A date with depression..

When you break a vase it can be repaired to it’s original shape with relative ease. It’ll never retain the structural integrity it once held, but with a deft hand and a keen eye it can be reconstructed such that an external observer would say it’s the same vase. Should this same vase meet a similar fate — what are you doing to this poor vase? — it will undoubtedly shatter into a greater number of pieces and it’s integrity again will be forever damaged. Such is the life of somebody suffering from depression. Though they might pick themselves up and appear, on the outside, to be the same person they were before, their structural integrity will forever be damaged, and the more fractured they become, the more likely they are to break when life knocks them down.

Like the vase, the image they project might be one of curvaceous beauty, immaculate porcelain skin, standing tall; but on the inside the darkness can encompass them so fully that should you find yourself inside such a vessel it’s difficult to see the light that leads the way out. This image has been the most accurate representation of depression in my experience with the illness; being able to see the light, or a state in which you’re happier, but being incapable of scaling the darkness that surrounds you. Every knock you take seemingly closing off the exit further until the darkness is all you know. At this point it feels almost insurmountable, and it’s this feeling of being forever in this state that can, at least in my case, lead to suicidal thought. To destroy the vase from the inside-out, with no chance of reconstruction, often seems easier than ascending the endless black that has swallowed you. Don’t allow these thoughts to lead you astray. It IS NOT the end! That state you were in prior to the darkness taking over is still there and it’s closer than it seems.

As I did, you may want to seek help and assistance from friends, family, or loved ones; hoping they turn up with a guiding hand and a torch. If, in this context, you’re fortunate enough to have had relatives or loved ones suffer with depression and learn to manage it, this can be a great benefit and source of motivation. However, if like me, your loved ones do not understand depression, this can actually do more harm than good, as Depression is an often misunderstood and invisible illness. Being told to “Cheer up!”, “You just need to think like X..”, or “If you do X, you’ll achieve Y and be fine..”, does nothing more than to make you feel broken and incompatible with the rest of society/the world. Speak to a professional; somebody who has experience with the illness and can give you the support and assistance you require to make the changes you need to make to manage this illness.

What your loved one say vs. What you want to hear

I’m fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers free counselling to it’s employees. For a long time I rationalised away my problems, afraid to admit there was an issue. Like the vase I locked myself away from the world, thinking that if I keep the outside world at bay I’ll be less likely to be knocked down and damaged. When my self-worth hit rock bottom I began to consider my life worthless; the suicidal thoughts returned and I knew I couldn’t hide away from the issue any longer and spoke to a counsellor. In my numerous phone sessions with a counsellor I began to better understand the root causes of my Depression, and most importantly, that it was a normal reaction to the events preceding it. The feeling of isolation and incompatibility was suddenly lifted; like a leaf in the wind it was picked up and swept away; I no longer felt like an outcast. My counsellor suggested I begin a course of anti-depressants.

Despite admitting I needed help and seeking counselling, it took me a long time to follow my counsellors advice and begin my course of anti-depressants. I’d heard a lot of ‘stories’ of addiction, reliance, and the ‘auto-pilot’ feeling while taking them. I worried about their effect on my ability to function and perform at my job; I worried about the effect they would have on my relationship, and my sex life — they’re renowned for killing libido; and I worried I would become so reliant on them that I would be incapable of functioning without them. After some time I relented and took the plunge; I decided my quality of life was only declining and I had nothing to lose. To those unaware of how anti-depressants work, they essentially artificially inflate the serotonin production in your brain, a chemical thought to promote a feeling of well-being and happiness; like a waning balloon given a shot of helium again I was able to lift myself up. After just three days I began to feel a greater sense of happiness; the tablets weren’t supposed to take effect for three weeks, so I’m sure this was just a placebo effect, but nonetheless it was a spark, and that light that had gone out so long ago was begining to flicker again.

One of the most crushing aspects of Depression is the negative feedback loop. You’re so encumbered by the weight of the illness that you cannot make the changes necessary to lift yourself up, but by being incapable of that, you fall ever so further into Depression, and it’s a cycle that continues until you find something to help leverage the weight, or you’re crushed by it. The anti-depressants are that leverage; counselling, the knowledge of where to place the lever. Neither one is particularly useful without the other. Knowing now what was the cause of my depression, and having the weight lifted enough to pull myself out, I was able to begin making the changes in my life that were necessary to manage my Depression. At this point, I could have rebuilt myself as a vase, but maybe that wasn’t the most rigid structure that could be built with the parts given. So, like removing necrotic tissue, I began shedding myself of the negative influences in my life. I ended my relationship with my partner; I cut ties with friends that provided no value to my life but were causing me to expend enormous amounts of energy to maintain; and I began to rebuild myself as a person I could be happy and proud to be. I was able to cease taking my anti-depressants just over a week ago, replacing them with meditation and exercise. That’s not to say I’m cured; I strongly believe I will always have that fragility that comes with being knocked down a few too many times, but I do believe I’ve begun to build something much stronger than before.