Depression, My Experiences
I’ve suffered with depression for as long as I can recall. I’ve mentioned it in previous Carer Thoughts posts. Caring isn’t the sole cause of my depression. I doubt I could pinpoint a single cause. Off the top of my head, the following probably hasn’t helped:
- I was bullied at school.
- I’ve spent most of my life hiding and denying my sexuality.
- I watched my father die when I was a teenager. As I helplessly attempted to perform CPR, all I could hear was this horrible gurgling sound as the saliva caught in his throat. He was already gone and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I’ve never felt so weak.
Caring though, well, that brings its own challenges. I’m almost thirty-three years old. I’ve been doing this for nearly fifteen years. Some days seem easier than others. There are times when I think it will all turn out okay. And then, there are the days where rationalism kicks in and mindless optimism is pulverised into submission.
The simple, hard truth is that I have sacrificed my future. When my time as a carer ends, what do I do? I have nothing to put on a CV. Oh, I have qualifications gained through Open University study. Perhaps I might be able to dazzle someone with my intellect (ha!). But we all know people are going to be looking for experience, and that giant gap between the age of 19 and however-old I may be then is going to be held against me. Add to that the fact that I doubt I’ll even be finished mourning by the time my Carer’s Allowance is pulled and I’ll be blunt – suicide actually does seem like a pretty good option.
Depression is a Parasite
You may be able to tell from the bleakness of the above that I’m experiencing a “depressive episode” right now. I liken depression to a parasite. It’s an alien invader that exists in mind. Like a parasite, it feeds off its host to grow stronger. Fear, anger, self-loathing – its dietary requirements. While it gorges on the negative it grows stronger. With every bite it musters the strength to whisper to me. It tells me I’m worthless, I’m nothing and that there is no real point or purpose to my continued existence.
And why wouldn’t I believe it? Its arguments are far more logical than the bullshit that was trotted out on both sides of the EU Referendum campaign. The parasite makes far more sense than those who would tell me “It’ll all turn out alright in the end”. No, it shows me the end and the end is not “alright”.
Having lived with this uninvited guest in my brain for so long, I understand that I’ll never be free from it. Even when I experience moments of joy, the parasite will still be lurking somewhere, waiting to feed again. I’ve sought help – I’ve been prescribed drugs that only made things worse, and I’ve tried therapy. The therapy was taken away from me before I’d been able to make real progress, but it provided an outlet for a time.
Depression Strangles Your Voice
With such a rosy outlook, you may be wondering why I’m even bothering. I ask myself that sometimes. My answer is that I refuse to let some unwanted, uninvited worm beat me. It can up the ante all it likes but it won’t break me. Depression is different for every sufferer, which is possibly one of the reasons our underfunded mental health services struggle so much. Some people respond to CBT, some to medication, some to talking therapy etc. For people like me though, I’ve needed to learn coping strategies of my own.
Perhaps the biggest issue I have is that I have no voice. I feel that I cannot talk to this about anyone. There is still an enormous stigma attached to mental health problems – or at least it feels that way when you’re suffering with it. Society is all too keen to glibly throw around words or phrases implying negative connotations to depression and mental health problems. Although such language is often not used maliciously, it can be used carelessly such as when Labour leadership candidate, Owen Smith, recently called Jeremy Corbyn a lunatic. Smith, undoubtedly, didn’t mean to offend or target those with mental health problems.
However, it’s unfortunate, but particularly to the sufferer this reinforces the idea that mental health problems are not really problems at all. The worst thing about depression is the way in which it skews your worldview. Depression makes you believe with all sincerity that you don’t have a problem – you are the problem.
Then it only takes a few ignorant comments about how depression is just a case of the sulks and people need to get over it for the parasite to grow stronger still. To battle the parasite, one needs to remember that they are suffering with an illness and not to take careless words to heart. Bottling things up from fear is what this parasite wants. It’s an enemy.
Losing Your Voice Even in a Supportive Environment
Another oh-so-pleasant little quirk of depression is self-minimalisation. We are fortunate that there are many outlets where people can seek support. Yet so few actually do. Why? Embarrassment might be part of it, or a general fear of speaking up. In my case it’s that I often believe that I have no reason to complain. There are people out there who deal with far worse than me on a daily basis. Some carers have a lot more on their plate than I do. Many depression sufferers have far more horrible life-experiences than me. I start to think that maybe I should just keep quiet?
There’s something about depression that makes you enormously self-conscious. Even when you pluck up the courage to talk about it on a forum, you look at what other people are going through and take a step back. You don’t want to take support away from others in vastly more complex and difficult situations. You find yourself silenced because you feel that you would be an intrusion, and just as unwelcome as that parasite is to you.
Depression Informs Fear
Depression strangles the life out of rational thought, and that’s how it gains its true power. I know I could talk to my girlfriend about this, but I don’t, because I fear her seeing me as weak. I could probably talk to my mother about this, but I don’t, because I have to be the strong one. Once I called The Samaritans, and sat on the end of the phone for about ten minutes in silence because I couldn’t bring myself to speak because I actually feared being ridiculed.
The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was walking into a GP’s office and tearfully begging a doctor to help me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. If I’m honest, even doing that temporarily furthered thoughts about taking my own life. I’d admitted I was weak and pathetic and I’d allowed someone else to see me cry, and see how much pain I was in.
I’m far from cured now. As I’ve said, I doubt I’ll ever be cured but thankfully I was able to learn some coping strategies before my treatment was stopped. Even writing this diatribe has made me feel a little bit better, if only because it’s focused my angst into something semi-productive.
In the end, this isn’t really a carer-only topic – it goes for everyone suffering with depression. You’re not the problem and if you are struggling then know there are people who understand your feelings and who will want to help you, if you will let them in.