Today is Mental Health Day, and I’ve decided to share my experience with Mental Health, and how Doctor Who played a part of the journey.
Warning: This article is incredibly personal, honest, and holds nothing back. If you’re only here for my witty reviews and would rather not read this, I advise you don’t read any further.
So, let’s start back where it probably all began. 2005. I was 9 year old, and I was in Year 4. I’ve always been quite a large human, and, like many of my fellow big brethren, I was bullied at school. There was nothing too bad really, but I was large, which didn’t help, and I was a theatre kid who was very open and honest about their emotions. I didn’t like PE, I detested football, and my school allowed me to be a timekeeper on Sports Day because it was probably safer for me to not have the entire school watch me power-waddle to a finish line. I wouldn’t say I was used to or comfortable being bullied, but it was nothing that I couldn’t really handle or brush off.
Then Doctor Who started. It was the talk of the playground. The Monday after Rose aired, everyone was either the Doctor, Rose or an Auton. Until the following Monday, when everyone was aboard Satellite Five. For a week. Then everyone was a zombie. And on and on it went. Doctor Who was a show that I connected with and fell in love with. For the first time ever, there was something I had in common with the boys in my school. We all had Doctor Who sticker albums and would swap our doubles; we all had Battles In Time and would trade with one another (albeit under the cover of darkness because parents would often complain that their child had to swap three cards for one, not understanding the rarity of certain cards). Doctor Who was a way I could connect with people who used to feel alienated by me and my ways. All was fine.
Skip forward a few years, and by a few I mean another nine, and Doctor Who had followed me through my childhood and my teens. I was eighteen and about to start one of life’s biggest adventures; university. I was all packed off, shipped away and left there by my parents. The next three years were going to be the best of my life. So everyone told me. I was doing a course that I loved in a city I adored and it was the stepping stone to independence. Or, that was the plan anyway.
I started university in the September, and by the November, I found myself at my least motivated and least happy that I could recall. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time, because I didn’t want to burden them with such a “non-issue”. I had friends who suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression, and I was the person a lot of them came to for reassurance and guidance. I’m no councillor, nor would I ever claim to be an authority on how you can try and cope with these afflictions, but I was always an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold. It’s strange, in hindsight, that I didn’t realise that I was suffering with all the same symptoms of my friends who I tried to hard to make feel better.
Looking back, it’s clear that I was suffering from depression. As much as I enjoyed my course, the rest of the university lifestyle didn’t really sit well with me. I didn’t, and still don’t, drink alcohol whatsoever, and clubbing isn’t enjoyable when you’re the sober one watching all these drunk and hormonal young adults attempt to get with one another. I wasn’t, and still aren’t, attractive, so the whole idea of finding my muse and having a relationship never happened. Casual sex didn’t appeal to me in the slightest, and I would often find myself on a Friday and Saturday night locked in my room with a pizza, watching Doctor Who or listening to a musical.
I know, I was the definition of rock and roll.
I was unhappy, and my health was becoming impacted by it. There were a few occasions where, on an evening, I would have a shower and just cry. But, I had Doctor Who. Until I didn’t.
One day, I woke up about noon and remembered feeling awful. Something was off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t worry though, because I had become somewhat used to this feeling. All I had to do was stick an episode of Doctor Who on and all would be temporarily fine. So I put on The Lodger, which is my go-to feel good episode. Nothing. I didn’t want to watch Doctor Who. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to watch this show that had stuck by me for half of my life. Doctor Who was my escape, and I couldn’t bring myself to put it on. It was like my body and my brain knew that I had to stay in reality for long enough so that I could realise I needed to do something. So I did.
Later that day, I went to see my doctor, because I knew something wasn’t right. They did this questionnaire to see if I was suffering from depression, which was quite frankly insultingly condescending. I remember the doctor continuously going over a question as to whether I felt suicidal, and I kept answering no, but they kept persisting. It was almost like a part of them wanted me to be suicidal. It turned out that I was suffering from depression, and they booked me in for a therapy session about two weeks later.
Now, I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent for a second, so if you want to just read my story, then I recommend you skip this paragraph; but I believe that the government in the UK really needs to do more for people suffering with their mental health. I know I said I had to wait two weeks for an initial therapy appointment, but I’m aware that I was lucky. I know people who’ve had to wait months for a session, which could be the difference between life and death. If the government put as much funding into mental health resources as they do on MP’s expenses, we’d have a much more articulate, happy and well looked after nation.
So, two weeks pass and I’m there at my therapy session. My initial feeling was one of disappointment; the media cliche of the psychiatrist’s chair wasn’t there to greet me, I had to sit in the palm of a giant red hand. My therapist looked at me for a moment, and I remember doing the thing any Brit does in a slightly awkward situation; I smiled slightly and raised my head and eyebrows in acknowledgment. If you’re not from the UK, you’ve probably no idea what I’m talking about, but if you are, that idea probably resonates with you. The therapist started with one simple question,
“How did you know you needed help?”
“I didn’t want to watch Doctor Who for the first time in my life,” I replied. The therapist looked at me as if I was genuinely insane. As if that wasn’t a justifiable reason. The look was so condescending that I didn’t return, they made me feel stupid for even admitting it.
Nearly three years have passed since I was first diagnosed with depression, and I’m in no way cured. I don’t believe depression is a curable illness. Yes, I have good days and not so good days; there are days when I’m up for anything, when I’ll jump head first into something totally new. Then there are days when I’d rather stay inside, curl up with my duvet, have some Pringles or a tub of Ben and Jerrys and sit on the sofa. Watching Doctor Who.
If you suffer from any mental illness, know that you’re not alone. You may feel like it, but chances are you have a support network waiting for you, and you just don’t realise it. Maybe they don’t realise you need help because, like me, you try your best to internalise it. If you’re feeling low, or feeling off, or have a niggling sensation that something’s not quite right, speak to someone. Anyone. Whether it be a member of your family, a friend, a colleague, a doctor, a teacher, anyone. Don’t feel as if you have to fight these battles alone. Whovians should be there to support one another, to give advice and to try and help. There’s nothing wrong about having depression or anxiety or any mental health issue; it doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you weird, it doesn’t mean you’re alone.
Be as strong as you can be, have some kickass people by your side, and feel free to share your stories.