Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What depression is / What depression isn't

Outside my house, there's an old man in a pair of overalls trying to coax an injured bird out of the middle of the road so it won't fall victim to the relentless roll of traffic. Twenty yards away, lies a mess of fresh blood, feather and claws where an avian friend wasn't quite quick enough. If that's not allegorical of something, I don't know what is.

THAT'S MY DEPRESSION THAT IS (It's not my depression, though it might be that of somebody else. I don't want to be a squished bird)

A week after the death of Robin Williams, just about everybody has an opinion on mental illness and what it is or isn't. Some of those people are even living with depression or anxiety, and I respect their courage for speaking out and breaking down the social taboos of being a fellow fruitcake.

So, with that in (oh-ho!) mind, I've been trying to get my thoughts together on this, but being at the bottom of a swing of anxiety and panic, it's not been easy. Because anxiety's a fucker.

So here's what depression isn't.

Depression isn't the same for everybody.

At least, I'm pretty sure of it. I only have experience of my own depression, and Jane's depression by proxy. I can't fully explain how my brain - or her brain - sometimes goes wrong, its triggers, its effects to her, its effects on me, because there are no words for some kinds of feelings. We can only give a small idea of how it rips your insides out, reduces your world to a diameter of ten feet, and tears your internal monologue to shreds.

That's the thing I hate the most about anxiety. I can't have a decent conversation with myself - the other half is reduced to random words, snippets of sentences, insane questions, unwelcome opinions and random insults - fifty per cent of me has stopped making sense, and the other half is struggling to keep up. At least the internal jukebox continues playing. The minute that stops, I'll be dead.

"Sure, I get depressed too," nobody ever said to me. How do I know what other people feel? How do I know what do to? In the words of the song by Heaven 17: "Alone but not lonely, I move on".

Depression isn't logical.

I actually got the "Why are you depressed? You've got a great job, you're recently married, you've got a family" talk last week from an actual letters-after-their-name doctor.

Obviously, depression and mental illness is not her forte, or she might not have said that, but it's something you hear a lot from people who don't know how messed up you are inside. I nodded my head, and ignored her advice, pausing only to tell everybody on sharing, caring Facebook.

Yes, I do know how lucky I am to have etc etc etc, but that's not how depression actually works. It knows no logic. All of your truths become untruths. Nothing you know as positives matter. My anxiety dismisses all that as a million things rush my brain at once.

Anxiety is overload, and it goes something like this: There's too much to do - What if I'm found out - What if I die - I'm too tired - I can't sleep - I'm no good - I love you - I hate you - You're nothing - Only three hours' sleep before the alarm goes - I'm awake - What if I'm found out - Did I lock the back door? - You're rubbish - You're doing fine - You've got 30 years left, tops - You're...

Oh yes, I'm always aware of oblivion, which is why there's always one constant: Staying alive. I'm rather attached to this body, it's the brain that could do with a hot wash and fast spin.

But you can't switch that relentless, nagging internal voice off. The drugs help, and sometimes I'm happy, and sometimes I can answer one question at a time. No logic, no pattern. You have good days, you have bad. Currently: bad, but able to pour it out onto a page that might even make sense.

So you work, you smile, you try to appear alive on the outside while war's being raged behind your eyes. Just keep that jukebox running.

Today's jukebox selection: Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk) and Andy McCluskey (OMD): Kissing the Machine


Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say but I will say I am sorry you suffer from depression. Very sorry. You should at least see another doctor; the first one didn't sound very effective to say the least.
Best of all wishes on this.

The Dancing Cake Tin said...

Much empathy, Alistair, much empathy.

Depression is not the loss of happiness it is the loss of vitality. 'Normals' need to understand this before we can make significant progress with the poor, benighted creatures.

TRT said...

On the other hand, in order for there to be balance in the universe and as a result of bell curves and normal distributions and tossy statistics like that, there must be a number of people who cope with any amount of shit, are deliriously happy for no readily apparent reason, would look upon the splattered carcass of a dead bird lying in the road as either a free meal or a shining example of the glorious circle of life, amen!

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?!

Anonymous said...

TRT, you may be being ironic and I may have missed your point but what you described is one half of my depression. The bit where I am so high it's wonderful. I am everyone's friend, crutch and funny man. Actually I'm probably an annoying happy git to other people and I'm the only person that thinks I'm funny. Then bang, the low. I think sometimes people forget about the enormous highs. I was once asked how I can have depression when I am often completely off my tits with happiness and confidence. As I have got older I fear the highs to the point where I avoid them. I avoid work just in case I have that moment of sheer clarity and make something I like as I'll hate it soon after. I avoid listening to music because, quite often and this sounds far fetched I know, it immediately sends me either scratching around on the floor or ascending rapidly through the roof towards the sun. I disconnect from relationships to avoid the dreaded self analysis in real time situations; I'm talking to you whilst I'm ripping shreds out if myself in my head with a full on conversation about how crap I am. Then I over exaggerate my response to your opinion on something as I wasn't concentrating blah blah blah. More self degrading analysis. It sounds mad, great choice of word I know, but it does when I say I almost prefer the lows to the highs. At least I can almost sleep through them.

Alistair Coleman said...

Anon: Knowing TRT as I do, he's being ironic.

TRT said...

I am indeed, for it seems to me that there are far more people who suffer from depression than the obverse. Although having said that, the most interest I can seem to muster for life, either positive or negative, is a sort of detached, almost nonchalant ennui.

C'est la vie.

TonyF said...

Depression is no fun. I found all of the above to be true. It is also a self fulfilling and self reinforcing trap. Like a long corridor with doors on either side that you cannot open without help, without help the corridor gets narrower, crushing in, closing to the inevitable end..

And it can be inevitable and it can be the end.

I was very lucky in my friends the day I got to the end.

On the plus side, I would hate to be Bipolar.

Dexter-sama said...

I've tasted the aged milk of depression, and I know what you mean when you say that it's different for everyone. I suppose mine took the form of an overwhelming nihilistic approach to everything around me, like a constant weight of pointlessness and uselessness with the foreboding of impending death and the futility of every day. I don't know what got me out of it though, but what remains is the notion that purpose is self-defined, and everyone chooses, wilfully or by societal imposition, what to consider important. And though I know that even our important things still do not amount to much in the grander scheme of things, I guess they give us a reason to get up in the morning and do something we feel would be productive or get us closer to that supposedly important thing. And maybe that's all life really is. I don't know. Maybe it would all make sense someday. Or maybe not. Life is life.

But for now, even with the constant weight of these thoughts, I look for something in every day to take notice of, something apparently as meaningless as everything else which could hold its own microscopic poignancy. I feel it's all the same, really. But most of all, I try to find a reason to laugh. I may not be happy, but I should at least get to laugh every day. Maybe, somehow, I'll drift towards happiness. But those few moments, those seconds when the weight is dropped and the chasing thoughts are just a little slower, they are more than enough to make me feel like I'm already there.

Alex Neil said...

Not very many people in my life know that I was also once on antidepressants but I found them helpful for just getting me into a better place to get on with things and to manage the longer term things I needed to put in place to look after my mental health for the rest of my life.