I start to think there really is no cure for depression, that happiness is an ongoing battle, and I wonder if it isn’t one I’ll have to fight for as long as I live. I wonder if it’s worth it.
I was diagnosed with depression as a teenager. I can’t remember the exact year, or the way in which I was diagnosed. I cannot remember if it was my own doctor or a psychiatrist. I simply know that one day I was given the answer to the all-encompassing numbness and apathy I had felt for most of my life.
I was a melancholy child, prone to fits of high-anxiety and crippling shyness. Shy and often self-absorbed, I preferred playing on my own to joining the groups of screaming schoolfriends; it’s not that I didn’t want to join in, I just didn’t see a reason to. I had friends, but my habit of wandering off on my own and staring into space for hours alienated me in a way I didn’t understand until much, much later. As a child, you assume that everybody else thinks the way you do, and it’s only when you’re old enough to see outside your small world that you realise that not everybody lies awake at night wondering what it would feel like to be dead, how your funeral would pan out. Not every seven year old takes a large handful of hayfever tablets, just to see what might happen.
I have often thought that I was born depressed. Not born with depression, but naturally prone to feeling numb and unhappy with nothing in particular. Depression runs in my family, and genetically I have both a mother and father who have lived with it. Environmentally, I’ve seen family members crushed under the weight of depression throughout my life.
So, what is depression?
For me, it’s a feeling of total lack of respect, for myself and others. It’s a deep, dark numbness which can’t be alleviated by anything. It’s the inability to laugh or cry with any real emotion; it’s the total lack of emotion, the opposite of feeling. It’s a wall which comes slamming down around me, removing me from the world and trapping me behind unbreakable glass. I can see the world, I can see and hear people and conversations, but they’re blurred as though seen through frosted windows in a soundproofed room. It’s when food and drink is tasteless and unsatisfying, when music becomes an annoyance rather than a joy, it’s the need to keep my bedroom curtains closed at all times because the sun is simply too much to cope with.
Depression is the beast which makes me sleep for days on end, an unrelenting tiredness. It’s lying awake at night, counting the seconds until morning when I can tick another failed day off my ever-growing list. It’s the inability to lift a coffee cup without huge effort, the climb up the stairs which feels like a trip up Mt. Everest. It’s staring at a wall for hours, completely unaware of time passing.
I once had to fill in a form in the local out-of-hours GP clinic, after refusing to get out of bed for over three weeks. I wasn’t eating, was sleeping strange hours, and felt removed from everything around me. I started to consider just how easy it would be to overdose or simply disappear. In a rare fit of concern for myself, I decided to get medical help, if only to save my family the heartache of thinking they’d failed me.
One of the questions was, “have you felt sad or tearful for more than two weeks?”
I hadn’t. I hadn’t felt anything, anything at all. I hadn’t cried or felt sorry for myself, and I remember thinking that I would give anything to truly feel sadness. To feel something real. As a result, I was sent away with the advice to “try and take it easy for a while”. What I wanted was a referral, even a place in the local mental hospital. Anything to save me from sinking further into the dark blanket which had become my best friend and protector. I wasn’t crazy enough though, I was supposedly coping; all because I wasn’t sad.
I have attempted suicide in the past. However, it has never been when I’m depressed, because depression saps my energy and takes away the will to do anything, let alone end my own life. In a way, depression has saved me many times because although the thoughts and feelings are there, the sheer effort of peeling myself off the bed and finding tablets or a razor is just too much for my exhausted brain to contemplate. Each time I have attempted to kill myself, it’s been during a fit of anxiety, during a panic attack. When I experience those, I have boundless energy. I can cry, I can laugh, I can even run. However, depression takes away my ability to do any of those things. It removes everything I love; music, reading, gaming, writing. It puts them out of my reach and convinces me that there’s no point in even trying.
I don’t shower. I don’t brush my hair. I don’t wash my face or brush my teeth for weeks on end. I stay in my pyjamas, too lethargic to even get dressed. At my worst, I sleep with the light on. I ignore the phone and answer questions with grunts and silence.
Wikipedia describes major depressive disorder (what I suffer from) as:
A person having a major depressive episode usually exhibits a very low mood, which pervades all aspects of life, and an inability to experience pleasure in activities that were formerly enjoyed. Depressed people may be preoccupied with, or ruminate over, thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self-hatred. In severe cases, depressed people may have symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms include delusions or, less commonly, hallucinations, usually unpleasant. Other symptoms of depression include poor concentration and memory (especially in those with melancholic or psychotic features), withdrawal from social situations and activities, reduced sex drive, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Insomnia is common among the depressed. In the typical pattern, a person wakes very early and cannot get back to sleep, but insomnia can also include difficulty falling asleep. Insomnia affects at least 80% of depressed people. Hypersomnia, or oversleeping, can also happen, affecting 15% of depressed people. Some antidepressants may also cause insomnia due to their stimulating effect.
A depressed person may report multiple physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or digestive problems; physical complaints are the most common presenting problem in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization’s criteria for depression. Appetite often decreases, with resulting weight loss, although increased appetite and weight gain occasionally occur. Family and friends may notice that the person’s behavior is either agitated or lethargic.
I think that ‘low mood’ is being very generous. It’s the lowest mood it’s possible to feel. It bypasses the entire idea of mood and becomes a feeling in its own right, one which there is no word for. Psychosis is something I can relate to; I often have auditory hallucinations when severely depressed, or see shadows out of the corner of my eye. I’d be afraid if I wasn’t so incapable of reacting. Sometimes I hear whispering in my head, unclear words and mutterings which seem to come at me from every angle.
Self-hatred does feature, but usually I feel so detatched from everything that my whole sense of ‘self’ is skewed and pointless. I feel entirely unreal, like in the book Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. In it, she describes biting her hand in an attempt to ‘feel’. To know she’s real. I relate to that. I have often bitten my own hand, or slapped my own face, or chewed the inside of my mouth until I bleed, just to reassure myself that I’m not existing in a dream.
There is a reason why depression is called The Black Dog; it dogs you. It follows you around like a faithful companion, begging to be fed and entertained. It lies on top of you at night, crushing you under its weight and refusing to budge.
- A Spectrum of Depression (asthependulumswings.wordpress.com)
- Happily Depressed (halfwaybetweenthegutter.wordpress.com)
- …. (iamalexia.wordpress.com)
- Depression (birdmartin.wordpress.com)
- Accept It: That’s Just How You Feel (quitthecure.com)
- The Stranger with My Face: Depression Revealed (quitthecure.com)
- living with the black dog (janinerudin.wordpress.com)
- Depression: When I Got It, Why I Got It, and How I Deal With It. (insolenceandimpertinence.wordpress.com)
- What Mental Illness is to Me (kstruggles.wordpress.com)
- A way Out…. Depressed (elliebloo.wordpress.com)
- I’ve been up all night
- Back to the beginning – depression
- The spiral
- Last therapy session