Coming to terms with crazy
Depression. Everybody writes about it, medical experts, faith healers, quacks and holistic yogis (disclaimer: I didn’t fact check that, so just go with it) everyone knows all about depression. Except, in my experience, the depressed. I’d been depressed for well over a year before I worked out that I was ill. In that time I worked for a horrible man who berated me constantly (in fairness, often rightly as I probably wasn’t that effective for several months).
I’d flinch whenever my Blackberry made the email sound and I ate like I was trying to commit suicide on an installment plan.
During that time I wondered if this was what being depressed was like but I told myself it wasn’t. Depressed people were useless losers who couldn’t take the complexities of modern life and chose to stay at home eating was my inner narritave. They didn’t have mortages, company cars (and rapidly expending waistlines) so therefore I couldn’t be depressed. Then one day it happened. It was October 4th. I woke up and knew something had changed in me, I knew that i wasn’t just broken — I was ill AND broken.
One of the first things that happened to me as I sat down in front of the therapist and presented him with the task of unpicking my madness was I realised that the instance of depression that had driven me to seek help wasn’t the first. Or the second, or the nineteenth. You can tell yourself you’re not depressed in the same way you can tell yourself that you don’t have brown hair, but eventually you’ll call BS on yourself.
Talking to friends about being ill was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, such is the degree to which mental health stigma is embedded in culture, and especially in business. Want to be a transgender builder who powerglides and does charity marathons dressed as wonder woman? No problem. Want to be a mid-level manager who can’t cope with everything? No chance. As I made a round of phone calls to friends explaining that I’d gone a bit mental and might be off the radar for a while, I wasn’t met with much in the way of surprise. They had all seen the train rushing towards the buffers, they just weren’t sure how to flag it down. Perhaps they cared too much, or were too nervous to say “you weigh over 100kg and your face is grey, is everything OK?” or “Are glancing at your work phone like it’s a rapist for any particular reason?”. To be fair to them, there would have been no telling me, in the same way that an addict must first be true to themselves before seeking help, so must anyone with a mental health problem. That’s not so say that an insence fuelled candle lit intervention is required, but on some level you have to understand that all’s not well.
Fast forwarding for a while, therapy was had, months were had off work, CBT was partaken and anti-depressants were guzzled with amplomb. Some drugs prevented sleep for days — I once played Angry Birds for 16 hours straight — and some knocked me out. Some stopped me wanting to do the sex, others made my tongue feel like it was going to explode, then I found one that helped. It didn’t make me numb, but it gave me a boost. Returning to work was ok, and I made the decision to leave work and return to education.
Since then I’ve had two notable episodes of depression, that’s in six years. I’ve noticed that when I’m depressed, I’m more creative. That’s not to say that I’d ever look forward to it, but perhaps I hate it less now. Or perhaps I don’t. The black dog is a strange beast and I often think to myself that I’ve been trying to get back to “me” for so long that I don’t really know who I am. I often wonder about people who have a hard life, one that precludes Apple Watch ownership, or donating money, or do work that they genuinely hate. I’m lucky that I can work part time, and keep myself busy with things that pretty much interest me — if I lived in Aleppo, or as a cleaner in Moscow I doubt I’d have the time to so introspective.
But that kind of thinking is destructive. I recognise that many people in the world have a far harder time than me, I know I’m one of the 1%, but that doesn’t change anything. No matter how many babies are killed by war — I will still be unwell. Yet knowing that my illness has a physical basis still fails to prevent the narritave of mental self-torture, I have to remind myself that it’s as possible to suffer with depression on a yatch as it is under a railway arch. Having lots of money only changes the crutches that you use to get by, having fewer resources limits your choice, but you’ll still find something to distract yourself.
Having pretty much come to terms with my mind I can spot depression early. I can’t see it coming, it’s far too insidious for that. But I know what I’m looking for, i’ve got a variety of tools to help me deal with it myself the best I can and I still have my gorgeous little friends made by Pfizer to take the edge off the turmoil within, so that I can do an impression of being present.
I didn’t write this to sell a solution to anyone who may feel they are depressed — for me it’s a catharsis, although hopefully one that might encourage a reader to seek help if they are struggling. I can advise that chinese food, random hookups and self-berating, whilst tempting probably aren’t the answer.
Start by being nice to yourself, then be honest to yourself — and see what flows.