- Mental Health
Depression: My Ongoing Story
The air is beginning to cool as the early September day draws to a close. I sit on a blanket amongst the ruins of a picnic lunch. Squashed paper cups and bits of leftover food sit forlorn and unwanted. Friends who accompanied me are playing games beyond a screen of trees and I find myself alone within the drawing shadows. The birds I have watched with such joy have flown further into the forest and I can scarcely hear their song. My companions’ laughter and conversation are carried to my ears by a wind grown chill. I want to follow but somehow the birds and my friends seem so very far away.
And so, like a waning summer day, my mood begins to fade and I slide into depression once more.
I have fought with this misery since I was a small child. I can remember watching people laugh and wondering if they were pretending as I did. When I began at age eight to have full-blown panic attacks it was whispered that I was “nervous”. Later, as a teenager, the world and the people in it seemed to drift around me in an atmosphere so thick I could barely connect. The isolation I felt was excruciating and the fear I lived with was almost – but not quite – enough to make me give up.
I remember feeling responsible. I felt it was my job to keep track of everyone and everything; I needed to study everyone’s mood and know their routines. If I knew how you were feeling and what you were doing I could somehow keep you (and consequently me) safe. As an adult I have learned that my responsibility lies only with me; but old habits die hard and I still know who in every gathering is angry, who is fearful, and who needs to be watched. This hyper-vigilance is almost certainly due to the amount of violence I experienced as a very young child. I now know that hyper-vigilance is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder but whatever the reason, it is one of my strongest personality traits.
Coming To Terms
No one wants to admit they have a mental illness. The term implies straight-jackets, loony-bins and being locked away from the rest of the world. I have fought against that diagnosis for most of my life. I didn’t want to be the one who was different and so I pretended everything was just fine. Of course this only prolonged my diagnosis and any help from medication or therapy. I was told instead to buck up, put a smile on my face, and get on with life. God knows I tried.
Did Booze Help?
I drank alcohol for a few years. It worked in the sense that for a while I was able to escape the confines of my mind. The strict rules I had constructed for my behaviour were thrown away and I partied hardy. But alcohol is a depressant and the mornings after brought shame, guilt, and worry crashing down. Our family’s genetic propensity for alcoholism eventually took over and it was years before I pulled myself out of that chaos. Meanwhile depression simmered and stewed within.
When darkness overcomes, isolation becomes the norm. It’s not that I don’t want companionship; it’s just that conversation is so very difficult. The words stick in my brain like insects caught in molasses and the effort to organise my thoughts is too much to consider. I am brusque. Questions are answered using the least amount of words possible. I have to pull my consciousness back into my sluggish brain in an effort to find the language. In this state I recognize that my soul and my brain are completely different entities.
I force myself to shower, brush my teeth, and comb my hair. I don’t want to look the way I feel but the mechanics of these tasks are enormous: select the water setting (is it too hot?), choose shampoo or conditioner (do I have the right one?), find the soap (is this mine or my husband’s?), rinse my hair (have I rinsed enough?), find the towel (is it clean?). As I think and re-think the answer to these questions my brain stumbles in exhaustion but the reality of living unclean is soul-destroying and so I falter on.
An Ongoing Solution
It wasn’t until I sobered up and got a life that I realized nothing would change unless I made the effort to change it. There I was, living a dependable life with a husband who loved and respected me and still I couldn’t climb out of the abyss. Of course there were days when the sun would shine and all was well in my world, but those days were becoming more and more infrequent and the struggle to stay on the surface was becoming exhausting. I was tired of the fight and I was afraid. I didn’t want to leave and so I sought help.
Therapy promised a new way of interpreting and accepting life on life’s terms but I was also urged to take antidepressants. For years I believed that anyone who had to take psychiatric drugs was loony. My belief was incorrect. The problem was really my brain chemistry. I didn’t have the correct balance of chemicals that allowed for joy, clear thinking, and community life - just as diabetics don’t produce the correct amount of insulin. The antidepressants I now take help balance those chemicals.
Currently, my most prominent fear is that the medicine I take will stop working. This has happened in the past and I have to be aware of my moods. Depression is stealthy. It creeps up ever so slowly and before you know it you’re in deep, dark space once again. My doctor assures me that there are many more options out there and yet.....
Just For Today
I won’t pretend that I’m cured. I still struggle in social situations but the drive to interact is there. I enjoy people and, from my point of view, they seem to enjoy me. Writing can be difficult as my thoughts can sometimes scatter but I persevere. I am accepted and loved and most days I can own those feelings. Best of all my own emotions can come through clearly and I can accept myself and love fully in return.
If you also suffer from depression my greatest hope is that you do not give up. You are worth the struggle. You have much to give and you have much to receive. Talk to someone – even if you are afraid the words won’t come. Reach out.
A rich, full life filled with birdsong and companionship is there - just beyond the trees.