I’ve never spoken about depression before. I’ve touched on it, alluded to it, hinted, suggested,…but I’ve never admitted that I’ve been depressed. Completely, hopelessly, utterly depressed.
I think I’ve always suffered from it. At first, I was too young to realise it, then I was in denial. Once I’d accepted it, I was busy trying to hide it. I’ve had rare moments, sometimes weeks, very rarely months, where I’ve been happy, completely happy, without that lingering black cloud threatening to overwhelm me. Those moments have been few and far between.
I don’t like talking about it. I know I’m strong and that’s the side I like to present to the world, but yesterday, hearing the incredibly sad news of Robin Williams’ death, I felt that by hiding it, I was somehow colluding with those who think it’s something to be ashamed of. It’s not, I know that, but the feeling of shame is hard to shake off.
We’re told to talk about it. We’re told to speak out, tell someone, don’t keep it in. I’ve told people. In my most desperate moments, I’ve said I wanted to end it all. It fell on deaf ears. My family have never been particularly good at talking about ‘feelings’ and even less able to listen to anyone else talking about theirs, but years ago, saying those words out loud, hearing them for the first time, knowing it was something I wanted to do, I hadn’t expected to be ignored.
It’s always been there. There’s no blame. It’s nobody’s fault, but the darkest moments have been triggered by big events. The longest cycle began when a relationship ended 9 years ago. My friends were great, but I was too busy putting pressure on myself to snap out of it, to really open up to them. I felt I should be over it after the first few months, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It wasn’t just him, it was everything that relationship had done to me. I’ve never felt more ashamed of myself. The person I became wasn’t one I recognised. I was so desperate to find the tiniest speck of love where there was none, I tried everything. It was like getting blood from a stone. I’d never been like that in a relationship before and I haven’t since.
In reality, whatever we’d had, had ended months earlier. We’d been playing at it for far too long. Him, never quite having the courage to admit it, me desperate to believe him when he said he loved me. Along the way, he’d started in subtle ways to undermine me, calling me paranoid, telling me it was all in my head. Finally the worst, the moment I walked away, when he told me I was like my dad. One final kick, when I was already down. I hadn’t been paranoid and it hadn’t all been in my head, but I’d heard it for over 2 years and I believed it.
Soon after that relationship ended, my aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had a brain tumour that was operated on and she was given therapy, but it was only to extend her life by a few months. She was my mum’s younger sister, so we decided to get as many of the sisters as possible to over to stay for the week. I’ll never forget that time. I’d set off from home as usual, then go to a park, or for a walk by the river and cry. Hours and hours of nothing but crying. Then I’d go home and pretend to a house full of people that everything was fine.
I got away with it.
I continued to function, but nothing had changed inside. My aunt passed away the following year. I looked after my mum. I handled the grief, but I knew I wasn’t coping. All I wanted to do was sleep, but it eluded me. I’d lie in bed for hours, but my brain wouldn’t stop thinking. It was constant, thought after thought after thought. Relentless memory after memory, always ending with self loathing. The worst cycle. I couldn’t eat and lost weight I couldn’t really afford to lose.
Years went by, I continued to wake up every morning with a feeling of dread. It was physical. I could feel it in my stomach. Things got really bad at home. My relationship with my dad worsened, with us nearly coming to blows one night. One sister didn’t want to get involved, the other chose not to believe what was happening. People have issues with their parents all the time because they are human and fallible. I have friends who’ve never known their parents. In those cases, you know they couldn’t cope or were simply feckless. What I found most difficult was being singled out. That feeling of inadequacy, rejection, never feeling good enough, never quite leaves you. I tried asking why. I shouted, I screamed, I begged for answers, only to be told occasionally that it was all in my head, but mostly I was met with silence. As a child, I would pretend I was adopted, but as I grew older, the resemblance to my dad’s family was undeniable. It was just me.
I was the problem.
After that night, the only way I could cope was by fantasising about ending it all. It was the only thing that brought relief. I started reading up about various different methods of suicide. Which was quickest, the most painless, what could go wrong. Things didn’t seem so bad anymore. Anytime that cloud appeared, I’d tell myself it wouldn’t be for long. I’d escape. I had a plan.
I’d set myself targets. I’d attend this show, then I’d do it. I’d attend this party, see that friend…etc. I’d always set a date and I’d lose my nerve. I remember standing by the river one day, looking down, willing myself to jump. Another day, a different place, tube tracks, not quite having the courage. I couldn’t even do that properly. It only added to the self loathing.
I don’t know when things changed. Not entirely, never enough to call myself happy, but enough so the best part of my day was no longer a fantasy about taking a knife to my wrists. Not waking up every morning with a pain in my stomach. Not crying every day, every night. It wasn’t even one step at a time, but a tiny fraction of a step. An achingly slow process.
It got better.
Having a baby nephew to love helped. My friends, who I pushed and pushed, but refused to leave, helped. Music helped. Listening to Darren Hayes, Stephen Fry and other public figures talk about their battle with depression helped. Social media helped. Books helped. TV helped. I found comfort in the strangest of places, but it all helped.
Slowly, I built myself up again. I vowed never to let anyone treat me like that again. I promised myself I’d never be that person again. Even if I was the only person who believed it, I was worth more.
It meant maintaining a distance. It meant closing myself off from people. It meant not allowing myself to feel anything for anyone. Then eventually, worrying I’d done far too good a job of it. Worrying I’d never feel anything for anyone again. Years going by. No tears, no love. Just surviving, eventually finding contentment.
Then 2 years ago, finally starting to feel again. Silly at first, in short bursts, nothing serious, until last year. Falling in love again. Explaining my past. Talking about it for the first time. Opening up. Trusting. Believing. Only for it to end abruptly.
It was different this time though. There was no clinging on with false hope. There was no desperation to find love where there was none. There was no desire to carry on listening to excuses and declarations of love and trying in vain to make them true. There was no ‘If he just sees me one more time, for one more day, one more conversation, he’ll change his mind.’
During a conversation one night, he’d asked me to explain what I meant by all consuming love to him. I had, but I’d told him I’d never try to get blood from a stone again and I didn’t. We spoke about my dad. He couldn’t understand why anyone would treat their own child like that, asking me if I had tried speaking to him. I explained I had, for years, always to be met with silence. He would stare at the TV, like I wasn’t even there. Once, in a fit of rage, I’d turned the TV off and thrown the remote control across the room. He hadn’t flinched. To this day, I struggle with indifference. I’d much rather have a heated row than be dismissed.
When I’d finished telling him everything, he’d been appalled and promised never to do that. Just weeks later, it started. Telling me I’d got it all wrong, the silent treatment, disappearing again and again, not answering calls, not replying to emails.
The only time I mentioned depression was in relation to SAD. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and I’d warned him about it. In the end, we weren’t together long enough for it to affect us, but it did affect me, like I knew it would. It’s no coincidence that every relationship I’ve ever been in has started in the Summer and ended in the Winter. His leg injury from a motorbike accident and subsequent operations were visible, physical, tangible and therefore real. We’d broken up, but I didn’t let him go through it alone. My SAD wasn’t, so it didn’t deserve the same in return, even as a friend. I had heard him make light of his best friend’s girlfriend’s depression and I’d never have accepted his pity, but it hurt he wasn’t there as a friend.
I walked away.
The spiral started again. Feeling inadequate, unlovable, believing nobody could like me, so giving them an ‘out’ by pushing them away, comparing myself to others and coming up short, wondering why he was embarrassed of me, ashamed of me, stopped caring about me. The tears, god the tears. Endless, never ending tears, after years of no emotion. Not telling anyone until months later. Then the Confessions blog posts. The endless blogs, but at least I was communicating.
It’s not like last time though. I’ve had someone with me every step of the way. I’m still waking up with the dread in the pit of my stomach, but I’m not fantasising about death. The tears have just about stopped. I didn’t lose myself to please someone. I believed in myself, I trusted my instincts and I made the hardest decision of my life and survived. Along the way, I lost people who were never my friends, found others in unexpected places and piece by piece, I’m building myself up again. What I lack in other areas, I make up for with honesty and by being a loyal and good friend. Those who’ve stuck around will know this. It may be hard work, but it’s worth some effort and rewarding in the end.
I’m worth the effort.
And above all and inspite of it all, I’m still alive.
Not everyone who’s suffered from depression is that lucky.
*Edit (February 2016) – As of December, I was put back on medication after a few years of feeling relatively okay. It took time to kick in, but I’m feeling a lot more positive as I write this, so I would urge you to seek help. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it.
If you can identify with any of this, please talk to someone. Don’t go through it alone like I did. If you can’t speak to someone you know, then pick up the phone. If you know someone who’s struggling, try to be there as best you can. Don’t give up on them. Listen, talk, never stop communicating.
I find it worrying that we wouldn’t dream of discarding an expensive gadget, yet we do the same with people without a second thought. What does that say about us? On the value we put on people and their lives?
Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number will not show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation that supports teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.