As I sit watching ‘The Peep Show’ with my boyfriend, Jordan, nestled in the crease on the inside of my elbow there is a little (extremely dark) bruise (see above photo: apologies for the crappy photo quality). This bruise is from a blood test, a blood test I took today whilst at an appointment to sort myself out with some contraception.
The contraception isn’t just because I am now with a permanent partner, I’m hoping it will also help and regulate my periods. This all sounds lile a totally random and kind of small, irrelevant and insignificant detail of day to day life; especially if you’re a woman. However, something I haven’t yet mentioned is that this is the first form of contraception I’ve ever been on. Why? One simple and yet infinitely complex word: Depression.
I, like so many other people I have met since leaving home and coming to York for University, experienced depression over some of the most important years of my teenage life.
From the ages of 16 to 19 I battled with the many issues one faces when they experience depression young. Those years are some of the most important in your life. It is a time in your life where you are bombarded with new experiences, people, places, ideas and as a result can have huge repercussions on how you develop your sense of self, identity, ‘who you are’, whatever. For me, and so many others like me; this period of our lives was entirely interrupted by mental illness. It took me a long, long time to be able to say that; to admit, even to myself that what I had gone through over those 3/4 years was a mental illness. The first year of me developing depression was a confusing, avoidant and lost time. I had no idea what was happening. It wasn’t all the time and I had many distractions but none of it, the distractions whether it be friends or college, was enough to take away from how I felt when I was on my own.
At the age of 16, I was in a relationship, a very teenage relationship but a relationship non the less. That was the first time the idea of hormonal contraception came up. At this point my friends, my boyfriend and my family had no idea what was happening with me, I didn’t even really know what was happening with me but I had friends who were already on a form of hormonal contraception and so I was already aware that the pill etc, can effect mood. Something in me was terrified of this. Of a chemical, an unknown foreign chemical/hormone, entering my bloodstream and possibly changing me, being out of control was such a source of fear for me it almost became a phobia.
By the time I was 17, my relationship had ended, I was facing some truly incomprehensible issues with family, a-levels were becoming more and more stressful and life had become overwhelming. I was still completely lost and it would take til I was almost 18 to finally tell someone what was happening and come to some kind of conclusion about what was going on in my head.
The next few years before leaving Hull for York and University were tough, painful, exhausting and numb. I ended up seeing a counsellor at college who, ironically had come to Hull from the Uni I would soon be attending. She (my counsellor) was brilliant and helped me through, honestly some of the most difficult years of my life. Back then, I didn’t know anyone else my age who had gone through what I had gone through. Not to say there weren’t any other people trudging through life with the prevailing sense of emptiness and helplessness. But, people didn’t talk about it. Many people my age at that time had such warped ways of seeing mental illness and things like suicide, to the point where it definitely put me off ever bringing up how I felt.
During one of the worst patches when I was really very ill, something happened whilst I was out one night: I had been avoiding drinking (again, not wanting that lack of control), and I experienced some break, an extreme anxiety attack maybe but it was terrifying and I don’t really remember it happening. What followed after this lead to me taking almost 2 weeks off college. After this I kind of had to face what was happening, I even told people I knew and they tried to support me but, in all honesty I think we were all too young and too inexperienced.
Seriously as a side note: you will not believe how much has changed over the past 5 years. I am so proud and happy that we as a society have began to de-stigmatise mental illness. I’m happy it’s getting to be less likely now that a teenager will go through what I went through.
But anyway, even though I finally told people, even though I was seeing a counsellor regularly, even though I was taking a third year at college because I had finally realised what I wanted to do, I still couldn’t bring myself to go to the doctors. There was still this innate fear of medication of any kind. Even if anti-depressants could have helped logically, I couldn’t see it. The idea of a thing outside of myself having any kind of control over my life and my mind just scared me beyond all reasoning. Even to the point that, yes contraception would have helped my very heavy and painful periods, but I couldn’t risk it.
Years down the line, at University (I carried on seeing a counsellor at uni, during first year. I can’t recommend doing this more if you need someone to talk to, there’s very rarely a waiting list and hell, take advantage of the free help while you can) I started getting back some kind of balance in my life. In 2015 I met Jordan and we have now been together for just over a year. He’s brilliant by the way. Over the past year I have been thinking over and over booking an appointment and finally getting some permanent contraception sorted (let’s face it condoms are gross). And yet, there was still a fear. What if I go on a pill and it sets off my depression? What if I start slipping again? I can’t do that I work now… *internal screams*. I feel better now in my mind and self than I ever have, but depression can be a high functioning mental illness, something my friend, Hannah and I have discussed in depth. So, the same thought I had years ago when I was considering going to the doctors, ‘what if I take something and it makes me worse?’ took over my mind.
But today, I overcame that. So the small thing in my life that has happened that can hold a world of meaning and importance? Today I got prescribed a progesterone only pill. I was 100% honest to the woman at the clinic. For the first time since being 16 I went to a clinic and was honest about having had and still dealing with depression, anxiety and body image issues. At first it was terrifying but, then I realised having depression, anxiety and body image issues do not have to be something to be ashamed of and definitely doesn’t need to stop you from living your life.
For the first time in a long time I’m doing something to help myself and I’m not worried. I’m not scared that I’ll ‘get bad again’ because even if I do, I can deal with it. I guess today, and finally sorting the pill for myself is confirmation of that. It’s a relief. Sometimes these things can come to you in the strangest ways.