Friday 28 November 2014

Getting stronger after depression

Imagine feeling like you're about to lose everything -- to be at absolute breaking point. For 300,000 depression sufferers in Ireland, every day can feel like this. Find out how two inspiring women rebuilt their mental health...

Exercising her demons: Gillian Roddie stays in shape

More than 300,000 people suffer from depression in Ireland every year. Many hit rock bottom, and wonder if they will ever feel 'normal' again. It can hit anyone. Mann Booker Prize winner Anne Enright has talked of her breakdown, suffered when she was working in TV.

Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair's press secretary, hit rock bottom back in 1986 when he was 29. He has said that, in the end, the experience has made him a stronger person and more able to deal with his challenging job.

"I was taken to the limit, really close to losing everything, at absolute breaking point. It was, in many ways, the worst thing that has ever happened to me, certainly the scariest," he said. "But in other ways it was the making of me."

Those are words that Gillian Roddie, now 27, can only agree with. She was 22 when she was diagnosed with depression.

"I had my first, small breakdown in May 2002," she says. "I was at Trinity College Dublin studying Zoology, and it was coming up to finals.

"A family member was having an operation, and there was a lot of stress from the exams. I had a fight with someone, and ended up lying on the floor, just wailing."

Gillian didn't get help at that time. She picked herself up and took her finals. Then, buoyed up with success, she went off to Hawaii for the summer.

"I was working in a lab at the University of Hawaii, and I was scuba diving. It's a beautiful island and it was a wonderful job, but I was still waking up crying every morning. Something was not adding up.

"So, when I got home I went to my GP. She diagnosed me and gave me an antidepressant, Effexor XR75. I remember feeling so relieved. I had a name for it. I was not going crazy, but had something that other people had." Her euphoria was short lived, however. That evening, while chatting to other scuba- diving instructors, a friend mentioned that some of his relations were depressed.

"He said, 'I wish they would just shut up and get on with it'. That was when it hit home. I realised, 'this is something that carries huge stigma'."

Back in Dublin, Gillian then started a Phd at DCU. Living away from home, she felt lonely. She wasn't enjoying the work, and was finding it hard to make friends with her colleagues.

"One day I started crying in the lab. People didn't know how to cope. How could they?" she says.

When her grandmother died, Gillian sank so low that she went to her doctor in despair.

"I felt I wasn't worthy of existing. It was such a low point. I didn't know how to carry on. I couldn't understand what was going on in my head," she says. "I'm a gregarious person, always the life and soul.

Her biggest change was to give up the Phd. "That was heart wrenching. I felt like such a failure. I've always been an achiever. My parents didn't put on pressure, but they were proud when I did well.

"But I talked to them and they told me, 'we don't care what you do as long as it makes you happy'. Having their support stopped me feeling guilty."

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