I want to talk about depression.
I want to talk specifically about my depression and how I feel. But not “I am depressed, I feel sad.” I want to talk about the feeling of going into a super-low and having an actual, physical sensation of air being squeezed out of my body, and not being able to breathe.
Before I begin, a small disclaimer: I will be talking about my experiences of my own mental health. I am not a mental health professional, in fact I know very little about it from a clinical sense. Depression is not the same for everyone, please don’t read this looking for answers about your own mental health. If you are concerned about your mental health, I strongly recommend speaking to your doctor and/or seeking help from a mental health professional.
And with that said, let’s start.
My earliest memorable experience of depression was, predictably, in my early teens when I was going through puberty. From my very first memories, up until maybe twelve or thirteen, I have absolutely no memories tied to feelings of negativity or extreme anxiety, and then suddenly from around that age on, most of my memories become attached to negative emotions.
I saw a psychiatrist at around that age – twelve to thirteen – although I don’t remember why I was seeing her at the time. We used to go to the local hospital and see her in a special mental health ward. Following a couple of sessions, she diagnosed me with manic depression and recommended I come in more regularly, begin a course of anti-depressants, and try family therapy. The latter only happened once and didn’t go very well. I’m pretty sure that I stopped seeing that psychiatrist because of the comments made at the family therapy session.
So, thus began my mental health journey and subsequent decline.
I don’t remember most of the emotions I was feeling at that age, but that was my cutting phase. I do know I was dealing with a lot of changes in my life – my first sexual experience (which was with a another girl), struggling with schoolwork, soon-to-be diagnosed with PCOS, finding it harder to socialise with my peers, etc. I remember sitting in the bathroom one night, with cuts going the entire length of one thigh, and saying to my dad “I need help.” That night, my dad said “it’s all in your head, just get over it.”
For almost twenty years, I just got “over it”. I didn’t take any anti-depressants, and when I had panic attacks or anxiety attacks I just wrote it off as a bad day and moved on. Or, I thought I was moving on, but instead what I have is a backlog of unresolved issues that are now threatening to swallow me whole. The problem is that at that young and impressionable age, my dad told me there was nothing wrong with me and I just needed to stop making a fuss, and I did.
In my thirties now, I don’t need to look back to think about the way my depression feels now, because it’s always at the forefront of my life. My life, although hindered by my illness, is being completely held in place by my depression, because my depression is in control of everything else. To paint a better picture, allow me to describe the thought processes for some simple, every day situations.
OK, it’s lunch time and there’s nothing to eat in the apartment. I have a 1200 calorie allowance today so I should walk to Subway. Oh, but it’s hot today, and I don’t have a t-shirt long enough to cover my belly, my arms, and my thighs, and if I wear my sweater I’ll just get too hot and I won’t be able to breathe well. No, no, stop making excuses, you should walk, you fat piece of shit. Oh, god. Oh, god. I’m going to be fat forever. I’m never going to lose the weight. I can’t do this, who am I trying to fool into thinking I can do this? I’m not strong enough to do this. No, stop, you’re OK, you can do this. Put your shoes on. But wait… The only shoes I have are my Uggs or my sneakers and my sneakers rub blisters on my ankles. It’s too hot for Uggs so I need to find band-aids for my feet. I don’t have band-aids. Do I have band-aids? Oh, God, I’m such a fucking asshole, I can’t even find band-aids. Why is my memory so shit? OK, fuck it, I’m getting a takeaway.*
That happened earlier today.
You’re awake. Good. Go shower. No, wait, I just want to lie here in the dark for five more minutes. Wait, if I don’t get up now, I’ll probably fall asleep again and then I won’t get anything done, so get up now. Get up now. Get up now! Please, please, please get up. Please, I’m begging you to get up, why won’t you get up? It’s just a fucking shower! Are you really this shit that you can’t even make yourself get up for a shower? Really! God, you’re the fucking worst.*
Leaving the apartment:
It’s the postbox, it’s 100 metres away, you can do it. No. I can’t do it. I can’t. What if I can’t breathe on the way back? What if people see me being able to not breathe? What if I faint? It’s happened before and people just stared at me. What if it happens again? It’s not going to happen, it’s 100 metres. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. But, if you don’t do it, it’s OK, you can do it tomorrow. Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t need to be sent today, so really you can do it any time you want. And you have other things to do today, right? Cleaning and stuff? Maybe it’s better if you do that now because the post isn’t urgent and it looks kind of hot outside, and you know you’ll just get too hot in your sweater. OK, tomorrow then.*
And then I don’t do the cleaning and don’t post the mail the next day, either.
This isn’t an exaggerated description of the way my mind works against me, I gain nothing from strangers on the internet knowing that my life is at such a low. This is what happens to thought processes run through the filter of depression – my mind is talking itself to a standstill, and my life is following suit. And this says nothing of the physical sensations that accompany depression!
The most common physical feeling that accompanies my depression is nausea. At first, when I became ill, I was extremely nauseous 24/7 because my brain was suddenly hyper photo-/phono-sensitive, my balance was shot to hell, and I was doped up on pain medication. Now, I’ve sort of gone through this transitional period where I was forced to learn how to better cope with the everyday pain and the nausea subsided, only to come back when my depression took a turn for the worse. These days, the feeling of nausea is one I still suffer with for most of the day, but it’s caused entirely by anxiety and stress. Any little set back in life, now has a tendency to spiral me towards despair; despair turns to panic, panic to anxiety, and finally it culminates in nausea. But it’s a kind of hollow nausea, so then I eat in order to try and dispel the feeling.
If I buy a lottery ticket, instead of feeling hopeful, I feel overwhelming panic trying to claw its way up my throat. My heartbeat speeds up, and a feeling like… As though someone inflated a small balloon in my stomach and then sent it up to my mouth. It’s awful. My body becomes cold and I begin curling forwards, like I’m trying to force the panic inwards, but the centre of my chest feels too heavy, as though it’s become one solid mass, to let the balloon back down.
And many more. For the last couple of years, these feelings (mental and physical) have been constant companions, but none more so than the one that actually made me realise how much trouble I was in:
Realising I felt apathetic about my own life was shocking. When I took a look at my life in general at the beginning of this year – finances, health, happiness, etc. – I realised exactly how bad the condition of all of those was. And that would have been bad enough except for that fact that at no point in the last two years did I think about the shitty condition my life was in and care enough to do anything about it. I still don’t! I don’t know what part of me is putting up this much of a fight but, at this stage, if this mysterious bit of me that cares gives up, I think that’ll be the end. Because my brain knows what’s going on; I can see all of the crap littering my life, I spend hours thinking about how it’s holding me back and ruining everything, but I literally do not care enough to do anything about it.
I realise the hypocrisy in saying “I’m apathetic about my life but I also care about myself,” and it’s not at all what I’m trying to say with this, but I feel that that exact statement sums up what so many misunderstand about depression. My feelings of apathy and my feelings of wanting to help myself, are not mutually exclusive. Depression can certainly be a 24/7 condition, but it doesn’t mean that I’m only feeling one emotion, or that that particular emotion is going to last perpetually. If I feel suicidal this minute, I won’y necessarily also feel suicidal in an hour, or a day, or a week. And even when I’m at my lowest low, I’m still intelligent enough to (eventually) recognise that something is wrong and that I need to do something about it. My feelings of apathy are, I believe, just filler for in between the super-highs and super-lows. I think it’s my brain’s way of coping is not to cope, and not care, and not think about things.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty messed up and need a lot of help, but I’m keeping positive in the knowledge that I’m on a path towards getting the right help for me. Really, all I, or anyone, can do is keep moving towards that goal: finding what gets me to a place of happiness and health.
My reason for wanting to write this particular blog post is that, like a lot of people, I feel mental health is under recognised, and too often brushed off as attention-seeking, hormonal changes, or just being a kid. I want to highlight the toxic thoughts that someone in the grip of depression has about themselves, in situations as seemingly insignificant as thinking about what to eat. I want to expose the physical discomfort and pain many people suffering from depression experience, just in trying to manage everyday tasks. I believe that a higher level of acceptance, awareness, and treatment of mental health issues plays an important role in the future enrichment of the lives of millions, but I don’t believe that it can truly happen until people really understand the illness and how it affects people. And so, I’ll write about my depression during, and hopefully after, in the hopes that it helps even one person get the treatment they need. Even (and especially) if that one person is me!
To anyone else reading this who feels similar, or is worried about their mental health, please know that if I can do this then so can you. Me, and my messed up head, are 100% behind you, and if any of my experiences can help you then I want to pay that forward. Please don’t give up on yourself, I’ll work on not giving up on myself, and together I hope we can make the journey to happiness.
Hugs and kisses x
*This post would be more powerful if I had recorded myself saying these thoughts out loud, because text obviously doesn’t convey all the fear, anxiety, self-loathing, pleading, etc., that goes on during these internal conversations.