Surviving depression, anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder has empowered author Carina McEvoy writes Áilín Quinlan
SHE was not yet 17 when it started. What began as a brief but inexplicable cloudburst of tears on the way to school developed into a dangerous addiction to self-inflicted pain in which she cut and slashed her skin, burned her arms with cigarette butts, threw herself down the stairs, and hit herself with the poker.
Now a novelist, schoolteacher, successful blogger, and happily married mother of two little girls, Anna, 7, and Ellie, 4, Carina McEvoy spent years systematically battling the depression, anxiety, social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder which overshadowed her life since her late teens.
Over the years she has learned about her condition and fought back with talk therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, and hypnotherapy.
It was a long, desperate journey, she recalls now, but one which is an all-too common feature of life for many teenage girls.
It all started just over 20 years ago when Carina, now 38 and living with her family near Courtown in Co Wexford, was a 16-year-old fifth-year student living near Gorey. She was walking to school on the first day of the new term.
“I started crying for no reason. My cousin was with me. She asked me what was wrong and I said I didn’t know what was wrong but I had this feeling of dread. I didn’t know why I was crying.”
That was the start of a two-year breakdown for which, she says, there was no apparent reason.
“We had a lovely family life. My parents were very supportive and there was no reason for me to feel like this. I had a great network of friends and got on well at home.
“I was always a very bubbly child, always joking, but a worrier underneath,” recalls Carina, a second-level teacher of business and geography who is currently on a career break.
Other than a tendency towards anxiety, she says, there was no cause for her distress. When her Junior Certificate results came out a few weeks after that first day back, they were excellent, featuring many As and Bs.
Despite this, things continued to deteriorate throughout fifth year.
“I became obsessed with neatness in my schoolwork. I felt depressed and low and didn’t know what it was, but I developed obsessive compulsive disorder around my school work,” she recalls. “I also became very paranoid about what people thought about me.”
While she had lots of friends, she says, she became increasingly solitary.
During her Leaving Certificate year the problem escalated.
“I was very depressed. I started to self-harm. I’d cut my arm with a razor if I made a mistake doing my homework.
“I had feelings of hopelessness, dread and just being worthless. It was horrible,” she recalls, adding that she had no idea that she was suffering from depression.
“I was cutting myself throughout the Leaving Cert — there were a lot of cuts and wounds on my arms which I covered up. I was crying all the time.”
Her exam results were so poor — despite the fact that she had previously been an ‘A’ student in several subjects — that she decided to repeat her Leaving Certificate.
In a bid to control her misery, Carina saw a doctor who put her on anti-depressants, also consulting a psychiatrist. Nothing helped.
“I spent the year cutting myself. I would purposely throw myself down the stairs, and would whack myself with hard objects like the poker, cut myself with glass and razors, and prick my arm with a safety pin when I was going to sleep at night.” Her OCD forced her to keep touching inanimate objects such as radiators, and she developed a social phobia which meant she regularly abandoned happy nights out with her friends.
CARINA studied for an arts degree at university, but also took the opportunity to research depression and self-harm.
Learning that she was not alone, that these were common problems, helped a bit, she recalls.
She also noticed that stress, or any kind of heightened negative emotion, resulting from, for example, an argument with a friend, a breakup with a boyfriend, had a negative effect and could lead to self-harm.
On one occasion when she was 21 she cut the palm of her hand so badly it had to be glued together. The scar remains to this day.
After college she worked as a career guidance teacher, and later as a business and geography teacher.
“I saw a therapist regularly, which helped me, and I managed to get on top of it.” She’s in control now, though she says, she can get a depressive episode once every year or so.
“I treat it like a flu and rest and let it pass.”
It’s less overwhelming now because she’s done so much work, and learned so much about the condition of depression and strategies such as CBT and hypnotherapy with which to fight it.
In the meantime, she’s written and self-published her first novel, To Have, Not Hold, to be launched in her local bookshop later this month, and writes a successful blog about mental health, The Anxious Banana.
She feels like a survivor — she is one — and as her girls get older, she says, this is how she plans to present the condition: “It is so important for them to know that having depression doesn’t make a person weak — it can make them strong.
“I want to fight the stigma of depression, because there is still a lot of stigma around it,” she says, adding that while she has spoken openly about her condition in her blog and on radio, she still feels a certain level of embarrassment and shame about it.
“My story is that there is hope and that you can get through all of this and go on and achieve success in life through the adversity endured through such difficult experiences,” she says.
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