I’ve written about depression lots of times, and have struggled with it as long as I can remember. I can’t find the exact spot where it started, not consciously. I’ve always been an introvert, and as a kid, once I started reading a good book, I wouldn’t stop until I was done. I had my own room while my brothers shared theirs, so I spent a lot of time in there, reading and listening to rock music.
I didn’t see that as a problem until years later when my brother teased me about it, saying how I’d hide in my room for days. He said I wouldn’t even come out to eat, and that they never knew whether I was home or not. I laughed it off. After all, I’d get lost in my reading and only realise it was dark after everyone else had gone to bed, then I’d come down and warm some food. I thought I was a bookworm. They thought I was goth.
During my teen years, I didn’t feel particularly down. None of the boys I liked were interested in me, so I figured I was ugly and sank deeper into my books, priding myself in being the smart girl. I thought I was fat and ugly and wrote a lot of dark poetry. I made little vampire drawings in my books, carried odd things around, and told weird (true) stories to my peers so they’d stay away. I guess my reasoning was that they didn’t like me anyway, so I might as well give them a solid reason.
I remember locking myself in the bathroom with a knife. I must have been six or seven years old. I was upset because my best friend had abandoned me – again – and I wanted to die. She had done it six or seven times, picking the prettier, more popular girl instead of me, and I just felt tired of trying to be her friend, trying to be anyone’s friend, when they clearly didn’t like me. That was an odd reaction for a six year old girl.
I placed the knife at my throat, but couldn’t find the courage to press it, so I curled up and cried for hours, ashamed of myself for being such a coward. I’ve attempted suicide on two other occasions, once by overdosing on the anti-depressants that my therapist prescribed, and once by hanging. I haven’t made an attempt in a really long time, because I have a baby girl who needs me now, and I don’t want to leave her.
People don’t really understand depression. They think it’s like a bad mood or a rough day, so their instinctive reaction is to tell you to snap out of it, stop over-thinking, get out of your head, stop being so emo. I’ve heard this advice from family, friends, even boyfriends. I’ve had people say I’m simply seeking attention, or that I somehow enjoy being depressed, since I refuse to just ‘cheer up.’
Then there’s the other extreme, people who see you as a role model, as someone blessed and successful, people who want what you have and are somehow offended that you have the nerve to be ‘depressed’. People who think you’re popular and ‘bubbly’ so they think this whole depressed thing is self-indulgent act. And yet some of the richest, most successful, most beautiful people in the world suffer from depression. People like Janet Jackson and Frankie Sandford.
Frankie, who’s a member of The Saturdays, explains how she was afraid people would judge her, because she has a successful career, a wonderful partner, yet she’s depressed. I feel the same way. I have a wonderful daughter, friends who love me, a successful writing career, yet I walk around shrouded in grey mist. So there must be something wrong with me, right? I mean really, what gives? A good friend introduced me to Paulo Coelho, and one of my favourite books is Veronika Decides to Die. In the book, the doctors and nurses tell her she’s abnormal. Human beings struggle to live, not to die.
When I attempted suicide, my friends and family were angry with me. They asked me if their love meant nothing to me, since I would dare to take my own life. Two separate boyfriends – during two separate suicide attempts – yelled at me for hours, listing all my accomplishments, and asking why I was being emo and having a pity-party when I was so successful. One broke up with me when he was done yelling. The other, I walked away from. I’d put him through enough, I figured it was time to let him go. He didn’t try to stop me.
I don’t blame these men that I loved. I’m sure they cared for me, but they just didn’t get it. Nobody does. A relative even told me to stop forcing on ‘white people diseases.’ That’s just it though. Depression IS a disease, like a cold, or headache, or a virus, only far more deadly.
Depression revolves around a negative self-image. Sometimes, therapy can help you find the first instance, the seed that started it all. Other times, it’s more genetic and is based on family history, or chemical imbalances. Once you have the seeds of depression in your system, then anything can set you off. Frankie’s description is typically to how my depressive episodes begin. In her words:
“One night, I got upset because Wayne hadn’t bought the right yoghurts. I managed to convince myself he didn’t know me at all. It set off this spiral of negative thinking – that if I disappeared, it wouldn’t matter to anyone. In fact, it would make everybody’s life easier. I felt worthless, ugly, that I didn’t deserve anything.”
Frankie’s doctor: “It’s like having asthma: it’s something you have; it’s not going to go away.” And it’s a disease of the mind. It’s not about how the world sees you. It’s about how you see yourself. The world calls me bubbly and popular and talented, but I see myself as dull, unattractive, and inadequate, no matter what anyone says.
I like how Frankie explains it. “Firstly, you just don’t think anyone will understand; secondly, you wouldn’t want to bother anyone with it, as you feel so worthless. I thought I was selfish, miserable and ungrateful. I’d been given this amazing life, but I wasn’t happy. If I had three months off work with a swollen knee, people wouldn’t react, but with depression, they feel the need to say, “Cheer up”. That’s the worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed – there’s nothing we want more than to cheer up. But it’s not that easy.”
David Burns (and Frankie) describe it as seeing yourself – and the world – through depression-coloured glasses. Nothing you are and nothing you do feels good enough. Which, ironically, is why depressed people are so outwardly successful. We push ourselves to breaking point, trying to fit our own definition of self-worth and never getting there because we keep raising the standard.
I’ve had a spell of depression for a few weeks now. Some people know about it. My princess, because she’s with me more than anyone else. The boy I loved, who told me to stop being emo and get over it, which locked him out of my heart. My friend Aisha, who struggles with depression herself, and understands what it’s like. My boss, who tentatively asks if I’m okay, and I fake a smile and say I’m just tired.
Until you break down and collapse, end up hanging on some roof, or are splattered on some floor, nobody knows how bad it is. They see you at the office and don’t realise you could barely get up in the morning. They don’t know how low you feel when you’re smiling at them, or how often you go up to the roof and think how easy it would be to jump off. They don’t know the secret folder you have that has all your financial details and a suicide note, just in case.
They don’t know that every time they find me daydreaming and staring at the picture of my daughter that always sits on my desk, I’m chanting to myself that she needs me, dragging myself back from the edge. They don’t know that’s exactly why I have that picture there, with copies in my wallet and my phone, to keep me from doing something stupid.
I’ve learned one thing from my depression though. It passes. It feels like crap, it’s a potent form of hell, and it’s easy to get lost in the dark. But it always ends, whether it takes three weeks, three months, or three years. And even when it goes away, it eventually comes back, because it’s something you live with. It’s managed, not cured. Kind of like diabetes, but in the brain.
I’ve spent the last few weeks in gloomy silence, not letting anyone hear my thoughts, keenly monitoring my words, hiding my pain in the shadows because the one person I showed them to lashed out and made me run away. I lose a lot of boyfriends that way. I don’t know what the trigger is that lifts depressions spells for me. They sneak up on me, just like the triggers that start each session. But I know that sooner or later, the dark mood lifts and the world smiles again – at least for a while. I just have to wait each episode out, and enjoy the moments of bliss in between.
Being with a depressed person is more than most people can take, so a part of me is resigned to missing out on that elusive ‘forever love’. I have my baby girl, who has made it her duty to tickle me whenever she sees ‘that look’ on my face. So now I hide it from her too, sending her on errands, or hiding my face with the laptop, pretending that my ‘sad face’ is really my ‘thinking face’ even though she can always tell.
David Burns explains that depression begins with a single negative thought. Most people can shake off a nasty word or comment, but depressed people will latch onto it, pile it under tons of others, and end up catatonic in six seconds or less. It’s that easy, because the negative thoughts are always right there, looming and waiting to attack. So David Burns says the trick is to train yourself recognize when the spiral has began and freeze it or distract it. Sometimes that works.
My way of dealing with depression is my favourite firewall – my baby girl. I know that because of her, I’ll never try to take my own life (again). With that knowledge, I ride out the storm. It doesn’t make it any less hellish, but I hold onto her, and to the knowledge that eventually, it will pass, because it always does. So now, six weeks later, I finally see a little light, and I’m slowly dancing into it.
♫ I’d come for you ♫ Nickelback ♫