"I lived with my depression for years as an adolescent, without knowing what was wrong. Little by little my sadness grew, and I became more and more dispirited. My family was no help; they treated me as the black sheep and made me feel like a loser. It was not until I sought professional help that I realized that I was not lazy, stupid or a liar –I was just depressed.
I noticed the first symptoms of depression when I was around 12 years old. Until then, I had been a cheery, energetic and sensitive child, good at school and with many hobbies. I loved dancing and performing, reading and writing down my thoughts, and I enjoyed going to the cinema with my friends. I loved spending time with my best friend’s family, who were very kind to me. When I was with them I used to imagine what it must be like to live in a peaceful atmosphere.
At our house it was different. I never knew what would be happening or what the mood would be like when I came home. My father was an alcoholic and there were often horrible family rows, but the next morning my parents would pretend that nothing had happened. Today I would say that they simply did not know how to help themselves, nor did they know how to help me.
There were reasons for my father’s drinking. He lost both of his parents when he was quite young, and his childhood was not happy. As we were living in Soviet times when I was a child, the whole of society was based on lies or half-truths, which I think was another important factor influencing our family situation. My father began drinking to find some consolation, and with time he became an alcoholic.
When sober, he was a kind and sensitive man, but when he drank his personality changed. My mother was like a shadow – always there but emotionally out of reach. As long as my dad was sober, he was the person I was emotionally closest to. When he was drinking, I was pretty much left on my own.
From the outside, I remained quite a cheerful girl as I grew up, but inside the depression began eating away at me. The symptoms came gradually in the form of a growing sadness, an increased oversensitivity and a lack of energy. I still did well at school, but more or less mechanically, learning my homework by heart and hiding my feelings. As the years went by I grew more and more accustomed to sadness, until I had no recollection of any other state of mind.
In 2001, when I was 25, my world fell to pieces. Many painful and complicated events combined with an unhappy love story produced a short episode of psychosis, which totally shattered me. All my inner resources ran out and I wished I had never been born. I considered committing suicide, but my own organism protected me: instead of taking my life I lost my mind.
As I look back today, I can say that thanks to this episode I finally realized that there was something very wrong with me. My parents were of no help, and instinctively I turned to the Tallinn Psychiatric Hospital.
I had come to the right place. I felt safe staying at the hospital rather than at home, and was treated with care and understanding. The professionals protected me from my family, and made me feel that they were on my side. They had a serious conversation with my parents about the situation at home, but my parents thought my illness was my own fault and had little to do with them, so nothing really changed.
Luckily I was the type of person who responded quickly to the treatment I was given: a combination of medicines and psychotherapy. Since then, I have met regularly with a psychologist. I pay for the sessions myself, which I view as an investment in my health and well-being.
Today, my life has completely changed. I no longer need medicine and am again the cheery, energetic and friendly person I was as a child.
I have been very open about my experience, sharing my opinion that a full recovery is possible, but only if you do most of the work yourself. In 2002, I went back to work, first as a part-time and later as a full-time secretary at the Tallinn Mental Health Center. I told my boss about my background and she was supportive.
I have been involved in several projects related to mental health since 2002. My main concern is for young people who are experiencing mental health problems for the first time (like me). When I realized that there was no support for these people in the community, I started a self-help group with funding from the Hamlet Trust, with the aim of providing support for young people in the rehabilitation and recovery process. In April 2004, my first session of the youth support group took place. I was very nervous, but it all worked out fine. Today, the group is well respected among group members and mental health professionals, and it is probably the most active and sustainable self-help group in the whole country. From 2008, it will no longer function as a project, but will be one of the permanent services of the Tallinn Mental Health Center, and I will work as the manager of the group.
Thanks to my activities in the mental health field, I have also been able to resume my academic studies. I had to leave university when I was 20 years old, because of my untreated depression. It was a terrible blow since I have always been ambitious, but luckily I have been given a second chance. In June 2006, the provost of the Private School of Professional Psychology saw a newspaper article about me, and was impressed by my work in the mental health field. He contacted me and asked if I wanted to study there, and I was happy to enrol. It is expensive, but they let me study for free. In April, I will receive my diploma in psychological counselling.
My relationship with the family has not really improved. My father died in 2002; I get along with mother and my sister (who is nine years older than me), but we are not close. I still do not think they understand how the tense atmosphere at home affected my mental health.
Still, I consider myself fortunate in having made a full recovery, and in having rediscovered my old self. It has been a long journey, but it has all been worth it."