An achingly honest account of how the fog of depression can taint even the happiness of ‘having it all’
Barrister Annie (not her real name) shares her story.
“And today I realised that I am the biggest hypocrite of them all. I tell everyone to keep holding on. That there is light at the end. That everything gets better as long as you continue to wait. I tell people to have hope. That they need to keep trying because it’s too early to give up. That they have so much to live for. Then there is me. And I am barely holding on.”
This is how I feel often. So, here is my attempt to touch on the depression that touches my life.
I’m not clinically depressed, I’m not on any medications and I am not suicidal. I don’t have any symptoms that are obvious and there are many, many times when I laugh and giggle. I don’t profess to claim that the things that affect me are life threatening and I am perfectly aware that there are so many people with more serious issues.
That doesn’t stop the sadness and it doesn’t stop the darkness.
The feelings of numbness are only countered by the sudden and unpredictable waves of sharply intense fear or sadness. I never understood that sadness could be felt so physically, an actual ache, a physical manifestation of the angst. When it’s not engulfing me, this sadness remains in the background, never going away. Receding sometimes but also edging forward to tap you on the shoulder to remind you of its presence.
I have the job, the home, the family, the friends and the insight. I have enough nouse to know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I now, finally, am also beginning to understand that it’s ok for me to feel the way that I do.
State of mind is not always dependent on putting all the building blocks in place. Human nature is so much more complex.
A quick search through that old favourite, google, produces a mass of information about depression and the reality of how many people are affected at different times of their life becomes rapidly apparent. It also provides some comfort to know that what I am feeling, or perhaps not feeling is real and valid.
I find it difficult to come to terms with the way our world has expanded, with how fast things are developing around us and with the expectations placed upon us by ourselves and others. The rapid development around technology means we are constantly in demand, the ability to shut ourselves away doesn’t seem to exist anymore and with so many ‘expert’ opinions about every aspect of our lives, who do we listen to?
Once upon a time I used to take time, on the occasions when I finished early from work, to stop, for a lunch on my own. Enjoy a glass of wine with good food and immerse myself in the latest novel that was enthralling me. It was my little time with myself before getting back to face the world. Then the children came along and that time became less and less available. The guilt of being a working mum fed into the need to get home as soon as possible. As the number of children increased, the time for myself decreased even more. Now I can’t read even a single page of a good book, the words swim before my eyes.
Add into the mix, along with the sleepless nights, the children starting school and all that comes with that particular time of life, the need to be available and demands and expectations only increase. Disproportionally, I think, but nonetheless very real.
Sustaining relationships becomes so much more difficult and before you know it time has slipped away, taking with it people who may have been so much more, while you have been busy trying not to drop a single piece of the juggling act you wake up to every morning. Those who remain around you are treated to a terse dismissive half hearted part of you. There simply isn’t any more to give.
Wellness seems to be the topic of the moment. Whilst welcomed I don’t know how it can be implemented in my life. I can only send and respond to emails late at night or early in the morning or over the weekend. I can’t just take a day off work because I feel unwell or crawl into bed and ignore those who depend on me.
All the while it becomes harder and harder to let anyone know that you are slipping, falling and floundering. Everyone sees you as the one to look up to, the older one who made it first. The confident go getter who has everything. Why does the mirror in my mind project such a different reflection?
The intense feelings of failure for forgetting to get milk or bread so there is nothing for breakfast or that its mufti today, or to put the next load of washing in time or getting to court on time, putting enough effort into all that is required around you. Relentless and unforgiving, the need to be on top of things becomes stronger while the reality is the slow painful observation of those juggling balls falling to the ground. And that’s all before anything really serious comes along – that’s another ball game. Wanting time to stop for a while, so I can take a deep breath, put this weary mind and body down for a moment and find some energy from somewhere.
Recently I sat with my husband, helping him learn his lines for the latest play he is performing in. “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan is billed as the funniest play you will ever see about depression. It’s based around a child whose mother is suicidal and he tries to help her by reminding her why life is worth living.
That evening I found myself engulfed in joy for a brief few seconds when the two separate parts of the recipe I was cooking came together. Like the ingredients of a mystical potion combining to create a thing of beauty and I was the one who had created it. Unconsciously my smile spread a warmth through me, coming on as suddenly as the waves of darkness, catching me just as unawares, yet promoting a very different reaction. I let myself embrace the warmth and thought that this moment was something that I would definitely put on my list if I had one.
And so my list begins with no particular order …..
1. Discovering for the first time the pure unadulterated joy of karaoke;
2. Getting into bed with fresh new sheets;
3. Sitting in the bath with candles and a glass of wine and book. Knowing no one is going to disturb you.
My struggles are not going to go away. My life is one of chaos and craziness and much of it is through my own life choices. However, I’ve also come to realise that no matter how many people are living similar lives to mine, the struggles for me are real and they affect me because of me, my own particular circumstances and personality and characteristics.
I’m going to try very hard to learn to accept myself for who I am, to try and reduce the expectations that I place upon myself, to learn to say no others and not feel guilty, to learn to allow the feelings to come and not be frightened by them. I’m going to try very hard to remember that whilst there will be many more times when the darkness seems too much, I also need to continue to add to my list of every brilliant thing so that I can remind myself of why this life I have is so precious.