“Until you acknowledge that depression is an illness, you will find it much harder than necessary to get better.”
These are the words told to me by many a caring professional lately. My depression has been likened to diabetes, cancer, broken bones and even the common cold. Comparisons that I am not comfortable with.
I have always been quick to scoff at those around me, apparently too depressed to function in a socially acceptable manner. A staunch supporter of the ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it’ clubs.
And now here I am.
I have recently acknowledged that I may have been clinically depressed (rather than the flippant ‘God, I’m so depressed’ that most of us throw out there) for an awful lot longer than I care to admit. I have, at times, been unable to find the will, let alone the energy, to drag my sad carcass out of bed. I have gone longer than I will admit to in public, without showering or cleaning my teeth, choosing instead to hold myself together with dry shampoo and polos because turning the taps just seems too hard today. I have taken an inordinate amount of time off work, off friends, off family and, ultimately, off life. I’m not proud of myself but I have lied to people I love and people who have gone out of their way to show they care about me, just to avoid having to ‘people’. Not quite as innocent as a white lie for sure, but certainly no worse than beige when put into the bigger picture of terrible lies told in this world.
On my best, heavily medicated, less cloudy days, I have maintained the personality that people know me for. It is undoubtedly easier for me than some to appear ‘normal’ as I have never been considered a particularly sunny persona. Dry witted and sarcastic is often easier to fake than cheerful and polite, of that I have no doubt.
On my worst days? Well, these are the days I keep hidden. Tears shed alone, uncontrollable sadness over everything and nothing. Guilt, fear, paranoia, regret. Between the hours of 9am and 3pm I can’t even look at myself in a mirror on my worst days. I pull it together when the children come home, do the things a single mother must do and save the tears that are left for after bedtime. I try my hardest to let their smiles lift me back up. Sometimes they do. Sometimes just hearing my children play and giggle and be themselves is more than enough to make me shake myself back into the real world. But on a really bad day? Well, nothing can make that go away.
I carry a weighty guilt on my shoulders because I currently find it impossible to sympathise with other people. Given recent events we all are shockingly aware that things could undoubtedly be worse. That no matter how bad a day we’re having, there is and always will be, someone worse off. Not just internationally as we have all seen but also much closer to my own home and heart. To those friends who suffer right now with bigger problems and more ‘real’ issues than me, please believe me that I am truly sorry that I just cannot engage in you and seem to not care. It’s not intentional. In a way I am jealous that your problems are so much more real, more tangible, than mine. But I just don’t seem to be able to find my empathy right now.
So why, with all this in mind, do I still struggle to admit that I am actually ill? It is not my intention to belittle any form of mental illness or any person reading this who battles daily against their own uncooperative mind. We are all battling with our demons at different stages of our own journeys and I wish you good luck and strength to get through today. But I just can’t yet accept that I too am sick.
Illness to me is physical. It’s headaches and back pain, broken bones and rashes, colds and stomach bugs. It’s physical pain and physical symptoms. I suppose that I am, at my worst times, in genuine physical pain. Headaches that I cannot shake, feeling nauseous in social situations, panic attacks in the supermarket. And I do show physical symptoms; shaking hands, pale faced, lack of sleep evident in the way I drag myself through the school gates.
Yet I still don’t want to say ‘I’m ill’.
And it’s my refusal to acknowledge my depression as an illness that is often the only thing that keeps me going. I fear that giving in to the ‘illness’ of depression will give me free licence to completely hand myself over to it, to wallow in it and potentially lose myself completely. By admitting there is a genuine illness present I am opening a door that I have worked hard to nail tightly shut. Having spent so many years saying ‘I’m fine’ to convince myself more than anyone else, it’s a hard habit to break. Because I am not fine. Not even close.
I have taken the opportunity to embrace the facts when I have needed it the most and have come very close to saying ‘I’m not well’. I have sought help. Had conversations. Taken the lid off of various long-buried boxes. I have started to walk down a number of very difficult avenues in order to try and find the tunnel that will eventually lead me to the light. I don’t like it. It’s exhausting, this roller coaster of reliving my life in one sitting. I don’t like it.
For the first time in my life I have times where I am completely alone. Days where there is absolutely nobody present to hide myself from. It’s the onset of these lonely days that have brought out the very thing I have tried to hide for so long. My tiny demon has turned from minor and fleeting – late night worries, that are always gone by morning just because there was someone else present – to a huge cloud I carry constantly with me that only rarely let’s a slither of sunlight through.
Battling with me is not easy. Battling with myself is horrendous. Anyone who has had to do it in the past will agree that I rarely lose an argument. I am a ballsy, opinionated, honest woman who can always be counted on to hand out those bitter pills. I don’t wallow, I don’t enjoy self-pity, I don’t feel sorry for myself. But i am generous with my time, caring, concerned – a good friend. Friends I have gained in the more recent years will not know who I’m talking about. I’m sorry you never met her and you only know this version. Perhaps if I can complete this journey and find version 1.0 of myself again you won’t even recognise me!
But in the mean time just know that under the dark cloud I am still there. Fighting to make my way back into the sunlight every single day. Some days I fight harder than others. Some days I don’t fight at all.
I don’t ask that anyone be patient with me. I don’t ask for special privileges. Part of the reason I may push you away is so I don’t have to ask you to be gentle with me. Needing support does not sit well with me. So I will hide and cry rather than ask for your help. Not because I don’t love you. But because I don’t love me.
I am trying to accept the inevitable. In order to move forwards I must take what I consider to be a step backwards, and acknowledge that depression is an illness, I am depressed, therefore I am ill.
How will I work through all of the tangled knots in my mind? One at a time. Piece by piece and day by day I will conquer each demon until all that is left is me.
Penny version 1.0. No further updates required.