*Disclaimer – this is about my personal experience, everyone experiences depression differently*
My approach to depression, and my mental health in general, is summed up by that title. You have to laugh or you’d cry. I tried to write about depression when I was in the middle of it and I physically couldn’t because I couldn’t really do anything. I tried to write about it when I felt a bit better and I couldn’t because it was too raw. And I can’t believe I’ve just said that something was ‘too raw’ when I wasn’t referring to some meat, but it really was. Turns out it’s something I can only tackle when I had a bit of time and space and my brain has blocked it out and I can try and pretend it never happened. Like that time I got norovirus and it took actual months to get over but eventually I forgot just how awful it made me feel.
Depression is a lot like norovirus. You can’t really do anything, you feel weak, exhausted, miserable and can’t be bothered to get out of bed, even if you wanted to, which you don’t. I also don’t really want to talk about norovirus because it made me feel like I was dying – which makes it very like depression.
People experience and describe their depression in lots of different ways. There are hundreds of analogies and metaphors to try and capture it. Churchill’s ‘black dog’, JK Rowling’s Dementors (I think she nailed it), darkness, black holes, a fog, nothingness. For me it felt like I’d fallen down a well, and occasionally I’d have the Joker from Batman for company.
A few months ago, I woke up one morning and it was just… there. Like a heaviness, a sense of dread but very different to that ‘familiar’ kind of dread that I wake up with my anxiety. I felt sad, angry, more sad, hopeless and I felt nothing. Mostly I felt nothing. You know that you’re really sad, a deeper kind of sad than usual sadness, but you almost don’t care because you’re just numb. Some stages of my depression manifest themselves as tears, but I don’t really know why. In the past I have cried and cried and cried. Especially over food for some reason. I would cry like a small, unattractive water feature. Most of the time though I just couldn’t be bothered, because once you’ve cried you would go back to feeling numb again so I just didn’t bother, it seemed like a waste of energy. I know it’s bad when I can’t be bothered to cry anymore. I tried to come up with something clever as I thought to myself “you’ll want to write about this, so what does it feel like?”, and my brain answered “it feels like I fell down a well”. To that I replied “that’s not very poetic” but that’s what it felt like and my brain just kept saying “it feels like I fell down a well”. The world is carrying on around you; you can hear it, see it, but it’s just out of reach and where you are is dark, damp and uncomfortable and has the pressing kind of coldness, stillness and silence of being underground. And you can’t get out. The Joker was my well companion when my depressed little brain started beating myself up. My brain is clever and it knows all its own buttons to push; all my weaknesses and fears. My head can get right inside my head.
Depression makes me hate myself and pretty much everything else too. Actually, it makes you hate yourself but feel pretty indifferent to everything else; hate is too strong a word and implies you are capable of emotions towards other stuff, which I wasn’t. It makes you feel disappointed, angry, let down, disgusted by yourself. Useless, pointless, hopeless. Alone. But it also stops you caring. You don’t do anything to counteract the nasty, negative thoughts because it tells you not to bother, what’s the point? Just give up. I just wanted to be asleep because being unconscious was the best part of my day. ISN’T THAT FUN?! It puts some pretty damn terrifying thoughts into your head, ones that really scare you. You think “I will feel like this forever” but you don’t worry about that because you’re so numb that you just kind of accept that this is how life is now – a hollow, empty, dark feeling where nothing makes you happy anymore. You think about the alternatives to life because life isn’t very appealing anymore. Above all, depression lies.
I love “the emotional equivalent of watching paint dry”. It’s accurate.
Depression goes hand in hand with anxiety. A lot of people have one and then develop the other, some people don’t. I’m always (pleasantly) surprised by my (general) lack of depression considering how enthusiastically my anxiety tries to ruin my life. But my wise mentor (I’m gona tell her I called her that) pointed out that I might be handling the depression by experiencing my anxiety differently – to extremes or in different ways, like panic attacks etc. She has a good point, told you she was wise.
I had to have faith that it was going to lift (or more accurately, have faith that I was going to be able to climb out of the well at some point) and eventually it did. But it was enough to remind me of all those times before. My brain blocks them out because they’re painful, shitty memoires and it shuts them in a box somewhere. But when you find yourself down the well again they all come flooding back; throw in the Joker and you’re in for a rough ride. I’ve learnt to plod on (very literally) and just ‘exist’ until it decides to bugger off. I’ve learnt to make sure that I tell someone. There is a difference between accepting the depression, and accepting that the depression is winning. Don’t let it win, but don’t try and fight it off. That sounds very contradictory, I know. I’ve learnt the hard way that trying to stop the thoughts just will not work. It’s like trying to hold back a wave, or catch smoke; you may as well be chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It is very pointless and tiring. You have to let these things happen, you can run all you want but you can’t outrun your own brain – believe me I’ve tried. You have to face it and say “thank you very much for all your excellent efforts to protect / destroy me. You’re very clever and I know it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong, but we can deal with this together.” Making your brain a friend rather than an enemy is important. I’ve shared this before but it’s just the best illustration of what I mean –
Embrace your little crocodile.
When my most recent ‘fallen down a well’ situation occurred, it was around the date of the first anniversary of my friend’s death and although I was anticipating that time to be difficult, I didn’t realise how it was going to affect me. I put the depression down to that difficult time and my brain just needing another outlet. But sometimes there’s no reason, no cause and nothing to blame it on. That’s even more difficult to accept because, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to spend a fair amount of time thinking THIS IS SO FUCKING UNFAIR WAAAHHHHHHH. Just take a bit of time to come around to it. Stay in bed, sit on the sofa, don’t get dressed, watch 6 hours of Netflix, eat a lot of crisps and soup and ignore your phone like it’s going to bite. But then, remember that you’re a super wonderful human who deserves good things and get out of bed, have a shower, eat some vegetables and a banana and put some music on. And I can say that because I know how that can sound exactly like someone asking you to jump on your bike and casually break the sound barrier. You can do it. (You can’t break the sound barrier on a push bike, but you know what I mean.) ((Is push bike even a words?))
I have experienced depression on several occasions before. The first time I went to the doctor and told them I thought I might be depressed (edit – the first time I was almost dragged to the doctor by my mother and she told them) I was prescribed some books. I didn’t know that this was a thing. I have been prescribed several books since. One of the books was called ‘Overcoming Depression’, and I thought it was slightly lazy of the doctor to tell me to go away and fix myself. (The book did turn out to be pretty useful). Once it was caused by some medication I was taking and when I stopped those I became a different person in a week. Several times it crept up because of stress, change or general unhappiness. Sometimes I haven’t a clue where it comes from. It affects me much less than my anxiety – anxiety and panic is where my mental illness forte lies – but it has got its claws into me a few times and I haven’t properly addressed it as something that happens to me. I don’t tend to see depression as something I suffer from, which isn’t true. And if I’m going to tell anyone the truth, it should be myself.
Depression is shit, it makes you feel like shit and it makes you think that everyone else thinks you’re shit. It is also a massive liar. You are excellent and people love you and it will get better. If you need help, ask for it. And I can say that too because, again, I know how difficult this might be. But 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health problems in a year. Please don’t feel like you’re alone in this, you’re in very good company, some of the best in fact. If you’re not sure if you need help then talk to someone about it, and they can help you figure out what to do next. Here are some links that might be helpful –
NHS Depression – description of symptoms and possible treatments and that kinda info
Mind – the best mental health charity out there, they send very helpful replies to emails
Samaritans – feeling overwhelmed and alone, these guys are super good listeners 24/7
I talk (as you all know by now) very openly about my anxiety, I have had a good few years to figure that one out. I haven’t been as upfront about depression and that is partly due to not wanting to worry people – which just sustains a stigma that I claim to want to destroy!! SO, I will tell you what I have told myself; depression is not this scary, untreatable thing that people should whisper about. It’s an incredibly common and manageable thing and the more we talk about it, the less of an issue it will be for other people to talk about it. Bottling these things up never did anyone any good. So, I’m gonna add depression to the long list of things I overshare about, lucky you!
And now you should read these two short comics, because they say it better than anything I could ever possibly write and sum everything up.
Hyperbole and a Half – Depression Part Two (this one includes an excellent metaphor about dead fish)
And now you should listen to this, cos it’s all gona be alright, we’re all gona be alright