A Series of Unfortunate Events: Coping with Depression and My Mother’s Radiotherapy Treatment

It would never happen to me. This is what I would tell myself whenever I read stories about people with mental health issues. I was wrong and like many young people in the UK, I suffered with severe depression. During this period, I attended Newcastle University studying a 3-year Zoology course which was the happiest years of my life (so far!).

Although these two periods may seem to contradict each other, the emotions I felt were as interchangeable as the weather. I felt as though university was a separate world with different rules to the one, I was living on my own. Having depression can make its signs easier to see, and I noticed at university, many people were going through similar issues. I am writing this to make sure other people do not have to feel alone and can use some of the things I used to get myself out of bad spells. In a way, this is also to help myself to come to terms with what I felt.

Beginning university, I was a rosy-faced fresher, keen to make new friends and weirdly not too worried since there were thousands of first years all in the same boat. I had slight baggage from secondary school and sixth form, which I think everyone goes through in some form or another growing up. But things were going great, I got a part-time job in retail to finance my costly nights out and was beginning to fit in. Until my Mam found a lump on her neck. I can’t remember how the conversation went but when I found out a switch turned off in my head. At first, I was reluctant to admit that this could be how I would lose her, and it wouldn’t get worse. This fantasy began to fade as the various doctor appointments and consultations pointed to the fact that this lump was in fact multiple tumors.

The result of whether these tumors were cancerous would be weeks away and after my first semester exams. This felt more like months or years. The worst part was not knowing and working in a silent retail stockroom during the weekends was torture. It was as though I was inside my own head and every shift was a battle to stop thoughts from taking over. The same process would repeat itself when I was revising and to cope, I shut myself off to any feeling because it might cause everything to flood out. This couldn’t happen as others were relying on me.

The results came and the tumors were non-cancerous. But we had won the battle not the war, and they would need to be removed. An operation followed which could have caused face paralysis but thanks to the amazing NHS, they were removed successfully. Before we could celebrate however it would take 6 weeks of radiotherapy every day to ensure the tumors don’t reappear.

I think there are few things worse than having to watch a loved one go through any type of treatment like radiotherapy. It is slow and feels contradictory, watching someone deteriorate to get better. All the while I was continuing at university trying to study as best as I could. I began stopping myself from contributing too much in conversations because it was too much effort to keep up an act. Instead of socializing longer I started going home earlier to care for my Mam, especially since my Dad was at work during the day. I didn’t tell any friends what was happening because I didn’t want to be a burden. Finally, my Mam made a full recovery, which was a huge weight off my shoulders.

The whole ordeal changed my perception on life and how lucky I am to have whom and what I have. Unfortunately, this was not the only consequence of the experience which left invisible scars affecting me later. During my 2nd year at university undertones of depression were beginning to develop, as I began to have bad episodes and my self-worth was very low. I was more comfortable with this because I think there is familiarity and a feeling of being safe in depression. This was combined with anxiety of social situations; in that I wasn’t sure if my feelings were reciprocated in friends or relationships. This culminated in my final year at university again before my semester 1 exams which I thought was ironic at the time. The depression had been bubbling up inside for a very long time and was no longer private. It exploded through panic attacks and self-destructive activities like over-drinking.

The revelation of how I was feeling to my family and friends was a blessing and recovery began. I admitted myself to my local psychological wellbeing service and began an 8-week Cognitive Behavior Therapy treatment. I was apprehensive about this at the start but the techniques like reading help books, talking through everything and challenging negative thoughts were great. It helped me realise I was choosing to feel like this way and had control of how I could feel through my perspective. I also ‘used’ my friends as treatment, by keeping busy through socializing more, playing sports and taking up any opportunity to see them. Doing things, I enjoyed and expressing how I felt by playing and listening to music was another great outlet, which made me feel as though someone understood how I was feeling. Which is also what online forums and blogs like those on Onyx Support helped to do.

I believe mental health issues always leave a mark even though a person may have recovered. There is always the chance to slip back into bad ways. But the chance to use those experiences to become a better person can be so much more worthwhile. If you suffer with mental health remember that this is your story and there is a bad chapter in every book, but it is your decision whether the next is a good one.

My name is Sam Bainbridge, I'm from Durham and in my third year of Zoology at Newcastle university, I have a passion for conservation and everything to do with wildlife. I live at home and love university life. I enjoy sports especially football and music, and also enjoy politics and history.

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