What is depression to you? To me it’s an invisible illness whose symptoms feel almost physical. A hammering in my chest from anxiety; a sore head from trying to wade my way through a sea of foggy thoughts. It’s a prickly panic that washes over me when I’m outside. It’s being obsessed with fitness and my weight but also treating my body like a garbage can at the weekend. It’s starting to tremble when trying to make even the simplest of choices (what to have for dinner.) Its mourning the loss of myself and of my bravery. It’s resisting the urge to quit. It’s wanting to be alone, even though I don’t want to be lonely – and that’s what depression is first and foremost. For me, it’s lonely.
Since it’s mental health awareness week I wanted to share my more recent experiences with mental-health.
It’s a day of confusing weather, where looking up at the exposed sun makes the chilled air feel colder. My head sinks down so I’m avoiding eye contact with everyone I pass on the street. Even though a frosty bite still laces the spring air, I feel sticky and warm – a side-effect of anxiety over being outside. I’ve only just left my building. Today already feels too much.
I’ve been off for a while; my mood ever changing, my emotions palpable; my mental health has been wobbly at best. “I’m going to die alone as nobody loves me” has become a refrain I mutter so often it might as well be my catch phrase. I struggle to find ways to release this expression of agony, so I’ve been using all my energy to disguise it, to act normal yet I know it’s coming. I know my mental health has taken bad turn, and I know the it’s going to reach its peak depth shortly.
Like a racist relative at a family gathering I tried my hardest to avoid it. I try to run from depression in a way that is so pointless it’s almost comical (please picture Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz, pedalling aggressively to avoid the coming tornado.) Yet no matter what I do, or how gallantly I try to fend it off, it somehow coils itself around me, tightening with every moment that ticks by.
Living in this way feels restrictive at best and repulsive at worst. It can feel as though you have been chemically changed and rewired, and this new program setting sees you act in ways that are completely foreign. When the inevitable happens, when it sets in, a robotic coldness lays waste to my emotions and I find myself wanting-but-unable-to weep. The independence I once prized has been replaced by a mourning that feels like it can only be sated by excessive napping or alcohol – and even those are temporary. Soon I realise the only thing left to do is ride it out; to survive the day. Because realistically, when you feel like this, that’s an achievement in itself.
Currently I am limping through each day feeling like little more than a shell, acting out the motions in a way that seems under rehearsed. Around friends I’ve been disconnected but it translated as uninterested, some have said ‘rude.’ I started to avoid social media with the same gusto I did as a child desperate to avoid vegetables. Even though social media allows us to experience the illusion of a connection and togetherness, it also causes me to retreat further into myself; hammering in a reminder that I’m sat behind a screen, lonelier than ever. No partner by my side, no friends driving over, looking in at the lives of people that aren’t held back by this horrible illness.
When it gets to boiling point I find myself ruminating, almost obsessively, about telling someone – as if I were about to confess to the murder of a family of farmers. I consider the option of calling a friend to complain about the chaos of my day or the fact my t-shirt doesn’t sit right. I consider talking about every mundane problem I can think of to avoid talking about the real issue: that I want to hurt myself. I try to ship myself from this reality to some distant place where I don’t feel this way. I lay across my bed and message several people, ‘Sup.’ I type. Then I sit and wait on both a reply and the courage to talk about how I am really feeling.
“I’ll just say I feel unstable today, rather than suicidal.” That’s my plan. Before I’ve even asked for help I’m already subconsciously apologising for it. I’m not exaggerating when I say I spend hours weighing up the pros “it’ll stop me hurting myself” and the cons, “I’m just going to sound like a moaning bitch.” But my hesitation isn’t unjust because, like so many of us, I’ve had bad experiences in the past.
Sometimes I’ve found my cries for help have been met with short remarks and uncertainty. I’ve been told to get on with it, that it could be worse, that everyone has down days and you need to just get over it. I greet these comments with a stony silence but inside I’m screaming. I’m thinking that these same people wouldn’t tell someone struck down my a physical illness to get up and walk – so why do they expect someone with mental health issues to be able to act differently? Just because the symptoms aren’t always blatant, or psychical, doesn’t mean there isn’t an illness crippling the person. Simply because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it any less real.
I decided that I can’t talk to anyone – not in a way that’s honest enough for it to be cathartic. So I opt to make a list, on actual paper, of things I like to do, activities that make me happy. Even though the pleasure these things bring me is temporarily frosted over by a depressing chill, I know that one day soon it’ll thaw.
All this has gone through my head and I’m still just standing at the entrance of my building. I have replayed the last week in my head. These moments feel like lifetimes. So how do I get back to my normal life and solo thoughts? How do I overcome this irrational fear that’s blanketed over me? How do I regain my independence? I don’t; I just learn that these feelings are a part of me, and that I have learn to live with them.
I decided to step down the street armed with a different mindset. In the dimming orange of the morning sun I set off to the gym . It was simple, just one step at a time. Each foot fell in front of the other and I heard the voice of anxiety telling me to go home; the nagging bark of depression saying I am too tired to do anything other than sit down and eat multiple bags of crisps. I ignore both. I keep going.
As I’m walking I remember other moments in life that I’ve battled through, and I cling to those times for strength. I let each negative thought bounce about in my head and succumb to the numbing effect that comes from the knowledge that this feeling is temporary. My mental health will not make demands any longer. I have made the choice to face the world whilst carrying this awful feeling around, but also refusing to be weighed down by it. I will take it day by day, one step at a time, with the power and presence of someone who can tolerate both this doomed feeling and also himself.
If you’re struggling with your mental please contact one of the numbers below:
Samaritans of Glasgow: 0141 248 4488
Samaritans: 116 123
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): 0800 58 58 58
Papyrus 0800 068 41 41 or text 07786 209697