I hate depression. I hate that people have to suffer from it. I love that God hates depression too.
Hi’ my name is noggy or ANeuring and we are talking about mental health. This video will be articulating what it feels like to have depression using my story of starting to struggle with it. Just a quick spoiler alert, it sucks and was way worse than I could have possible imagined.
But before I get to that, I kind of have to tell you about my life before depression. In that context we will be able to better understand why I started struggling with depression and also will have a ‘before and after’ comparison with life prior to depression.
I was born in England, but spent the rest of my childhood in East Africa. My parents were volunteering with NGO’s In Western Uganda at the time. We lived in a very rural place that was in the midst of a lowkey civil war. I remember hardly any of this because we were evacuated out when I was almost three. Although my dad did stay because he was a doctor. And doctors need to stay where people are hurt. The only memory I have is of my mum being worried about my dad because of all the land mines.
The next fourteen years of my life were mainly spent in central Kenya. There I went to Rift Valley Academy, made lots of friends, and got to know God more. I have always believed in God and believe He is perfectly good and loving. Thus it is my privilege and joy to serve Him in all I do.
At school I played football and rugby and loved it. I lived in a dorm with 20 other guys my age, it was awesome and crazy. I had lots of friends and did well at school. I didn’t fit the unhelpful stereotype of the type of person who struggled with mental illness. I was energetic, happy, athletic, and had lots of close friendships. But the stereotype is woefully inaccurate (insert foreshadowing text).
Growing up in East Africa makes me a third culture kid (TCK). A TCK is someone who has spent a significant portion of their formative years in a culture other than their parents’ culture. Thus Britain, my parents’ culture, is one culture, East Africa, the cultures I grew up in, is another, and I am the third one, a cultural cocktail shared only with other TCKs. We have a unique set of experiences but also face unique set of challenges.
I loved growing up in East Africa, but there were significantly difficult events. We were evacuated form a war zone when I was young. In 2007 the Kenyan elections were rigged and it result in nationwide fighting. People were going around fighting and killing each other because of the tribe they belonged to. We had about 20 people hiding in our house some nights because they were afraid that their houses were going to be attacked. I distinctly remember my Mum asking me if I minded having all the people in our house at night. Of course I didn’t because God commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves. There was also challenges with terrorists, disease, crooked police, and my pale British skin getting sunburnt.
Overall, despite these things and many others, I love Kenya. The people there are incredibly warm and welcoming, always friendly and willing to take in a stranger. I loved my time growing up.
Moving to the UK was tough. It was a massive transition with so much change. I was not comfortable with anything in the UK and certainly had no idea how things were done over here. Culture is very deep seated in our being. It isn’t just the way which we speak or dress, but the way that we perceive reality and how that is expressed. I had no idea of the totality of it until I started at university in 2012.
The first year was all the usual cultural shock. I’d known it was coming thanks to various seminars I had been to and books I had read, but it still caught me off guard. There were all sorts of little things which I had not anticipated struggling with.
One of the things I’ve struggled with from day one is greeting people, particularly when you meet a person for the first time. I didn’t know whether to shake hands, how friendly to be, how much information to share, or how many questions to ask. Some people would even hug the first time they met you, which threw me for a loop.
There were other more practical challenges which also added to the difficulty of cultural transition. For the first 3 months I lived in the UK I thought that you could only use ATMs which were of the bank your card was from. Thus, in St Andrews, I would always walk past several cash machines before getting to the Lloyd’s Bank machine. No one had thought to point it out to me because everyone understands these simple things in the UK. Luckily I caught my older brother using a standard ATM and he explained to me how they work.
The biggest challenge was definitely building relationships. I had spent the last few years in a boarding school which, was a wonderful environment to build deep, sincere, and mature friendships. I lived with about 20 guys my age and we ate together, slept together, went to class together, played sport together, and went to church together. There was a big transition from a place of many friends to a place where I knew no one. Thus my first year was very tough. I struggled to get to know people and make friends.
Despite having experienced these challenges nothing could have prepared me for my second year in university. In that September I realized that I had been quite sad without a clear reason for 4 weeks in a row. I had become quite tired and easily annoyed by anyone. Usually it4
was just my brothers that could annoy me like that. Soon I lost my appetite and started to feel very anxious about everything. I put two and two together and realised that I was struggling with symptoms of depression.
I was lucky because at my school were forced to go to depression seminars. If anyone from my school is watching this, please keep doing them. They did me a world of good and in hindsight they were incredible. At the time I thought they were silly and repetitive. Even though I knew there were depressed people at school I didn’t see the need for it. This was both typical and foolish of younger me.
But As a result of these seminars I recognized the symptoms fairly quickly as a result of depression.
Now it is very important to jump in and say something about depression at this point. I’ll do another video about it in future, but for now all you should know is that depression is not a case of a bad attitude to life, a lacklustre spiritual life, or just an emotionally tough time. Clinical depression is an issue with the biology of the brain, the emotions, and more. It is often caused by an emotional trauma, which then affects the whole person, including physiologically. It is a real affliction as much as breaking one’s leg is. Both are problems with the body and person as a whole and need to be treated as such. Crucially, it is not someone’s fault if they have depression.
At this stage I would like to tell you how mature and wise I was. I would like to tell you that I was strong and made the right decision. I would like to say this.
Identifying the problem and understanding that depression was a real illness were the first steps in going to the doctor and receiving prompt medical treatment. I then let my friends know and they were very supportive of me in this tough time. They offered me the support that I needed and helped me greatly. I then turned to therapy and gratefully accepted the healing it brought me.
If I had a broken leg, it would sound a bit more like that. I would have gone to the hospital, got help quickly and treated it appropriately. But depression is different.
That is not even close to what happened. Instead it grew worse. The isolation I felt from culture turned into a grotesque loneliness. I knew in my head there were people who were my friends and who cared about me deeply, but I felt like I might have been the only person in the world. I felt more bitter and lonely than I thought possible.
Along with the depression came anxiety and a whole host of other symptoms. I could not concentrate, and my memory became foggy. My brain interpreted life as a haze, nothing seemed in focus and my memory seemed only able to hold onto sad or annoying memories. I stopped sleeping and my appteinte disapperared.
Everything that I had previously enjoyed had all the happiness and joy ripped out of it. I would play football and hate it.
Nothing interested me anymore and there was no reprieve. There was nothing I could do to make it better.
I would spend time in a group of friends and feel lonely and isolated. Every moment I spent by myself with my own thoughts would leave me more bitter and frustrated at life.
One of the most challenging aspects of depression are the feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. These symptoms usually spiral out of control because you feels like you shouldn’t feel that way. I wanted help so badly, but didn’t know where to turn. I felt ashamed because I had always been so strong emotionally, even through very tough times. I thought that getting help wasn’t necessary because I could do it myself. I thought being strong meant I couldn’t have depression or could manage it myself. In hindsight this was wrong, but I have a lot of sympathy with my former self for thinking it. It was also ironic, because true strength when struggling with a mental illness is asking for help. True strength is being honest that we are weak and need help.
At this point the anxiety was crippling. I was terrified by any loud noises. Crossing the road terrified me. Getting out of bed terrified me. Spending time with friends terrified me. Spending time with my family terrified me.
Emotionally I was destitute. I had lost all passion and happiness. That year I was happy one night (at a friends murder mystery birthday party), but apart from that it was horrible. I could not feel happy or excited. The only emotions I could feel were anger or bitterness.
This made grieving very difficult. Any situation where one would normally be devastated, such as a family trauma or a breakup of a relationship (both which happened at the time), was met with apathy. I felt like a monster for not feeling things.
Then it got worse. Every day for the next 5 months I hated that I was alive. Each night I went to bed hoping that I would die. I didn’t have any joy, there was no passion for anything. I couldn’t feel loved and I couldn’t feel like I loved anyone or anything. My body had turned against me and was defeating me from the inside. I am totally convinced that life could not have gotten any more miserable. In a sense I was internally stripped of almost all the things that made life worth living. I knew intellectually that these things were not true, but it made little difference.
I had quickly gone from being a very sharp, energetic person, to the opposite. My mind worked slowly, as if fighting through a haze. I had no energy or motivation to do anything. I stopped enjoying all the things I did before. It was a very dramatic change which I had no choice in. It was terrifying.
There was one thing that had kept me going through this time. Even though I hated life and knew death would be preferable, this one thing still kept me going. Since I was born I have believed and trusted in God. I believe that God is good, that He loves all and that there is nothing more important in life than serving Him. On top of that I know that He wants me to love others and that He wanted me in St Andrews.
I would have been happy to die.what depression feels like I was ready to be done with life. But the only issue is that I knew that my life was not the most important thing. Serving a perfect and loving God was more important than my life. So I kept going hoping that someone would kill me so I didn’t have to. I knew suicide was not an option because God would not want it and His will is more important than mine. I valued my beliefs in who God is more than my own life. I actively avoid thinking about what would have happened if I didn’t.
God makes us a lot of promises about what is to come. Promises about how God will restore the world and all the broken relationships in it. How the environment will be restored and earth will be turned into heaven. He promises to love us and always be there for us. And these promises always give His followers hope. One of the most prominent features of depression is an emotional despair. This is normal. Whilst I knew God’s promises, I was bereft of hope.
It was March of that year that I went to the doctor about it for the first time (mainly thanks to persistent friends who were slightly concerned that I had been ill for the last 7 months). I gave him my list of symptoms.
- Emotional turmoil
- Anxiety about everything
- Memory problems
- Light headedness
- Lack of energy
- Problems sleeping
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of appetite
The doctor’s response was not great. He told me I would be fine and to just try and get some sunlight. How am I even supposed to get sunlight in Scotland. Apart from that, it was a really poor response medically. At the time I was experiencing what would be classified as severe depression. I needed help, therapy and medicine. Unfortunately his response is typical of GP’s who receive very little mental health training and support.
The summer of 2014 I was going back to Kenya to attend a reunion for my leaving year. My state hardly changed as I went back to Kenya and I was clearly depressed. However, as soon as I met up with my schoolmates I was instantly cured. For 3 weeks I had no problems with depression. I was happy, I could sleep, I loved playing sports again. I had energy, motivation, an appetite. It was incredible and miraculous. During those three weeks I realized that I had forgotten what it was to smile sincerely. I had forgotten how to feel loved and how to enjoy myself.
The day after my friends left the depression came back. It was as if I was stumbling though a thick mist. For three weeks I had found a paradise where life was clear, but the mist quickly took over. All my symptoms returned. However, now there was a difference. I had been reminded that a horribly depressed existence was not all there was to life. Hope had been restored to my soul.
This was an encouraging and significant turning point, but that wasn’t it sorted. Recovering from a mental illness is usually a long and painful process. I struggled with severe depression for a few more years, eventually getting help with medicine and therapy. There were many more dark days to come.
I wanted to share my story of struggling with depression to let other people know what is like. It was a huge change in who I am as a person. I hate depression. I hate that anyone has to suffer it. I love that God hates it too and that one day depression will be gone for ever.