Living with depression
Depression. It’s arguably one of the most incorrectly used words. Too many people exclaim that they’re depressed when they’re not. They might be feeling down, sad, upset; but they’re not depressed, and probably never have been. I don’t mean to judge, after all, it can be difficult for one to understand the difference between a cold and flu, or a headache and a migraine, unless they’ve experienced both. The same goes for depression. You might empathise, but unless you’ve experienced depression, you just don’t know what it feels like. I think part of the problem is that people expect to be ‘happy’ all the time. That’s just not how life is, or how humans are designed. Everybody feels down sometimes; it’s perfectly normal and natural. It’s not depression. Depression is a chronic and debilitating illness that robs a person of part (and sometimes sadly all) of themselves.
I rarely use the word depression; perhaps occasionally with a close friend who I know understands the word, but never in every day life or conversation. Yet it’s an illness I live with constantly. Does that mean I feel depressed every day? No, it doesn’t. What it means is that I battle depression every single day. It’s a constant and ongoing war.
Silent and invisible
Like self-injury, depression is often a personal and secretive struggle. If I met you for coffee today, you’d never know of the scars beneath my clothes, or the darkness inside my head. In the same way that fabric hides my self-injury, my ‘character’ hides my depression. You’d find me friendly and warm; bubbly and chatty; hopefully both interesting and interested. You’d be right; I am those things. Depression doesn’t define me, because I don’t allow it to. So the person you’d meet isn’t fake, she’s just worked very hard to hide and suppress the enemy within.
Know your enemy
Like any battle, it pays to know your enemy. It’s taken me years to get to know mine well enough in order to manage my life fairly normally. I’ve learnt to recognise the signs that I’m becoming ill. I’ve learnt how my depression works, what feeds it and what starves it. I’ve learnt how it affects my thoughts, my behaviours and my ability to function. But that’s only the beginning; in order to stand a chance against depression I must put all of this knowledge into action. And that’s not only incredibly difficult, but it can be exhausting in itself.
A person’s strategy for managing and coping with depression will be different for everyone, and depend not only upon themselves but upon their environment and lifestyle. For me, it’s about taking time for myself where I can, to do the things that I enjoy. I’m lucky that my pleasures are fairly simply and easily accessible. I’m lucky that I’ve experienced a great deal in life, joy but also tragedy, as it has given me a wider perspective. I don’t take the small things for granted, and so I’m able to seek out small pleasures wherever I am and however I’m feeling. This simplicity helps me to cope.
There are times when I struggle to cope with depression; when it starts to take a real hold of me. This is a really scary time for me because I feel as though I’m literally on the edge of complete insanity and breakdown. My mind knows this, but I feel so awful that it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain my strategy. I become trapped in that hellish place where I know what I need to do to help myself, but somehow just don’t have what it takes to do so. This is a time of desperation; of reaching out, of drowning not waving. And sometimes, well, sometimes self-injury helps.
Depression and self-injury
Sometimes self-injury can calm the storm long enough for me to regain a grip of my strategy. Or sometimes it just calms me enough in order for me to sleep / stay in bed for 36 hours while I rest my body and mind in the hope that they’ll start working normally again. I’m writing this as I sit at my computer after one such stint, and I’m writing it in hindsight. The reality is that while I’m that unwell, I don’t rest at all as my mind is overloaded with thoughts, and I sure as hell don’t hope. The word ‘hope’ disappears from my vocabulary. But gradually things do start to quieten down and eventually I’ll notice a bird singing outside, or I’ll reach for my phone and read my friends’ tweets, and without even noticing it I’ll start to rejoin the world.
Not so simple
I make recovery sound fast and idealistic. Of course it’s not really like that, and I can be inwardly unwell for weeks or months at a time. These ‘crisis episodes’ occur when it all gets too much. They’re just part of the process, part of the journey. And they’re often more sinister than I ever let on.
Depression and suicide
I think everybody knows that depression can lead to suicide, and although it’s something I don’t really want to talk about, I don’t think I can discuss depression without mentioning it. Depression robs a person of hope. Everything is black and dark and unending. The pain of depression can be excruciating, even when it’s a numb, unfeeling pain, and it can become impossible to believe that it will ever end. When you’re severely depressed, literally everything is painful; from the crack of light coming through the curtains, to the slightest noise. You just want everything to stop; and sometimes it can feel as though the only way to do that is to end one’s life.
There’s no denying that depression is a devastating illness, but there is hope. Modern therapies and medication can both help a person to cope with depression and lead fulfilling lives. Even without professional help, I’m living proof that a diagnosis of clinical depression doesn’t have to mean a life of misery and pain. Sure, it feels like it at times, but if you learn about your illness, and most importantly learn how it affects you personally, you can develop strategies to combat it. That doesn’t mean it won’t affect your life, but it means you can learn to protect your life and keep on top of the ongoing war.
Depression is a flaw of chemistry, not of character.
Photo credit: jugbo
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