My name is Malloy, and I am clinically depressed. How cold to see it written like that. But what does it really mean?
I have, for some time, been suffering with an unavoidable sadness which has enveloped me and suffused me with a despairing, suffocating, black gas. The gas (I should call it a ‘cloud’, most people do, but it sounds a bit trite and clichéd to me for that very reason) is intangible and invisible, but when it cloaks me, I am diminished by its immense weight. The weight figuratively floors me; my head bows as I walk; my walk becomes more sluggish, and my movements and thoughts slow to the pace of an underachieving snail whose peers tell him he is the laziest, slowest snail they’ve ever met, and he’d better not try and catch up with them as they race towards that lettuce leaf for a few days, or he’ll give himself a heart attack. Everything becomes so overwhelming that I take to my bed, and remain there, sometimes for days.
A few things that are necessary manage to make themselves known through the gas, sometimes. For example, my mother coming round, necessitating getting up and dressed and appearing ‘presentable’. I will duly do what I need to do, but slowly, sometimes not quite managing it in time. Whilst I am interacting with Mum, my mouth makes the right shapes and sounds, and my body makes the right movements, but I can’t see or hear properly through the gas. It feels like driving with a fogged windscreen and the radio turned up loud.
Unfortunately, I am a great actress. Therefore, most people with whom I interact on a regular-ish basis, and those who don’t see me often, all think I am absolutely fine-and-dandy, and am the HappyBubblyZoe they’ve always known. (I can, occasionally, genuinely find her in fleeting moments. These moments often involve alcohol.) It’s so hard, though, and draining, to always gurn my mouth into a smile, and it makes my cheeks ache. Social gatherings almost always result in me disappearing often to the loo, just so I can let my ‘smile’ drop for a brief respite.
Well, until recently. It has recently all started falling apart; the smile won’t stay on, the façade is cracked, and the tears just keep coming, no matter what I do to try and stop them. To counteract being ‘found out’, I avoid – people, situations, appointments etc.
I’m unsure as to why I am writing about it so candidly now. A need to convey what I’m really thinking, perhaps. I certainly am not as skilled at articulating the feelings and thoughts of depression as the excellent blog writer of Hyperbole and a Half, or the equally excellent and talented artist of Depression Comix. If you want an in-depth and well-explained understanding of the whole subject, definitely refer to those sites. Both of them accurately portray all the complicated feelings and methods of thought that people in my situation experience, and I did find a lot of comfort in reading them and knowing someone understands, and that I am not as alone as I feel.
I have suffered, periodically, from depression throughout my life, beginning in my early to mid-teens following a period of cruel bullying. When I look back, there has always been a reason preceding the sadness; however that doesn’t make me feel any less weak for having this reaction. The self-hate I feel becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy until I am completely immobilised by my own thoughts. In time, with counselling, and sometimes (prescription) drugs, it seems to alleviate, but I always make the mistake of thinking ‘This is it, I can cope now, I won’t get like that again’, only to be floored once again a couple of years later. I’m also angry at myself each time the gas comes back for not having seen the warning signs – but how can one foresee an invisible and intangible substance which gets imperceptibly thicker – until it’s thick enough to smother you (by which time, it’s too late)?
This time is a little different, however. This is the first time I have ever tried to express it rather than repress it. I have told a few people (select ones – I am still avoiding some others) exactly what problems I am facing, and for the most part, they have been very supportive. I am trying to set up some coping mechanisms, and trying not to berate myself when I fail to follow them. It’s not much, but it’s a start. If I’m to be faced with this problem for the rest of my life, a personal ‘coping bible’ will come in handy.
It’s so easy to think that things will never get better – after all, that’s the reality my brain currently accepts as the truth. I also can’t cope when people start shooting ‘positivity sunshine stock phrases’ my way; it make me want to throw apples at them. (Or oranges. Just basically attack them with fruit. I have no idea why fruit – it just seems kinder to throw something at someone that they could actually use, after being mildly bruised by it.) But I do know that hiding somewhere under the black gas is the girl I used to know – the one who laughed easily and frequently; the one who gasped at the beauty of the night sky; the one who loved to spend time with people and thrived in their company. I intend to find her again.
| A Few Of My Coping Mechanisms : –
1. Telling certain friends that I need to be nagged before going out (in this case, to my weekly ukulele practice group). They then email or phone me half an hour before I need to leave. This sometimes works, as I am much less likely to say ‘no’ to someone else than I am to myself. My politeness kicks in, I say I’ll be there, and I tend to want to follow up. Once I get there, I’m usually alright for a while, even if it drains me afterwards. It doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes the gas is too heavy, and won’t let me get out of bed. But because these friends know the deal, I can simply apologise, say I’m not up to it, and that is that, rather than what I have done in the past – invented an illness or other excuse, then felt guilty for lying. This way is more honest, and I escape the extra burden of guilt for giving in to the gas.
2. Writing. In fact, writing everything in my head down. Every. Little. Thing. A symptom of depression I have found to be consistent with me is incredible forgetfulness and lack of concentration (compounded in my case by a very slight amount of brain damage I incurred a while back whilst in a coma – nothing serious, but it has affected my short-term memory). Things whirling around in a maelstrom within my head can make me feel as though I’m whirling, too, and I get dizzy. I know there are things to do, things to remember, things I am feeling and want to get out, dinner to make, so I write it all down in a little notebook I now keep close all the time. Typing things onto my laptop or phone doesn’t seem to have the same effect as physically writing – it’s as though the thoughts flow from my messed-up brain into the pen, then get locked onto the paper – it can be a great relief.
3. Following daily task lists. These have things on them that I suspect most normally-functioning people don’t have to remember to do – they just do them, as a habit, a routine. Things such as ‘clean teeth’, ‘take shower’, ‘make food’. This is because doing simple things at the moment, and in particular, simple things which must be repeated every single day, I find as daunting as scaling a mountain. They are monumentally difficult to both remember to do, and to do, and sometimes I can stand paralysed in my pyjamas, in the middle of the bedroom floor, for half an hour or so, trying to remember what I am supposed to do next after waking up. This has frequently been enough to drive me back to bed. The daily task list provides a visual clue as to the next thing to do, and on occasion has saved my day from becoming a wasted one. Once again, however, it works sporadically rather than all the time – but the fact that it works at all is enough to keep me doing it.
4. TURNING OFF FACEBOOK. Alright, only for a while, as it’s useful for networking, and a tough habit to break. But Facebook can drag me down further than I already am, even though I know that online personas are everybody’s ‘best side’ and are not necessarily representative of their real lives, I still can’t help experiencing abandonment, jealousy and bitterness over all those people having fun without me and seeming to have wonderful lives. It’s not helpful to have these feelings, so I have learned to not check in on days when I am covered with the black gas. I turn off notifications, so they don’t catch me unawares, so I only know what goes on now when I make the deliberate choice to log in.
5. Music and art. I love to sing. Therefore, firing up a backing track or some online karaoke and belting out a number can have an uplifting effect. Listening to ‘happy’ songs does it, too. Drawing and sketching have the same effect, with the added bonus of making me forget myself entirely when I am really caught up in producing an image. It can also be cathartic to draw how I am feeling. ‘Music and art’ is a shaky one though, as when I wake up so down that I want to cover my head (occasionally I do this – I lie on my knees in a sort of crawling/foetal positon under the covers – as though preparing for a crash – sometimes for hours) then the last thing I can imagine doing is something creative. On the days when I can persuade myself, however, it can help so much.
6. This is the most important one for me. NOT TELLING MYSELF OFF if none of the above coping methods work. Some days I just can’t do anything, and attempting anything at all is like swimming the channel with some lead weights tied to each ankle. On these days, the only thing I can do is to stay in bed – as even sitting on the sofa watching TV requires a level of concentration and awareness I can’t muster up. The enormous feelings of self-hatred that occur from this can be even more debilitating, and I’m sure they have kept me in that state for longer during past bouts of despair. Acceptance and staying calm in the worst of the storm can be a key factor in helping it pass.
It has taken me years of periodic depressive episodes to learn that these methods above are helpful for me; and I hope to continue to discover more. They do not cure me, or get me ‘over it’, but they can help make some days seem just a little bit brighter.