So, the village I live in is flooding and I’m not having too much of a good time either. This bout of depression/insomnia is a real arse-kicker. The insomnia’s been going on nearly a month now, the pit of depression at a ‘can’t cope any more’ level for about two weeks. The flood actually makes a good metaphor for the depression as day by day, inch by inch your defences get worn down and the water rises higher, threatening to drown you.
I already do everything I can do to mitigate this FUCKING BRAIN DISORDER I’ve been saddled with. I take the pills. I see a therapist every week (what am I, Californian?) I try to intellectualise, process and distance the emotions that are hurting me, to remove the factors that make it worse, to understand where it comes from and what sets it off.
And it’s no good. The fact of the matter is that there’s something physically wrong with my brain and all the psychobabble and barely-understood psychiatric drugs can do is cushion me a little and stretch out the patches where I’m a functional human being.
I know, like I tell others with this problem, that this will pass and I’ll feel OK again – and I will.
But ‘OK’ isn’t enough. I want to feel happy. I can’t actually remember the last time I felt happy. I can remember happy patches in the distant past but otherwise, no. I can feel angry, authentically sad, awed, full of wonder, many other emotions but not actually happy. Momentarily content seems to be the best I can hope to accomplish.
I lie to you all, constantly, about how I feel. Put on a happy face, a joke, a laugh, a witticism but it’s all a terrible struggle and physically and mentally exhausting to pretend to be a normal human being day in, day out. I am absolutely terrified of going into the red in everyone’s sympathy bank. This black pit of despair wears me out, it must be boring, strenuous and difficult for people unfortunate enough to be my friends.
How can I expect my business partners to put up with this if I’m out of action – effectively – for many weeks in a year and barely functional for others? How can I keep deadlines, take the strain, help out or otherwise be anything than a liability?
How can I expect my wife to put up with this and stay with me? To patiently cope and take up the slack when I can’t, when she already works very hard and deals with life’s little disruptions for the both of us.
I want a child. Is it fair to bring a child into the world with a mentally ill parent and a good chance of inheriting the disorder, or is it selfish narcissism?
I don’t want to lose my friends, my family, because they don’t understand or they lose patience with me. I don’t want to admit when I feel bad not only for fear of losing people but because I care about them so much I want to spare them the pain I know they feel, that I feel, when someone they care about is in pain.
My drugs are up (150mg Sertraline now) and a short course of sleeping pills to try and get my sleep pattern back on track. While I was at the doctor though, I caught sight of some private letters relating to my diagnosis and treatment from my old CBT counsellor and psychiatrist, before I left the CMH’s remit (Community Mental Health). It didn’t make pleasant reading (I read very quickly). Anxiety, severe depression and dependency was the headline. The detail was a bit too personal, even though I try to share in the hopes it helps people understand and helps others with the same problems, but let’s just say it wasn’t very flattering at all. It is almost certain that I will be coping with and managing this stupid fuckbrain of mine for the rest of my life.
That is not a nice prospect.
Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. You are sad, desperately sad, for long periods of time. The power and grief of losing a parent, sibling or friend in intensity but for no explicable reason. You’re just sad. Nothing you do makes any impact on this sadness while you’re feeling it and you’re so desperate NOT to feel sad (or anything) that self harm, drink, spending as much time as possible asleep, all these things become palatable just to have to not feel soul-crushingly tired any more. At these points even suicide starts to seem like an option, even for someone as intellectually dead set against the idea as I am.
I do everything I can to drown out that little naysayer in my head. Keep my mind engaged from the moment I get up until the moment I go to sleep. I play games, I write, I argue – endlessly – in part from my conscience but also just to keep busy. I deal with my own pain by trying to ignore it and to help others. I raise money, spread the word when people are in need, try to reassure and support people that need it, try to be a good person – even if I don’t feel like one. Even this feels inauthentic though. Am I helping people for good reason or just to make myself feel better? Even this… talking about it, being open about it – which people think is brave or helping – why am I really doing it?
This is depression’s ‘superpower’, overanalysing and doubting every motive for everything you do.
Now I know that the professionals think I’m going to be dealing with this all my life and that it will likely get worse and harder to manage.
Knowing that you’re going to be feeling this same, spirit-crushing grief for the rest of your life and may never feel happy again. Just imagine that. Think how it feels. Think what lengths you might go to to dull the pain or block it out.
Then there’s the shame. Mental health issues do not feel like real issues. Like being poor, disabled or unemployed in modern Britain being mentally ill is seen as ‘shirking’. Even if you don’t really believe it yourself you feel somehow ‘inauthentic’. Every time I manage to force a smile on my face or make a joke a little voice inside my head tells me that I’m not really depressed, because if I were I wouldn’t be able to do that. Wouldn’t be able to perform, or joke. In a perverse turn of events I am gut-churningly jealous, jealous, of people with physical disorders whose authenticity is more rarely challenged. People I admire and care about like Mandy, Alex, Jamie and more whose coping ability is legendary but who have crutches, or wheelchairs, or braces that SHOW that they’re ill.
There’s shame too in that this is all a horrible stereotype. The locked away writer with depression, the ageing goth getting by on pills and spite.
I’m a living cliché.
I don’t know what more to do or how to cope. I’ll probably be a lot better off after a couple of proper nights of rest but I’m low as hell and terrified my friends and loved ones are going to get bored of dealing with me being like this, tired of futilely trying to prop me up or make me accept a compliment. I’m scared of losing my job, my wife, my friends and my life to this horrible, fucking, disease in my brain.
You’ll be tempted to write platitudes to me on Facebook and Twitter or in the comments and it’s not going to help, at least not right now. Later, when I come out of this it might but, if you’re going to say anything I want you to really think about it. Not just say something quick and reassuring. Really think about what I’ve said here. I’m lucid, if tired and depressed, and I’m trying to explain and show what this is like.
This is the long haul. I’ve got to adjust my thinking and anyone who calls me their friend is going to have to do the same.
I’m sorry I’m a burden, and don’t tell me I’m not.