There are many things in life that you don’t see coming: meeting the perfect woman at a bar, discovering your dream house while you’re driving around aimlessly, running into the back of a car at the roundabout, for example.
Few take such a long time, creep up on you so slowly and have such devastating effects on your mental and physical health as depression. I find I struggle with two types of the depression; the sort which hits you without warning and often comes with impulsive suicidal feelings and the second which sneaks up on you and you don’t realise until you’re too late. Although this might not feel as both as those dark moments, it is this descent into ‘severe depression’ which causes the most damage and we recognise too late.
It took me four years, between 2010 and 2014, to realise that I had been sliding down this path. I should have recognised the signs – I started acting and feeling like I had done as a teenager. I was making questionable decisions, struggling to maintain relationships and to deal with social situations. It was all too easy to blame it on external factors: I was working hard making a name for myself and working my way up the career ladder, my partner was doing the same thing in the medical profession and we were both transitioning from university life to the adult world. I think that transition is the most difficult one to make in all of our ‘life’ stages – suddenly you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, a huge amount of responsibility and the disappearance of the safety net your parents, usually, provided from the day you were to both all the way until you finish University. The thing is that everybody goes through the transition, and the majority do so without taking a trip down the depression slide.
Fast forward to June 2014. I was driving home from the annual summer residential and as I drove across The Strines from the Peak District I realised I couldn’t face going back to work. It hit me like a brick wall that I was really struggling. I had withdrawn almost entirely from my friends – I ignored text messages and invites out. During breaks at work I disappeared for a smoke down the lane to avoid talking to anybody human. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed, and if I managed to get up I wouldn’t leave the house. I felt permanently shit, and I was going under.
I think it’s right to reach for Pip Wilson’s Blob Tree here (click the thumbnail for more detail). When I find it impossible to articulate how I’m feeling then I reach The Blob Tree. It works for positive as well as negative feelings, and should be used as such. In June last year I felt like I was hanging off the bottom branch by the tips of my fingers. I hadn’t slept for months, often going to bed with the voice in my head (ahh, brain!) telling me how SHIT I was at life, how I was a failure at everything I tried to do and how the best option for everybody in my life would be if I was no longer in my life.
I was mentally and physically drained and if I was going to beat this illness then I needed to stop putting my job, the students and anybody else first. I had to look after number one. I had to refocus.
In those 14 months I’ve worked very little, for a variety of reasons, and I’ve achieved a lot. I now understand myself and know who I am in many different ways. I can tell that I’m hanging about the top of the slippery slope of depression. I think I’m the blob clinging on to the tree for dear life, but if I’m not careful then I’ll be the one falling from the top branch. (If I was to stretch the analogy I guess I could bring The Magic Faraway Tree and Moonface’s slide and say that I’d fall down the tree, down the slide without a mat and end up with severe friction burns only to discover the trolls had locked the door at the bottom and I was trapped. Obviously if you have no idea what I’m talking about at this point then you probably think I have lost the plot…)
I can feel that getting out of bed on a morning is harder. When people want to see me I find my default and initial response is always NO. I find myself choosing to drive to the supermarket in Sheffield not in my local town so I don’t see anybody I know. It’s different this time though, I recognise this and I fight it.
Isn’t that so easy to say? Fight it. It’s not easy to do though, every day is a difficult and fraught with opportunities to give in. That mid morning moment when your brain decides it can’t cope anymore and needs to nap. If I give in that’s the day written off. Or when your brain comes up with an excuse to avoid the village and that I need to do X Y Z so Sheffield is the only place I can go.
I have to fight it constantly. It’s always there, telling me how shit I am and telling me what to do and what not to do. I couldn’t fight it without having done my CBT group and I couldn’t fight it without having a goal. The goal? To look after myself.