Depression is a dark iron cage

This is an anonymous guest post about chronic depression.

A long time ago, depression was a hard dark cage. I felt it ever tighter upon me. It was heavy and it hurt.

Now, after years, I’m strong enough to carry the full weight of the cage, and the pain is dulled by my scars and calluses.

My despair no longer destroys me; I can usually clean my teeth and wash my clothes. I can build a semblance of personality and greet people with genuine warmth. I can, for the most part, work.

It is all ash in my mouth.

I’m happy to see my friends, I really truly am, but joy is smothered and muted. I laugh, sometimes I’m fortunate enough to even giggle, but it is only a fleeting respite. A moment. I’m truly sad to say goodbye. Come the evening, I’m mortified – missing what was once, or what could be. I feel alone. I feel desperately separated and separate.

In short, every positive emotion is muted. I feel a little happiness, I feel a little curious, I feel a little surprised. I am never taken over by emotion, unless it’s self-doubt.

Generally, my mind is empty. I wonder what I might do. I try to think about my life goals, my objectives for this month (professional and personal) but nothing matters. Desires and decisions are driven by emotion, and I am flatlining. It is all the same. It is all ash.

Other times, perhaps fuelled by anxiety, my mind is full of cascading thoughts, forever triggering a branching of possibilities and future outcomes. I could do this! But what about that? I could just do that, but what about them? They might not need that, but what if I try it this way? Want to know what to avoid when setting up your new business? Ask me for my comprehensive 260 page report on risks and repercussions – my brain works it all out like a miserable map of the future.

I’m quietly overwhelmed with multiple options, and yet I value autonomy, flexibility, and freedom to act above all else. I look at my task list, at all the wonderful work I’ve agreed to do, and I can’t prioritise anything. If I start task A, then task B may well turn out to be more important. If I start task B, well, task A might’ve been more urgent. Why did I start task B? And there are about ten tasks on my list every day. In reality, I can do about five tasks a day.

Would I be less overwhelmed if I wasn’t depressed and anxious? Could I work harder for longer? I believe so. I believe my peers and friends work hard. I believe that hard work is morally right; redemptive even. My beliefs are rooted in the Victorian era – I assume I am valuable because of what I produce. I under-estimate workload all the time, and I under-charge for my time and expertise, because ‘time’ isn’t real and I don’t value my experience. There are louder people than me who seem better than me. So I believe (stupid beliefs!) that I could work harder if I was well and free of this dark iron cage. And so I force myself to work harder at all times – I cannot use depression as an excuse! It’s all in my head anyway! It’s just a feeling, and who has time for feelings when there’s business to do?

Someone who had shown kindness to me during a severe bought of debilitating depression (a long time ago) was then diagnosed with depression. During our conversation, they flat out compared their suffering to mine by saying that, unlike my illness, theirs was ‘clinical organic depression’. Their doctor said so. It was official. What was my depression then? Psychological? Psychological depression? Mental depression? A sad feeling? (I was clinically diagnosed and relying on several forms of therapy.)

I’ve always carried that with me; my depression isn’t bad enough. I can tweet. I can watch trash TV. I often go shopping for toys and gadgets. I function. (When I accidentally say something to upset your boyfriend, it’s because I’m a social idiot, not because I’m mentally ill.)

I can function, and so I do. I work long hours. I take on work. But I manage my time badly (at least, that’s the thing you say, isn’t it?), my task list for one week is enough for two. Because if I have an off day, I achieve less. Then the next day I’ve twice as much to do, and it’s not possible. The knock on effect is considerable – everything is too much, I can’t actually see success and I feel either numb to the point of nihilism, or so overwhelmed that the only way to calm the my addled mind is to fantasise about quitting – about the feeling of having no overdue commitment and no looming deadlines. Oh what that must feel like! To not have big urgent checkboxes on the calendar. To not ever have to send an email asking for ‘one more day’. To not work in to the evening, tapping away while both caring deeply about the quality of my work and also not caring at all as I’m emotionally hollow.

I can change many aspects of my life, but how do you make a choice? Either I’m overwhelmed by the ever-branching decision tree, or I’m numb to the value of any particular possibility. It is all ash. It is all grey. How can I choose one grey over another, slightly more grey grey? What to change? What? What?

Painting credit: Christian Edler – Echoes (oil on canvas) – used with explicit permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.