‘The motor screams, I’m stuck in second gear’
I always swore I’d talk about this stuff. Like it’s my duty. To show people who go through it that they aren’t alone. To try and explain to those who haven’t. But god it’s hard. Owning this shit is hard. And stamp out stigma might be a good slogan, but what that means in reality is difficult. And it never seems to get easy. I need to own the bad shit, because looking stuff in the face and feeling it, really feeling it, is part of letting it go and moving on.
I got quite ill at the tail end of last year. And it’s only now when I’m out of that place, that I can see how bad it got. I’ve been treated for depression on and off since I was about 13, but the ferocity of what happened in this period scares me. I still think if it was a physical illness the way I’d respond to it would be different. Kinder. I’m trying to be kind.
There were external triggers, but my reaction to those events was out of proportion. Things crept up gradually until they were on top of me. All of a sudden I looked up and realised I’d fallen down the rabbit hole again.
I stopped sleeping. Which for me in mental health terms might as well be a massive fucking klaxon. A massive fucking klaxon I covered my ears and ignored. Not being able to sleep indicates mental distress. It’s often the first sign. Your thoughts are racing and you can’t turn them off. Lowered serotoin levels linked to depression also fucks with your sleep cycle so you can’t stay asleep for long periods of time. But insomnia also *causes* depression. It exhausts you. It wears out your defences, it makes everything feel more shit than it really is.
My mood plummeted. I struggled to get myself out of bed, which for someone who prides themselves on getting shit done hurt like hell. I worried constantly, overwhelmingly. I had panic attacks frequently. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. I went to work because I had to, but I wasn’t really there. I couldn’t speak to people. I felt like I was trapped under water and the world was far away. I could see it, but not really participate.
I cried every day, and as time went on the proportion of my day I would spend crying increased. Then I started crying at work. It was like I was trying to hold back a tidal wave of sadness and pain, but I was no longer strong enough. I didn’t know where that hurt even came from. Just that it was overwhelming me. Other than work I didn’t really go out that much. I went from being someone who loves adventures, learning new things and meeting new people, to being someone whose primary concern was making sure things were safe. I was expending all my energy on keeping going. I thought about harming myself. And that scared the shit out of me.
I felt trapped. Like I needed to make massive changes in my life but I just didn’t have the resources within myself to do it. This ended up feeding back into this loop of
-> things need to change -> you’re not changing them -> you’re shit -> everything is terrible -> things need to change ->
I’m a writer but I couldn’t write. This was another thing I could add to the pile of things I was fucking up, that I could beat myself up about. I felt like I was failing everything and everyone. I thought a lot about my friend Jaamit, who died a couple of years ago. thought about how life is short and precious, about how little time I had. This made me panic too. I backed myself into a corner and the more I beat myself up about not doing anything, not living the life I wanted, the less I could do. I was a rabbit caught in the head lights.
In a very real sense I had stopped being able to cope.
Depression shrinks down your life. You feel vulnerable, massively so. So you stick to the people you know 100% love you, 100% have your back. The people you can ring at 3am when everything has turned to shit and you just need to hear someone’s voice. I write this because I don’t want the people I’m closest to to think they’ve failed me; my best friends, my boyfriend at the time, my parents. I need them to know that even though I couldn’t speak to them about everything, how much their support mattered.
It felt like it would always be this way. Like it would never, ever stop. But it did, gradually, in fits and starts.
I took little steps, because that’s all I could manage. Kept clunking them down into the jar, until they properly started adding up into something big.
I meditated. i went to see the best counsellor I’ve ever had. I went to the gym, a lot. I took omega three oils the size of horse pills. I did something tiny I wanted to do, that scared the shit out of me every single day. I (reluctantly as hell) went back on a tiny dose of SSRI’s. I did my CBT exercises. I confronted my ‘the worst that could happen’ fears, looked them in the face until they stopped scaring me. I asked for help. i did something for someone else – I helped kids learn to read. I practised gratitude and refocused on the positive stuff. I gave myself a fucking break.
And I kept going with all that, even at the times it didn’t seem to be making the damnedest bit of difference.
I look at this stuff now and it’s like a chapter from someone else’s life. When I’m on form I know there’s not many people who can touch me.
I dress up and feel beautiful, I create and debate and laugh. I dance. I stand on the top of high ledges and scream, scream with the pure exuberant pleasure of it, the sheer exuberant pleasure of being alive. Despite all the stress I love my job and am fucking good at what I do. I have in my life some of the best human beings on the planet. And as much as I love them, they seem to love me back. And that never gets old.
Despite all of what happened I am a strong person.
But then I realise that even that’s wrong. That even that needs turning on it’s head. That I am not strong in spite of the fact that this happened, that I went through this and came out the other side. I am not strong in spite of the fact that I have to live with the very real knowledge that this could happen to me again.
I am not strong in spite of it.
I’m strong because of it.