Keeping the Conversation Going

I still don’t have the words, but I am going to try anyway.

Long term readers will know that I had a breakdown when I was 17. It was pretty bad. Not as bad as some people’s, worse than others. It was terrible for me and I thought I would never come out of it. I lived in a crippling cloud of depression and anxiety. I wanted nothing more than to not exist (not to kill myself you understand, just not to have to be in my head anymore) and yet I could not turn my brain off.

I could not sleep. I could not eat. I could not read. I could only exist in a whirlwind of fear, sadness and worry. I worried about everything. The more depression gripped me, the more I felt unable to switch off or tear away from it. I existed harder and harder and harder until I was permanently exhausted by everything. And I was terrified. I was terrified of being alive and I was terrified of dying and I felt trapped by what was happening to me and I was convinced I was properly insane because existing was just too hard.

I worried about everything from the fact that it was too hard for me to eat breakfast to the fact that the hole in the ozone layer was growing. There was no scale of manageability. I worried just as much about getting out of the house as I did about terrorism. I was totally overwhelmed.

I couldn’t talk to people about it, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know where to start. I was also afraid, properly afraid, that if I opened my mouth to say anything about it, I would scream and scream and keep screaming until I basically swallowed myself in fear.

And how do you explain that to people who have absolutely no concept of what that is like? How do you, when you ‘look’ normal, explain how alien you feel, not only in your life, but to yourself? How do you explain that ‘pulling yourself together’, ‘counting your blessings’ or ‘taking more exercise,’ are not possible for you right now, because remembering to breathe and not dissolve into a gritty heap of unspeakable pain is about all you can manage? What do you say to someone when they cheerfully say, ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ When you can’t explain that is precisely the point. You don’t have anything to be depressed about. If you did, things would be a bit more bearable.

I survived. It passed. I was lucky that I had people who loved me around me and people who were patient enough to keep being my friend even though depression can make you difficult, unreliable, a burden and boring. It’s not that you don’t know that you are all these things, and the guilt at being that person to people you love is one of the hardest things of all to bear, but the good ones, well they stick with you because maybe, even when they don’t entirely understand, a part of them knows that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

Depression has visited me many times since then. It’s part of me, and I’ve learned to live with it, navigate the paths, listen to the warning signs and seek help when things are tipping too far towards somewhere I never want to go back to.

Some times are easier than others. Sometimes a long time goes by in between episodes. Sometimes it cycles quite rapidly. The rapid cycles tend to be more intense but less prolonged. The episodes that creep up with a bigger gap between them tend to be harder to shift. They deal with more fundamental issues and require more gentle handling than I tend to give to the short blips.

I’ve never taken anti-depressants. It’s not something I’m proud of or not proud of. It’s just the way I’ve chosen to deal with my situation. I think drugs can help. I have seen them help other people. I don’t not take them as a sign of virtue. It’s largely a choice driven by fear that side-effects that could make me worse.

I know that the way I’ve chosen to deal with the emotional life I’ve been dealt works for me. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t mean I spend my days skipping through daisies Fotherington Thomas style. It doesn’t mean that I am cool with the way my mind can hi-jack me and take over my life for a while. But I’ve found a way to deal with things so that I can still, mostly, turn up for whatever I need to turn up for, look after my children and manage. It means I am at the mercy of the ups and downs of whatever it is I suffer from, but there are enough ups for me to consider it a fair trade. It also means I am pretty good at spotting the warning signs and can usually do something to help myself.

Since Christmas things have been a little more precarious thanks to the fact that my worsening menstrual situation means that my hormones are having a much bigger effect on my moods than normal. Last Thursday I woke up feeling incredibly bleak. Like winter had come back overnight. I checked my diary. My period is due this Thursday. My hormones have turned up to the PMT party. The one with raw sausage rolls and non branded pop where everyone eats so much sugar they go from happy to hysterical in half an hour.

The last few days have been spent trying to manage that mood so that it doesn’t spill over too much into my day to day life. Self care has had to be put at the top of the to do list, because ignoring it is a fool’s errand. I know this. I’ve done the ‘pretend nothing is happening and work twice as hard, smile all the time, say ‘fine’ when people ask you how you are,’ thing before. It ends badly, for everyone.

I’ve been listening to whatever my body/mind needs and trying to pick my way through the self care/harm maze. For instance. My initial reaction is to retreat. Cancel things, don’t talk to people, isolate. My depressive state tells me that this is ‘easier’. It means not fucking up. It means not having to explain. It means not having to be ashamed at bursting into tears. It means not being a ‘burden.’  My healthy brain tells me that this is not the way. This only makes things worse because there is nothing to stop me spiralling down. The healthy way is to make better choices. See this person because you don’t have to explain if you don’t want to, don’t see that person because it’s too hard to explain. Go to this meeting because it is important, but cancel that meeting because you can manage without it. Keep talking to the people who love you, because they love you regardless and they don’t think you’re stupid or bad, or wrong, or broken.

Mostly at the moment I want to sleep. I want to sleep because it is easier than being awake. It takes away my choices. It smoothes everything over into nothingness. It’s simple. The fact that I can sleep tells me that I am better than I think. If I were really bad, sleep would not be an option. My healthy brain tells me that there is nothing wrong with banking a few hours extra sleep every day, but that I also need to get up, get dressed and get out the house for a bit, even if it’s only for an hour, so that’s what I am doing.

And this is how I am approaching everything at the minute, and it’s hard, and it means that I am much more self absorbed, and much less present, but I am still showing up for my life, and this will pass, and I will get better and all will be well.

And I am reading the brilliant, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, and I resonate with everything he says. I just got to the part about keeping the conversation going, keeping talking, and that’s why I’m writing this today, even though I don’t want to, and even though in a minute I’m going to go back to bed.

But I will get up, and I will go out, and I will get better, and if what I have written resonates with you, so will you.


43 responses to “Keeping the Conversation Going

  1. Matt Haig is a genius. Go with love Katy.

  2. Respect.
    Reasons To Stay Alive is one of my go-to books too.
    Hang in there. xx

  3. Hi Kate…
    A friend once told me that life is full of hurdles…most we leap straight over where others we will stumble…either way we get to the other side. I have since found this to be true…getting over them sometimes takes more of a struggle, but we do get over them…
    It seems to me that you are an extremely clever person with lots going on in your head…I enjoy reading your blog as I am sure others do too…you have enlightened me to many issues that had not even entered my head or given consideration to….so credit to you.
    Go back to bed, have a good sleep and let your mind de fraggle a bit…
    Night night, God bless as my Mum would say to me x

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Katy. I recognise every single word and thought, and wish you well.
    Jean x

  5. Katy, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am lucky in that I haven’t suffered from depression, except for a brief ‘wobble’ during cancer treatment. But that was a low mood that passed after a short while.
    While you have created your own coping mechanisms, depression is still a nightmare.
    Wishing you the very best – keep doing what you do!

  6. You do have the words, you really do. Blimey! Did writing it down like that make it better I find myself wondering (rhetorically cos you have enough on your plate without having to reply). I could try that myself but as I don’t even know whether there should be a question mark in that last sentence, let alone where to put it, perhaps it’s best I don’t. I was moved by your post and wanted to say so in case that made a little smidge of a difference XX

  7. Wow Katy, if receiving love and best wishes does any good, here they are, if prayers and appreciation support you, your most welcome. I bless the day I came across your blog, its a reminder of the goodness and humanity there is present in this universe. Frailty, braveness and bloody mindness rule!! xx

  8. I had suspected, from your recent posts that all was not entirely under control. I have been fortunate to have only had a short period of relatively mild post-natal depression, so I can’t really relate to your troubles. However, I always look forward to reading your blog – it is reliably incisive, frequently very funny and usually usefully informative. Thank you and I hope you are feeling much better very soon.

  9. This is really heartwarming and I’m so glad you’re feeling better. I’ve been feeling pretty similar to how you did recently so this was really great to read, keep it up x

  10. Take care, Katyboo. You already do so much more than most of us. x

  11. This totally resonates with me. Every single word. Thank you, Katy, for being you with all that you are and have yet to be. I know now I’m not alone. Please know that you are not alone.

    After a recent cluster of migraines, one of which was hemiplegic, I was physically and mentally brought down to a new low. It was in the early hours of the morning (it always is: makes it all the more difficult to ‘burden’ others with it). At the lowest point – I don’t know how it came about, and it is completely unlike me (because my sabotaging mind trusts nothing I say or do) – I said to myself “I choose to relax” and for several moments, I relaxed. I still don’t know why it worked. I shall be adding it to my ‘coping’ list and see what happens next time.

    I know we can’t take each other’s pain away, but I can say this to you:

    “You matter. The world would be a darker place without you exactly as you are.”

    Much love,

    Lita xx

  12. You DO have the words, Katy — thank you.

    My husband suffered a catastrophic breakdown just over a year ago, while visiting family in Senegal. He was jabbed full of largactyl and taken off to hospital, where I found him, a pathetic shadow of himself, a couple of days later.

    Back home, after a three-month drinking binge (during which he lost his driving licence for eight months), he took to the sofa, smoked dope and barely spoke. His mood swings were utterly unpredictable and he was frequently really beastly to me.

    Some of the stresses (both interior and exterior) remain — but he is becoming better able to cope with them now that we are (well, he is, mostly) talking more than ever (I have to admit that listening can be pretty fatiguing) and he is getting his mojo back.

    2016 has probably been the hardest year of both our lives but, as you say, it is up to each sufferer to work out how to deal with his or her depression. And we have both learned a lot about ourselves and other people, too.

    I hope yours will pass sooner rather than later — and that your meeting with the gynaecologist will help as well. (I found the menopause very liberating; but I was lucky, being more-or-less symptom-free.) Good luck.

  13. Inspirational writing. I salute you Katyboo!

  14. watchingthewheels

    Ahh – the black slug of depression.
    Matt Haig – awesome book.. I too am enjoying the seemingly never ending battle. Always made worse by the attitude of those who seem to think that depression is some sort of moral failing, i.e. laziness, feebleness etc, etc. And when I am at my worst, I start thinking they may be right, that I am just a waste of space as a human – feeding right back into the depression.. Fortunately over the last ten years that I have been afflicted by this illness I have built up a anti-black slug tool kit and I am hoping that it will be enough to keep me alive.

    I know it’s hard work having to watch yourself all the time, trying to make the right choices to help yourself – bloody exhausting. One of my tools is simply to accept that I am ill, and then be very kind to myself, I’m doing that at the moment. And I will get better eventually, and so will you my friend. Lots and lots of love to you.

  15. I, too, don’t really have the words. But I know where you are, what it’s like and how hard it is. Keep the conversation going Katy!

  16. Dear Katy, I am sure many people here will relate to what you have posted here and i bow to your raw honesty about it. talking openly about how really great sensitive intelligent people also can have these issues makes them less shame inducing and helps to end the inner judge and jury taking over too. I relate to how you are feeling but mine was post traumatic stress disorder in the end, although for year it just felt like depressions which always came back. Once i got fully triggered and lived for 6 yrs as you described, doing the same thing this too will pass etc, i finally got batter, don’t get triggered beyond very slightly and depression is no longer on the radar. I do hoe you can get to this place too sometime. I have and am writing about many of my experiences in my WordPress project Travelling the Alphabet and when you are up to it you may find some help in my words too. IN the meantime i wish you well and i send you love and respect.

  17. I feel your pain Katieboo. I have had two breakdowns in my 57 years. One when I was 19 – where I returned to the bosom of my family and took to my bed for a few weeks. Antidepressants got me back on track and I stopped taking them after around six months. In my early 30’s I suffered from Post Natal Depression after the birth of my second child and was put on Prozac. I felt normal for the first time in years. Around 10 years ago I had my second breakdown after stopping taking the Prozac due to pressure from my husband who always disapproved of it. This time it was total meltdown. Now back on Prozac, husband gets it now, and again feeling normal.
    I have been on the drugs for 23 years pretty (except for the blip 10 years ago) I consider this to be treating a malfunction in my body in the same way as treatment for thyroid problems or diabetes is a lifelong commitment. I was more afraid of the depression/anxiety (which manifested itself in debilitating physical symptoms such as constant dizzyness). than the potential side effects. I had several years of counseling and cognitive therapy which helped me to understand my problem but just sayin……… maybe it’s worth trying the drugs route?
    It certainly worked for me 🙂

    PS love your blogs !

  18. Thank you for being so honest about your depression. I know it’s not easy, but more people need to say how it really is rather than keep it hidden away.

  19. Skinneydipper

    Bless you Katyboo, hang in there, look after yourself.

  20. I had thought to comment when you were having a migraine a few weeks ago but I’ll add it in a moment. With regard to your depression problems I can recommend getting hold of a copy of “A Mind of Your Own” by Kelly Brogan, MD. The strap line “The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their LIves” explains all. I read it because we had watched many of her lectures on line and something seemed to make sense. The book was banned only because it advocated not using drugs to cover the symptoms but to find the cause.

    My wife and I have always felt that drugs are not the answer and hope to finish our lives without recourse to prescription drugs. Finding the cause for any ailments is much more important than treating the symptoms. Both my in-laws lived with us until my father-in-law died Nov 2015 at 95. My mother-in-law is currently in hospital recovering from breaking her second hip. At 96 she is still very active. She broke the first hip by falling onto concrete when her shoes slipped into the gap between lawn and path. Higher narrow heels than usual and soft grass don’t mix.

    She broke the second hip this week reversing through a door with a stack of papers in one hand. She spun round too quickly when supplements fell from the bunch and she tried to catch them.

    The ambulance arrived within 30 minutes even though we are out in the sticks. One the first day in hospital, on realising her age and the fact that like us she is not taking any prescription drugs, a nurse commented “We had a 94 year old man here last week and he also was not taking any medication. We (the NHS) should be asking you what it is about your lifestyle that enables people like you get to a good age without medical assistance.” The answer to that is varied and mixed as we are all different but there are some very obvious common denominators. Its not strict diets or exercise regimes but its along those lines that I won’t bore you with here.

    Get a copy of that book and enjoy. With regards to the migraines there are two things to try that might work. First try supplementing with magnesium citrate for a while or you might want to try going gluten free for a week or two and see if that helps. Its nothing to do with celiac disease or allergies but food sensitivities. Another option is simply to drink more water as dehydration causes headaches.

    In an attempt to find the cause of my life long migraines I did an elimination diet a year or two ago and the withdrawel symptoms for about three days were dramatic. Shivering, blinding headaches, aversion to light etc. Its then a matter of reintroducing food types in a systematic way afterwards to find the culprit. Not easy if you have a busy lifestyle, but being retired we have the time to experiment and we’ve still not isolated all the possible causes yet. Going gluten free seems the major factor but we don’t follow a gluten free diet that a celiac would need to. I keep saying ‘we’ because my better half is keeping me company to find some possible causes of some life long but minor problems that she’s has lived with.

    I do hope you can weather the storm and get you life back to normal again soon.

    Adrian Hepworth

  21. You’re so right – forcing yourself to get up, get out and do something is sometimes the best way to deal. I’m glad sleep hasn’t fled – that exacerbates everything. Hugs, and positive thoughts.

  22. I hope that you feel better soon. Hang in there. xxx

  23. I am not going to pretend I ‘understand’ because I think that everyone’s mental state is unique to them, whether they are suffering from recognised problems like anxiety or depression or something undefined. However I can relate and empathise because I have had episodes in my life when I have struggled with, or tried to suppress, my emotions to the point of unravelling. I have felt that I was precariously clinging on to normality – whatever that may be – by a fingernail and pretending I was just like the others, you know those people who aren’t crippled by self doubt, guilt or fear and deal with everything brilliantly, who probably don’t even exist.
    I have often found it particularly hard to share that side of me because many people see me as an extrovert who breezes through life, cracking jokes, telling tales and making light of problems and I am reluctant to disillusion them. I have known people to be disbelieving or even indignant when I have tried to explain that what you see is not always the whole picture and that we all deal with our demons differently.

    My mother was very fond of quoting Julian of Norwich; ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. I use it as a kind of mantra and I have found it very comforting over the years.
    I trust that you will get through this in your own way and in your own time, and I hope you always keep the conversation going Xxx

  24. I’m a big believer in emotional weather. If we’re lucky it comes and then it goes. If we’re not lucky we get a bad batch and it settles in for too long. Sometimes I have to keep moving forward even though I’ve temporarily forgotten how to hope. May you feel hope and an upswing very soon.

  25. Katrina Bevan

    For all the delight your blog gives me, thank you, for the fact that on occasion your words have made me think it is not just me then, I thank you. For any help it may be have a big fat hug from an almost stranger.

  26. You can do it; I know you can. Hugs. xx

  27. I don’t often comment although I love reading your blogs. However this really resonates with me. Now 62 I have been fighting depression since I was 14. My breakdown came at 42. Everything you describe is so very real. I went down the tablet route. They help, but they don’t prevent it. I have had to learn that I am not superwoman, and that I need to be kind to myself, especially when an episode of depression hits. Yes, we do get better. I am glad that your family give you the support you need, as my husband did for me when he was alive. Keep fighting, and be kind to yourself.

  28. “…it means that I am much more self absorbed, and much less present, but I am still showing up for my life…”
    Oh my god, Katy, you are more present than anyone I know!
    I don’t have any words of wisdom for you, but please know that — along with ton of other people — I am rooting for you. And when you need a total break, take it. We can survive for a little bit without your humour and wisdom and excellent writing. xo

  29. Thank you for this. I completely agree with Tara’sCooking. Lots of us are rooting for you, and would like you to take a break when you need it.

  30. Gillian Cleave

    Depression is “the black dog”. I have only suffered with real depression once in my life, after the birth of my 3rd child. It is, as you say indescribable, impossible, intolerable. It is a monster. My middle daughter has struggled since the age of 11 with depression; like you she is sensible and brave and has learned to manage it, also without drugs. Five years ago she took up biodynamic meditation, a shaking meditation. I also practice it, initially in solidarity and now because I see the benefits in my life too. It has helped her enormously. We all have to find our own way through. Wishing you well and of course much love. Gill

  31. V, North London

    This is one of the best descriptions of depression I’ve read. I can’t imagine how it feels to suffer from depression, but someone close to me does – and this makes sense of their behaviour. Thank you Katy x

  32. Thinking about you. Take care.

  33. I understand! You are amazing and such an inspiration to so many of us! We all care about you. I can feel the love and concern in all these lovely comments. We all want you to be well again…not for us but for you!! Hugs x

  34. Aaaarrrggh! Poor you!

    I know what that feels like, all too well. I had PND after our daughter was born and bad depression at intervals since – like bad enough to get sectioned! The facilities available at our local Mental (Ill)Health Hospital have gradually decreased over the past thirty years. Once upon a time they had activities. Now you could die of boredom, particularly over a weekend.

    I’m hoping that having emerged from a particularly bad depression, which coincided with my menopause, things will be better from now on. At least I don’t have the bloody periods. As I have SAD, the depressions may continue – I shall have to take advantage of days like today (2nd March) was.

    I know it’s not much encouragement yet, but, apparently, the average age when the very last period happens is 56. It sounds as if you may well have a good few years to go. Here’s hoping there’s enough of an NHS for them to be able to treat your condition seriously and investigate and treat it.

  35. I tried to comment When I first saw this but my iPad has started to speak à different language. If I can get this done I just wanted to send much love and hope you feel beter soon. Dont be afraad of drugs of you need them they have done wonders for me when I got THE right ones. I think about you every day.

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