I have no idea how to write about this.
Everyone is different. When it comes to talking about mental health more than anything, we only have our own experiences to draw from. We can’t know what it’s like to be anyone else, so comparing how you feel with others is a weird thing.
In many ways that’s what I’ve done. The way I’ve felt, pretty much always, I assumed was how everyone felt. When I realized it wasn’t, and the effects were more heavily felt, I couldn’t acknowledge that it was depression because that’s something other people have, in really severe ways – I just was...crap. I never wanted to have any kind of diagnosis from a doctor because at the time it felt like it’d be a label I couldn’t shake, or the potential to become an excuse. While it’s been hard many times, I’ve tried really hard to be sure it’s doesn’t become one.
So far as I can remember, I’ve more or less always felt this way and along with it, had some difficulties with anxiety and self-esteem. Earlier on, it was almost monthly dark mood swings. Then they’d change and become more frequent, darker, longer spells. At least at times when it was somewhat predictable you’d have a clue what to do: lie low for a bit and hope it didn’t last that long. I’ve been in some truly dark places over the years and never known how to deal with it. There have been times I’ve worried about how or if I’d get through some spells.
It took a long time before I finally went to get some help and gave counseling a try. Talking therapies like this aren’t for everyone, and I was skeptical. I think I’m a fairly self-aware person, so at first it felt like I had to unload everything, otherwise the counsellor wouldn’t really get where I was coming from. They’re not there to give you answers though. I talked and was listened to and over a few months it felt like I got somewhere with some of the issues. It’s really hard to be honest with yourself. Certainly I found being in that kind of environment helpful, but it was really hard work. Between sessions I’d feel far worse, but for me at least, it was worth persevering.
For a few weeks afterwards I felt OK for what might be the only time in my adult life I can think of. Instead of my usual state of feeling I was a piece of crap, this brief spell allowed me to feel like maybe I was alright. Nothing more. It didn’t need to be.
When I’ve tried to articulate what my experience of depression has been like, it takes a long time to find the words. It manifests in many different ways. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming numbness – almost feeling nothing at all. Sometimes it’s a roller coaster of despair. Other times it’s as if you’re as lonely as you’ve ever felt, whether you have people around you or not. Years ago I had a bit of a habit of wandering off during social occasions – I didn’t intend to, I’d just find myself somewhere else to escape having to deal with people. I still do that more than I mean to. If I’m at a party, I just need to disappear for a while – just enough to make sure I can keep up being sociable. There are times where you realize you need to get out and just be anywhere else, through no fault of anyone else’s.
In some cases you go up and down like a yo-yo; in tears one minute and smiling the next. In whatever form it takes, it’s totally exhausting trying to do normal stuff. Going through the motions of your routine can be like every activity uses 10 times the energy or something.
In times like that, the last thing I’ve wanted is for anyone to notice. Sympathy often ends up compounding the feelings even though you know they’re meant well. I get irritable and snap at people and that too can feed it. It feels like there’s no way to change it.
For me, it’s like there’s been this internal voice always trying to undermine everything I do. It’s almost like you feel the effects of someone telling you what a horrible human being you are and goading you into failing. There have been occasions where negative behaviors emerged as a way of that ‘voice’ proving how crap I am.
A few years ago I had a really hard time of it, which made work hard and then once I went freelance, hit me really hard. There were times when after dropping my daughter at school I’d collapse on the floor in the hallway and not move for hours. Not that I couldn’t. It was a mixture of numbness and despair and I couldn’t fight it off. There were more instances than I would’ve liked where I let people down and I felt it keenly. It was hard, but I had to not let it drag me down. The pressure of having to fend for myself as a freelancer meant I had to – there wasn’t a choice. It felt like I had to fight really hard just to maintain a basic level of being.
At this point I feel like I should delete the article and start again…
Underneath it all, I feel like I’m a real optimist, almost relentlessly so! Don’t confuse depression with feeling a bit sad or under the weather. There have been so many times when despite being in a really bleak place, something has caught my attention and I’ve enthused and however briefly, gotten excited. Maybe it’s this that has prevented the really dark times from being as impactful as they otherwise could have been. I had tried to hurt myself. I had tried drinking. It didn’t change anything. I think I found my lowest points and realized I wasn’t going to take anything too far. I’m still here.
Over the last few years I’ve tried speaking at events. I’ve spoken at quite a few now, in part as a reaction to try to disprove that inner, undermining voice that I can do stuff. The feeling after doing it rarely gets above relief, though I do enjoy it. It’s like I managed to get away without that voice being right...that somehow I was going to prove not just to myself but to anyone listening that I was not a waste of space. It’s hard...the nerves can be really difficult anyway, but when at the back of your mind you know if you suck, the voice was right – you are crap – and down you go. The audience reaction comes secondary to whether I can fend off that ‘voice’.
At worst most days, it’s like it – this collection of feelings – is a few inches from my face and I’m trying to get on with stuff despite it. I don’t pay as much attention as I’d like to the details of life, like where I’m supposed to be and when. It feels like there’s this bigger stuff I should be sorting out. I don’t want to feel this way.
It turns out there are a number of people in the industry I’ve found that wrestle with depression in their own ways and in some small way, that helps. Not that we talk a lot about it, but it kind of eases the burden when you know you’re not alone. The reasons why each of us might feel this way will be different. Maybe there were triggers in our lives that we either are aware of or not, maybe it’s a chemical imbalance. You might never know.
Recently, I’ve gone back to counseling to try to see what I can do. On the whole it’s better than it has been, though there are still loads of erratic down times. Maybe I can find a way to deal with it? I’ve been considering taking medication, which is something I’ve resisted for a long time. There’s a part of me that saw it as some kind of defeat. I suppose it always felt like something I should be able to understand and try to fix. I probably can’t. There might not be a ‘fix’ or an ‘answer’, but I can try to make it less bad, and maybe even find that ‘alright’ level for a while longer. It’s been suggested that meditation might help. Maybe it could. I don’t think I can quiet my mind for long enough. It’s constantly in loads of places at the same time as it is. Often changing my environment helps a little, but I can only do that when I’m past the worst of it. The house will get messy when I’m down so trying to sort stuff out a bit when I’m starting to improve really helps the process. That’s doubly hard when I’m working on a house that needs a lot of work!
This session has been different than the last and has definitely been a help. We tried an exercise to see if that kind of thing might help. It was a simple prompt. Something along the lines of “think about a few words to describe yourself in a positive way”. I hate these kind of things but I was actually stunned that I couldn’t think of any. When I tried, it actually really upset me. The paper was left blank. Clearly I’ve got a long way to go.
I’ve struggled to work out why I’d share this. It’ll be on the Internet after all. Maybe it’s that I feel like I’m starting to get somewhere with my situation? Maybe someone might read these jumbled words and identify a little and not feel alone?
I hope that if you are feeling anything on the spectrum of depression and related mental health issues that maybe you find enough courage to try to find some help; whether that’s a friend’s ear or a doctor, a therapist or a counsellor. You might not be able to fix everything, but it’d be a good start.
I wrote that a week ago, just to empty my head in response to Petra’s article. I didn’t know if I’d share it or not. Because there was a possibility of publishing it, I wanted to share it with my family first. That in itself wasn’t easy. I just emailed my Mum, Dad & brother and left it with them. They’ve all been great and supportive. They’d not realized how I’d felt. If I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge there was a problem, how would anyone else know? Their reactions were great and perhaps why I’ve felt like this might be worth sharing. It was worthwhile writing this just to explain myself to them, but maybe someone else might see some of themselves in it too.
I’ve recently been to the doctors to see about medication, so I’m giving it a try at the moment. It’s early days, but putting aside that poorly formed idea that somehow doing so was a defeat of some kind has been tough. In the end it felt like the right thing to do. I’d far from rushed into the decision and understand what it does and any potential side effects. I’m hopeful.
Now I’m wondering if I’ll hit ‘publish’...