Keep reaching out... you are not a burden

When NICOLA DEPUIS spoke out about her battle with depression in the Evening Echo two years ago, her words touched others also struggling with mental health issues. As she prepares to take part in Pieta House’s Darkness Into Light event, she talks about her admission to a psychiatric ward, her diagnosis with a mood disorder, and the support and love of family
Keep reaching out... you are not a burden
Nicola Depuis

ALMOST two years ago, I wrote an article for the Evening Echo on my struggles with depression and anxiety, and the methods I used to cope.

When I wrote it I was in a good place.

I was grateful to be sharing my story, hopeful that it might help others, and happy because I was due to fly out to sunny Spain with my family a few weeks later.

Little did I know at the time that a month later I would be sitting, not on a sunny beach with a cocktail in my hand, but on a damp wooden bench in the garden of the old psychiatric ward at Cork University Hospital.

As I sat there, broken and confused by my ever more rapidly changing moods, a fellow patient explained how my article in the Echo had helped her partner and family understand what it was she had been going through and how very grateful to me she was for this.

I knew, logically, that some part of me should feel happy to hear this, that I would have felt happy if it had been a few weeks earlier, but I couldn’t access ‘happy’ as I sat there beside her.

If I was a computer and ‘happy’ was a file then this file had been damaged, corrupted... maybe even lost.

Believe me, I felt an onslaught of many things — despair, exhaustion, terror, irritation, anger, anxiety, loneliness — but the only time I came close to anything resembling happiness during that time was the relief I felt when the consultant psychiatrist had admitted me to the hospital.

While my bags were all packed for a holiday in a sunny climate, it was to a darker climate where I ended up spending the next six weeks of my life, having finally been admitted to the psychiatric ward after uttering the words ‘If I leave this hospital I’m going to kill myself’.

Getting admitted to a psychiatric ward is actually a lot harder than you would imagine. Apart from bed shortages, there is also the pressure on psychiatric staff to keep as many patients tended to in the community rather than the hospital, as laid out in the HSE’s Vision For Change.

As the holidays approached and my mood began swinging swiftly back and forth between agitation and depression, anxiety and apathy, I reached out and spoke to a doctor, admitting that I felt I couldn’t trust myself to keep myself safe at the time. I really couldn’t.

My every waking minute was consumed with images of harming myself or of killing myself.

I know there are people reading this who might think how selfish that would have been to have left a grieving family, but what you must understand is that I was mentally incapacitated at the time, mentally ill.

The world had stopped making sense and the thoughts that had any semblance of clarity were those that said how better off, how much happier everyone in my life would be when I was gone.

I felt like a contagion, a scourge whose only option was to destroy myself. This had become an absolute truth in my mind.

However, as I had been through this crisis before, I at least had the awareness that this feeling would pass if I could just get help and keep myself safe in the meantime.

It was an incredibly scary time for me and for the people in my life. Apart from the doctors, I hadn’t told anyone how I was feeling as I didn’t want to upset the people I loved, even though, of course, they would have been so much more upset had I actually hurt myself.

The irony is I had written about depression such a short time before this for everyone to read, but when battling it, I felt like I couldn’t open up to the people closest to me.

I believed I would only have burdened them, but of course this thought was just another symptom of the illness.

During the next six weeks and during the two years since, I would go through times of such distress I would dissociate and not always be clear on what was real and what wasn’t.

There were also times when I was the happiest person in the world and did everything to excess.

God forbid you tried to get a word in when I was in one of these moods. I could talk enthusiastically about anything from bats to butter, tell a stranger my life story in under three minutes and feel like the entire world was conspiring to help me when a Fleetwood Mac song I loved played on the radio.

Along the way, I was diagnosed with cyclothymia, a mood disorder on the bipolar spectrum, and I was told that what I was battling on a regular basis was called a mixed mood episode, a combination of both a high and a low, with all the agitation and misery that contains.

Being high doesn’t always mean feeling happy, it can often manifest as feeling extremely agitated. In fact, mixed moods are said to be the most dangerous mood state as they lead to more suicide attempts.

Being cyclothymic means that, basically, my moods are more intense and debilitating than what’s considered normal. They’re often unrelated to what’s going on in my life.

I can have had the best day and feel despair or I could have received bad news and feel elation. My emotions don’t always add up.

Along with this comes disorganised thinking, where I become incapable of catching hold of any of the blurry thoughts rushing around my head as well as intermittent bouts of psychosis where I’m unsure of reality and may hallucinate.

What keeps me going during the worst of it, apart from the love of my family and friends, is that underneath this illness I am a very grateful person with a huge love for and interest in life.

I decided to write about this aspect of my life again because I wanted to reach out to fellow sufferers with hope.

Cyclothymia is an illness that many people haven’t heard of but it’s said to affect up to 1% of the population.

If you’re going through something similar to what I have described above, please remember the words that have kept me going through the darkest of times: ‘This too shall pass’. And it really will pass.

Maybe it will return, but in the meantime there will be times when you’re symptom-free and you can live your life to the best of your abilities.

Also, trust that there are incredibly hard working services out there staffed by supportive people who will do what they can to help you. If one service doesn’t work for you or you’re not happy with it, try another.

If you go to your GP, you can be referred to your local mental health team who offer services such as home visits, psychotherapy, art therapy, occupational therapy and day hospital groups on relaxation, mindfulness, gardening, self-esteem, distress tolerance and others.

If you have a medical card you can be referred by your GP for eight free sessions with a counsellor.

Also, many counsellors offer low-cost sessions and there is free online counselling at turn2me.org.

If you are feeling suicidal or feel like self-harming, Pieta House can help on 021-4341400.

There are also counselling and group services available at Shine 021 4949833.

If you are going through or recovering from mental illness, then there is also The Next Step Cork who provide week-long workshops in arts, crafts, yoga, and woodwork amongst others (contact: 085-7161960).

You are never a burden.

Not everyone will be able to support you during your hardest times through no fault of their own, mainly due to not knowing how, but keep reaching out. There is help and remember above all ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

If you would like further information on anything I’ve written about here, or you would just like to get in touch, please email me at: nicdepola@gmail.com Nicola Depuis is currently fundraising for Pieta House’s Darkness into Light walk and readers can donate at the following link: https://dil-ucc-cork.everydayhero.com/ie/nicola-1 

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