I survived an overdose at the age of 14
I was rushed to hospital and had my stomach pumped
I have suffered from depression for eight years.
My early years were full of sadness, anxiety, and failed suicide attempts. Overdosing was not the answer, so I decided to take the plunge and go to uni. Something that saved my life. I’m a third-year drama student at Portsmouth University, battling with the common diagnoses of depression and anxiety, as well as the stress of my last year of my degree.
I was first diagnosed with depression at 14 – I had lost everything in a house fire, was heartbroken from my first serious boyfriend, and was facing looming GCSEs to pass. I would rarely make it into school on time (if at all), missing half of my final two years. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t even want to talk in case I would have an anxiety attack. Silence and dark thoughts were my friend for a long time.
The next hurdle was college. Even though I was doing a subject I enjoyed, friendships were hard and I slipped back into darkness multiple times. Boyfriends came and went. There were more panic attacks, more medication, more counselling, more crying.
When I started working, I still suffered. I would sneak to the bathroom often, to wait out my panic attacks. I had no idea what to do with my life. I wasn’t confident enough to audition for drama schools, and I didn’t think I could cope with university. But another break-up meant I needed a new focus, so university it was, and it’s a decision I’ll never regret.
My first year of university was when I saw the pattern. Relationships, rejection. These were my triggers. I had made myself weak. I had no respect for myself or my own happiness, and was making myself miserable so I wouldn’t be rejected again. Confrontations were avoided. I couldn’t defend myself without a full-blown panic attack. I felt had nothing to fight for. Every rejection took me right back to that 14-year-old. And it explained my many suicide attempts.
My first overdose was 31st October 2007, not long after my original diagnosis. I had regularly been taking more than the recommended dose of paracetamol, but this time I took too many. I no longer wanted to live if I couldn’t function in the world. Who would miss the sad little girl in the corner? I was found, and carted off to the hospital to have my stomach pumped. Being in and out of consciousness meant I only remember puking my guts out until 3am. I was exhausted, nauseous, and dehydrated.
The next day I was lectured on the dangers of overdosing, something I already knew. After being discharged, I was placed under constant supervision by school teachers, counsellors and my mother. I was not attempting suicide again any time soon. My mum wanted me to promise not to do it again. I never promised because I don’t make a promise I can’t keep. Since then, I have attempted a few times, but nothing that warrants a hospital trip: I “failed” every time.
Now, I still have depression, but I understand so much more about it. The past few months have helped the most. Third year is the busiest I have ever been and – especially when you are a drama student – you barely have time to breathe, let alone think about the sadness that overcomes you. The friendships I’ve built over my time at university have saved me more than once. I am supported, unquestionably, by friends and lecturers.
Since a major setback over Christmas, I’ve hit all my deadlines, directed an entire show and managed to keep a part-time job. I’ve been praised for my work, nominated for awards, and asked to direct and assist on other performance projects. My only considerable stress at the moment? Dissertation. Those dreaded 10,000 words. But if I can make it through then you can.
What’s my outlook like now? I have bad days. Depression has no easy fix: it stays with you for a very long time, sometimes forever. But understanding your triggers, using them as fuel to teach you to cope, along with medication and counselling, helps. I look at myself now and I see that I have worth. I am much more confident in my abilities, and in myself. Of course I still experience setbacks, but who doesn’t? I have a great support network around me that I actually use. I no longer feel like a burden.
I don’t need a relationship to make me feel worthy or loved: that’s something I can find myself, and get from other people who care about me. I can now ask for support when I need it, without feeling guilty. I’m excited for my future now that I have a focus. I’m ready to get my degree and move on to my master’s degree. All this comes from someone who – only a few years ago – had no idea what to do with her life.
If you take one thing from my story, take the idea that focus, hard work, and asking for support will only help you on your road to recovery. University is a time to find yourself – and I have. I still have far to go, and that’s a little scary, but I now I know that I want to get better, and to be better.
I will probably always struggle, but I’m better able to cope. I may revisit my darker self on some days, but now I no longer get stuck there. I can bring myself back to a happier version of reality. And it’s all thanks to the course I have chosen that is right for me, and the people I have chosen to keep around me. So, if you ever feel like you “can’t”? Just try. It pays off.