This week is National Depression Awareness Week. I think I can say with confidence that you weren’t aware of that. These National Awareness Weeks always remind me of the Simpsons episode where Mayor Quimby, at a grand public ceremony, announces that today will henceforth be known as ‘Flaming Moe’s Day’ – after a new drink marketed by the surly bartender. As Quimby makes this declaration, an aide whispers: ‘Sir, this is already Veterans’ Day.’ ‘It can be two things,’ an irate Quimby snaps back.
There’s an excellent post on depression by the always excellent Red Newsom. You should definitely read the whole thing but in this excerpt she nails the signs and portents of this peculiar syndrome:
- Waking up one day feeling like something is wrong, like something changed overnight
- Little Issues suddenly seeming awfully like Big Issues
- Unease which turns into paranoia. Something isn’t right. Am I happy? Why aren’t I happy? I’m in bed with my furry family watching Buffy and I am in love and on paper everything is fine but why do I feel so terrible?
- Inability to think short-term ie. ‘I don’t have a job. Why won’t my boyfriend marry me and have babies with me? I’ll never be happy ever again because my life isn’t where I want it currently. It’ll never happen. I AM SO FUCKED.’
- Inability to think long-term ie. ‘Well, I can’t see myself being around for much longer.’
- Paralysis of the body and mind; long hours in bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling nothing. Totally exhausted.
- Anxiety, panic attacks and not being able to leave the house
- Leaving the house, having a panic attack in Morissons and coming home perspiring madly
- The very real sensation of all productivity flying out of the window along with all optimism, social skills and rational thoughts
- The ‘Fuck This Shit’ approach to life where you stop caring about anything, like you’re playing a game of chicken or something. Self destructive thoughts
- How do I shift these feelings? They are invisible and intangible, I need to make them physical so I can see them
- Intense feelings of ‘There is nothing for you here. Why don’t you please go and jump in front of that nearby car so no-one has to deal with your stupid face any more?’
- Crying and hurting and WTF-do-I-do-nowing
Some people who know me will be aware that I had some, well, emotional stuff going on before I left Manchester with loads of irrational self destructive impulses and dramatic mood swings. Some of the symptoms Red talks about are still familiar to me. An anxiety so gripping that you can barely breathe. Intrusive thoughts of disappointment and self-harm that recur at random moments. A conviction that death is ultimately the way forward. Ideation and arrangements. A reckless romantic fatalism that impedes long term planning. Okay, I’ll say yes to your boring social engagement, but the joke’s on you: I’ll be dead by then.
The nightmares followed me across the Pennines. I live in a beautiful city with loads of culture and great nightlife but, as the Stephen King line has it, if you put an asshole on a plane in Boston, the same asshole gets off in New York. The temptation is to just get lost in the sadness and try to come out on the other side – to reach that magical state that Sarah Hall described as the beautiful indifference.
A secondary problem: how to write about this sort of thing without sounding self pitying or pretentious or self aggrandising? The solicitor David Allen Green touched on this in an old post, where he reflects on a life that turned out well, in a way that he never expected:
And so after a decade and a half of frustrations and obstructions, I began to enjoy myself, which I never really had done since before university.
It certainly helped my depression, which had dogged me for years, and still does.
(Depression is something else one is not supposed to talk about.)
I think that last bracketed line still sums things up.
I used to be more optimistic about how far we had come, until I realised that in ten years David is the only working professional I have met who will say in public ‘I suffer from depression’. I think there are other people who have these problems but won’t say so, for fear of redundancy or a question mark in their HR file. It’s the old paradox: if no one steps up, nothing will change.
I think the key is to accept that you deserve love and happiness – or at least live as if you do.
You read. You run. You surround yourself with culture and music and gentle things. You talk to people. You go for long rambling walks. You go out. You socialise. You challenge yourself. You get up in the morning to earn a living. You stay high functioning.
And then, potentially, you get out of the valley, scramble up the hillside, to the place where everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.