I’ve been thinking more recently about what exactly I’m trying to achieve by keeping this blog. If it’s not just to diarise my misfortune and have a internationally distributed moan – then what is it?
I’m writing about me. I’m sharing my life and my wishes and my regrets with a host of invisible strangers. Maybe it’s a self endorsed form of therapy. The force of writing words that are universally public (rather than scrawled internal rants in a diary kept under the mattress) certainly forces my mind to have a different perspective when looking back at itself.
One thing I’ve noticed in writing this is that I try and maintain a sense of humour when scrutinising the various hapless twists and turns of my life. But if I being totally honest with you – you crazy invisible lot – the harsher reality is that my sense of humour hasn’t always been a very reliable crutch to keep my spirit tall and proud.
From time to time my general moany dissatisfaction with my unsuccessful search for a life has turned a little darker and I’ve hit some pretty black depths.
My relationship with depression is a confusing and conflicted one. It took me a long time to confront my reflection in the unfriendly bathroom mirror – sallow cheeked and black eyed – and accept that this strange feeling of hopelessness that permeated most of my waking and sleeping hours might be what other people call depression. Make no mistake – doing this was a HUGE admission. It never seemed to be a word that would happen to me.
As soon as I admitted it to myself something of a weight was lifted. Maybe giving the problem a diagnosis would lead to a cure I told myself as I dutifully took myself off to my doctor. As soon as I walked into the surgery I was hit by crushing wave of self doubt. What was I supposed to say? I mean there wasn’t really anything wrong with me was there? I didn’t have a pulsating sore or a raspy set of lungs or any kind of angry virus racing through my blood. You couldn’t see or test for this darkness that squatted on every bright thought in my head.
The wave of self doubt was followed by a breaking ebb of panic. The doctor was going to think I was making it up, his eyes were going to deaden for which I would read ‘here’s another over privileged, over indulged time waster’ radiating from his silent skull. I was so worked up by all these imagined reactions that when in fact the quiet natured and soft voiced doctor did turn to me and ask what seemed to be the problem I instantly burst into tears and was unable to articulate anything for a good five minutes.
I’d like to tell you that all my fears were unfounded and that my doctor was exemplary and eased my discomfort and set me on the road to recovery. Sadly it didn’t happen quite like that. My doctor, whilst not looking at me like I was the time waster I felt, did look a little embarrassed at my outburst. He struck me as something of a shy man and I could tell he’d be much more comfortable with an ingrown toenail than a bruised psyche. He called up a document on his computer and he went through a list of questions whilst doling out NHS edition scratchy tissues that silently ordered me to control myself.
Q: How long had I been feeling like this?
A: About six months
But the really terrifying thought, what haunted me and kept me awake at night – was how much longer would I feel like this…
Q : Did I know why I was feeling like this?
I wish I could tell you I had a legitimate feeling for being like this – you’d understand it more if it was some rational response to a parent dying or a job ending – but no – there’s no reason why it started and no reason why it should end
Q: Was I having suicidal thoughts?
A: No god no
See listen – there’s even a little laugh for you to show just how ridiculous I know that idea to be. That word belongs to a whole different breed of depression. After all what right have I to feel suicidal? There’s nothing really wrong with me is there?
So – yes – sometimes I think about how much more peaceful it would be not to exist, maybe, occasionally I’d go so far as saying I kind of long for that sensation. An eternity of feeling nothing – a calm soothing blankness like a luxurious coat to snuggle up in. A unfathomable lightness far, far away from this debilitating weight of sadness that turns all my skies leaden grey, makes every room I move through a boxy prison.
But this is a much darker, deeper silent truth that I can barely admit to myself , let alone you…
At the end of his exhaustive list that I answered with half truths he offered me anti-depressants.
I know there are many different schools of thought about anti depressants and I know they have been vital in many people’s struggle to control their depression. However, personally I’ve never felt that comfortable about taking them. I totally get that depression can be about hormonal imbalance – and that medication is a good way to even things out, but for me it just never felt that that was what was wrong. There was a sadness in me that I wanted to address and exorcise. I didn’t want to push it to the bottom of an already cluttered closet of a brain by doping it with chemicals.
So I said no to the pills and this left the doctor a little thrown. I suppose he felt that they were the only thing he could manifestly offer me. He then said, with a peculiar expression on his face, that the NHS offered a few counselling routes but in order to be elligible I would need to complete a depression questionnaire. This they would use to work out whether or not they could help me. This felt suspiciously like my sadness was being graded. It also struck me as a little misbalanced that I could get magic pills by just rocking up and turning on the waterworks but if I wanted to bypass that route and just talk to someone about what I was going through I would have to enter into some kind of selection process.
Despite these misgivings I agreed that counselling seemed to be the best course of action – and with a visible expression of relief he sent me back down to reception to fill out the necessary forms. There followed another slightly excruciating experience where I had to ask (in hushed tones in a crowded waiting room) the haughty middle aged aged receptionist for a ‘Depression Form’ (I shit ye not – that’s actually what they were called).
She scrunched her face up and eyed me with a definite sense of suspicion and, much to my horror, shouted to the other receptionist who was lurking in the back office,
Dragon lady: ‘Ere Marge – this lady ‘uld like a depression questionnaire – do you know where they are?’
Marge: ‘A what?’
Dragon lady: (painfully loud) ‘A depression questionnaire’
Marge: ‘A preshun questionnaire – what’s that then?’
Dragon lady: ‘No – DE-pression – DEPRESSION’
Marge -‘ Ooooh Depression. Naaah ‘aven’t got any left – I’ll ‘ave to print one out. She alright to wait?’
Dragon Lady: ‘You alright to wait?’
Me: (in a voice so tiny I’m amazed she heard me) ‘yes’.
Eventually the questionnaire was thrust into my hands and I huddled in a corner rating my feelings of ‘dread and anxiety’ on a scale of 1 to 5 whilst desperately trying to ignore the rest of the full waiting room who were obviously fascinated my this red eyed mess with mental problems. I could positively feel their smugness over the fact they were there for a pregnancy check up or a chesty cough. They were worlds away from this wreck who struggled with just holding her head up and getting on with her life.
After submitting my forms I was to wait for up to four weeks to be contacted by someone in the appropriate department. Three weeks later someone did indeed phone who told me that the results of my questionnaire were positive (oh the irony), so the good news was that I may indeed be eligible for counselling. There was a peculiar rush of exhilaration that my ‘depression’ had passed the test – a misguided relief that something was indeed wrong with me. It’s a bit like going to Casualty (the ER for all you international readers) with an injured wrist and after waiting for fives hours and being pushed and shoved through x-rays and consults almost willing there to be a break so the visit wouldn’t have been a waste of time…. insanity. However my relief in my official diagnosis was to be short lived.
‘The next stage of the process is a telephone interview to assess what kind of help we can give you’
‘Great – I’ve got time now’ – was my reply.
‘Oh no – the purpose of this phone call is to to simply organise a time for said telephone interview. Our next available appointment is – lets see – the 8th June’
‘The 8th of June – but it’s the 10th of April’
‘That’s right – is that date alright for you. After your interview we’ll be able to best assess your needs, however I’m afraid it does take a little while, it takes on average about three months to place a patent within a counselling group – shall I book you in then?’
Switch to my newly born relief being dashed against the hard unforgiving wall of NHS waiting times…
I’m afraid I never made it to the telephone interview stage, but scraped together every last penny in my overdraft and took myself off to a private counsellor. My experience there was somewhat mixed too (I’ll tell you about that another time I’m sure).
What am I trying to achieve by telling you about the walls I ran into when trying to get help with my depression? However disappointing all these experiences were, in a strange and wonderful way they helped. Seeking help – helped, and through the roughs of confronting my depression head on I did get to a happier place. I would always, always encourage someone who is feeling down to ask for help – not so much for the advice (or lack of it) that you will receive – but for the tiny but vital switch this flicks in yourself. Depression is a indefatigable, ravenous beast of a thing and it takes its victims where it can. Standing up and facing the beast and making a conscious decision to not be its victim, but to instead start to try and figure out an escape plan, is a crucial step in recovery.
Is there a cure? Can you rid yourself of the beast for good? I’m not sure. My moods still very often resemble a bad game of ping pong, but I’m not scared of admitting to myself when there’s a problem, and I know myself better for grappling with my beast within.
So back to why I’m keeping this blog.
I’ve felt desperately alone at certain times in my life. Being surrounded by a loving family and having fantastic friends doesn’t matter one bit when you get lost inside yourself. If you’re reading this because you’re feeling like there are no answers, that no-one can help you, that life’s a big steaming mess of shit, then know that you’re not alone. If you’re racked with guilt for feeling a sadness that you don’t think you’ve earned the right to dwell in – know that you’re not alone. If you’ve got totally lost when you thought that you were directly en route to a proper life – then you are very definitely not alone. I’m not talking about me – I’m not talking about the 1000s of people worldwide who could sit down and share experiences that are so similar they set your nerves on end. You’re not alone because you always have yourself – and you are the best person to get yourself through.