NB. This post is purposely dis-jointed, because in my experience that is what Depression is. Dis-jointed. Nothing fits. Nothing makes sense. Words are simply words and don’t fit together. Ideas come and go but it is almost impossible to put them together to form a conclusion. The only conclusion in Depression, is when the darkness finally lifts.
This year the theme for the World Mental Health Day is:
“Depression: A Global Crisis”
“Depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages, in all communities, and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease. Although there are known effective treatments for depression, access to treatment is a problem in most countries and in some countries fewer than 10% of those who
need it receive such treatment.” (1.)
That’s what the World Health Organisation (WHO) are saying about Depression, the topic of this year’s World Mental Health Day (today). Depression is something close to my heart because I struggled with it for so long.
I have heard it described as the “common cold of mental illnesses”. Anyone who has struggled through Major Depressive Disorder will tell you that there is nothing ‘common cold’ about it. It is so much more than the equivalent of a running nose and a sore throat for a few days. I’ve heard other people describe it as a ‘self-indulgence’, presumably a case of feeling sorry for yourself perhaps? It comes then, with an expectation of ‘pulling yourself together’. Again, I’d argue that and say it’s not that simple.
WHO describe Depression as:
“Depression is a common mental disorder, characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.” (2.)
I don’t suffer from Depression at the moment, but I am likely to be on medication for the rest of my life in order to hopefully prevent it coming back. That said, my psychiatrist recently announced to me ‘yet to come’ events in my life that he thought would see me most at risk. So kind! Actually I think I would rather not know. It’s a bit like being told at twelve years of age that my Dad’s death sometime, in the then future, would completely destroy me (see My Journey Through Grief).
“Depression is a condition that is almost unimaginable to anyone who has not known it. A sequence of metaphors – vines, trees, cliffs, etc – is the only way to talk about the experience.”
– Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon – An Anatomy of Depression
Andrew Solomon was right. It is very difficult to describe depression in the detail that would adequately explain the nightmare. I had my own metaphor, which came to me in a dream. I was walking and turned into a cul-de-sac (a dead-end street). There was no way out unless I turned around and re-traced my footsteps. That wasn’t even a possibility in my mind so I had to keep on walking.
When I got to the end I stepped off the road and into a dense forest of gorse bushes. I fought my way through, getting torn to shreds by the thorns of the gorse as I walked. I couldn’t see the way through and I certainly couldn’t see an end to the battle. It just went on and on, enveloping my footsteps as I went, so that there was no possibility of turning around again. For years I was stuck in the gorse, getting more hurt the more I fought. It was an impossible journey.
As a teenager when I lived in Wellington, our home looked out on a vast hillside of gorse bushes. It’s unforgiving stuff. You can’t possibly think of pushing your way through it. It looks pretty when the yellow gorse flowers bloom but that simply disguises the thorns that await. Every few years someone would carelessly set fire to some part of the hillside. Then we just hoped the fire wouldn’t spread to the houses further along the hill, and we hoped no firefighter would be hurt in the process of extinguishing the flames. For at least the next year we would then look out at a charred, blackened, dead hillside. No greenery, no beauty, just waiting and hoping for the life to come back.
It pretty much sums up my experience of depression, but I hasten to add that depression is one of those things that is different for everyone who encounters it. Some people manage to carry the burden of depression for years without others knowing it. Somehow in public they can put on a mask and pretend everything is fine, no doubt collapsing in despair when they’re alone. For others, depression is completely disabling and the person is both physically and emotionally paralysed by it. For me? I was somewhere in between. I could put on a mask when necessary, I’ve always been able to do that. Only those close to me would know that despair was very close to the surface.
I read an excellent article by Kat Kinsman at CNN about her depression. She described it this way:
“…from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.” (3.)
For the 350 million people who WHO identified as likely to be suffering from Depression, there are probably as many descriptions of the hell that it is.
When I was going through Depression I struggled to explain it to anyone (including myself) but I found that music expressed it pretty well. One song that became an inspiration for me in some of the darkest times. So often I wanted to cry, but there were no tears. Other times I couldn’t stop crying.
I quickly learnt that the greatest people to have around me were those who could bear to sit in silence with me. Those who could ‘cry’ with me as they attempted to understand my darkness. More often experienced though, were those ready to leap in with their words of advice… which meant nothing to me. I learnt, and I continue to remember today that the time of deepest darkness for me, is a time for quiet.
Now is the time for tears
Don’t speak Save your words
There’s nothing you could say
To take this pain away
Don’t try so hard
You can just simply be
Cry with me don’t try to fix me friend
That’s how you’ll comfort me
Heavenly Father cover this child with mercy
You are my helper through this time of trial and pain
Silence the lips of the people with all of the answers
Gently show them now is the time
Now is the time
Now is the time for tears
– Charlie Peacock
- Going public with depression (cnn.com)
- Depression 2.0 (scruffy-duck.net)
- How to live with someone who suffers from depression (nonaknowsbest.wordpress.com)
- Depression… Defined! (iwanticewater.wordpress.com)