Today is the last post of 24 posts I published in December 2016. A way of flushing my draft posts and challenging myself to write. Originally, I had a post on my physical health, on how I had hurt myself over the last couple of years and some of the thought that goes into that. But, I sort of wanted to end this mini-writing adventure on something that meant more to me. So, I wanted to write about my mental health instead of physical health. This is deeply personal, partly taboo, but feels like the right thing for me to share.
I find it really quite hard to write about depression. When I feel super down, words flood my head. And I want to share them, talk to someone, even if that someone is you, my anonymous reader. But then, when I start to engage my fingers to the keyboard to write, my brain clears and the sad thoughts start to ramble, so I apologise in advance, and hope you can bear with me.
What is this depression you talk of?
Someone once said to me: "you had a bit of rough time with that burnout last year". I was left rather confused. I didn't think I had experienced burnout, or at least what I thought burnout was.
In retrospect, I think they mistook my depressiveness for burnout. I'm a depressive. I suffer from…or "have" depression. Some days are bad, sometimes it can last for weeks and even months. Other times it's just idle and in the background.
It's always been there, as far back as I can remember.
But I've never been "diagnosed" as depressed, which, when asked if I have, it almost invalidates how I feel. How I've felt as far back as my memory can reach. I got thinking in these last days though, when was the last time I got "diagnosed" for a cold? I knew I had a cold. I took some rest, followed my body and eventually got better. But I did have a cold. So today, I've decided that I'm going to own this label. I am depressed.
There's a portrait photo of me aged 4 in black and white. Deep in that little boy's eyes is sadness. Today, I struggle to think when I've been happy. I know I've been happy. I know it because I've had Julie in my life for 20 years. But I struggle to remember.
I think it's because happiness is supposed to be this gold standard (or so I've told myself somewhere along the line). Something that someone can be. But I've never been happy. I've felt happy, but then, I feel sad again. I have many, many things to be happy for – and grateful for. I have a loving and amazingly supportive best friend who doubles as my wife. I have a family, children who I love and they love me. I have a roof over my head and a job that I'm good at, that I enjoy and I can choose how I work. I'm grateful for what I have.
But…depression doesn't really take personal successes or gratitude into account. There's many many successful and theoretically happy people who are depressed. It's not something you choose.
I think what I'm trying to say is: I have a mental illness called depression (with the occasional anxiety). I have done for decades. I just mistook it for general sadness and grumpiness, and equally thought that some people had this…gene (perhaps) that lets them be happy. Lets them be the bright star amongst people. And I was jealous, and that perhaps I could somehow learn to be happy. Except, it turns out, if I really look, there's a lot of other people out there that feel the way I feel too.
Why am I writing about this?
I know that I could easily write this post as a sympathy post. And perhaps it would draw some sympathy, but that's ultimately not really what I want.
What I want, is to find a place for the words that swirl around in my head to go, but also to perhaps hopefully let these words find others.
Being alone in the world is the worst thing. I learnt this after we lost Tia. It felt we were suffering the worst pain in the world, and we were completely alone in the darkness of grief. But Julie read a lot after Tia was born about stillbirth and infant death and she shared a lot of what she read. The more we learnt about other people's stories, the more we learnt we weren't alone, and importantly, we learnt that we could continue to live in a world with this pain.
That's what I want to do. Write. Share. Let others, and probably more importantly, let me know that I'm not alone.
It really does. It's like it's a little demon that listens in on my life and then takes the things that hurt the most, and whispers them back to me:
"You're disgusting. You fat, stupid idiot. No one likes you. You talk total rubbish. Don't talk, it's better that way. Just stay there. Hide yourself. You think you're depressed? You're not, this is just you. How you are."
My demon is a jerk. A convincing one at times. I read the words above, and it's almost comical…if I hadn't been stood in a changing room alone hearing this voice and believing it.
Distance helps. Moving through this nastiness and coming out the other side. It helps because I know that it's just a little demon who's got nothing more than words. It can't really hurt me. I just have to try…try so hard to remember that it's not true.
As a kid, and over the years, particularly after Tia was born, I've seen counsellors. They've helped in some ways. But never really "fixed me". I've always been concerned with being fixed…
Last year, right around the time of ffconf 2015, I found myself crying all the time. Every day in fact. I started off hiding it from Julie. I remember one particular time that I was desperately trying to hold myself together as I was going to be solo parenting my daughter for a couple of hours, and the moment the door shut behind Julie I was in tears. Sobbing. I had to pull myself together for my little girl, but after that time, I kinda knew something was wrong and I needed to start talking to Julie.
Eventually I saw the local GP and asked for some medication. Anti-depressants. I've always felt weird about pills for mental problems, but with no real justification. I think it's related to the taboo of mental illness and acknowledgement that I was somehow "broken".
The GP asked me a few (perfectly reasonable) questions and then she prescribed me Citalopram, which amazingly matched me perfectly. It seemed to steady my mood almost entirely. Literally magic pills. But it's nothing special about these pills themselves, it just happens that they worked for me.
The only thing these pills took from me was my extreme mood swings: the super lows. I never really experience super high moods (i.e. extreme happiness…but I want to!), it just completely levelled out my emotions. If these pills continue to work, I've no problem with taking them for the rest of my life.
12 months later and the pills are still working for me, but there's still a struggle that goes on inside my head. Maybe it's because I'm taking my pills in the evening and not the morning. Maybe the pills were a placebo and my mind is adjusting. Maybe because it's Christmas. I don't know, I just know this last month or so have been more of a down than not.
Finding other ways to help
I know that reminding myself, constantly, that I'm not alone helps me a lot. Reading other people's stories helps me. I'm currently reading Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig which is helping me right now.
I can also tell you, dear reader, that this post, in writing it, is helping me. Today, after writing the majority of this text, I felt the way that I imagine "normal people" feel. I wasn't heavy with thoughts, I didn't feel the normal gloom. It felt like the little demon on my shoulder had taking the day off. I told Julie that I felt "normal", and light. It's a nice feeling. And so, I've told myself that I'll write more about this depression. Because, if it helps, it's worth it.
Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and happy holidays.