So What Is Depression?
Almost overnight, depression seems to have become the disease of the 21st Century. A virus of the mind, it overtakes the strongest, yet has also been appropriated by the duvet generation to justify their lethargic malaise.
So what is living with depression really like ? For me, with 1 notable exception, depression has always been linked with hormonal imbalances – puberty, an endocrinal illness, post-natal depression and then the exception: divorce. It first landed on me in my teens, then my twenties, then my thirties, and now, as I step into my forties, I am trying to tip toe away from it, yet keep yo-yoing back like someone trying to escape a bungee cord.
Depression for me is like a wet, miserable Thursday in November. It feels dark, heavy, gloomy – there is no light. For someone defined by their sparkle, this is the hardest fact of all. JK Rowling had it so right when she created the Dementors, for depression truly does drain you of the vibrancy of emotion, and reduce you to pure, banal, survival mode.
For me, I can feel it coming. It creeps up in the shadows, toying with me. I’ll have the odd day here and there where I have that gloomy feeling, but I can shake it off and convince myself I’m ok. And so, she dances round me for a few days, like a butterfly clinging to the shadows.
A while later, I’ll realise I’ve felt a bit funky for a couple of days in a row now, but nothing to worry about, I’ll be fine tomorrow. Often, you don’t realise depression has snared you until you’re in the net, sinking under and not at all inclined to struggle for air.
Sylvia Plath likened her depression to a bell jar, a life of stale air at one remove, where nothing could touch you or be touched, and where life was lived by remote. For me, this captures some of it, as does Stephen King’s short story The Langoliers, where life again is stale, drained of intensity and faded at the corners.
For me, it’s like living under a heavy see-through dark cloak. I can see the real world around me, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it, but it can’t reach me. Everything is an effort, even thought itself, and nothingness is a frighteningly accessible state of mind. It’s a bit like living in a cocoon, or having padding around you – nothing, NOTHING, can reach you.
I often think this is why I also tend to extremes. The only way I can hear is to be loud. The only way to feel joy is to laugh excessively. It’s only by going over the top that you can begin to experience emotion, sensation and colour in a remotely real way. This is why 1 nail varnish can’t bring joy but 20 at a time can. It’s the reason why a handbag has to be insanely expensive to even register on the radar. It’s the reason why we hoard and over-purchase – only too much can attempt to convince us we are anywhere near enough.
It’s the same with food. In a life that feels bland, empty and distant, only something gargantuan in size, taste or calories can touch the sides and activate the senses.
It’s life under water, in a bubble, slightly suffocated, but not so fussed you want to do anything about it. You trundle on, a bit like a hamster on a wheel, foolishly assuming that one day that wheel will fall of its axle and land you in a better place. Of course, it never does.
It’s hard to do anything about depression, because its greatest strength is its ability to paralyse, to place the person in an emotional coma where impetus and energy are conditions of the past. Life isn’t lived; we exist. You find yourself in an airspace of one, remote and alone, and where the comfort of the duvet is as close as you come to peace.
You want to live again, you really do, but the mere thought of it is exhausting. You begrudge the things you have to do to exist. Just getting up feels like a chore. A To-Do List becomes your worst nightmare, because why do when you just don’t care? Personal hygiene doesn’t register too highly either. The effort of shaving your legs can be avoided with trousers, and if you’re all alone on the weekend, who’s going to notice if you haven’t brushed your teeth or you stay in your PJs?
You look at people genuinely living their lives with bemusement and exhaustion, partly envious, partly bitter. You have no comprehension how life can be attacked in such a way as you lie there, slowly being poisoned by the depression that has stalked you for so long.
You don’t want to feel this way; you just do. Depression kills, but in a slow, dull way. Madness and mania attract the headlines and the flamboyant reckless acts of daring and death; depression just …. well, carries on. Depression is the opposite of living, the opposite of loving, and the opposite of community – there is only room for one when you are depressed.
Eventually, when you realise nothing can capture your attention, imagination or delight, you find yourself at the doctors. You know you need help, and they know it too. The difficulty is that help takes at least 2 weeks to get into your system, and this makes time stretch very slowly indeed. But sometimes, you know, the drugs DO work, and peace can be restored, and balance can be regained.
And sometimes, well sometimes you just have to accept that depression will be your shadow for life.