Learning to love my depression
This is not an ordinary love story. There are no tummy butterflies or feathery kisses. This is a story of falling in love with the parts of ourselves we try to keep hidden. The dark and lonely and fearful parts. Are you scared? Take my hand and we’ll learn to leap together.
I had another bout of depression recently after years of “normality”. Eight months of heavy heart and body. The winter hit me hard after spending almost a year in hot and colour-filled India. The lack of light really got to me. The dark clothes got to me. The scowls where smiles sit when the sun comes out got to me.
There were other things too. Family and money problems and being very far away from someone I love. For week after week I would wake up and ask myself what the point of anything was. I didn’t enjoy talking or food or spending time with friends, or walking outside, or writing. Nothing. I felt a lot of hatred. Hatred towards myself for perceived wrong-doings. Hatred for certain aspects of western culture that hit me in the face when I returned from Asia.
I read an article in the Guardian recently that said depression is like a veil pulled over your eyes, dulling your senses. The cruelty is that depression makes you feel like the veil has been lifted and you see clearly now, which to some extent you can. Writer Tim Roth says, ‘repeated studies have shown that mild to moderate depressives have a more realistic take on life than most “normal” people, a phenomenon known as “depressive realism”. As Neel Burton, author of The Meaning of Madness, put it, this is “the healthy suspicion that modern life has no meaning and that modern society is absurd and alienating”’.
After the hatred and despair came sadness and despondence. Making decisions was agony. Conversation seemed pointless. I told myself to buck up and get on with it. I’m good at getting on with it. Get out of bed. Have a shower and brush my teeth. Do my job (barely). Eat a meal. Have coffee with friends and pretend to listen to what they are saying while having a conversation inside my head about why we’re pretending that everything is ok when EVERYTHING IS NOT OK.
These feelings reached a peak when I came down with the flu (which makes sense; there are numerous studies linking poor mental health with weakened immune system). There were these… visions, I guess because of the fever. Uninvited, violent images projected onto the back of my eyes like I was being forced to watch a horror movie in which I was the star victim. You know you’re in trouble when the only argument for not dying is that your Mum would be too upset.
At this point it felt impossible to deny that I was more than just ‘a bit unhappy’. When I finally admitted that depression had come to pay me another visit, I suddenly felt a lot better. I read Matt Haig’s wonderful book, Reasons to Stay Alive in one sitting and related to every, single word. It reminded me that the good thing about having experienced depression before, (in my case during my late teens and early twenties) is that there is evidence you can come out the other side.
I also have a strong suspicion that depression came back to teach me a much-needed lesson in humility and acceptance. For evidence, see this journal entry during the heady early days of my travels in late 2014:
You know those posts about depression you see on Facebook? They say things like ‘depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of having been strong for too long’. Fuck those signs. As someone who took anti-depressants and cut my arms and had years of therapy and read every self-help book going, that sign is an insult to me and every other person who has climbed out of the pit of self-loathing.
A helpful sign would say: depression sucks, here are some things you can do to help it fuck off: eat vegetables everyday, don’t eat crap; go for a walk for five minutes, preferably outside; say out loud three things you are grateful for (if you are struggling to think of anything, do you have eyes? If you do have eyes, they are awesome, use them to look at the sky – it’s massive isn’t it? Your problems are tiny in comparison); call your GP and get put onto a waiting list for counselling, it doesn’t matter that it’ll take six months, it will be worth it when you finally get it; call someone and ask how they are, other people exist and they have shit too, by listening you are helping them and it will make you feel good; go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time, even if you are tired.
This is simple. It’s doable. Step by step, it’s doable.
People used to say to me, ‘you’re depression just happened to you, there is a chemical imbalance in your brain and it’s not your fault.’ Well, do you know what? It was my fault. I don’t blame my poor 16-year-old self, but I wish I could go back in time and give her an education on diet and exercise which would have saved us a whole lot of grief. No regrets, but all these people being given SSRI’s that don’t even work and make you feel like you’re dead anyway, it’s bullshit. Prescribe personal trainers, prescribe self-hep books, prescribe cookery classes! Take back the power over your own life.
I don’t think I’ll ever get real depression again. I hope that I know how to fight it off when it creeps its head around the corners of my mind. I won’t let the spiral take hold again.
I’m cringing so hard right now. The writing was on the wall really, wasn’t it? Arrogance and fear of the dark sides of myself made them more eager to come to the light. It seems to me that replacing judgement of ourselves when we experience depression with curiosity about it, might help to lessen the severity of depressive episodes. It’s going to be hard to get better if you continue to hate something that is part of you, isn’t it?
One day in March the darkness lifted. I tend to think of my depression as like a heavy dark cloud hovering above me and when it leaves I can feel the sunshine on my skin again. I woke up and sprung out of bed without a huge mental argument with myself. Why and how, that’s what everyone wants to know – how did I feel better?
Some things that helped:
- Spring. Lighter nights and warmer weather.
- Sleep hypnosis. (I like Michael Sealey’s YouTube channel)
- Yoga with Adriene videos.
- Saying kind things to myself.
- Not drinking alcohol or smoking.
- Baths with candles.
- My sisters.
- My friends.
- Reading books.
- Magnolia Rhodiola (I swear by it)
- Accepting that it’s not my responsibility to make other people happy.
- Accepting that yes, there are a lot of problems in the world and I can’t solve them all.
- Accepting that there may be another financial crisis caused by greedy people and that other people will suffer as a result. Again, I cannot solve this problem.
For weeks now I’ve woken up and felt happy, mainly because I’m so grateful not to feel sad anymore. It’s a cliche, but the darkness has helped me appreciate the light. As my sister loves to remind me, “Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain; Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain” – 50 Cent knows what he’s talking about.
With love x
P.S. I’m not a Doctor, I’m a writer, so please don’t take my advice over your medical professional’s. While anti-depressants aren’t something I personally like to take, that doesn’t mean they don’t work for others. Everyone is different. Do what works for you. TC 10/05/2016