Content warning: depression.
For a very long time – since before I can remember, in fact – I have had trouble harnessing my emotions. I work in near-extremes and struggle to return back to balance afterwards. It’s not usually a problem when I’m happy, but being sad hits me like a ton of bricks, and I cling onto misery for dear life. But recently, it’s been very different. Suddenly, I don’t feel sad when someone criticises me (however constructive) or I fall out with someone or I forget to do something and let someone down, I just feel sad all the time. Relentless, unstoppable sadness. I’ve felt this way before, but never like this. I have never before found living my own life so difficult.
Everything that I love doing suddenly seems completely irrelevant. I go through the motions, I do what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t feel any of the excitement or pride I felt when I’m doing it. And worse, afterwards I feel so guilty for not feeling excited or proud, that I rip myself to shreds for it. I can’t get to sleep, and when I do, I can’t get back up again. I have frequent, unpredictable periods of irritability – just because “I was fine when you last saw me” doesn’t mean I was fine ten minutes, an hour or a day later. It doesn’t really mean I was fine at all, it’s just easier to pretend I’m happy than tell my mother that I feel like I am being strangled by my own hopelessness.
I feel cripplingly lonely when I’m on my own, yet when I force myself to spend time with other people, I wish I was at home, on my own, in the dark, where I don’t have to smile or tell stories or focus on other peoples’ stories. I spend half of my time crying, and the other half trying desperately not to cry in front of other people – mostly because I rarely feel more pathetic than answering the question “Why are you crying?” with a teary “I don’t know”. Because the worst part is that I don’t know. I have no idea why I’m so miserable. I only know that I am.
I wasn’t surprised to read about Jeremy Hunt’s complete lack of understanding of depression. Nobody who understood the effects of mental health – and the importance of a decent standard of treatment for mental health – would force cuts down on services which leaves them dangerously close to collapse. It seems that Jeremy Hunt has taken the same Depression: 101 class as some of the people that I know. Since I plucked up the courage to talk to people I trusted about how I was feeling, I’ve ended up with a whole lot more shame.
Because there it is, that big, old ignorant comment: “You have nothing to be depressed about”. Gee, yes, I do have a nice life, don’t I? Thanks for the reminder. I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for. I have a huge, loving family who have always supported me, a great circle of close friends who provide me with more love and guidance (and wine) than I deserve, incredible opportunities, a good income, a lovely home.
But hey, guess what? Depression doesn’t discriminate. Much like illness can strike even the healthiest of humans, depression can strike even the happiest of people. It doesn’t miss people out, yelping “Yo, leave it out, she’s got a pretty good life going on there”. Depression doesn’t always attach itself to something concrete. It isn’t something that is reserved only for those with difficult lives. It isn’t glamorous (despite what Urban Outfitters would have you believe) And it certainly doesn’t show any mercy.
I can’t tell you what I’m depressed about. I could give you a list of things in my life that could be better and that make me sad, but they aren’t the reasons I’m depressed. I just am. I just wake up in the mornings and can’t think of a single reason to get out of bed. I don’t wake up and make a conscious decision to be miserable – it is the most draining and time consuming thing I do. And no amount of reasoning with me that I have nothing to be sad about changes that – it doesn’t change the wrenching guilt that claws at me when a tiny voice in my brain, somewhere, tells me I should be pulling myself because I just can’t. Telling me I shouldn’t be depressed doesn’t make me stop being depressed.
There is no getting away from the feelings that those type of comments evoke – no matter how well-intentioned. I don’t know whether they are born out of fear or misunderstanding or ignorance. But they fuel feelings of anger, confusion and desperation. Anger that nobody understands – or cares – about how you feel; confusion that nobody understands in the first place and if “everyone feels this way at some point”, why can noone help you?; desperation, simple desperation that if nobody understands you, you will be stuck in a vicious cycle of misery for the rest of your life.
It hurts to think that my mental health issues upset people, or cause an inconvenience – that I can’t just “cheer myself up” with a night out or a film or some chocolate, the way people without genuine mental health issues do. It hurts especially when I wish more than anyone that I could change the way that I feel. I wish I could go back to near-extremes which took a little bit longer to settle. I wish I could go back to feeling happy.
But mostly, I wish that people would believe me when I say I can’t bring myself to smile. I wish the people I love most in the world loved me enough not to try and make me feel guilty for something I have little control over. What have I got to be depressed about? Depression, that’s what.