Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Learning to live well with depression

By Elly Wakeling, HEE Regional Facilitator, Trainee Pharmacists in GP Practice Programme

Content warning – this post discusses suicidal feelings

It's no secret I rely on a hefty dose of fluoxetine to function these days, but I don’t talk much about the history of my illness as I find it can scare people off or make me look attention-seeking. But actually, it’s so important to talk about our experiences, as it reduces the stigma of talking about them and helps others experiencing similar feelings.

Early years

Growing up, I was probably more vulnerable to depression than other kids because I had no support network growing up. We moved house a lot, and I grew up with 2 very emotionally distant parents and a brother who, although we didn't know it at the time, was autistic. Whenever I tried to express my feelings, I was told "other people have it worse than you", and so I learned to never put myself first. It has taken many therapists over the last 20-ish years to help me learn otherwise.

Suicidal feelings

When I was 12, I started at a school where I finally felt I belonged, but after 1 year we moved again. I became suicidal. I never acted on my thoughts because I didn't want my mum to blame herself when she found me. I forced myself to be more outgoing and to make friends with my new classmates even though every part of me just wanted to disappear into the ground. It must have worked at least partly, as the suicidal ideation wore off after 6 months or so and I progressed to what I dismissed as "typical teenager moods" (spoiler alert – it was clinical depression).

I muddled through not knowing any better, became suicidal again at university, again during my pre-reg training year, and again a couple of times in my mid-20s during an emotionally abusive relationship. I never acted on my thoughts because I knew what it might do to anyone who found me. I came close though. As a hospital resident pharmacist, I stayed in the department alone one weekend to finish some diploma work, and all I did was cry over the keyboard because I was considering taking my own life. 

The road to living well

Finally, I sought therapy, started on antidepressants, and my road to recovery. It's been a long (I'm 44 now) and *very* bumpy ride. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to understand what helps me to cope at work too, but I now know that it’s not good for my health to work more than 4 days per week, even though this means less take-home pay.

I have other strategies which also keep me well, like yoga, getting fresh air, and learning to respond to what I need in the moment.  Flexible working hours are invaluable as is remote working in allowing me to perform meaningful work even if I can’t face getting out of my pyjamas. Also vital are having clear boundaries (such as not working additional hours unpaid), and a line manager who respects that I am at my best when I am leading and pushing boundaries, and who supports me to do so rather than wrapping me in cotton wool or ignoring my need to work collaboratively.

I, like many others, never considered myself disabled, but I have come to accept the term in its legal sense under the Equality Act 2010, because my depression symptoms (when I have them) and preventing a relapse both significantly impact my daily activities, and I need to be able to access reasonable adjustments to help me live my life.  

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.

If you're experiencing feelings like above, please reach out to Samaritans on 116 123.

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