The Most Difficult Post to Write

Hello everyone. The following post has been sitting in my drafts since Christmas Day. I have been very reluctant to post it for a number of reasons: Firstly, I categorise my blog as a humour blog. This post is not going to be funny or light-hearted and I suppose I didn’t want my readers resenting or becoming confused by a sudden change in tone. I also don’t want any of you to think of me differently after reading this, and part of my has felt like that will be inevitable. Secondly, I saw a conversation on Facebook recently where somebody was complaining about the amount of people who blog about depression and anxiety. Their argument was that it has almost become trendy to claim that you are suffering from some kind of mental illness and while I don’t agree with what they were saying, I would hate to think anyone thinks I’m posting this to jump on some kind of bandwagon. I think it’s essential to talk about depression and to attempt to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Today, I just want to tell my story.

This is not going to be an easy post to write. Usually, I think of an idea for a blog and I draft it up pretty enthusiastically. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that my posts tend to be quite silly and immature, because I have never been fully comfortable with embracing adulthood completely. We often write posts with a specific goal in mind; this goal is often to elicit maximum engagement from readers, or hoping that it will reach as wide an audience is possible. In short, we want our posts, and by extension our blogs, to be popular. This post is different. Personal posts are ten a penny on the Internet and I will admit this upfront: this post isn’t going to be brimming with philosophical or enlightening thought; there will be no moments of catharsis or life-changing epiphanies. I am sharing my experiences with depression because maybe there is one person out there who reads this and thinks “that sounds just like me.” Maybe one person will feel even a fraction less lonely and isolated after reading this. Maybe, just maybe, one person reading this will see that even those of us who others would refer to as funny or good-humoured experience dark and lonely times. And that it’s okay to feel like this. So let me begin.

I am lonely and I am sad. I’m not lonely all the time, but loneliness is a feeling I experience far more often than I would like. The most frustrating aspect of it is that I can’t quite pinpoint why I feel like this. I have the most supportive and kind boyfriend. He makes me laugh in a way no body else can. I have wonderful friends, even though the majority of them live far away. Sometimes I feel like I could have more friends, but I’ve never been one for maintaining several relationships at once. I prefer to keep a small, close knit group of friends. I’ve had the same friends for the majority of my life. I do make friends easily, but I’ve moved jobs quite often, and have moved away from where I attended school and college, so contact has naturally ceased with many people I had been close with. Over the years, I have found that I have been subconsciously isolating myself from many people in my life; it definitely has not been deliberate, but I do like to spend time alone. As the years have passed by, I think I’ve gotten used to living quite a solitary life. I spend the majority of my day with Jack, but I live far away from my family and childhood friends, so I do often find myself keeping myself company. I have great work colleagues, who frequently ask me to come for after work drinks. Years ago, I would have attended any social gathering without hesitation, but nowadays, I choose to stay at home more often. The thing is, I don’t think that this is the source of my loneliness. I have always been comfortable in my own company. What makes me feel really lonely is the fact that I feel like nobody really gets me. Doesn’t that sound woefully arrogant; as if everyone out there should care enough about me to attempt some kind of in depth study of my character. I don’t expect anyone in my life to spend copious amounts of time considering the complexity of my emotional state. I also do not want to sound like some teenage EMO, clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and lamenting the fact that “no one understands me”. Of course no one really knows me, when I spend so much of my time making jokes and not taking life seriously. In school, I was the class clown. I’m the joker in my family. My friends know me as the funny one, always ready to crack a joke or laugh outrageously at the silliest things. This blog is a reflection of that side of my personality. Some would consider it my entire personality. And don’t get me wrong, I love it. I’m not going to pretend I don’t think I’m somewhat funny. This isn’t a time for false modesty. It’s a great trait to possess and I have embraced it wholeheartedly. The thing is, it has led people to erroneously assume that I’m immune to sadness or misery. I think people in my life think that because I smile a lot, or because my laugh is ridiculously jolly, I simply must be fulfilled and continually happy and gregarious. Do I blame people for making this assumption? Of course not. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s frustrating when I’m in a bad mood and someone pipes up with “but you never get moody, Jane”. Of course I bloody do. I’m human. And it goes far beyond being moody. I sometimes fear that if people say the tears and the sobs that wrack my body and the days I spend lying in bed refusing to get up, I would have no friends left.

So is that just it? Do I just feel a little isolated by my sense of disconnection from my friends and family? I know it goes far beyond that.

As a child, I suffered incredible mood swings. When I was happy, I was positively jubilant. But when I was angry, or sad, I was hysterical. As is the story of my life, I did not make this known to anyone in my life. My parents would never have put up with it, as they loathed any kind of emotional outburst and would have branded anything resembling one as attention-seeking. I would lie in my room or sit on the edge of our bath tub, overcome with sadness and dejection. I felt at odds with the world around me; like I was crazy and no one else seemed to care.

As a teenager, my mood swings worsened. On the surface, I appeared carefree and happy. Most of the time, I was okay. I had lots of friends, I performed well in school and I had a lot of fun at weekends with my fun-loving companions. I drank too much alcohol, I stayed out too late and I wore really awful clothes. All in all, I was like a lot of other teenagers: full of angst and uncertainty about my surroundings. But there was something else. I felt a profound sense of loneliness and isolation, even when I was surrounded by dozens of people. I didn’t want to be out partying and drinking. I didn’t want to be talking to boys or dancing. I wanted to be alone. I felt this inexplicable sense of impending doom; I was always on edge, even when I appeared to be having fun. At home, I spent a lot of time purposefully detaching myself from my family. I was quite an introspective teenager and I could have happily spent hours lying on my back, overly-analysing issues that I perceived as major problems. 

It was in college that the problem started to get out of control. I skipped lectures, avoided social contact and spent days lying in bed with the curtains closed. I cried easily and I was extremely sensitive. I felt that my friends were ignoring me and that my boyfriend wasn’t as committed to our relationship as I was. I fought with my friends and my family. During one shouting match with my sister, she called me “unstable.” It hurt. It hurt because I knew that it was true. I had become completely unbalanced. You might assume that was the turning point; that I suddenly revealed all of the dark and anxiety-filled thoughts that I’d been having. But I didn’t. Even though my mother was a psychiatric nurse, I knew she wouldn’t react in the way I would have wanted. She was amazing at dealing with the problems of strangers. She viewed all her patients as exactly that: patients. She was a fantastic nurse but her job frustrated her. She didn’t want to see the problems that she encountered at work reveal themselves at home. My family have never been the most affectionate or open with each other, and my parents were only a few years away from their marriage breaking up. Our household was continuously tense and only added to my feelings of isolation and anxiety.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering a major seizure and I was hospitalised. When I recovered, I was sent to a consultant neurologist. I brought my mother with me for support. I had a long conversation with him about my lifestyle and my medical history, and he discussed anti-seizure medication with me. I will never forget him looking up from his notepad and fixing me with a look of sympathy and understanding. His voice became softer, as he said “and this medication is also used to treat depression. So you’ll find that you’ll feel a little less…anxious.” I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t said anything to him about what I considered my carefully concealed secret. My mother stared at him, then at me. She shook her head. She didn’t want to hear this. He was still looking at me, and he seemed to be mentally saying to me it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. He then continued “around a third of people with epilepsy experience depression. It’s very common. And-“

“Can she not drive, so?” My mother interrupted him, and we didn’t speak any more about depression. I don’t want anyone thinking that my mother is neglectful or selfish; it’s worth pointing out that her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer and her marriage was falling apart. 

After that, the situation continued to get worse. I began studying for a Master’s Degree and Jack and I moved into a beautiful apartment. I knew that I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. The pressure to appreciate what I had just served to make things worse. I pushed myself to appear okay; I painted a near constant smile on my face and continued partying and drinking to try and block out the emotional pain. There were a number of days where I sat alone in my bathroom, feeling that life would never be different and I would never be normal. I wondered what the point in carrying on would be. I was exhausted from pretending and from lying. I was not okay, and I felt like I never would be. That’s when I started to think about suicide. I realised that I didn’t have to feel this constant sense of dread. I didn’t have to lie awake every night, worrying about how abnormal I was compared to all my friends. I could just fade into blackness and everything would be gone. 

Although I want to be honest with you all, I don’t want to describe in too much detail what I attempted to do. Truth be told, I was never going to do it. I knew that deep down. While I did hurt myself, I didn’t cause any real harm and I just sat in my bathroom, cursing at myself for being so pathetic. I was a mess and I knew I needed help. 

The epilepsy medication did help somewhat. It stabilised my mood swings and the feelings of self-loathing and doom were never as extreme as they were before I’d been on the medication. I found out that a close family friend, who had been suffering with severe depression for most of her adult life, was on the same medication. Although mine was primarily used to treat my epilepsy, I began to fear what would happen if I stopped having seizures and would have to come off it. I knew that treating the problem went beyond medication. I needed to change my lifestyle and my attitude. I needed to talk to people and open up about my problems. 

Eventually, I did come off the epilepsy medication. I made the decision very carefully but I know that it was the right one. While I still have mild, infrequent seizures, they are never very debilitating. It was the feelings of dread and anxiety that I was afraid of. I still hadn’t properly or formally discussed my feelings with anyone, in the medical profession or otherwise. I didn’t want a formal diagnosis, because I dreaded a label. I had had health issues for a number of years, and I was tired of feeling like a victim. I know that sounds almost callous of me, but I just wanted to move on with my life. I was also afraid that my meantal health struggles would go on record and that I would find it difficult to secure a job. I tried to just ignore the feelings and convince myself that if I just didn’t live like I was depressed, then it would just disappear. Unfortunately, depression doesn’t release its grip when you want it to and pretending there wasn’t a problem only made it worse.

Since I moved around a bit, different GPs did notice that I seemed anxious and frequently recommended anti-anxiety medication, which I always turned down. I’m not anti-medication at all, but I had spent years on different medications and I had gotten a little fed up. I knew that tablets would help me, but I also knew that I could help myself without them. 

So I started to open up. I had long talks with my sister and my mother. My boyfriend was a huge help. I cut back on alcohol. I stopped staying in bed all day on weekends. I started to freely admit my struggles and my fears. I visited doctors and I discussed my feelings.

Did the depression go away?

Well, no.

And it never will. And that’s okay. I will never be completely free of these feelings of fear and dread but I can learn how to live with them. Somedays are good days. I get up out of bed and I go about my business and I feel fine. I can have a laugh with my friends and I can have fun. Conversely, some days are bad days. These days seem to be during periods where I don’t have much going on in my life; like school holidays. It is usually during the summer that I struggle most because I don’t have work as a distraction and I feel pressure to have a good time and enjoy myself. When I have bad days, I feel inexplicably exhausted. I’m hyper-sensitive and I cry. I feel anti-social and useless. I don’t like looking in the mirror. It feels like no matter what I do, or no matter what happenes, nothing can cheer me up. It could be sunny, I could have won the lottery and I would still feel anxious and sad. It feels like I’m wearing an invisible and heavy cloak around my neck, that only I notice and I have to drag it everywhere with me. I can’t take it off, I have to live with it. I guess there are just days where I notice it more.

But most importantly, I have hope. I know now that these dark days are inevitable, but they will pass. The darkness gives way to light and I have good days again. Hope has been the only thing that has helped me to get through all of this. I have a tattoo on my wrist (a place I need this tattoo) that simply states, in Latin, While I Breathe, I Hope. This is an important life motto for me. Every second I am alive, I have hope. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the motto on my family crest. 

I have come to embrace my struggles. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I try to keep a close circle of good friends that I can trust. I stay in touch with my family. I maintain a strong relationship with my partner. I spend time with my pets. And I blog. You guys have no idea how helpful this blog has been and how happy and appreciative your support and love had made me. I hope that you all realise that the humour and immaturity isn’t a front; it’s a part of who I am. But so is my depression. I will continue to be weird and awkward and all the things you guys expect, but I think it’s important to discuss this side of me too. It’s a side I used to conceal, but I don’t want to anymore. I’m not ashamed. 

Lastly, I want to thank anyone who read this far. I hope that this piece hasn’t come across too self-pitying or self-indulgent. I just wanted to be honest and open with you all and if I could reach anyone, then that’s a bonus. If you do find yourself struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, it’s important that you don’t just close up and ignore these feelings. Confront them. Share them. Or, like me, embrace them. I spent so much time vainly attempting to appear happy and well-adjusted that it just became exhausting. When I finally realised that I could stop, that I could just become okay with not being okay, I felt relieved. In many ways, my struggles have helped me to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. I choose to see the good in my situation instead of the bad. I truly hope that this post has been even a little helpful to someone out there. Finally, here are some words to live by if you are struggling:

I will live with this.

I CAN live with this.

This post was inspired by a number of fantastic bloggers who encouraged me to find the courage to post this. I don’t want to link to anyone else because I feel that their stories are very personal and they may not want me to but I have to say thank you. This has really helped.