A group of friends in an airport saying goodbye

Depression at 17

When I first suffered with depression, I didn’t realise it had a name.

My behaviour changed. I found it easier to avoid seeing my friends. I made choices which were not in line with my values.

I felt alone, and as if nobody could understand what was going on inside my head.

It didn’t help that I was only 17 years old, and at that point, I had no knowledge or experience of mental health.

My story of teenage depression

It was an ex-boyfriend’s mum who made the connection before anyone else did. I’m good at putting up a front that not many people can penetrate. She mentioned that I seemed “a bit down” and mentioned the phrase “depressed” in our conversation.

Maybe it’s a good thing that she didn’t know the whole story which led us to having that conversation in her car one day. Namely, because part of the problem was her own son.

My ex-boyfriend’s mum was everything he was not. She was kind, caring, and always showed me compassion. Whereas, he had spent almost two years emotionally abusing me after our teenage relationship ended. And if I’m honest, it happened when we were dating too.

The thing that complicated our relationship was because of another one, and it wasn’t a romantic one. In the time I was dating my ex-boyfriend, I quickly made a bond with his younger sister, and she basically became part of my extended family.

I babysat her after school, taught her about “the birds and the bees”, and she even came to watch me perform at my dance recital. Our bond, despite our seven year age gap, would live on much longer than the relationship I had with her brother. She was like my little sister.

Maybe my ex didn’t like the fact that we were close; not that he ever made any effort with her.

At least my days at school were not haunted by my ex-boyfriend. He attended the other local high school. Unfortunately, our groups of friends would often overlap, and he used this as one of his weapons.

He would hold a house party, invite me and my friends, and then publicly ‘uninvite’ me. To this day, I still don’t understand what would possess someone to do that.

Sadly, that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to his bullying behaviour, but in short, it was deceitful and cruel.

I thought I deserved to be treated that way, and never stood up to him.

I’m just glad that I followed my instinct not to have sex with him despite his constant hassling on the topic; that wasn’t a standard I was willing to compromise at the age of 15.

These experiences as a teenager can often just be regarded as “drama” by adults, who forget about how intense this time of life can feel. But I feel as though my own teenage years conditioned me to have a poor self worth, even until now.

It’s only recently that I have questioned why I’ve allowed people to treat me badly, and that maybe – just maybe – I am worth more than I have given myself credit for.

But let’s rewind back to the age of 17, as the story isn’t quite complete. My ex-boyfriend’s mum was aware of at least one of the reasons I was struggling, even if she was blissfully unaware of how her son was treating me.

I was soon due to have a life-changing experience, but it was one that I didn’t want.

After seven wonderful years living with my family in Canada, we were moving back to the UK, and the date was looming ever closer. So the day we were chatting in her car, she knew I was upset, but I couldn’t even begin to express my thoughts and feelings about the upcoming move.

I had been accepted to the three Canadian universities I had applied to study at, and had even been offered a space at the university college I had aspired to be part of. But our visas were due to expire, and we were not permanent residents of the country.

We would move back across the Atlantic Ocean right after I finished the final year of high school. I was devastated. It felt like my whole life was being ripped apart.

Away from my home. Away from my friends. Away from the chime of the subway train doors as they shut before leaving the station. Away from the squirrels and raccoons that had become our neighbourhood friends. Away from hot summers spent in Ontario’s provincial parks spotting moose and going wild swimming in icy cold lakes. Away from the freezing winters spent in the city, digging out pizza delivery cars from where they were trapped in deep snow drifts.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling my best, so I’m surprised more people didn’t notice that I’d become unpredictable and challenging.

I skipped a lot of my lessons in school, and didn’t even show up to my final law exam, knowing I’d already satisfied my grades. To me, it was something I just couldn’t be bothered with.

Perhaps my teachers should have been more attentive. They never stopped to ask why I didn’t turn up to their lessons, but yet why I continued doing all of my homework and assignments. My high grades probably disguised that I was in turmoil, feeling like I was on a train hurtling towards a destination that I didn’t want to go to.

My friends took my unpredictability far too personally. If I didn’t show up to a movie night or a weekend coffee in Starbucks, they thought it was because I felt that I had better things to do with my time, or I didn’t care enough about them.

In truth, I was scared that by having a good time, it would make saying our final goodbyes even harder. And my god, it was hard.

The day they waved me off at the airport was bittersweet. It would be the last time we would all be in the same place at the same time, before we went our separate ways to start our lives at university.

When I landed in the UK, my priority was sleep. But it soon turned to anger, frustration, and a feeling of being isolated. Why did everything in suburbia shut at 5pm? Why did nobody sound like me? (I had a full Canadian accent). Why won’t my mum leave me alone for 10 minutes, and CAN’T YOU JUST WAIT FOR ME TO DRY MY HAIR BEFORE WE GO TO THE SHOPS?

The months that followed were not pretty. They consisted of lots of late nights, lots of alcohol, and constant Facebook wall messaging with my friends back in Canada. In the midst of this, I had to apply to attend university in the UK for that coming autumn, sort out things like national insurance and a bank account, and try and keep my self together.

I got to university, and it took me months to settle in. I didn’t know who to make friends with, or whether anyone would like me. I missed meal times as I didn’t want to go to the cafeteria alone, and mostly lived on a diet of dry Cheerios and neat vodka alone in my room at my halls of residence.

But I did eventually settle into a rhythm. It just took me time. I started to find the old me again, who had been lost for a year or maybe more. I could listen to music again without crying, and I didn’t want to lock myself in my room just scrolling through Facebook.

I’ve never recounted this period of my life in such a comprehensive way, and I can’t believe it took me over a decade past this experience to realise I was having an episode of depression. I didn’t have the support I needed, or someone to talk to. We can’t let this happen to teenagers now, so let’s not assume they’re “having teen drama”, and instead, give them a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen to their problems, and the respect they need to validate their experiences.

If any of the issues in this post have affected you, there is always someone available to speak to you. Whatever you’re going through, call Samaritans free any time, from any phone, on 116 123.

Samaritans is there for you, whatever your age, including for under 18s. You can talk to them about whatever is on your mind, and they’ll listen. This might include how you look, problems at school or college, how people are treating you, and worries about exams or money.

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Mental health blogger & speaker | MSc student mental health nurse
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