The symptoms of clinical depression started when I was 13 years old. One minute I was a happy and carefree teenager, and the next, an elephant was sitting on me. My body felt heavy and encumbered. My movements slowed, as the elephant shifted its body weight onto mine. Everyday tasks, such as getting dressed were laborious and difficult as I struggled to fit both my body and my depression into my clothes.
There would come a point during each day that I succumbed to the exhaustion and helplessness, and the tears would come – it was usually right in the middle of an afternoon lesson. I would be manhandled from the classroom, the tears burning my face and my head pounding. “What’s the matter with you?” The teacher would ask. My sobs became convulsions as I desperately tried to suppress them. And that’s the thing – I didn’t know what the matter was and I still don’t. The more sympathetic members of the teaching faculty would respond to my lack of knowledge sympathetically, whereas the others would either silently walk back into the classroom to tend to the sane kids, or they would berate me for being “dramatic.”
I began skipping school, and staying at home while my parents were out at work. I was considered an unruly teenager, and written off like a bad debt. Why would the school waste their time on a lost cause like me, when there were students who were on track to boost the school’s exam results and in turn, their reputation? And that’s how I was treated.
When I did turn up for school, I was met with indifference and apathy. Some teachers even pretended I wasn’t there. I was the ace card in their veritable game of Chase The Ace. And all the while, I was buckling under the weight of my elephant.
When I was 15 years old, I tried to kill myself. I was admitted to hospital and assigned a psychiatrist. Finally, I had an adult who understood what was happening to me. The school weren’t particularly supportive. They did everything that they were legally obliged to do, such as granting me the time off I needed for my therapy appointments, but that was it. My suicide attempt wasn’t mentioned or discussed.
I left school in the summer of 2000 with 2 GCSEs to my name, which was actually better than the school had predicted for me. Although I don’t have the academic credentials that schools convince children are vitally important, I have managed to work in some very well paid, and challenging jobs. During my career, I’ve sold mortgages, software products, employment law services and escrow services to businesses.
My school wrote me off as just another future mental health statistic, but I haven’t fulfilled their ignorant prophecy. I’m successful in ways the school didn’t value, with a lovely home, a fantastic husband and 2 beautiful children. I still have an elephant come and sit on me every now and then, and that’s fine. I’ve learned to be patient and kind to myself on the bad days, and appreciate the good days. I’m no longer afraid to speak out about my mental illness, and I even write a blog about depression.
Stigma seemed to be on the curriculum at my high school, and I’m glad I failed the exam.