Depression: The Side Kick I Never Asked For
Trigger Warning: I get very real about my depression and self harm. If you are affected by these things, you can always talk to the guys at Mind to help you out.
I just spent half an hour contemplating different ways to self harm. What brought this on? Great day at work, finished early, came home to absolute love, watched terrible tv and had a bath. Then, I went upstairs to think about graphic and sneaky ways to self harm.
I didn’t want to, but I got stuck doing it. As a teenager, I liked to use a compass and just kept scratching and scratching till my anxiety and depression subsided. Nowadays, I don’t do anything. In periods of extreme stress I might sometimes relax myself with hairpulling, but this is the greatest extent of self-harm I’d go to. Imagine how it felt to have intrusive thoughts of going to the kitchen, getting the sharpest knife you own (that you bought because the design is sexy) and using it to make shallow cuts all over yourself. Everywhere. Imagine having a mood that low, you can only think of this and nothing else, so you distract yourself with the practicalities, because, you know — you’re a practical person. What kind of practicalities?
“Welp, guess I don’t know exactly where the femoral artery is and I’ve watched enough CSI to know you can bleed out from that…I’m not ready to die, I don’t think yet, but I do have student loans I haven’t paid off.”
“My right arm is weaker but more accurate so if I actually want to cut I’d have to use my left and have messy scars.”
“I can’t go for cutting my arms because I just bought that hugely expensive dress. It doesn't have sleeves. I’d look ridiculous.”
“My make-up skills aren't good enough to cover up that many scars.”
“No way I am ruining my tattoos by cutting over them. They were expensive and I can’t travel down to Reading to get them redone any time soon.”
Yes, surprisingly being immensely shallow prevented me from using my creative imagination to think about how I could hurt myself. Whatever works, right? Fortunately depression removes any motivation or energy I might have so it would have taken me an extra hour before I actually went looking for the knife. Plenty of time to call someone who knows about how low my mood can get and have them pull me out.
So what ‘caused the depression? I don’t know. I experienced a family bereavement at fifteen but truth be told I think it was when my knees were the worst at thirteen. Four years of therapy provided by the counselling service at Reading University helped me realise the link between my depression and my body. That counselling service is the best thing at that university and they legit have a stone circle in a forest that people ‘discover’ when they’re under the influence. The counsellor I had helped me realise that I couldn’t keep ignoring everything my body was telling me and neglecting my body was making me worse overall. I once became suicidal after taking a new, stronger painkiller. I had absolutely no idea. My counsellors were on the ball and noticed the link. Pills stopped, depression reduced somewhat. Today I can pay attention, I can tell that when my depression hits me out of nowhere like it did tonight, it’s because I’m ignoring what my body has to say. I have a checklist now for depression:
- Have I taken my medication today?
Anti-depressants and painkillers, have I missed any doses? Usually I have, what with spending my time being distracted to forget pain.
- Have I done something stupid to aggravate my joints?
This can include wearing the sexiest pair of stilettos I own to go to Waitrose or Aldi or something, or going to the gym or standing up when I didn’t have too
- Am I tired? Do I just need to sleep?
I can get very worn out thanks to my joints and when I go past a certain point of exhaustion I can lose all motivation for being alive.
- Have I been craving junk food? Junk food is the biggest sign to me that my mood is low because I will eat the vilest foods at any time of the day with no shame about it.
It’s not extensive and it doesn’t completely protect me but it helps to understand why I’m feeling so low and find a direction I can put my energy towards. There have been times when I’ve spent three hours working on getting out of bed to the sideboard and some medication. Sounds like a horrible morning but do you know what? That was three hours I spent not hurting myself, not being negative towards myself, not blaming myself, being patient with myself and giving myself the self care I needed to recover. I found out the hard way that hurting my mental health because my physical health fluctuates like a bratty toddler making a decision doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t help me. I have been blessed with a life and I have been blessed with resilience. Raised Christian, I learnt that God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle. I’m not sure how much stock I put in that faith tradition but I know that to behave in any other fashion would be adding vinegar to my own champagne, keying my own car, ruining my own makeup.
I didn’t ask for depression to accompany my diaphyseal aclasis but it did. I’ve learnt a lot through existing through depression, getting to terms with it and knowing how to be a top class human being irrespective of who is trying sabotage me today. Let me finish with a quick story of my time waitressing. For reasons I’ll go into in another blog, my trade through university was hospitality. Considering my joints, ridiculous choice but I learnt a lot working these terrible jobs too.
We were working some form of formal dinner at a sports stadium. I think it was part of a pre-game hospitality package for the football, or the rugby. We were operating restaurant service meaning as soon as people had finished we’d clear their plates and get the next course out for them. I had a manager shout at me e because the service was slower than they’d like.
My response probably wasn’t what he was after.
“Is the customer diabetic? No? Then stop shouting at me.”
Perhaps he thought I was a wallflower, or worse still — maybe he thought I didn’t understand the concept of self-respect.
I don’t lose my cool over the little things. I’ve understood it from the manager’s perspective. This might actually be the most important thing that has ever happened to him or that has gone on in his life. I’ve had to deal with bigger problems. These trivial things are nothing because I have been built to handle better challenges and I’ve been doing it since I was a child.
Another time, I had been booked by the agency to work about six back to back shifts accidentally and I thought I’d do them a favour by just doing the work anyway. Oh I learnt a lot. These people kept me in on a 6 til close (which was 3am) and wanted me back in for the breakfast shift at 6.30am. Apparently I was supposed to teleport home. Unsurprisingly, I overslept. I awoke at 7am, got there for 7.30 and the audacious hotel manager thought he could shout at me for half an hour in front of customers because I was late.
For some reason, I stayed the time I had missed after for my shift and polished more cutlery than I think the UK steel industry manufactured that year. That was my work ethic. It was also the first time I quit a job. I have a very good understanding of what matters in life and quite frankly, putting myself out in the workplace for people who don’t is no longer something I’m prepared to do. I am fortunate enough to say I will never need money badly enough to sacrifice my health like I did back then.
I want to be clear, depression isn’t something I have overcome. Depression is an impairment is it’s own right and the combination with my joint pain adds to my disability. The worst thing you could do to me is imply that I have ‘overcome’ something. Depression is part of my life and it is something I will always be working on as part of my mental health. I’m not a person who has overcome xyz. I’m just a person who, instead of having naturally blond hair when I was born, had this biological difference. I didn’t ask for this, but in the words of a catholic grandmother, “everyone has their crosses to bear.”
Or, more poignantly because I can, I leave you with this quote from The Incredibles — quite frankly the best animated movie ever. I will go to war with you on this.
“Everyone’s special, Dash.”
“Which is another way of saying no-one is.”