The Guilt of Mild Depression

(Because I simply don’t know what else to call it.)

If you were to meet me in real life, your first impression would likely be something along the lines of, ‘She’s a confident, outgoing, 30-something woman who knows her own mind’. It would be a pretty accurate assertion but not a wholly complete one.

I went to my first counselling session at the age of 12. I don’t really remember much about it other than my whole family accompanied me (my parents and younger brother) and the reason was because I was struggling to settle into secondary/high school.

I next had a good three-year stint of counselling during my teens (15–18) with a recently qualified nurse practitioner who I didn’t connect with at all. In a nutshell. My takeaway from that experience was that I had nothing to feel down about and there were people out there with real problems. And there we have it — I have never had a reason to feel the way I do. Nothing truly bad has ever happened to me, I have no childhood trauma to recover from.

I was often isolated as a teenager as my peer group refused to accept me and I could never understand why; this led me to have crippling esteem issues and confusion over how I was supposed to change so I could be liked. I never found the answer, I was just lucky enough to grow up. I remember telling a teacher that sometimes I felt like I didn’t want to be here anymore. I clearly remember the response, ‘Don’t be so silly’.

As I entered into adulthood, I had several more counselling experiences but nothing ever changed — talking never seemed to help. I’d cry a lot and try to explain the empty feeling inside but failed to articulate the how or the why it was there. I continued to feel like a fraud — how could there be anything wrong if I couldn’t meaningfully explain it? I always felt guilty taking the time of the professional and certain they felt my visits were a waste of their time when it could be better spent helping someone who really needed it.

I was 21 when I was first described anti-depressants or ‘funny pills’ as one so-called friend called them at the time. I continued to take them, on-and-off, for around the next 10 years. I’ve never really been sure how much they helped but I’m inclined to think they helped enough; I didn’t feel less down but the emptiness was replaced by numbness — a welcome change. The best way I can describe it is that rather than worrying about the big black hole that seemed to follow me around, I just accepted that it was there.

Fast forward another 10 or so years and anti-depressants are no longer required. As I’ve gotten older, the black hole is smaller and is often just out of sight, although it does occasionally come into view, triggering the emptiness. It comes and goes without warning and although it doesn’t tend to last more than a few days, it sticks around just long enough to trigger feelings of guilt, self-pity, lethargy and self-doubt.

Days like today.

I’m writing this on a Monday. After a perfectly normal, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary weekend, when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t cope with the day. My body seemed to be made of lead and my mind struggled to compose a meaningful thought. I’m supposed to be somewhere else right now, not here, not writing this. I have a job to go to but I can’t go to it, not today. It means leaving the house, travelling with hundreds of strangers on the commute, being in an office with people and coping with sound and noise and conversation and I just can’t. I know you think I’m pathetic. I do too.

The forcefield that serves as my protection each day just didn’t receive a full charge overnight and I can’t leave the house without it. Writing this is draining. And yet, how can I argue there is anything wrong? Is it simply laziness, and I’m just looking to give it another name? Is that what the guilt is about?

The guilt that I can’t explain what these feelings are, what causes them and why. You want to know what triggers them and what it is about them that temporarily pauses my world. But I can’t tell you. You want to know why they disappear so quickly so normal service resumes — I can’t tell you. You’re wondering what the catalyst was all those years ago to put me on antidepressants and what changed so that I haven’t needed them for years. I can’t tell you. I wish I had those answers but I don’t. I simply don’t know.

But most of all, you’re wondering how I can label these feelings as depression — there is no event trauma, the episodes are short-lived and 99% of the time I function as well as anyone else. But the 1% matters. Because when the 1% occurs, I need to step off this spinning world, just for a moment.

It spins so fast it makes me giddy and I need it to stop. So I don’t go to work. I don’t open my front door. I don’t turn on the television or the radio or listen to music or read. I sleep. I wait. I let the world pass by until I’m ready to catch up with it again. The tears dry and the emptiness subsides.

This is not the side of mental health talked about in the media — there is nothing extreme or newsworthy about it. It’s not serious enough to warrant therapy, medication or discussion. But it is very real to me. I have never been ashamed of my mental health as I don’t think I’m ‘broken’, nor do I need to be ‘fixed’. But I do feel misunderstood. Like I’m ever-so-slightly out of sync with the world and that it’s something to try and hide because regardless of how ‘progressive’ we like to believe we are, difference — of any kind — is to be stamped on and eliminated. I hope one day this will change.

I do not have a mental health diagnosis — there is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. I do have a history of depression, remnants of which result in me occasionally self-medicating in the form of retreating from the world. I would describe myself as having low-level, mild depression that is manageable.

But I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a therapist, I don’t take tablets and I’m forced to hide behind a lie because we live in a world where we are currently unable to tolerate or make sense of what we don’t understand.

And so back to the guilt. If you’ve never been depressed you’ll think I’m a whinger. If you’ve ever had clinical depression of any kind, you’ll think I’m trivialising your experience. But maybe you’re someone who resonates with what I’ve said. Someone who has ‘nothing to be down about’ but experiences black holes and emptiness and under-charged forcefields. Who, 99% of the time, is ‘normal’. Happy, even. But understands the 1%. And recognises the need to step off the world. Just for a moment.

I have no answers, no platitudes. Most of the time, I don’t need them. As long as my retreat-bubble is there when I need it, I do just fine. More than fine really — I’m good. I’m well. But I wanted to write this just in case someone out there feels the way I do sometimes. Because although I have no answers, I do know this: you’re not alone. Because if you feel this way and I feel this way then probably some other people feel this way too. And knowing that … helps.

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