I have many bugbears in life. From the way Americans pronounce “herbal” to used teaspoons not being put in the sink, my irritability knows no bounds. One of my major irks is the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Mainly because they are common, and they do not define who a person is. I also think it’s important to let people know that if things are not right, they are not alone.
So, let’s talk about one of the most common mental health issues – depression.
Winston Churchill had frequent bouts – he used to call it his “Black Dog”. I’m not sure why that particular snippet stayed with me from GCSE history, but, when I was diagnosed with depression for the first time, that imagery rang true with me. A lot of time has passed since then, and I’ve learnt many things about depression, both through personal experience, and working in mental health.
My first episode featured irritability and crying at the drop of a hat at least five times a day. I also had nasty little seeds sprouting in my thoughts that it would be better for all involved if I just didn’t wake up in the morning, which were frightening. I was prescribed antidepressants which initially made me feel an emotional numbness that was a blessed relief. I went to see a counsellor, and had several sessions with him, which, at the time, were difficult but helpful. I remember he asked once how I would draw my depression. I think I must have just seen the first Lord of the Rings film, because all I could think of was Orcs trying to push me under wet earth.
My most recent episode featured nausea inducing anxiety and sleepless nights. There was a period lasting about a month where I simply could not face getting out of bed or getting dressed. It seemed like I needed a system reset – the equivalent of turning the computer off and on again.
Over the years I’ve realised that my Black Dog/Orc Monster/Looming Shadow of Doom has certain characteristics. I question my abilities and I wonder when people will realise that I am a big fake. I become tearful. I worry constantly, imagining worst case scenarios as absolute certainties. My thoughts feel slowed down, as if I am doing the cerebral equivalent of wading through treacle, decision making becomes impossible. I usually berate myself for being so weak as to “let myself” get like this again – I manage to help other people who are feeling like this, but I can’t help myself? This of course, I decide, means that I must be terrible at my job, and so it goes on.
Whilst some people with depression experience similar things, others don’t. This is largely because depression enhances the individuals’ doubts and worries about themselves, and we all have different fears and weaknesses.
There are some characteristics however, that many people with depression share. General feelings of sadness, worry, or both, which last longer than a couple of weeks. Sleep is often an issue – maybe you can’t stop sleeping, or you are finding it harder and harder to get sleep, and are feeling permanently tired. You might notice changes in your appetite – maybe you can’t face food at all or maybe you can’t stop eating. Maybe you have gone off sex, or intimacy in any form. Maybe the way you think has changed, and you can only see negativity. Maybe you have even had terrible and frightening thoughts about just wanting to not be here anymore. Maybe the future seems impossible, and your future hopes and dreams seem to be fading away, and things you used to enjoy doing feel like a chore.
If any of these things sound like they might apply to you, then the first thing to remember is that by its very nature, depression makes you want to cut yourself off , and it’s very important not to – find a couple of people you can trust, and tell them how you feel. Go and see a GP that you have a good relationship with, and talk about treatment options. Be very honest about any thoughts of harming yourself, because these may mean that you need additional support and help you through these feelings safely. And most of all, never let your Orc Monster convince you that you don’t deserve to get better, because you do.
If the worst happens, and you are feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t go on, speak to someone immediately – don’t suffer those thoughts alone. Speak to someone, a friend, your partner, or even go to your nearest accident and emergency department and get help there. It’s also well worth looking at the websites for MIND and Depression Alliance for information, and never forget that help lines such as the Samaritans are there 24 hours a day.
It may seem like dark shadows are all around, but the sun always comes up. Depression is temporary and if you are suffering from depression, it invariably goes away. I can testify to that.
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