Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Black Dog

Expat Mammy inspired me to share my past experiences of depression. Hopefully it will help others who find themselves in the same boat, especially considering that depression is such an isolating experience. One of its key symptoms is that it makes you feel more lonely and disconnected from the world than you'd think possible.

My first incidence of feeling depressed - and by this I don't mean being a bit down or kind of sad but properly in-your-face depressed - was in my early 20s. It was most certainly situational depression brought on by the disintegration of my family (the fact that my life was going nowhere at the time didn't help either). There I was, disappointed on so many levels; the foundations that my life had been built on were shattered and I felt completely bereft, lacking the life skills required of an alleged grown up and with zero confidence in myself, my past and my future.

I cried a lot. I hid in my room. I spent large amounts of time holed up in bed with the covers over my head. I drank bottles of wine and smoked countless cigarettes. I couldn't bear to be with people - their happiness felt like a personal affront - and social chit-chat simply made no sense. I listened to Miles Davies' Kind of Blue on endless repeat. I had a cold knot deep in my stomach and a black tint overlaid on my brain and they just wouldn't go away, no matter how hard I begged. Life lost all colour. My thought processes became foggy and I could no longer read people properly. So I pulled the shutters down and refused to let anyone in.

I was deeply ashamed. Of myself. Of what was happening to me and the fact that I had no name for it, no control over it, that it felt stronger than me. Most of all, I was ashamed of my fear.

I lost all sense of myself - the girl who loved to have fun and to be surrounded by people had gone... cruelly supplanted by a pathetic wreck who could barely decide what clothes to put on in the morning. A shocking transformation. Worst of all, I had no idea how I could even start to climb out of the pit I was in - it felt so deep that to even bother trying seemed pointless.

Now, many years later, I've learned that it's possible to put depressed feelings back in their box. I don't deny those feelings, that would be utterly futile, but I do recognise the triggers, understand what's happening and usually manage to grab the depression by the scruff of the neck before the spiral goes too far down. The main thing now is that the fear is gone; I know that however hideous I feel, this too will pass. Normal function and the ability to feel joy will return.

The only exceptions are when I'm pregnant - the hormones send everything haywire and I can reliably expect to have episodes of depression throughout the third trimester - and when my life is going through a period of major flux and/or change which I don't feel in control of.

People who know me may be surprised by this post. These days, 95% of the time I'm lighthearted, relentlessly optimistic, energetic, enthused and eager to swallow as much of life as I possibly can; I don't look like a candidate for depression. While I'm not in the slightest bi-polar, it does seem that there's a darker side that is the polar opposite of what I think of as 'the real me'. It's also possible that my first experience of depression all those years ago set a pattern for how I tend to deal with life trauma.

The one thing I always hold on to is that, in some strange way, each time I come through a depressive episode it teaches me something incredibly valuable; I emerge from each experience clutching another nugget of myself, with greater self-knowledge and feeling stronger than ever. And the good news is that as I get older and more confident (and accepting) of the person I am, the less I experience that hideous downward slide.

Sometimes a negative can turn out to be incredibly positive. That's something for us all to hold on to, even on the days when life seems impossibly dark.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear this. I know what you mean, not blue, not sad but rather rocketing into the pit of hell. You know the drill though, dear, so fingers crossed, you'll get through it again!

expatmammy said...

YOU inspire me!! The friends I have in my life now are what gets me through my dark day and you my lovely (said in my best west country accent) are one off them.xx Great post

Anonymous said...

Feeling pretty shit right now so reading this helped. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A very moving blog entry, and beautifully written. Going through a black time myself, but I know "this cloud too will pass".... Depression can sometimes teach us the best life lessons of all x

Suse said...

Thanks for sharing Kate.

Anonymous said...

What a load of s**t, from the way you write it's obvious you have no idea of what it's like to be truly depressed. You say you're not in the least bi-polar as if being bi-polar is something to be ashamed of. Well shame on you!

Kate S. said...

Anon - I'm very sorry that you feel this way. You're obviously very angry about something and my post made you feel even worse.

Perhaps my experience doesn't fit your own view of what depression is but I feel obliged to point out that depression is on a sliding scale, like most things, and that it is in no way a competition as to who is 'truly' depressed or not. (And who are you to judge? Surely only the individual can speak for themselves on this?)

I accept though that perhaps you are not in a good place right now and that this is affecting your perception and causing you to project your anger onto other people.

I don't feel any shame as I have nothing to feel shamed about, but it is a shame that you assume that I think bi-polar is something to be ashamed of. I'm quite surprised you interpreted my words this way as I don't think this at all - I feel nothing but empathy for people with bi-polar and I know enough about it to feel fortunate that I only have episodes of run-of-the-mill depression.

Anyway, apologies for having inadvertently offended you. Hope you find yourself in a brighter place soon.