The problem with depression is that it stays with you forever. Once upon a time, a good 12 years ago now, I was so depressed that I did nothing but lie face down on the carpet for an entire day. That was it. I didn’t cry, didn’t eat, didn’t speak. I just lay there. Numb. Swallowed by an invisible fog. My mum ended up dragging me to counselling, which kind of helped in the end, but I do remember my first session lasting only 15 minutes, because I simply had nothing to say. I was broken. It wasn’t that I was sad exactly, it was more like a part of me had disappeared.
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones, because that missing part came back eventually. I scraped myself off the floor and began making a life for myself. There were a few bumps in the road. Highs. Lows. But then I got things figured out and I headed off to university. I made friends. I met a boy… And the next thing I knew I was pregnant. Oops.
I went into my first official antenatal appointment feeling excited and hopeful. The midwife, her dress purple, her nose pierced, had a long list of questions she needed me to answer. My name, my age, any known diseases, and depression: Had I ever, at any point, suffered from depression?
Yes. But I’m fine now.
I felt embarrassed, but she just smiled at that, and nodded her head. Then she told me there was a good chance I’d get it again.
Just so you know.
Why would you smile while saying that to someone?
I’m not completely irrational. I understand why my midwife needed to tell me that I was at risk of developing postnatal depression. But that warning, along with gentle reminders from my doctor, has haunted me for years. I am At Risk. One day I might find myself unable to do anything but lie on the carpet. I could end up breaking down in front of my kids; falling, falling, falling into a deep, black hole… But what can I do about it? It’s said that knowledge is power, but knowing depression is an illness that could come back at any time seems to be doing me more harm than good.
It’s no secret that I haven’t been feeling particularly happy of late. My moods have been low, my disposition less than sunny. But when I was talking about my current outlook with a friend and she responded with, That’s the depression talking, I was shocked. Am I depressed? Have I let my guard down and allowed the darkness to seep back in? I thought I’d simply entered a rough patch, that my lack of joy stems from feeling like I need a little more from life. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I am unwell. Maybe every bad thought I’ve ever had, and will ever have, is actually just the black dog scratching at my door.
The more thought I give to it, however, the more firmly I believe that sometimes life is just a bit crappy. Surely feeling disillusioned or unfulfilled when things aren’t the way you’d like them to be is relatively normal. I’ve been expressing the fact that I’m not exactly overjoyed with my lot right now, because that’s the truth. I could be a hell of a lot happier, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily equal depression. If unhappiness is circumstantial, like mine is, then doesn’t that mean the unhappiness is justified? Even if I did go to my doctor to tell her I’ve been feeling down, I don’t believe she could do anything to make me feel better. Unless counselling or antidepressants are going to magically put my husband on the same page as me, or somehow turn my Bachelor of Arts and lack of significant work experience into the most impressive qualifications possible, then they’re not going to help. They just won’t.
Still, depression (whether real or imaginary) has this hold over me. I remember a letter my cousin wrote to me when I was at my worst, in which she included the acronym FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s a lot of what depression is. It’s FEAR. I get that. But because I’ve known I have depressive tendencies for such a long time, I’ve ended up growing into a person who mistrusts every thought that crosses their mind. Would I really be happier if we lived in a bigger, safer, drier home, or if I had the opportunity to embark on a well-paying career, or is that just the FEAR talking? Or maybe I’m just hormonal. Or overly emotional. Maybe I’m just living in a fantasy world. How does anyone ever really know? I feel like I’m constantly doubting myself, never quite able to figure out what’s real and what’s FEAR, never knowing for sure if I’m thinking like a healthy person.
Some days I think it would be nice to be medicated. Not because I feel like I need it, but because then I could just stop wondering. I remember what it was like taking anti-depressants, replacing one blinding fog with another. There was less anger and sorrow, but there was less of all the other emotions too. And though that prescribed numbness doesn’t appeal to me at all, the thought that I could just quit worrying about the depression swallowing me again is tantalising. I could be free.
Other days I think that I’m doing pretty damn well for myself. I’m not my happiest, but I’m still achieving things. I’m right here working on my blog. I’m sticking to my YouTube schedule. I’m rocking the hell out of my new direct sales business. I’m exercising and eating well and I’m incredibly close to hitting my goal weight. None of that sounds like the actions of a depressed person. None of that suggests I need to be talking with my doctor. On paper it all looks as though I’m functioning just as I should be. No one is expected to be over-the-moon happy all the time, right?
No, it really is the doubt that’s getting to me lately. It’s awful to go through life unable to trust your own emotions, constantly feeling like you’re not capable of making good decisions. Constantly wondering whether or not your expectations are realistic. And I can’t help but think that depression, whether it’s actually affecting me or not, is not all FEAR. I feel like some of it is truth. My friend says that thinking, What’s the point? is a sign of depression, and it probably is. But if I’m looking at the crumbs all over the floor only 20 minutes after I finished vacuuming, then surely that exact thought is justified. My head tells me that waking up and thinking, Great, here we go again, is a symptom of depression, but when I’ve woken up to my kids screaming and fighting, while the baby cries to be let out of his bed, then I’m pretty sure that thought is understandable. So what’s the verdict? Am I depressed, or do I just need a complete change of scenery?
As always, I don’t have any answers. Maybe I am depressed. Maybe I’m not. Either way, there is some good news, and that is that I am strong. This whole depression thing is going to follow me around for the rest of my life, most likely, but I am willing to accept that. I’ll be Okay. I can talk about it, blog about it, share my thoughts in my YouTube videos. I can still get out there and do the things I want to do despite the ever-lurking cloud. I can push past the FEAR. I’ve made it through massive upheavals, car accidents, unplanned pregnancies, and worse, and I can make it through this too. The good thing about bad times, is that (usually) the good times are not too far away.
– Fern xxx
If you’ve ever felt depressed and/or you have some tried and tested pick-me-ups I’d love to read about them in the comments section below.