My apologies, yet again, for the long long silence on this blog. I’m still mustering up all my inner forces for the battle against this latest relapse into depression, and it doesn’t leave much over for fun or creativity, I can tell you. I’ve always been pretty honest on this blog about my ongoing fight with depression, and I’ve often been rewarded for that honesty by emails from readers, thanking me for putting into words how they had also been feeling. That is reassuring, because sometimes I feel very strongly that I need to talk about this publicly, because not enough people do. But at the same time, I am very aware that this is partly a business blog, and that not everyone wants to read about my personal problems and health issues. I hope I get the balance right. When I don’t blog for any length of time, it’s usually because I’m afraid of upsetting that balance, and making this blog a platform for my own moans and groans. After all, we all have our own set of challenges and difficulties to deal with, and most of us like to escape those for a while when we visit blogs and websites. I know I do.
But occasionally, I feel absolutely impelled to talk about it, and today is one of those days. Here goes……
I wish, with all my heart, that they would come up with a new name for this illness than depression. It is laughably inadequate, like calling the flu ‘a touch of the sniffles’. It gives people the impression that it is simply a mood problem, and that gives rise to some painful misunderstandings. I’ve had people say to me, ‘oh I get really depressed some days’…… ‘what are you depressed about/why are you depressed?’……. This is not from lack of sympathy or kindness, but just because they are equating depression with feeling miserable, and since you don’t know what it’s like unless you experience it yourself, or see a loved one experience it, it’s understandable that you would see it that simplistically, based purely on the name that we give to the illness.
I don’t think it helps that depression can spring from many causes, some biological, some emotional, some environmental. So yes, there will be people who have depression because of a tangible reason, loss of a loved one, heartbreak, etc etc. But there are just as many people whose depression is triggered biologically. Asking them why they are depressed is as pointless as asking a diabetic why they are diabetic, or an asthmatic why they have asthma. We generally accept physical illnesses as outside a person’s control, but when it’s an illness of the mind, there is this idea that it should be more easily overcome, by the mind itself.
Well, to some extent that might be true. if your depression is caused, or exacerbated, by emotional reasons, then therapy, counselling, and so on, may be very beneficial. But if there is an element of biological cause involved, then emotional treatment will only help to a certain extent.
In my own case, I have been extremely fortunate, and have received two courses of therapy through my local doctor’s surgery. The first was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which was particularly effective at helping me cope with anxiety. The second, and more recent, was traditional psychotherapy, which helps you work through all the tangle of issues that have built up over the years in your mind, and equips you to move on in a state of better mental health. I have recently completed this course, and it was astoundingly helpful. For the first time, I feel like I understand myself fully, and I’m at peace with my life so far, all the things that have happened to me, all the relationships I’ve had with friends and family. I feel in better emotional health than I have ever felt in my life.
Add to that the many blessings that I have in my daily life, the fantastic business which makes my daily work a joy, the very best husband and friend in the world working alongside me, a beautiful home that is a refuge and a delight, friends and family and a close community that show me support and care, and so on. I am fortunate beyond compare. If anyone was ever further from having cause for depression, it is me, and that knowledge makes me feel terribly guilty and self indulgent.
But the simple fact remains, my brain chemistry is wonky. Very wonky. And when that gets messed up, everything gets messed up. And it needs such a sensitive adjustment to get it working properly again that it takes time and experimentation to get it just right. And the process of getting those chemicals to work in harmony and balance again can be almost worse than the original depression. It is a slow, painful, inching process, and when you are in the middle of it, you can’t imagine that it will ever come right. Your whole body and mind seem to be warring against themselves, with you caught in the middle. With all of that going on, the state of your mood becomes almost irrelevant. This is where the term depression becomes the least effective. Depression only fits up to a certain point – once you get past that point, it is no longer an appropriate description.
Everyone understand that your brain controls your body, to a large extent. And it does that through chemicals. When that system gets out of whack, and the chemistry goes wrong, nothing works right.
Your perceptions change – time becomes all warped, a minute seems like an hour, an hour like a week, a day stretches out in front of you like an endless desert. And yet time also seems to be whizzing past at such a speed that 2, 3 months can pass and you have no recollection of them at all.
Your vision changes – it’s like wearing permanent sunglasses, everything seems dark, the colours more subdued, familiar faces look alien.
You find it impossible to make a decision about even the simplest thing – what tshirt should I wear today? – and yet there is this urgent need to make decisions, to search for that one elusive thing that you think will make things better. This sets your mind going in circles, should I do this? Should I do that?
The easiest tasks seem Herculean. Taking a shower feels like running a marathon. Putting laundry in the washing machine makes you weep because it is just too hard.
Your memory stops working. Did I just take a tablet, or didn’t I? Why did I go upstairs, what was it I was going to do? Your concentration vanishes completely, which makes it almost impossible to read a book, watch a movie, take part in a conversation, knit.
Your body aches, your stomach churns, your head hurts, you are burning up, then icy, you are exhausted, but you can’t sleep, incredibly tense but you can’t relax.
I’m saying all of this, not for sympathy, not to shock, not as a complaint, but simply to explain how far removed from emotional symptoms depression can be. I hope that for those who have/who are experiencing it, there will be some relief in hearing someone else express those symptoms. And for those who have not experienced it, perhaps it may help you to see this illness from a different perspective.
Depression is such a flat, one dimensional word. If I asked you to tell me the first image that springs to mind when I say depression, probably it would be someone with a sad face. Yes, sadness, unhappiness, loneliness, despair, anger, fear, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, can all come along with depression. But they can all come along to every one of us. They do not necessarily characterise depression. Which is why we really need to find a better way to describe this dreadful illness. A way that expresses the far reaching effects of it. A way that acknowledges that it can gobble up the happiest, luckiest of us, regardless of our circumstances or mental health.
This post has run on and on – if you read to the end then I thank you. Forgive me if it comes across as whiny or self indulgent, it’s very difficult to talk about it honestly, without using yourself as a frame of reference, and that isn’t always easy to do. But sometimes it feels very necessary to stick my neck out and talk about it, in the hopes of helping someone else to cope or to understand. When you are fighting, it helps to know that you are not alone. There are many of us fighting alongside you, and we can find courage from each other.