When is Enough, Enough?: The Depression Files
Apparently, I was a horrible child. One that screamed and ranted and refused to be told. One that refused to wear dresses, ran away from Brownies and spent my nursery years sporting a pair of socks on my hands, insisting my parents call me “Howard” … Yes, Howard. A tiresome, problematic little brat. And so you could say, in one sense, not much has changed, really.
I’ve always felt like there was something a little bit wrong with me. Not in an obvious way, probably not even the kind of way that people who spend short periods of time with me laughing down the pub would even notice. Something that means I don’t really ever feel that happy, or energetic, or passionate – about anything, ever. Something that means I never feel content and so have a tendency to be cynical, negative and all-around just a bit of an arsehole. – I always thought that was just who I was, and had come to relative terms with it.
However, as I bumbled along through life every now and again someone who I’d been spending significant time with would happen to penetrate my bubble of seemingly normal-ness and notice how I really am. Not the “me” I am when I’m forcing out social pleasantries over glasses of wine – no – the “me” I am at home – with the door firmly closed. And upon this would, in turn, make observations about my arguably questionable behavior. And it was only at moments like this that I would become quite glaringly apparent that maybe there actually was something a bit funny about me. But, I’d brush it away under the rug for another time, because they simply didn’t know what they were talking about.
Some years later I would go the doctor about these niggling concerns. And so off I went and explained how I had been feeling to my local GP. To my surprise, I was told that if I had these issues I simply wouldn’t live the lifestyle that I did, palmed off with a low dose of valium and sent on my way. And so I took what the doctor had said for a general fact, figured I must not really have a problem at all and carried on with life. Every now and again I’d have a particularly low point in which I would say to friends and family members “should I get help?” and usually be met with the similar answer of – “wait and see how you feel”, “try (insert useless vitamin supplement here) first, I hear that helps”, “you don’t want to end up on medication..” And so again I would carry on with life, feeling glum and empty and just assuming that’s how everyone feels.
It’s only now, at age 29, after having had these issues for the majority, if not all, of my life, that I have actually sought help for it. And it took being the other side of the world to do so, away from my own countries medical care. You see it happened again, another person I was close to told me they thought I was depressed and should seek medical help. After being initially flabbergasted, then offended, then sad, angry, glum and subsequently despondent – I decided that maybe, actually maybe, I might need help.
And so off I went to the doctors again. I was lucky to find an extremely nice lady doctor who spoke very good English and was willing to see me. I didn’t really feel worried about going at all, yet somehow when I got into the office and the doctor started asking me about my life I kind of lost it and felt the dreaded lip quiver resulting in impending waterworks. As I dried my eyes on a coarse piece of industrial blue-roll and answered the doctor’s questions – which weren’t even really that prying, it occurred to me that quite clearly I did have a problem, and I couldn’t believe I have waited all these years to even tell anyone about it.
The initial prognosis was that I might have an under-active thyroid – which wouldn’t be surprising as my Father suffers from thyroid issues. In fact, upon hearing the list of symptoms I was absolutely certain that’s what it must be. Thank god, finally. Finally, I might function like a normal person, rather than having to peel myself off the bed every day, only to slump back down into it 40 minutes later. Unfortunately, preliminary tests revealed that it was not the case. The doctor decided from this that I should try a low dose of SSRI anti-depressants. For some reason being depressed because of symptoms of an under-active thyroid seemed like a much more noble and worthy cause than being on anti-depressants for plain, old, unfashionable depression. But with nothing to lose, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
It actually wasn’t the first step in the process. A few months earlier I had decided to try Ayahuasca after having read several stories about people being magically cured of depression following using it. I had hoped for the best, but I suppose it doesn’t happen for everyone. I certainly felt a bit sparkly and new – like I’d been through the dishwasher – after it. But nothing that seemed to be sticking around long-term, except for an inexplicable insatiable thirst, of which I had never previously known.
I know people say going on anti-depressants isn’t fun. But let me tell you, going on to anti-depressants is not fun. Like, not at all. I suppose I had envisioned a slight zombie-like state where the world would seem less painful and I’d float around on a little cloud, blind to all the previous issues that had once entranced me. I was wrong, however. What it was really like was taking 10 steps back, and becoming, actually, a little bit mad.
I hadn’t felt mad before, so it seemed funny to me that to get out of my hole I had to crawl into a much bigger one. Previous bouts of sadness trans-morphed into long days of sadness, in which I wouldn’t even get out of bed. I would avoid leaving my room, never mind the house, for fear of encountering someone that might want to converse with me. I couldn’t sleep. Most nights I would just lay awake, feeling anxious. Even now I can’t sleep well. I wake up every few hours and get up at around 6 am every day, no matter what time I’ve gone to sleep. I felt like a weird fog had laid over me. I felt dizzy and weird and anxious and tired. But still, I couldn’t sleep.
So now I’m at week 6 in the process. This is around the time when things are supposed to level out and instead of feeling all mad, you suddenly start to feel all better. I can say with honestly I feel like I’ve had glimpses of light through the clouds. Some days I feel genuinely pretty good and think “god, is this what people go around feeling like?” It’s like that feeling where you’re at a party a bit drunk, with all your besties, and everything seems right in the world. Is this really what people go around feeling like? No wonder I’ve been fucking miserable all this time. But then I have days where I don’t make it out of the duvet, where shoveling candy into my face is the only respite, where I hate myself and would quite happily go to sleep and never wake up.
It’s such a funny one – mental illness. Why is it somehow okay to say you’ve got low blood sugar, but not low serotonin? I recently had a former friend tell me she’d “had enough of my depression bullshit” – charming, I know. Would that be okay if it were any other illness? I’ve been trying to lightly sprinkle the facts on to people in my life and see their reaction. Thus far I don’t think close friends have any issue. But telling someone you’re dating? Telling people at a party in passing? Or finding yourself moving medication out of sight in your bedroom in case someone sees it? It’s weird little things that I guess I never really thought about before. Suddenly you have a secret. But, it’s not a secret. But it kind of is.
I have no doubt that the road to happiness is a long one. One that will have twists and turns and potholes, no doubt. But it helps to at least be on the road to start with and not have accidentally wandered off down a side-path to a dark forest, in which you do not know your way out.