13 May Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Depression
In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week this week (13th-19th May) I’ll be sharing with you the struggles I’ve had with my mental health over the years.
I’ll tell you about all the things I’ve had trouble with in my time with a new article every day this week, and we’re starting with one of the big ones – depression.
My Journey With… Depression
I’ve only ever told one person this before – a counsellor.
But in the spirit of total honesty in a week where the subject is one we need to talk about more openly and candidly, I’m telling you.
I struggled with depression in my 20s – and more than once. The first time, I took the meds my GP offered, and signed up to a six-week CBT course which I laughed through because the concepts they were talking about were just preposterous to me, and hearing it from someone who didn’t seem to have any experience whatsoever with depression had no impact at all.
The second time, I got through it with sheer willpower (and no, it’s not always that simple). But I figured I’d been through it once and I could get through it again. It was really just waiting it out with sheer stubbornness.
The third time though, I really wasn’t expecting things to hit me so hard – or at all, actually. I had decided I was done with depression, and all of a sudden I was taking a fast downturn and I was in a bad, bad place.
And here’s what I’ve never told anyone else.
When things were really bad, I remember one very specific thought I had when I was walking to my office one day.
‘If things aren’t better by my next birthday, I’ll end it.’
My birthday was maybe ten months away.
This might sound strange if you’ve never been in that place, but it was the only thing that gave me a light at the end of the tunnel. I felt better once I thought it.
You can probably guess from the fact that I’m still here that it got better.
Did I mean it? I’m really not sure. Would I have gone through with it? I don’t know. Maybe not. But it wasn’t the going through with it that I was focusing on – it was the possibility of having a way out of something that I couldn’t handle.
If you haven’t ever experienced depression, it’s not being sad. It’s not being stressed. It’s not putting a smile on your face in front of your friends and then going home and crying in secret. It’s none of those things but at the same time it’s all of those things, and more.
Yeah, it’s a bit like that too.
You know those days when you get up in the morning and you think, ‘Ugh, I can’t be bothered today,’ and just getting out of bed and showering is a real chore. You can’t be bothered to get into the shower, and when you finally do, you can’t be bothered to get out again. You know you should eat but you’re just not in the mood for anything and you’re not sure you can get up the energy to make yourself a proper meal.
It’s kind of like that, but x100, and with everything.
When you think about the things you used to love doing – your hobbies, your favourite movie or book, listening to the music you love – there’s just numbness. It means nothing to you anymore.
You go through the motions of getting up and going to work, sometimes you still manage to go through the motions of eating and self-care too, but the whole time you’re wondering what the point is. Why bother? You don’t feel anything. Nothing makes you happy anymore.
And it’s not that anything is making you constantly sad, either. You’re just… numb. But not numb in a way where you can throw caution to the wind and go and have a wild time and not care about the consequences, but numb like nothing matters. Nothing.
It’s like you’re constantly asking yourself ‘What’s the point?’ And the worst part is, you can never come up with an answer.
And so, in that moment, sometimes the answer is ‘There isn’t one’ and your thoughts really only go one place from there.
Here’s the other problem
It was hard to admit because, despite the fact I felt that way, every single time, I’d still go into work, I’d have a smile on my face and I’d be super happy around my workmates and anyone I spoke to on the phone or met with. I was ‘bubbly’. I went on as normal.
I’d engage with my family and my friends. I went to weddings and celebrated. I threw parties. I went on nights out and drank and laughed. I told jokes. I supported my friends. And I carried on even though every day and night I’d still be asking myself ‘What’s the point?’
And then I’d tell people about my depression. I heard ‘But why? People have it so much worse than you.’ I heard ‘I never would have guessed – you’re so happy!’ And it makes you want to never tell anyone again.
And here’s the thing – if you’re a good, well-meaning person, sometimes even if you’ve been through it, you want to tell people ‘It’ll get better.’ But how do you tell that to someone who truly believes it never will?
That’s the dilemma with depression.
All the things you need to do to help with your depression (eat better, sleep better, exercise more, think more positively) are all the things your depression won’t let you do. Including imagining a world where it ever gets better.
It’s… kinda bullshit.
And, yeah, it does get better. I know that, because it has got better for me every time. Part of that is luck because I know it doesn’t always work out that way for everyone.
What to do?
If you’re going through it, or know someone who has, you’ve got to talk about it, be open about how you feel with someone who isn’t going to tell you to just think more positively. And if they do, just know that they don’t really understand.
Depression is hard to talk about. It’s hard to explain. I remember when I wondered if I just shouldn’t tell anyone at all. Well, you should. Even if people don’t respond the way you hope they will, the more we share, the more we can understand.
And I’ll tell you from experience, it is possible for it to get better. I can’t tell you when though – I can only let you know that it’s possible.
What if someone tells you they’re depressed?
Don’t tell them all the great things they have going for them. They know, and not only does it not help, reminding them just makes it worse. There’s a guilt that comes with depression that you can’t explain and hearing how great you’re supposed to have it just sounds like a guilt trip: ‘You shouldn’t be feeling this way’ – but depression doesn’t follow those rules. Don’t try and put things in perspective.
You can say ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m here for you.’ And keep in touch with them – even when they don’t reply, even when they seem fine, even when it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sooner or later they just might finally believe again that people care.
If you want more resources, visit Mind here.
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