Yasmin, 28, London, UK

**** Trigger Warning: suicidal ideation ****

“I would like to share my story about my diagnosis of, and battle with, Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) – also known as Dysthymia.

I was probably around 15 when I started noticing something wasn’t right with me. It didn’t come on suddenly, but it slowly built over time until one day I realised that I didn’t want to be alive anymore.

When I was 16, I went to the doctor as my mental health had deteriorated significantly.  I was still functioning incredibly highly – attending school every day, socialising lots, appearing “normal” and even happy to the outside world, but I was consumed with suicidal thoughts and hopelessness.

The GP simply told me “You’re too young to be depressed” – I left with nothing, no help or follow up.

When I was 18, I went back to the doctors to seek help. I was in my final year of A-levels and my mind was dominated by suicidal thoughts; I felt mentally exhausted and wanted to give up.  I was again told I was too young to be depressed, yet still the GP prescribed me anti-depressants – with no information about the side effects. I took them for 2 weeks and felt worse, so I stopped, with no follow up.

Following this, I went to university. I met some of my best friends, achieved a first class degree, continued to keep up my image as a happy, social person, but felt depressed all of the time with no clear reason.

Then, when I was 21, I lost my best friend in a sudden, tragic accident. This devastated me. It was also turning point for my mental health. I realised that I needed to get better; I couldn’t keep this secret forever, bury it until it overflowed. I couldn’t do that to our friends, to my family. I saw their pain and I knew my own.

So, I went to the university GP. He listened to me, he was concerned. He prescribed me medication and referred me for counselling. He booked a follow up review appointment, and told me to contact him or to go to A&E if I needed urgent help. He was the first doctor not to tell me I was too young to feel how I felt.

A few days later, I started the counselling. It was the best thing I’d ever done. My therapist was amazing; she was young, relatable and caring.  She worked through things with me, made me feel justified, took away some of the guilt. She made me write things down, made me reassess my thoughts, and helped me to manage them.

I felt a little better, for around 4 months. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was the longest stretch I’d had of not being deeply depressed. I needed this time; I needed to know that feeling ‘ok’ was something I could achieve. It felt pretty amazing.

After the 4 months, with no reason, my mood plummeted again. I continued to act ok, but the depression persisted, with the odd stable spell, never exceeding 4 months. I saw five different counsellors and was prescribed 6 different medications over the same number of years. I often wondered if it was worth it; I believed that I could not get better.

In 2019, after struggling with depression for over 12 years, I was referred to a psychiatrist. He assessed me and felt that given the duration of my depression, in addition to high functioning I was, PDD (Dysthymia) was the most accurate diagnosis. He assured me that I wasn’t “out of options” like I had felt. He prescribed me different medication and I was offered a new course of CBT.

The CBT I had was great – much better than some of the courses I’d had previously. My counsellor was amazing; we worked through my thoughts and how I could manage them, and how to get better at saying ‘no’ to social plans, so I could stop continually burning myself out in an attempt to mask my depression.

Then, the pandemic happened. For many, this has understandably been a horrible, anxiety-inducing time. For me, bizarrely, this has a great year for my mental health.

I’ve realised that I had needed a serious change. The lockdown offered that – it gave me a chance to breathe. I didn’t have to go into the office, pretending to be bubbly and smiley. I didn’t have to force myself to go to the theatre, to bars, to restaurants, on dates. I could no longer ‘compare and despair’ or feel I wasn’t where I ‘should be’ in life.  I’ve had time to go for long, peaceful walks; to find new hobbies (I took up gardening); to read all those books I’d been meaning to start. I even got a promotion at work. I’ve had relief.

I still take my medication every day and likely will for the rest of my life. The depression will probably return, but I’ve had chance to learn a few things to manage it better – to focus more on the things I enjoy as opposed to the things that just make me appear happy to everyone else. I discussed this with my therapist who asked me to write a letter to future me, potentially depressed me, reminding her that there are spells of stability, that I can be ok. Reminding her of the things I’ve learnt that help. I would encourage anyone else who is battling with persistent depression to do something similar in their better spells.

Until relatively recently, none of my friends or family knew what I was going through – I did not fit the image of a “depressed” person as we see in the media; I looked happy and confident to everyone else. I have experienced many instances of people telling me I “don’t seem depressed” and I strongly feel that we need to tackle the perception that there is only one way to be depressed.

PDD isn’t well known or talked about, and I want raise awareness for anyone who may be going through what I was.  Medical professionals don’t always get it right, but persevere and know that you can have periods of light amidst the darkness. Keep trying to find what’s right for you, and keep going for the stable spells.”

You can follow Yasmin on her instagram.


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