started dating my only serious boyfriend ever, and allowed him to ruin my life. He was jealous, possessive, and stole my light. I used to be outgoing and fun and silly. During the almost year we dated I tried to break up with him several times. I was juggling so many things – work, studies, family and this man demanding my attention. When we finally broke up for good, I was broken and jaded. He kept contacting me, but finally I managed to get free completely.
And then I found love
During my third year, with the help of my Media Studies lecturer and my boss on campus (I proofed and edited every syllabus for every course, and she taught me how to use QuarkXPress [haha] so when the DTP class rolled around I didn’t have to wait for an open spot in the computer lab and wonder how to do my assignment) I landed the job as editor of the student newspaper. I couldn’t be paid for that, so the lady I reported to appointed me as her student assistant, and I got paid for that job. It only covered four hours a day, so I got a casual job at a pharmacy, working in the vitamins and homeopathic section.
From the first edition I wrote and helped lay out, I was in love. This was what I wanted to do. Write. I was invited for an interview at SABS for a PR position. Throughout the interview I said I want to write. Even when they told me there wouldn’t be much writing involved, I insisted it’s all I wanted to do. When I left I didn’t think I’d get the job, and I was OK with it. A week later they called me and said they’d like to hire me. I got the call as I was on my way to do the layout of the latest edition of newspaper. I graciously declined.
A change is gonna come
Working two jobs was tiring. I’d be on campus by seven, at the pharmacy by one, and got home after nine every week night. On weekends I’d work long days at the pharmacy. Something had to change.
A new internet centre opened on campus, I and I went to cover it for the newspaper. The manager, a tall, charismatic guy, asked about whether the newspaper was online, and maybe they could help us create a website. We swapped out email addresses and I went back to my office to type up my story.
We ended up exchanging emails daily. He was on campus once a week, but we never met because of my jobs. One day he asked if I knew of any students who’d be interested in running the internet centre, as the last person left without notice.
A campus job that would allow me to work normal hours and still do the newspaper, could I apply? I chatted with my campus supervisor and she said it would work for her. Tall, dark and quirky said sure, I could have the job. Neither of us knew how our lives would be changed forever because of this.