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Atypical Depression

My problems started when I had some difficulties at work. I had to give up on studying for a PhD and then had problems with my manager. I had to transfer to head office and move to a new home. I was given some tablets to reduce the stress (flupentixol and propranolol), and they seemed to help. Once I was in my new job, I felt much better and stopped the tablets.

But the job I moved to was a busy one. I thought I was coping, but looking back there were signs that I wasn't. It got more and more difficult to go to work, not just to make myself get up and go, but also to drive. Being on my moped became really scary, I'd never been a great driver, but I'd felt more comfortable than this. I remember being at a party and feeling scared, tense and tearful. I thought that this was the last remnants of the difficult time I'd had before, not realising that it was really the start of something worse.

The real crash came one day when I'd been up half the night with an upset stomach, something that had been happening quite often around that time. My flat-mate suggested that I stay off work, and I agreed - even though I felt fine in the morning and usually would have gone to work as normal. I stayed in bed all day and just slept. The next day, the same thing: a night of upset stomach, and a day of sleeping. The next day, no stomach problem at night, but I stayed off work again and slept...

I'm not sure exactly how long this went on for. I just lay in bed, thinking nothing much or sleeping, getting up to eat a little food (as long as it needed no preparation at all) and doing nothing else. I knew by this time that something was very wrong, this was just not normal for me. So eventually I got myself out of the house and walked almost randomly until I found a doctor's surgery. I walked in, and almost collapsed crying in front of the receptionist - which at least got me an instant appointment!

The next few weeks were taken up with more sleeping, trips backwards and forwards to the doctor, and steady increases in the dose of antidepressants (paroxetine this time). This is another fuzzy time, so I'm not sure how long it lasted, but it must have been a few weeks for the dose to go up more than once. All this time I was feeling increasingly low and tense, and unable to do much at all. Necessary tasks like buying food and getting to the doctor were a real trial. All I did was sleep and eat, even watching television seemed too difficult. At some point the doctor encouraged me to go to stay with my parents (who lived some way away) for support. Except for one fruitless and distressing attempt to go home, I didn't return.

The next four years were filled with depression and what felt like a pointless existence. I was admitted to hospital three times, and spent some months in a half-way house. I also spent many days at a local day-hospital. If you've ever been to one of these you will know what strange places they are. Kindergarten for adults. There I was, newly in my thirties, making tissue paper flowers with a group of other depressed and distressed people. I guess it's difficult to find activities that people with various mental illnesses and various capabilities can do, but it was an unreal and rather unhealthy situation.

There were some positive moves, although I didn't really see them as such at the time. I worked in a local charity shop, quite an advance when I had been unable to get out of bed at times. I got my own flat and moved out of my parents house - living with parents at 30 is not much fun! And I developed new hobbies, getting an aquarium for Christmas and finding Wikipedia - something that would become a large part of my life as the years went on.

I had treatment on and off during this time. Mostly antidepressants, but also various other meds and therapies. I spent a year in a psychotherapy group, before deciding it was going nowhere. I tried CBT, was assessed for art therapy and DBT... but nothing seemed to help. After four years, I was functioning but not well. And, of course I was miserable and self-destructive.

The real change for me came with a new psychiatrist and a chance to try lithium. This had been suggested a couple of times before, but the psychiatrist at the time didn't feel it would help. But after just a few weeks, and a bit of fiddling with dosages, there was a real and dramatic change. Not only in my mood, but also in my thoughts - I could see the world in a clearer and more positive light and felt optimistic for the future for the first time in more than four years.

A few months later, and lithium is still helping me. It's not been smooth sailing, side effects are a problem sometimes and there have been set-backs and bad days, but the general trend seems good. It's not that lithium is the Ultimate Cure for me, but that it's given me the ability to go towards a return to good health - or at least, that's where I hope I am heading. I frequently feel low, and often anxious, but I have hope that I can keep working towards reducing that. I'm now trying to improve my lifestyle with healthy eating and even considering trying some exercise (shudder). I think it's going to be a long way back to good health, but I hope I am at least on the right path now.

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