In 2018, I discovered that I suffer from depression. But, that’s ok. I’ve learned that help is not an abstract concept, nor is it a manifestation of weakness.
Trigger warning: readers who may find the topic distressing are advised this article addresses depression, suicide and mental health. If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please seek professional help or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Today, I am not doing well.
The days have strung along connecting themselves since Friday, forming human centipede of self-flagellation. It’s not that there’s anything wrong in particular, I just feel wrong. I don’t feel like me. For those playing at home, we’re into the sixth day of this grim advent calendar.
This morning, I read the commentary surrounding Majak Daw’s hospitalisation. It was that that provoked me to write this. I’ve not yet admitted this out loud, so consider this my own self-outing, but I have clinical depression. It’s official, but I feel the need to normalise it. The Australian painted illustrated the “a self-destructive sequence of events”, that prompted his fall. News.com.au gleefully opened with the “disturbing details” of. The tone is obvious. He’s crazy, or unhinged, or whatever. Dust off the “thoughts and prayers” box, roll out the barrel. But to Majak, it was a Monday. His Monday could well have been my Friday. In that state, everything is logical, and everything makes sense. If you believe something to be objectively wrong, it seems right, as you know your mind is a mess. It’s a maze of your construction that you’re lost in. But being able to articulate the walls also tears them down. Majak Daw is many people I know, and he’s certainly me.
The battle for your mental health is a knife fight with yourself. Wrists are bound, as the better you circles the destructive one, blades in hand, waiting for the other to strike first, as you attempt to hide the production from those looking on. It’s heavily orchestrated, the steps feel familiar, often you feel you’re surviving yourself, even if it doesn’t feel real. It’s very much like this.
Depression moves in ambush force. It often attacks in daylight hours, soundtracked by the sudden flinging open of a door announcing the triumphant reemergence of your brightened antagonist.
Any excuse to use that meme, really, but I’m illustrating my own problem. In a piece that I’m writing to discuss depression, I’m avoiding the discussion.
Why? It’s often a private squabble. It’s taken a lot of effort to get to this point, to type this sentence you’re reading. It’s difficult to not immediately undercut it with humour, or deflect. You don’t want to admit you have it, because you don’t want to have it. So, you oscillate between wanting to tell someone, and not wanting to bother them. As depression is cyclical, you often return to the same spot, and the same people, masking the same words. You need these people, but you needed them the time before this, and the time before that. You fear that your freebie has already been used, your voucher expired. No-one, after all, has unlimited patience, and you tend to push people away if you keep ringing them at 3 am. I know this, as I’ve been both the pusher, and the pushee.
The time before this was highlighted by drizzle, slippers and the unshakable feeling that the city was moving, but I wasn’t. The time before that was highlighted by a relationship I shouldn’t have been in, and the mental coup that it enabled. Instead of looking after me, I looked after her. When that didn’t work, I torpedoed the relationship, because it felt like the only real way I still had power. The staff revolted to get better working conditions. The relationship ended, but it really shouldn’t have started.
Since then, I’ve been motivated by the eternal springing of hope. New place, new job, new me. She/it/that me was the problem. I thought that I left all that behind in the apocalyptic complaint of a jumbo jet. I blamed her for using her mental health as the spoon to trump my pocket knife, but in blaming (and attempting to fix) her unchecked mental state, I realise I was projecting. In cursing her mental health, I was cursing my own.
The difference between the two, was that I was able to discuss one, but not the other. I didn’t know how. 2018 has been highlighted by discussion. First in casual, then serious. Previously, I’ve splashed around in a sea of denial. Playing a character to live up to the social expectations you’ve built is fine. It’s ok to alienate yourself in an effort to be noticed. Being unhappy for people’s happiness is both hanky and dory.
It’s logic on par with that tree falling in that wood. If someone doesn’t notice your depression, do you really have it? In 2018, I’ve realised that that is bullshit. In 2018, I’ve realised that there doesn’t need to be a reason to feel bad, and feeling bad is ok. In 2018, above everything else, I’ve realised that talking helps.
To the outsider, and to my writerly self, it seems an obvious thing to say. A point so prosaic, it’s nigh on impossible to reword it to give it any fresh meaning. So, I’m not going to sell it. I saw my GP, I set out a mental health plan. I’ll be seeing a psychologist, and drugs are part of the conversation – but that’s ok. I’m part of it, and I’m freely having it.
To those who sail in a similar vessel as I, just know that the small things are yuge. Walking through the door is enough. Picking up the phone is enough, texting your people is enough. Start small, the rest will follow. There is always someone to talk to, always a discussion to be had. I know feels like a trial, or a capitulation, or succumbing to weakness, but in actuality, they’re just bullshit.