So here it is, folks: I have depression.
It’s not, as I am learning, that “I AM depressed”, or “I’m depressive”: I have depression. The depression is not me, but it’s with me. Just like any other illness that is in you, chewing you but is not you.
I went back to my counsellor today for the first time in a while and read out the paragraphs of internal monologue from my text here earlier this week. I got to the end, with some difficulty, and she said, “Marilyn, that’s depression. Pure and simple.”
What a sense of relief to finally give it a name, and to talk through the probable causes and potential solutions. I feel better already, for many reasons.
1) Yes, I’m bloody well “bad enough” for it to need treatment, and to allow myself to make space for this.
2) It has immediately become a known quantity; it’s both easier to get at the root causes and explore the tried and tested routes to getting better.
3) I feel I can actually tell more people about it now, because I feel justified in saying I really am ill, and because increasingly people know what depression is, or at least they know it’s a genuine and serious illness.
Some reflections on this:
As I look back, I can see this has been with me for much longer than I realised. Maybe (probably) since childhood. I’ve developed different coping mechanisms over time, most of which (gardening, walking, reading, exercise, playing or listening to music) still work, but lately I haven’t the time to do them often enough (or at all). Just taking one duvet day off from work used to be enough but now it’s not. This time I need time away from work to make space for resting, then space for good habits, then restructure the work so this doesn’t happen again. I cannot underestimate how fortunate I feel to be in a position where I can do this.
What is utterly striking is that I’ve been living with this and although I suspected at some points that it was “real” or “genuine” depression, I had been dissuaded by some of the perceived guidelines for diagnosis; you need to be “depressed” for more than two consecutive weeks, etc. There were not many days when I could say there were no little highlights or happy moments, so I thought that invalidated my claim, so to speak. I thought maybe it was something else; I thought I would just get over it in time, that it wasn’t that important.
Perhaps this was simply because I didn’t know how to interpret those guidelines correctly. I can say for sure that the negative thoughts, the awful self-talk that I exposed the other day, has been with me since at least adolescence. I had become so used to it that I could almost ignore it some of the time – almost. Through the years I feel I’ve been getting stronger and stronger, but so has the depression. I’ve carried on coping, but finally the levee has broken and I’m letting it all wash out. It’s such a relief. To know that I can call it by name, to know that it can be treated.
What I want to impress upon everyone is how pernicious a thing this really is. I consider myself reasonably well sensitised to the facts of mental illness. It’s present in my family, I have many friends who have struggled with it on and off, I’ve read up about it and resonated with a lot of what I’ve read. AND YET. I have hesitated until it’s threatening to derail my life to actually call it by name, to speak up and seek what I need to get well.
Part of this is because I’m afraid that by giving it a name, it will consume me – like I’ll go from just “having a little depression” to BEING a DEPRESSIVE, which is nonsense – nothing has changed inside me, it’s already here, installed, doing its evil work; calling it by name only helps on the path to treatment.
Part of it, of course, is fear of what people will think. Mental health – along with all invisible illnesses – still carries such a stigma, because you can’t see it. There is still a lot of that attitude of just pull yourself together, just think positive – to the extent that I, the ill person, was telling myself this and believing I was stupid or something because I couldn’t just think myself out of it. And the big kicker is I know I don’t look ill a lot of the time. We’re all good at slapping on a smile when we need to. Even when the horrible thoughts are chewing hard on my insides, I’m capable of laughing and enjoying myself outwardly, especially with the distractions of a coffee or dinner out with friends. You would look at that Marilyn and say she seems so happy, the life of the party; how can she be depressed? Once more, though, for those in the back – this is real, and much, much worse than a broken leg.
And, honestly? Everyone who I have opened up to has been cool about it, supportive and kind. Every. Single. Person. Even when we’re talking work situations and family, those who mind about it don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind. If you suspect you have depression, or any of the ugly step-sisters it often hangs out with – bipolar or borderline personality disorders, anxiety, body dismorphias, simply mean self-chatter like I had – please, please, please speak up and get professional help. And if they don’t work with you or take you seriously, find someone else.
So there we go. I’ve got depression. And saying that, curiously, makes me feel a lot better than I have for a long time. I’ll leave you with the lines that are running through my mind right now, from the ending to Dr Seuss’ brilliant “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew” (one of my three-year-old daughter’s current story-time faves):
“But I’ve bought a big bat.
I’m all ready, you see.
Now my troubles are going
To have troubles with me!”