Scream and sprout: depression at Christmas
This Christmas I couldn’t shake off a melancholy that seemed to have been snaking around me for weeks, but which only really sunk its jaws in, just in time for Yule.
(I can only apologise to my family for the terrible timing and thank them for trying to make it better for me.)
The only thing that helped me was writing it all down. And as I begin a new challenge to post 5 times a week on Medium, I thought I’d start with this one.
Don’t worry, they won’t all be as bleak (or long).
Enjoyment, but not as you know it
Today (Christmas Day) I enjoyed finding a dry piece of pillow to rest my head on after crying. I also enjoyed the fact that I hadn’t been wearing make up, so I didn’t have to worry about cleaning the pillow, since it wasn’t in fact a pillow, but an ugly crocheted Tudor-style cushion — property of the authentic cottage I was staying in for Christmas with my dad and brother. Having to get it back to Tudor standard would have been as stressful as the sprouts (see below) so this was something else to be pleased about.
This is not the way I usually enjoy life.
The old days
Normally life is not this scary; it’s as open as a big bay window. The shutters are back and you can see through all the corners and take in and enjoy in equal measure everything you can feel and experience through it. You can’t wait to get out there.
When you have depression, you can’t imagine being able to look at any of that, let alone enjoy it. The feelings you remember feeling seem to have come from someone else, and don’t seem like ‘you’ at all. Were you showing off?
Now those shutters are firmly closed in and there’s one slim slat left open. Through this you can try and manage your day now. Hour by hour. Some hours — or half hours, or 10 minutes, or 30 seconds — it will seem as if you remember vaguely what life was like before the shutters closed. You might smile at a plot twist on a boxset (escapism) or appreciate the warmth of a hot drink — at this point you’ll have your old shutterless life dangled in front of you, only for it to be swallowed up again like Jack at the end of Titanic, but with less warning.
After a pleasant Christmas morning I’d had a nap and woken up feeling irritable. My dad made the mistake of talking to me as if I was the person before the nap — he was telling me what stage the Christmas dinner was at. It was time to do my bit. I walked calmly up to the sprouts and took one look at them, but everything they expected of me — the peeling, the cutting and boiling — felt beyond impossible. I threw them on the floor in a rage, screamed and ran upstairs to sob.
My family know to leave me be, and so for an hour I listened to the mice running around under the Tudor-style bedroom I was staying in (it was very authentic) wondering what to do next.
I couldn’t lie there forever, I was getting cold, my nose was running and I needed the loo.
This is something to remember: even if your brain is stuck, your body acts for you. Which in some ways is annoying, because it’s doing normal things, while you feel anything but. So it feels like a betrayal.
But I have to admit that without this, I’d still be lying on that pillow now.
Suddenly blowing my nose felt strangely pleasant. Normally this is just a thing; now it was a nice thing. Like when you go camping and a chemical toilet seems like the height of luxury, whereas if that was in your house you’d be appalled. Different times.
The blowing of the nose feeling was the first step out. I needed to build on that with another good feeling before the first one disappeared.
I tried to think of successful people who are prone to depression. Stephen Fry. Robbie Williams. I asked Google. ‘Famous and Depressed’ read the headline. Cara Delevingne — hooray! Beautiful, cool and a MILLENNIAL. Lady Gaga, Owen Wilson — I’m sure I’ve seen one of his films — “Though Owen Wilson’s screen persona was that of a loopy, lovable surfer dude, off screen he was a complex man.” It says.
Complex you see. We’re complex. I’d pay anything not to be, I’d love to be simple please. Like… Tess Daly. But I know that when I’m normal again I won’t mind this, I’ll be grateful for the complexity and the Stephen Fry-ness, since without it I wouldn’t be me.
I repeat the mantra that there are good things about being complex: creativity, deep thinking, attention to detail. Of course it’s also those things that can cause the downfall. I’m creative, but depend on other’s approval; I think so much that I overcomplicate things, and my imagination conjures up impossible expectations that can seldom be met. I’m a perfectionist and get hung up on details that no one cares about — UNTIL that one person notices the one detail I’ve missed, and then I think I’m terrible at all detail, and therefore everything else too, and the spiral begins.
I also read this about depression: “Our brain logically shuts off non-vital functions like metabolism, sleep, emotions, serotonin and endorphin production (happiness hormones). They are not crucial for our survival under extreme danger. You don’t need to be happy or to digest well when a bear is chasing you (that’s the level of stress you’ve put your mind under).”
That’s interesting as I hadn’t ‘been’ since Wednesday and it was now Monday. I didn’t feel constipated (sorry about this section) in fact it was all quiet down there. It felt as if my body was shutting off, caveman style, but where it’s all going? Especially since it’s Christmas and there’s been a lot of rich food.
As mentioned, thanks to nature, you have to get up and go to the toilet. But once you do, everyone thinks you’re ok again.
If your leg was broken people would know, and get out of the way on your way to the bog. But there’s nothing to tell them with this. You want them to know (so they don’t expect you to cook sprouts) but you also don’t want anyone to look. You just want to disappear.
You don’t know where to put yourself. You feel utterly butterly awkward. You have to nod and smile and speak, but it’s hard and makes you feel sick.
Being sick would actually be welcome, since it would take your mind of everything else and provide a simple physical problem to get over, but your body isn’t going to make it that easy for you. Instead, you’re stuck with what’s inside your head and what to do about it.
The thing I find is that once I’m back to normal again I won’t want to associate myself with this feeling for fear I’ll be contaminated by it and dragged down by it if I publicly admit to it. I’m ashamed of it.
Even though it’s trendy now, depression. It’s in all the papers, the Royals are cooing and nodding about it, and people in HR teams are taught how to manage it.
But come on, it’s a nuisance, isn’t it? People with depression are hard to be around because there’s nothing you can do to help them. And no matter how much I may have suffered from it in the past, I find it hard to sympathise with others going through it.
This is a terrible thing to admit to.
As is the thought that when it’s all over and I’m conga-ing round the pool, push pineapple, shake the tree, I’ll probably want to delete this post and forget all about it.
But that would be wrong and ungrateful, because writing this has been the one thing that’s helped me. And that’s why, after being inspired by this piece by Tom Kuegler I plan to post 5 times a week on Medium. Not all on this topic, but a mixture of the thoughts, ideas and observations I have clogging up my head that I’d rather spill out here.
Tom cites evidence that writing can improve mood, stress and even help physical wounds heal faster. It certainly makes me feel clearer, calmer and more in control.
I wish I was brave enough to say that’s all that matters and I don’t mind what people think of what I write, but of course I do, so let me know. I can take it (I can’t, but tell me anyway). This year is about manning up for me, not caving in, being resilient and adaptable and not being so dependent on external approval and more importantly, not being ashamed of being affected by depression.