The D Word

Although this is written in the present tense, I wrote this in the spring of 2015. It didn’t feel right to post it until the dark clouds had started to lift…

Well, 26/27 on the depression scale. Not quite full marks, but not far off. As I sat with my doctor discussing this score, I found myself strangely irritated that I didn’t manage a perfect score; what does that say about me? So, 26/27, in other words, severe depression, also known as reaching saturation point and, quite possibly the worst enduring all time low I’ve ever had. This score has been constant for over a year now, the longest single period of depression I’ve had in my twenty plus year history of depression. Depression isn’t having a bad day or feeling a bit out of sorts, it’s not Monday blues or fed up Friday; depression is gut wrenchingly exhausting, sometimes feeling as though I’m too exposed to the noise of life and other times feeling so numb and disconnected, I can barely formulate a sentence. I feel cut off and disconnected from my soul; I can’t cry although I desperately want to as I’m numb.

I’m drowning at the moment, my eyes are leaking at the most inopportune moments and I’m not coping. Yes, that’s right, I’M NOT COPING! I never say that out loud, I rarely even admit it to myself. I’ve shattered into a billion little pieces as I try to deal with my failing body and daily struggles. A friend recently admired my strength and courage, but, as always, I pushed it away as intuitively I know that my smile is only covering a multitude of cracks, it isn’t a sign that I’m robustly holding everything together and coping perfectly. I’ve put on a brave face for years, decades in fact. I’ve pushed on and driven myself into the ground as a result. I’m not sure if this is due to an inbuilt denial within me, a pig-headedness or an overwhelming bewilderment as I don’t know what else to do.

I’ve heard it said that depression is the ‘Curse of the Strong’ as it’s often a result of being strong for too long that leads to cracks appearing in the stoical façade. No one can indefinitely sustain a brave face when life is constantly smacking them in the stomach with challenge after challenge after challenge. Even those who get up and keep on fighting reach a point where there’s nothing left and the final kick is the one that feels insurmountable to overcome.

My quest to find some peace has been a long and arduous one. Yet what is peace? What does it mean to me? Acceptance? A willingness to be vulnerable? Happiness? Removing the ‘bad stuff’? Feeling less? Feeling more? Asking for help? Admitting I’m not fine? Eradicating depression? Expressing depression is hard as, like pain, it’s very subjective, but seeking out the words helps me to make sense of this turbulent and chaotic life. No-one likes to talk about the head stuff: the depression, the anguish, the anxiety, the stress and the isolation of living with long term ill-health. There’s no full-stop, no end point; it’s with me every second of every day and always will be. The on-going struggle can rip the heart out of even the most resolute soul. There are days when the hollowness and infinite expanse within feels too raw; it gnaws at my soul and infiltrates every moment of every single one of the 1440 minutes in a day. Every minute feels endless and a watched clock seems to go backwards as each day gets progressively longer.

It’s a bit like one of those endless days in hospital: despite the repetition and constant background movement, after a while, the flickering neon light gets brighter and more intense, the squeaky door gets louder and the constant beep of machines breaks the connection to the soul and sees the spirit wither and fade. As time passes the senses seem to heighten until a moment is reached when it all becomes too raw, too intense and too much and those shutters fall. The isolation of depression is so hard to extrapolate into words as it’s such a personal thing. Each soul experiences depression differently; there is no ‘code of conduct’ for this seemingly nebulous force that sweeps in and takes a stronghold.

It’s hard to openly admit to this as for years I’ve had to prove that my physical health problems weren’t ‘in my head’; this meant that any psychological frailty I might spot I would fight and push away fearing if I admitted it, then no one would take me seriously. Even now I fear being written off as I’ve dared admit I’m depressed. I suppose I feel that depression is a label that invalidates all my other medical labels and takes me further away from me. It doesn’t, of course, but I fear it does, and that’s all that matters. I fear the judgmental and pitiful looks from the doctors who aren’t psychologists feeling smug they were right about me after all.

I’ve never stopped. I’ve never said ‘I can’t’. I just push on. Maybe I fear I will evaporate into dust if I hold up my hands and say ‘enough!’ Even though I know there’s really no other way now as my body is too broken to do anything else, I just can’t bring myself to stop, to hold up my hands in surrender and turn to face the depths of my soul with honesty and with my eyes wide open. Yet, does anyone actually do this? Does anyone really see themselves genuinely and authentically? Does anyone want to? Am I beating myself up for not doing something that no one does?

Maybe if I stop and surrender, all of those repressed bits of me will surface uncontrollably and I’ll sink under the weight of it as I’m convinced the rubbish I carry within weighs far more than I do. I’m a bit like a tardis, much bigger on the inside. On the outside, I hold my breath, tiptoeing through life. But I don’t want to do this any more. I want to feel alive: to take a big deep breath of life and wholeheartedly allow life to breathe back into me. But the pain and grief on the inside is leaking out, straining under immense pressure. My battle to keep it locked within is failing miserably, as my mood descends into a dark abyss. This is what drives my ‘low mood’; I don’t feel a bit depressed, I feel an agonising despair that rips out my heart and leaves me feeling as though I have no skin as every sound and thought amplifies ten-fold, booming into me like a wrecking ball.

Yet, surely these overwhelming emotions I’m experiencing are completely natural, they are a result of living with long-term chronic ill-health, pain, a string of challenging life events and a steadily deteriorating body. So, why should I deny them? But it’s what we do isn’t it? We fight, smile and put on a brave face as no one wants to see the broken soul in the corner. We hide our pain and despair as it still seems socially unacceptable to present a veneer of anything other than ‘smiley happy people’.

I guess the time has come for me to accept that depression, grief and pain are okay, and by giving myself permission to feel them and experience them, I’m finally acknowledging their presence in my life, facing my reality and accepting that these emotions are a part of the natural cycle and bigger picture of my life. They’re important, as their presence is a sign I’m not in balance, but they’re also important because they are part of the spectrum of experience in life. I can’t pick or choose my emotional experiences by cherry-picking only the more palatable ones; it’s all or nothing. I’m ready now to acknowledge them; I’m ready to admit I’m struggling, fragile, imperfect and a bit nuts. Being depressed doesn’t make me less of a human being, it just makes me a human being.