I came up with this title for my Living Library book after a piece I wrote for the Breaking Barriers magazine. I always felt subsequently it wasn’t a very good title, not entirely sure it reflected what I had to say about the mental illness I have suffered from. But today it occurred to me how many people, some who are close to me, still don’t understand what depression is, or how suffering from anxiety as a consequence can affect your life, that the title was very apt.
I’m updating this story. I’ve said before that I’ve had bad periods in my life, and before I volunteered with Time To Change Leeds, I’d kept some of this hidden. This is how it affects my life and relationships with people.
Often, people with little understanding of depression, think it’s just feeling sad. They often throw the word depression around as if it’s interchangeable, “oh, back to work today, I’m so depressed”, “I didn’t get what I wanted, I feel depressed”, “they don’t have my size, this is so depressing!”. But depression as a mental illness is not sadness. We all experience sadness, it’s part of the human condition to feel that emotion. But depression for me anyway, is beyond sadness. More than just melancholy.
So what do I feel? It’s hard to put into words, and sometimes I feel I’ve left important things out, going back it seems unreal that I’ve been in those extreme places within my mind. I’ll allow a stream of consciousness to lead me.
The overbearing feeling I get, is intense loneliness. A feeling I recall when I’ve hit those depths, is hopelessness, not being able to escape, falling deeper into this abyss, the reach of people becoming darker as they get further and further away. When I’m there I could seem normal enough on the surface, going about my business, but my business becomes the bare necessities. Going to work, going to the shop to buy food. Socialising and spending time outside willingly, ends. There is a feeling of not being worthwhile, of not being needed, and the lack of any contact with people grows, in my head I believe they don’t want me there, everyone has stopped inviting me out. What rationally may have happened is that I never go out anymore, so there’s no point inviting me, but I don’t think that. I think that people dislike me, they are laughing about me, having fun without me, in my head visions of raucous laughter pointing and staring at me, I become small as their pointing drives me down. This extends to my existence beyond social invites, and I start to believe that everyone is staring at me, disgusted by me, wondering why I’m bothering, what do I have to offer them.
I developed anxiety from my depression. Residues of which still remain. Because I had become so withdrawn and helpless, I’d stopped being part of society. I felt I had no friends. I felt so isolated and alone. These feelings begin to wear me down. I’m tired of thinking, of creating more problems in my head, I’m tired of feeling like this, I don’t want to feel like this. Sleep seems like a good option. I can’t sleep. I’m worrying about if this is ever going to end, and more and more thoughts are entering my head, every little thing I do I inspect, closely analysing every detail. I am so tired now. I feel lazy because my energy has gone. I need to do things. I invent things I need to do. I don’t have the time. I don’t do anything. I worry. I’m tired. I sleep during the day. I hide away. My hole is closing in. Maybe I should just let it. Would the world miss me?
Then commentary begins. What’s wrong with you? I went through that but didn’t behave like you? Everything will be better. Stop being miserable. You’ve got nothing to worry about. There are people worse off than you.
You know what that commentary does? It reinforces those thoughts in my head. You’re right, I’m pathetic, I’m worthless, I’m a poor excuse of a human. Why would anybody want to be my friend? I stop talking. I never tell anybody how I feel. I feel alone. I feel isolated. I can’t even remember how I got here. I can’t see a way out.
I’m a lucky person. I have friends with a long enough reach that I no longer hit the very bottom. My triggers are still there, but I talk about it. To people who will listen and not mock me. My anxiety still hints to me occasionally. I still fear what people think. But instead of allowing myself to believe those thoughts, I challenge them, occasionally it’s a difficult battle and we fight for hours, I come out bruised but victorious. I know it will happen again, I can’t avoid every situation that fills me with fear, but I can be prepared. Speak up and escape if I need to.
The strength of good friends
I’ve made good friends in my life who’ve supported me regardless, one of which I first made when I was at university back in the 90’s. She noticed I wasn’t behaving myself, maybe even before I had, and her concerns for me and my wellbeing I truly believe saved me. I sometimes feel I can never thank her enough for being the friend she has been, we may not talk as often as we should these days, life does move in different directions and opposite ends of the country, but I know she thinks about me, and always reaches out when I need someone, when I didn’t even realise it myself. Having a friend who has true empathy, and doesn’t run away from you when you are feeling you have nothing left to offer the world, is a remarkable support.
Since that time, I’ve noticed friends come and go, bonds are not always strong enough to keep you together beyond changes of location and lifestyle. I have a handful of good friends, but I think as you grow older it isn’t important to have hundreds of friends or to look popular amongst your peers. The good friends I have are important, some I’ve only made in the last year. What’s important is that instead of mocking me when I have very low episodes, or not believing me and belittling me, they support me, they understand, they help me back to myself, they make me realise that they do care about me, even when I hit those lows. Having a support network isn’t about being dependant on other people, it’s about trust and feeling safe, it’s about knowing that you’ve got each other’s back, it’s about really giving a shit about people.
I wrote before about introversion, I like being by myself. What that doesn’t mean is that I don’t like people, I’m just selective over who I chose to spend my time with. Maybe this in itself has refined who I call my friends? Maybe this has fuelled my anxiety around some situations? But I do know it’s made me who I am. Usually I’m prone to self deprecation and conviction of my own failures, so it feels quite an egotistical thing to write approving my own behaviour, but I do think that my own personal journey has eventually created a person who is caring, supportive and capable of strong empathy. They’re surely good things? I also know that I wouldn’t have got to this place without the people who have supported me throughout my life and for that I am truly grateful.