Some days I really wonder what the fuck is going on within my brain. Everything will seem ok, and then ‘wham’, I am hit with this enormous urge to cry, vomit, scream, run, hide and cease to exist. And it makes me feel so horrible when things are going so well in general terms. We have a great house, our family is together, our kids are growing and the future looks pretty bright from where I am standing. And yet I feel like crappola. The second my anxiety levels or adrenalin levels start to rise I descend into a pit of hell internally.
It is incredibly hard to explain it to others, especially when I barely understand it myself. I have this excess of intelligence, but it is no match for the irrationality and incomprehensibility of depression and anxiety. I have finally made a breakthrough that may well be the doorway to a new way of dealing with this monster. I finally realised that my depression is not a symptom of the condition of my life, but a condition of its own, an illness. None of us ever think that someone who is struck down by cancer is done so because they have a sad life, or a painful life or a traumatic life. We acknowledge that it is something that just happens to some people, regardless of economics, social level, nationality, intelligence, religion etc etc. And yet there is this thought that depression only strikes those with bad things going on in their lives. Sure, bad things can be a trigger, like mary jane can be a trigger for schizophrenia, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who is afflicted has a trigger.
Depression and anxiety often has a genetic component, some people are more likely to suffer from it or be predisposed to it. It is a brain disorder, an imbalance. It can be managed, both with medication and with other therapies, like many disorders and illnesses. But our acceptance, our understanding of the disorder is coloured by the idea that it is just an excuse used by people to be lazy or weird, or that is just a made up thing. People with mental illness are looked down on, like they are tainted, unclean, the work of the devil, a danger to society etc etc.
But we are not.
Many of us are productive members of society, contribute time, intelligence, ideas and abilities to a range of industries and organisations. We are parents, and children, and partners, carers and loved ones. We are sportsmen and women, actors, businessmen and women, soldiers, bus drivers, teachers, artists... in every walk of life there are those who are afflicted with depression. We aren’t expecting to be moddy-coddled or cosseted, we don’t want pity... we want acceptance, compassion, empathy. We want to feel like we can talk about depression, anxiety, bi-polar, PTSD and all the other variables without judgement, intolerance or fear.
Depression is a hidden disorder because most people just don’t want to know.
But there are those who care. There are those who want to help, who put themselves out there to help those of us afflicted. And on the whole they are undersupported by the government. Their funding is cut by bean counters with no compassion, no interest in the lives of those affected, who think we just need to talk to someone for a couple of months and everything will be just fine. They fall in the ‘you should just put it behind you and move on’ brigade. Depression is not like a bag that you just chuck in the bin. It’s more like losing a limb... you are never quite the same again.
Some may be quite upset at the idea of me comparing depression to losing a limb, might think I am over exaggerating the impact, the severity of the disorder. I’m not. It affects every aspect of your life, things you used to do with ease you can no longer do, or they take considerably longer or more effort. People don’t look at you the same way once they know, you don’t feel normal anymore. People pity you, or worse, ignore you. And you spend a lot of time wishing you were normal, that you hadn’t changed.
But you can’t go back.
Even if you get to the point where you are in control of your depression, have it well managed, some might even say ‘cured’, even then you are still different. Because you have experienced something that not everyone experiences, it never leaves you. And for some it is a permanent illness. They can learn to manage it, but it will never completely go away. You can live with it, but it always sitting there in the background like a shadow waiting for an opportunity to raise its ugly head and mess with you some more.
I don’t know one person with depression who actually would choose to have it. It isn’t a choice. But there is a choice to deal with it or not. There is a choice to be proactive and seek help. It isn’t an easy step to take, to admit you need help, especially when you fear that others will consider you weak, or lazy or stupid. But professional help is the only real way to get a handle on the disorder, the only real way to move forward. And it takes work. Lots and lots of work. And you will make mistakes, and you will feel worse at times. But eventually you get to a point where you realise that you can move forward even with depression, that it is ok to be mentally ill, that it doesn’t make you a bad person, or a lazy person, or a stupid person.
Then depression becomes like your conscience, poking you when you aren’t being kind to yourself, kicking you when you don’t look after yourself, slamming you when you deny it exists. It keeps you honest. And when you get to that point, when you embrace this part of yourself you begin to see that there is hope, there is a future, there is a way to live with depression that isn’t dark, scary and painful. It doesn’t go away, but it no longer controls you.