“Depression” is a really tricky word. As with all things related to mental health, it’s not as well understood as it should be. Health should cover the whole person — mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually — but we all know that that is not often what people mean when they talk about “health”. Non- physical suffering is harder to locate and treat, and gets washed up amongst cultural, social, gender and other factors, such that it remains in many ways opaque.
I want to start by saying that this is a deeply personal issue to me and something I care about intrinsically. Ten years ago, I was told that I probably had Major Depression, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Scary, capital-letter-words. For many people, these titles are really useful — they legitimise something you feel to be true, but that is hard to place. They can make you feel like ‘Yes, finally! I’m not just making it up.’ They give substance to thoughts and experiences you struggle to define.
In my case, they are labels I have struggled to come to terms with. What does “Generalised Anxiety Disorder” even mean? They’re a bunch of words that seem to mean it’s okay to treat me like I’m either permanently damaged or volatile (that’s only like 50% true. 60% tops). I have had to carve out ways to deal with something that might never leave me — strategies and truths all bundled up in the defence of a big dose of the sads. Here are just a few of the things I have learned:
Dealing with depression is individual, though many of us express similar symptoms
Every person’s experience of depression is individual. It may not be a permanent state of affairs, it can come about as a result of an event or circumstance — this does not make it less painful. Mine sometimes manifests as having a Nobody Will Ever Really Love Me cry, and sometimes it manifests as a Marathon All of Game of Thrones. Sometimes they happen at the same time. While eating my body weight in Chinese food. You just never know. Researchers continue to try to characterise types of depression (according to this article below, I’m in Biotype 4). Regardless of what “types” of depression exist, the way I need to deal is likely to be peculiar to me.
Researchers have discovered there are four types of depression
Four types of depression have been identified by researchers using brain scans, which revealed different types of…
The point is that if I need to get it all out there by having two lunches, a shot of tequila and a four hour bath, then that’s what I’ve got to do. It’s rarely anything all that bad, and I have learned not to judge myself for doing the random weird combination things that keep me going — after all, if I don’t do these things to take care of myself, everything gets a hell of a lot worse. Which brings me to the next point…
Try everything and keep trying everything
Far be it for me to tell you what to do (see above). But I have found that unless I do everything I can think of, I very quickly end up doing nothing. This is something that came out of a recent discussion with a girlfriend who told me she’d felt suicidal. “I just don’t know what to do any more,” she confessed, and this had resulted in a lot more doing nothing at all — sleeping, skipping work, etc.
Of course, it’s easy for me to see, from the outside, that there are a million more things she could be doing to keep momentum up. But I also understand that when you’re in it, options feel very limited. That’s rarely actually true. There’s very rarely no options, such that taking yourself out the gene pool is the solution. As a person who has stared long and hard at the tube tracks, I can say with some confidence that I have always made the right choice on this — I’ve always found new things to try. I keep track of everything I do try, by writing it down.
How to Keep a Journal for Better Mental Health
A guide from 20 years (and counting) of journaling and therapeutic writing…
Whether it’s as simple as ordering a new dish off a familiar menu, or going to a new class, or finally sitting down to meditate for 5 minutes of a morning, there’s always something. And the great thing is that once you do whatever it is, you can immediately congratulate yourself for it. A sense of achievement is priceless when you’re in the pit. Win-win.
Some people will leave your life, try not to let that hurt too bad
Let’s face it: depressed people are super hard to be around. They’re sad. They’re often desperate. They can shut down and shut themselves away, be difficult to talk to or do things with. They make life sound super shit, because that’s their reality in that moment. Obviously, there’s always going to be those arsehats who don’t get it and actually make things worse. Who say things like, “You should be so grateful that I put up with you!” [Note: Actual thing said to me by a possessive ex] or a straight up (and more reasonable), “I don’t want to deal with that.” Those cases are pretty clear cut.
Then there are the ones that try. They try to shake you loose, which sometimes won’t work. That’s when even the most diligent friends might start to give up. It’s not that they don’t care about you or love you, they just don’t know how to help and nobody likes to fail at something. Sometimes, this features in my depression as a self-fulfilling cycle. Nobody can possibly love/like/understand someone like me, and voilà! I make it impossible for another human to do those things. I test them. I want to push them, and watch them leave me. Ahah! I then say, I was right all along about you! You crappy friend/lover/whatever! Yes, good work brain. You’ve created a self-fulfilling cycle, well done you.
I’ve worked hard to develop the awareness of when I’m doing this. I’m trying very hard to stop giving people a reason to go. Some people will leave. But others will stay. The ones that go… well, it is what it is. The ones that stay? Priceless, wonderful humans, made all the more shiny by their saintly patience. Try not to let the leavers hurt you — the stayers are out of this world.
You are also other things besides [insert diagnosis]
Depression is a part of my life, but it’s not everything I’m about. The labels at first gave me a good reason to explore, treat and try to change something that I wasn’t coping with well. But after a while, it almost became a kind of challenge — another thing to overcome. Now I realise that, while it’s there in the background, I’m actually still a pretty cool and diverse person, with lots of other things going on.
I would remind others who are struggling that what you are dealing with is real, it’s not a figment of your imagination — it’s not necessarily the sort of thing you can just “harden up” against and get past. It takes work, but it doesn’t diminish you, if you don’t let it. You are still a capable person, with many other aspects to who you are.
A few final questions:
What are your coping strategies in tough times?
Do you find the diagnoses/labels helpful?
Oh, and do you require a combination of food and long baths to soothe you? If so, let’s talk.