I have a confession to make. I decided I should make it now, whilst I don’t have many (any) readers and it’s less terrifying.
I suffer from depression. That’s not a bad mood, or a sad mood, or any kind of mood. It’s a mental health condition. It’s an illness. It’s chronic, and it doesn’t go away. Sometimes it’s “in remission” and sometimes it’s crippling.
I went to my doctor a few years ago whilst I was working at an office in London, concerned about my lack of sleep, my poor appetite, my unruly digestive system, my fatigue and my general sense of dread about life. I’d actually gone to see her about something else entirely, and added on a nervous question about stress as an afterthought.
“I wanted to ask you about managing stress,” I said as she scribbled me a prescription for something else. “I mean… I’m not…”
I burst into tears. She offered me a box of the finest in NHS-funded flimsy tissues.
I was lucky that my GP was so kind and attentive and listened to my garbled sob story (literally) as I tried to explain that I couldn’t get up in the mornings, that I felt like an observer in life, that my guts were churning over every single worry and fear I could think of, and that I was thinking of a lot of them lately.
She smiled sympathetically and said, “I don’t think it’s stress that we need to address here. I think it’s your very obviously low mood.”
Low mood. That’s how the medical profession label it to start with. It sounds innocuous enough, as if it’s just a little deflated and needs some air. My GP offered me antidepressants, although even she admitted they were little more than a chemical scratch for an itching sore, which I declined for exactly that reason. If my mood was low, I needed to find out why, and I needed to fix that.
She gave me a leaflet for a counselling service which had a sliding scale of fees depending on your income, and suggested they would be better than NHS therapy which would only be a few sessions, and likely wouldn’t be of much use in managing a long-term condition like mine.
I went to weekly therapy for six months back in 2012. If anything, it gave me a morning off work once a week, and a place to go and say things that I thought were too idiotic to say to my friends and family. For the first few weeks I would sit and cry and talk about how I couldn’t stop crying even though I didn’t know why I was doing it. After that I began to struggle a little with what I wanted to say.
That’s the problem with depression. It isn’t about anything. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t frustrated or tired or embarrassed. I wasn’t anything. I felt like a big void was inside me, and I was drifting through each day just hoping to make it to bed so I could at least be unconscious for a few hours and not have to think about how empty and useless I felt.
Then I met Cowboy and my life changed direction entirely, and my demons took a pretty decent break. I no longer had the office drudgery, I lived somewhere new and quiet and pretty, and I met a whole new bunch of people. Gosh, I even had some fun.
In January and February this year, I had some low days. I had days when I couldn’t get out of bed – I just couldn’t do it. I hid away from people, convinced they didn’t want to see me anyway, and certain that if I saw them, I’d only make the emptiness worse.
I still get those days sometimes, and I’ve noticed them sneaking back in more and more since I’ve come home from America. I need to take a stand, and writing this post is part of it.
A young man on my course took his own life over the summer, having battled his demons for some time. His counsellor came to speak to us to explain how good he had been at recognising his low moods and suicidal thoughts, and how diligent he had been at seeking help. It made me realise that I am no good at seeking help when I need it.
It feels like a failure to admit that I am in a place where I can’t help myself, where I can’t just snap out of it and get on with it. Even though I am one of the millions of people enduring the long battle with depression, I am all too quick to pass judgement about it, and deny myself the help I need.
Not any more. This week, I’ll be going back to therapy.