I want to have a frank chat with you about Depression. Depression isn’t something we like to talk about because it’s, well, depressing. But depression is everywhere, amongst us all. Even those of us who’ve never experienced depression first hand will almost certainly know someone who has. It’s just that we might not be aware of it, aware of the suffering that our Friend or Colleague or Teacher or even our own parents are living through, ashamed to speak out for fear of not being understood, or dismissed, or rejected, or even seen as crazy: ‘It’s just a cry for attention, she’ll be ok’… ‘She’s just a bit down in the dumps, we all get sad sometimes’… ‘Awww go buy yourself some ice cream, that’ll cheer you up’… Blerg!
The NHS define depression as, ‘…a persistent sadness experienced for weeks and months, and not just a few days.’ Now, although only an umbrella term, for me, the word sadness doesn’t do justice to how traumatic depression really is. It doesn’t efficiently depict the mental stress, the anxiety, the guilt, the tension, the fear, the constant longing to feel ok, to feel “normal”, the loneliness and the shear dread of having to survive among the living, felt incessantly. Yes, each victim of this disease – because let’s get one thing straight right away, depression IS a disease, a crippling one that prevents people from being able to go about their daily lives, to work, to interact with their friends and family, driving thousands to suicide each year – will experience varying levels of the severity of symptoms. Some may be able to appear normal and act as if nothing is the matter, whereas others struggle to leave the house, dress, eat and even remain awake for more than a few hours of the day.
This brings me to my experience with depression. As someone who usually struggles to get a good night’s kip I slept a hell-of-a-lot when I was at my worst. I would go to sleep at around 8 or 9pm and wake-up at midday. I was asleep most of the time. Sleeping for me was the device I used to switch off my thoughts. Medically depression is a chemical imbalance (this site explains it marvellously), but I don’t believe I helped myself. You see my theory is that my depression grew out of a series of negative thoughts, and, already being a mess of icky chemicals, I focused on how devastating the result of my negative ponderings had been.
I might not be making myself clear here… Let me explain. At first I just felt low, like that sinking feeling you get when you receive bad news, only constantly. This came on pretty suddenly and developed over the course of a month. I lost interest in socialising and seeing friends. I found it incredibly difficult to look people in the eye. I avoided my parents and whenever we did interact I was cold and loveless. Having isolated myself I then started to question my state and how long I would feel this way for, and that led me to think about Time. I would think about how every second is a second I would never win back. I would think of Time as a monster sucking the life out of me. I would spend hours, hours, hours, lying on the floor counting the seconds go by and I would see each one as a step closer towards death. Death became the next step. I felt close to it. I wanted it. Everything in life became pointless. I saw myself reduced to a mass of cells. I saw my emotions become the result of an equation, like the depression, they were merely chemical reactions. I wasn’t real; I was merely a machine… These thoughts would be all I could think about. I would look at people smiling and laughing and wonder how on earth they could feel happy. What was there to be happy for? I was 21 and had just finished my first year at University. I should have been enjoying my summer, getting drunk, travelling, doing naughty things with strangers (sometimes), but instead I spent it festering in my own putrid thoughts.
The turning point came when I realised the only way out was to end my own life. I’d tried seeing my friends and talking to them about how ‘down and hopeless’ (I never once mentioned suicide, god forbid) I felt, but I wasn’t taken seriously. I don’t blame them for not taking me seriously; depression’s a tricky thing to deal with. And after trying to express the severity of my state, I would simply shrug it off with fake smiles and scuttle back to my dreary den at home feeling selfish for almost infecting a friend with my excruciating darkness… So I turned to my mum. This took leaps and bounds and buckets of courage, for Mama B and I did not have the tightest of bonds. I’ve always loved and admired her of course, she’s a wonderful woman, but growing up we never really spoke of anything other than what dinner would be, no feelings were ever exchanged and hugs were reserved for Christmas and birthdays. I blame us both for this, but anyway I digress… So I turned to my mum and I didn’t have to say anything, or rather I didn’t say anything to her. I simply approached her (which given our relationship at the time was in itself a massive cry for help). She took one look at me and hugged me. And then I cried. And even though I still felt utterly miserable I just remember feeling grateful. I hadn’t been able to cry because I was empty. And without making y’all wanna vom, I do believe that one hug may have saved my life.
Over the next few years, and particularly in my third year at Uni, whilst I was living in France by myself, alone with my thoughts, my mum was my rock. I was able to call her up at any time, day or night and talk to her. She calmed me and I knew she was there for me. Since leaving France I haven’t really felt depressed for any great length of time. I’ve felt low and have had days where I’ve not wanted to leave the house, but we all get those and in those times it really only does take a good tub of Haagen Daaz (Pralines and Cream and those heavenly caramel pockets…) to sort me out. What I’m trying to say is that for a good two years I spent my life fighting off depression but what really helped was having someone there to talk about it with: my mum. She was like my verbal diary. Everyone’s experience is different but if you’re not happy, and you see no way out then please, be brave and talk to someone. You might think people don’t want their day ruined by a ‘Negative Nancy’, but you know what, if your friend isn’t willing to listen to you then get them the hell out of your life. These are the people that will feed your depression and make you feel less capable and less worthy of recovering. Heck, email me. I’m here and if anything it’ll be nice to feel needed.
Suicide is still the most common cause of death in males aged 35 and below and in too many of these cases close friends and family remain completely unaware of their loved one’s suffering. Please, if you think you know someone who might be feeling depressed, encourage him or her to talk about it. Make sure you’re a ruddy good friend and continue to be there for them, especially if you notice them trying to distance themselves socially. Depression is a massive problem and we have a tough time talking about it. So please, let’s change this!
As a recent French Graduate of Kent university, Eleanor spends her days discovering new ways to eat peanut butter. She’s 24, unemployed and still living at home with her parents. Her dream job would be to go around offices and people’s places of work offering supportive hugs and friendly words of encouragement to the stressed, overworked, and underpaid. You can find her on Twitter at @eleanorbrownlie.