Staying afloat

I think I’ve always been depressed. Now I am more self-aware and I know how my depression manifests itself, I can identify moments where those symptoms were apparent years ago. The slightest mistake or set back at school would send me in to an inconsolable state. I’m sure my parents and teachers just thought I was ‘sensitive’. I also often cried myself to sleep as a child, not knowing why I felt sad. I never told anyone – as though it was something to be ashamed about. Even then I felt like no one would understand.

I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression six years ago, aged 24. Even now very few of my friends and colleagues know about it and I have never openly discussed it with my two siblings – although I’m sure my parents have told them. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case; it could be that I’m just a private person, although it is more likely down to an irrational fear of acceptance.

However, I could not keep it a secret from my parents. All too often I’ve turned up on their doorstep, incoherent with distress. They are exceptionally patient with me but, try as they might, they still don’t fully understand my condition. It doesn’t stop me from talking to them about it but my mum will say things like: “Everyone has problems”; “At least you’re on the property ladder” or “Well it could be worse, you could live in Syria.” I think my parents are of the opinion that depression means I believe my life and my problems to be worse than other people’s. Those of you who also have depression know that simply isn’t the case. I still have perspective: I am lucky enough to have a secure job; I own my own house and have an adorable dog for company. In many ways this makes things worse… I feel guilty for feeling depressed when my life really isn’t that bad. But depression isn’t caused by one event or catastrophe. Depression is an inability to cope with the everyday things. Menial tasks like washing up become an insurmountable obstruction that you can’t see a way around. Yes, you could just do the washing up, but depression also removes that logical voice in your brain to the point where you can’t see the obvious.

My mum, being a practical woman, asked me last week what would be the one thing I could change to make me feel better or make my life happier (again, she thinks depression is a cause-and-effect condition). After some consideration, I told her the truth: I would change myself; I hate myself. I think, for the first time in the six years since I’ve been diagnosed, that made her realise what I’m up against.

I can safely say that right now I am at my lowest ebb. I have never felt worse. Sometimes I wish other people could hear inside my head just so they could understand the things my mind tells me and the words it uses. Idiot. Pathetic. Useless. Failure. It’s no wonder you’re on your own and you don’t have any friends. Why would anyone want to spend time with you? All you do is mess things up. Everyone’s lives would be easier if you weren’t here.

It frightens me to admit that last part. Until now, the only person I have admitted it to is my doctor. I am confident that I wouldn’t act on it but the fact I’m even thinking it is terrifying. This is how I know I am at my lowest ever point; I used to pride myself on how my depression had never been so bad that I’d contemplated death. I guess that’s another failure to add to the list.

Yet, within this fog, I’ve finally realised that I will never recover from this – not permanently anyway. A lot of people online talk about “recovery” and it always seemed so elusive to me; I used to beat myself up every time I couldn’t get out of bed or needed a dose increase of my antidepressants. I thought I was to blame – I just wasn’t trying hard enough to overcome it. Perhaps I didn’t want it enough… maybe I even liked feeling sorry for myself.  But I realise now that recovery, if it ever happens, is only temporary. Depression can’t be patched up in a few weeks or removed like a melanoma. Depression comes and goes like the tide; sometimes it’s miles away but other times it’s so close it floods over the barriers you have built to protect yourself. So recovery – if you can call it that – isn’t about eliminating the water and creating a drought. It’s about learning to stay afloat regardless of how high the tide might be.

I don’t expect this moment of clarity to change anything; it’s not some life-affirming epiphany that is going to solve my issues or change my opinion of myself. However, over time, it may help me to learn to forgive myself for not defeating this illness. And if I can do that, at least it’s one less thing to feel I have failed at.

Holly Davies