I wrote this post a few days ago, and I’ve been putting off posting it ever since. I’ve just spent the last hour reading the tweets of a soap actor from a programme I don’t even watch, in the name of procrastination. I’m definitely scared to post this and I’m not sure why. I think it’s partly that I’m feeling the weight of responsibility and want to do the right thing by fellow sufferers, particularly light of recent news stories. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I’m also not sure what I’m actually trying to say or what the aim of this post is. But I think it’s mainly that I’m a bit…embarrassed. And I’ve decided that that’s exactly the reason I should post this. Suffering from an illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s that very notion that I want to speak out against.
So, deep breath and here we go…
Depression seems to get talked about quite a lot. Or rather, the word gets bandied around a lot; it might get blamed for somebody’s actions, or mentioned flippantly when someone is feeling a bit sad, but it rarely seems to be talked about properly. It’s said all the time, but it’s true – depression is subject to a lot of stigma and misconceptions, despite its prevalence. And I kind of understand why. After all, if you’ve never experienced it, it’s impossible to know what it feels like. So of course both the condition and those living with it are poorly understood. But it’s this very lack of knowledge that stops people speaking out, which in turn perpetuates the myth that it’s something to be ashamed of. Something needs to change in order to break the cycle. So sod it. Here’s my account of living with depression. (I would emphasise that this is purely my account and that I can’t speak for anyone else).
First off, I’m normal. Not so normal as to be boring, obvs, but just a run-of-the-mill regular girl. Mother, worker, friend, social media obsessive, slightly potty-mouthed tea drinker and ASOS addict. And about four years ago I started to suffer with depression. In hindsight it probably started earlier than I thought it did but it was a steady decline into something which was eventually unmistakable. A course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, two (and a half) rounds of antidepressants, a life overhaul and a pregnancy thrown in for good measure later, and I’m fully recovered. But I still vividly remember what it felt like.
You’ll hear people say that being depressed isn’t the same as being sad. And it isn’t. Although it is a little bit. Because if you’re depressed you do feel sad. But you also feel so much more than that. Hopeless, worthless, trapped, numb. All with a dollop of anger and irritability thrown into the mix. Your world feels constantly grey, like your mind is trapped in a thick fog that the sunshine just can’t break through. You’ll raise a smile but it won’t reach your eyes. “Cheer up”, “lighten up” – it all feels so impossible. Depression has a steadfast grip on your happiness sensors (totally a thing) and will not give it up. A funny joke, a cute dog, a new dress, a walk by the sea on a summer’s day – nothing is enough to make your mind feel light and free in that way that we all take for granted.
But depression can also feel cosy in a warped way. Like a comfort blanket. Being depressed means you don’t have to participate in life. You’re locked inside your own head and it’s safe there. The idea of having to break out of that and face life, face people and actually DO things is terrifying. About as terrifying as the thought of being depressed is once you’ve recovered. There were definitely times I questioned whether I actually wanted to get better. (I did, of course). It definitely keeps you a prisoner in your own head and isolates you, but much like Stockholm Syndrome you can start to identify with your captor and think that maybe it is the best place for you – where you deserve to be.
Suicide. A big word. An horrendous word. I never felt truly suicidal, and by that I mean I never actually formulated The Plan. But I spent a lot of time wishing I wasn’t alive anymore. Depression can make you feel completely hopeless – you can’t see how it will ever get better and the thought of living like that forever is soul-destroying to an already withered soul. “Suicide is selfish” is a myth that really needs debunking. Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but if you feel suicidal you can genuinely believe that everyone will be better off without you and that you would be doing them a favour. The feeling of worthlessness weighs heavily and you feel like a burden. So you’re not acting with selfish intent – quite the opposite.
There are a million more things I want to say on this subject – about recovery and how to help someone with depression in particular, but that’s for another time. I’m still not really sure what the aim of this post is, other than to try to break the cycle of stigma-secrecy-shame, in the hopes that society will eventually move towards a place of understanding, compassion and knowledge.