Ahh, Depression. My old, abusive friend.
Every Depressed person is an individual, and every experience of Depression is unique. There are some symptoms of the experience that I imagine most of us sufferers would recognize, but I doubt we would all agree on what the beast actually is. I’m going to write about my experiences to give you an insight into how my world feels. Don’t read this post if it’s likely to bring you down, only read it if you’re the sort of nosey bastard who likes to pry into the lives of others. Alternatively, you may enjoy this post if you’re a sadist and the suffering of others delights you. Mmm, the great taste of schadenfreude.
I first noticed the symptoms of Depression when I was a kid. From the age of about five, I was aware that I was given to introspection, sensitivity and prolonged sadness. Adult observers might have thought me “thoughtful”, “soft” or “sulky”. In later childhood and in my teens, I became aware of a difference between myself and many of my peers. Sometimes it was hard to explain (even to myself) why I didn’t fit in. I thought that it was my lack of sporting ability, my love for reading or my physical appearance that set me apart. I was often bullied for being ‘gay’, ‘a swot’ or ‘fat’. My teens sucked. Did the bullying contribute to my Depression, or did my Depression come first and give out subtle signs that I was weak? It’s impossible for me to decide.
I did my best to become adept at hiding how I felt. My mother has many good qualities, but she deals very badly with people expressing dissatisfaction. She sees her job as making people happy. If people are unhappy, she has failed. At first, she will try to fix your problem. If your problem proves too difficult to fix immediately, she starts to get increasingly angry. Eventually, she pours that anger out on you. WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY?!
Gosh, look at us, we’re doing therapy. I’m telling you about my mother. You’re not even qualified or interested or being paid. This is fun!
Hiding my misery has been a blessing and a curse. It’s turned me into a great liar. I’m top of the class at pretending. I can even act (lying in front of appreciative witnesses). The trouble is, I pretend so well that people often don’t know what I’m feeling. Sometimes even I don’t know.
My Depression ranges from the very mild to the extreme. On mild days, I feel empty. The word anhedonia is useful. Look it up, you lazy ignoramus. Oh fine, it means that I don’t experience pleasure on those days. Little things that should please me just don’t register. Even major things seem irrelevant. It’s like being dead, but still walking about. Food isn’t tasty, beauty is invisible and sunlight only exists to stop me bumping into things. On these days, I have to force myself not to think too hard. I have learnt that it’s impossible to think my way out of it. Depression is not a puzzle that I can solve (a wonderful doctor told me that and I will bless her for the rest of my life).
On bad days, the emptiness becomes darkness. Food tastes vile, beauty only highlights the ugliness around it and sunlight hurts me. I want to be dead. I want everything to be dead. I can only see cruelty and chaos. At my worst, this dark Depression lasted for months. That’s when I couldn’t get out of bed and had to take my pills.
These days I’m working unmedicated. This is not a moral decision. It’s not because I’m ‘strong’. It’s just because I can. I find that the meds give me indigestion and other unpleasant side effects. If my Depression stays at its current levels, I’ll tolerate it. Here’s a digression: read Oliver Sacks’ “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.” There’s a case where a guy with Tourette’s chooses to be unmedicated sometimes. His Tourettes can be kind of fun for him when he is among friends and family. He’s needs his drugs so he can go to work, but for family he likes to be “Witty Ticky Ray”. My case is similar: if my Depression gets so bad that I cease to function, I’ll get back on the pills. While I function, I’m going to be “Melancholy, Thoughtful Viper”.
My mum likes to think that Depression is some kind of super power. Yes, you get suicidal, but you also get fabulous artistic and intellectual abilities. Stephen Fry has Depression, you’re the next Stephen Fry! Sigh. It’s not like that. People comfort themselves by pretending that disabilities or illnesses come with compensations. If you’re blind, you get super hearing, right? Well, I’m not convinced that my Depression makes me artistic or funny or philosophical. I’ve met Depressed people who have none of those qualities. Poor sods.
Another symptom of my Depression is paranoia. I assume that people hate me or will, given time, learn to hate me. This makes me a complicated person socially. I appear socially adept. I don’t show signs of anxiety. In fact, I’m sometimes considered charming. It’s all superficial though. It’s an act. Mrs Viper finds it sometimes irritating and sometimes funny that I constantly make waiters and waitresses smile. She says it seems like I’m always flirting. I’m not. I’m just desperate to be considered ‘nice’. I’m trying to pre-empt the inevitable moment when people start to hate me. Odd, no?
I’ve sometimes described my Depression as an uninvited guest or I’ve stolen Churchill’s metaphor of the Black Dog. Analogies don’t really help that much. It’s no Jekyll and Hyde. I’m not separate people. Sometimes I’m less Depressed, sometimes I’m more Depressed. My Depression is a mental illness, it’s a mood disorder, it’s a character flaw. The more I write about it, the less I understand it. Fuck, I’m getting bored of this, so heaven help you, dear reader.
My key findings and tips for myself:
I can’t trust my emotions. Sometimes my sadness is not authentic, my passion is built on delusions and my rage is not caused by something external.
I can’t think my way out of it, it isn’t a puzzle. I’ll never be so well-educated or so clever that I ‘cure’ myself.
Sometimes I get so bad that it’s worth taking the pills. Fortunately, I can get by without them a lot. This is not due to some strength in me, or some flaw in other Depressed people. It’s just luck.
My Depression is part of me and it seems likely that it always will be. I will deal with it.
I am very fortunate to have an understanding wife. She is the reason that I am still alive. There are other Depressives who are not so lucky. I try to remember them.
If possible, don’t commit suicide. My history proves that things can better.
Wasn’t that a hoot, reader? I bet you feel just chock full of joie de vivre. Maybe next post I’ll do something frivolous about cartoon characters I’d like to have sex with or my top tips for being a pretentious arse.
Stay safe, you wonderful people. Or don’t, who cares.
Viperish Discordant Hero.