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.