Only God Knows Why

My (at this point, not-so) secret battle
February 20, 2014, 8:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Around about two years ago, I moved home to pursue my dreams of studying a Masters Degree in the field of my dreams.  I would get to help people, and learn exciting new things.  I was pretty stoked.  A blog entry which I began and never finished has only this to say, just two weeks before I decided to move home from Melbourne:

“For the last week or so.  I have been coughing.  I’ve been coughing like I was a ‘cough’ on old McDonald’s farm.  I don’t know how to describe the kind of lung explosions that I have been subjected to, except to say that they were epic.  Not in strength, or auditory delight but just their sheer perseverance.”

I was stoked, I was creative and I was happy.  Except, I was none of those things.  Little did I know, that the next two years would be characterised by something far more serious than just a cough.

At first, I found myself just crying in my lunch breaks at work out of exhaustion, anxiety I couldn’t understand and a feeling that I wasn’t sure where I was going.  By the time I was ready to go home, I was feeling so low that I found it difficult to sleep.  I was so happy to see my Dad at the arrivals gate that I dropped by bags in the glass hallway of no-return, and ran into his arms.
My best friend and house mate, who had been mates with me through countless parties, adventures, home-cooked meals, last minute IT repairs, even admitted, “I think you’ll be better when you go home.”  And I agreed.  Something definitely wasn’t right.  I was generally spirited and cheeky.  I was starting to feel not so great.  Better to go home.

Truthfully, I had been here before.  I suffered what is known as a “Depressive Episode” (ie.  a period of having depression) when I was 17.  Now that I am in mental health, I look back and feel grieved that nobody took me for treatment or intervened properly.  It really does make me very sad, because early intervention can mean that you never go through another episode.  But I didn’t get intervention, and I did go through another episode.

While I don’t even begin to pretend, that even going through this that my life is more terrible than anybody else’s – this is the single most difficult thing I have ever had to cope with.  Going through depression for the last 1.5-2 years has been an absolute nightmare. For someone who hasn’t ever suffered in this way, it can be really difficult to understand.  Try to think back to the worst grief and hopelessness you have ever felt – really the bottom of the pit.  Now imagine, rather than that feeling going away with time – it hangs around.  And it hangs around for no reason.  Add to that, the worst anxiety you can imagine – something like just before taking an exam, or asking out someone really attractive – except there’s nothing around to be anxious about.  You wake up in the morning, already feeling depleted, utter hopeless, deep in grief over nothing, and anxious with the knowledge that something unknown – but terrible, is probably going to happen to you.

I think what other people can forget, is that they only see you occasionally, they don’t see or hear about the burden every day.  But when you’re depressed, it’s a burden that rolls around you mind, hour after hour, day after day, and has the power to ruin anything that you put your hand to – work, relationships, fun, spirituality.  You live every single moment – waking to sleeping, with extreme emotional pain, and indescribable fear.

Depression can manifest in people in different negative “core” beliefs – generally about worth, loveability, or being a failure.  For me, it’s the certainty that nobody really cares about me, even if I was the best person in the world.  I can’t shake it.  Evidence can’t move it.  It’s the never-ending GPS that constantly tells me that no matter how much I achieve, how good I feel about my personal qualities, no matter what I do to work on my relationships – that nobody cares about me, and they are all going to leave me, and I’d better work extremely hard to be absolutely no trouble, so I can keep them around.  Imagine you were going about your day, when occasionally, a good friend of yours would tap you on the shoulder and say, “Don’t forget – all these people?  They don’t care about you.  They’re going to abandon you one day, and you’ll be all alone. There’s just something fundamentally unloveable about you.”  Except, instead of occasionally, it’s all the time, it’s coming from within and you BELIEVE it.  I feel like I’m on one side of a glass wall, and no matter how hard I wave, the people on the other side won’t notice me or care about while I’m drowning on this side.  Imagine how hopeless and anxious you would feel!  Try to imagine how you would react to others when you don’t take a few seconds to try to be more rational.

There are common misconceptions about depression as well.  Depression, generally speaking, is reactive.  I can feel quite okay in some social circumstances, or even feel happy when I get good news.  But, before long – that feeling gets overwhelmed again by severe, uncontrollable and unexplainable fear and despair.  It’s not always the person you’d expect either – its very common for people with depression to function well, and even seem happy around other people.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because of precisely what I wrote above.  Relationships, as mentioned above, can be a lifeline for those trying to recover from depression.  And don’t lose hope if there is someone around you going through this – recovery is possible.  I know it – I’m on my way there, and I have longer and longer periods lately where I don’t feel this way.  Eventually, I hope this will resolve to the point that I never feel this way again, and I will have completely recovered, never to return.

I’m writing this is the hope that people struggling with this feel less alone, and those around them have a bit more understanding of what it’s like.  For the longest time, I thought I was just being “weak.”  I would blame my ‘flatness’ on certain recent events, or just being tired (which I was, anyway, exhausted.)  I continued to push myself to the point of exhaustion trying to “get over” my bad feelings by socialising, studying, taking up hobbies – whatever I could to try to “fix” the funk I was in.  It was my responsibility to fix it, and if I wasn’t getting better then it was my fault, dammit, for not trying hard enough.

But that didn’t work.  Not only did I feel the anxiety and grief of what I was going through but I felt weak and guilty as well.  Weak that I wasn’t able to fix my mood, even though I was working, studying, volunteering and had a bunch of hobbies, and guilty that I just wasn’t “trying hard enough.”

I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to give enough to others, because all I wanted to do was help other people.  When it became clear I had depression, I felt terrified that people would find out and not trust my judgement any more.  Having depression doesn’t mean I don’t have good judgement, or I’m not intelligent.  It just means I feel sad all the time, for a reason I can’t really pinpoint.  Its terrifying that people might take away what you know is your rationality, by simply discounting your opinion because you have depression.

Relationships can be very difficult for people with depression – I can often feel blamed for feeling flat, guilty because I’m not able to give anything, afraid that I’m a burden to other people… the list goes on.  I try my best to be the best kind of me I can be despite the way I feel, but sometimes it can be really difficult not to ‘give in’ to the negativity.  It can be really hard for those around you to care for you and be there for you when you consistently just feel stuck in your problems.  It can look selfish, pitiful, embarrassing or lazy.  And even if you’re not giving off these vibes around someone who is depressed, it can be easy for people with depression to misconstrue things in a negative way.  Remember the example above?  If you truly believed you were not of worth to others, try to imagine how you would feel others thought about you.

But trust me – nobody.  nobody.  would choose to be depressed.  I would give all my worldly goods and 50 years off my life if I knew with certainty it would go away tomorrow.  If someone is consistently low, or tells you what they’re going through – try to remember that they don’t want to feel that way either.  They wish they didn’t just as much (more!) than you do.  They feel trapped and hopeless and worthless.  They want to get better, its just not always easy.  What they need is to hear you care, to have you stick around and to not feel like a nuisance when they’re low.  Because as much as it can feel annoying when someone’s low all the time – try to remember – they’re low all the time. Life’s a struggle – but they haven’t given up.  If they’re socializing, working or getting out of bed – they’re either having a good stretch or they are fighting back against the beast with all their might.

I dont know why I got depression – given the nature of my symptoms, and the history in my family, its strongly genetic.  There’s also life factors – trauma, bullying, financial difficulties, health issues.  But I do know this – there is hope for everyone going through this.  I am getting better, and if I can do it – you can too.  I may wake up tomorrow and find that one of my physical health issues has been causing this – and a medical intervention will help.  Or, I may find, that I take a slower way out – with ups and downs (as I already am) through therapy, trying to correct my beliefs about myself and others, and finding a medication to iron out my biological flaws.  There is a way out, and you will find it.  I know it, because I’m on my way.

My main take home message to those who suffer from depression, and those who are around those with depression is this: They (You) didn’t choose this. It could just as easily have happened to you (them). They (You) will get better. They (You) are trying their best to fight back – trust me, nobody wants this for themselves – and they need as much support as you can give.

Battling against depression for 2 years has been the biggest nightmare I have ever, ever known.  And that gives me a strength of character I didn’t have before – to know that despite all appearances to the contrary, I have worked my ass off to kick this, and I can do it.  And you can, too.


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