What I learned in 2015

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The majestic Uluru, in central Australia, which I saw in person for the first time this year. Squee! I’ll post more on that later.

It’s February, which means that the year has started – the working/writing year, that is.

I know that for many people, the year starts on the first of January, but in Australia, January is the long summer holidays.  My girl is growing up too fast, so I like to spend as much time hanging out with her as possible .  Also, January is my month for cleaning house (literally), taking stock (of house and self) and making plans for the rest of the year.

This year the taking stock has been both wonderful and painful (and has led to a long post – fair warning!).

Wonderful because, for the first time in two years, I feel normal.  Optimistic, energetic and fired up for the year ahead, instead of sad, exhausted, fearful and overwhelmed.

Painful because I now realise that I could have been feeling like this much sooner if I had just asked for help sooner.

Painful because, in all that time, while I managed to do some things, I could only manage those things by neglecting others, including my friends and family.  I have some making up to do, but at least now, the thought of that is not so crushingly guilt-producing as it was just a few months ago.

So what, you ask, could make such a difference?  One word – or is it two?  Anti-depressants.

What do I have to be depressed about, you may ask?

I asked myself the same question.  For two solid years, I told myself I was just lazy, vitamin deficient, ungrateful, stupid, fearful, and whatever else you can think of to explain my exhaustion, lethargy and general inability to do anything beyond what was directly in front of me.  In the second year, the chronic pain from a knee injury explained some of it.  But even when that started to get better (which was an odyssey in itself, which I may come back to in another post) I still couldn’t seem to get out of my own way.  I was diminished, faded, and worst of all, unable to write.  And I hated myself for it.

But guess what?  Depression is physiological!  It might be triggered by emotions and events but it isn’t the same as sadness and it isn’t dependent on circumstances.  It isn’t all in your head!  How do I know this? BECAUSE THE DRUGS WORK.  I’m lucky.  I haven’t had any side effects (not that lasted longer than a week or two, anyway) and they don’t numb me or make me feel unlike myself.  For me, they allow me to feel like myself again, which I haven’t (I now realise) for ages.

I feel like a right numpty for not asking for help sooner.  I went through all the classic reasons.  First, it was that I was just sad (which I was) and I would get better soon.  Next it was that I shouldn’t be such a baby and just needed to get over myself.  Then I realised that maybe I was depressed, but I wasn’t depressed ENOUGH to claim the name and seek help.  I was still getting out of bed (sort of) and feeding the family (in a manner of speaking) and stringing sentences together in public.  Other people had it much worse than me.  I didn’t want to claim sympathy that I didn’t deserve.  After all, I had been depressed before and got myself out of it.  I could do it again and should do it again.

Except I couldn’t.  Which, of course, makes you feel even worse.  Which is how depression works.  I know this.  I have known it for ages and counselled others on the fact that depression lies.  But I couldn’t accept it for myself.  I thought if I just did enough volunteer work, and turned my focus off myself enough, I would feel better.  It worked that other time – although only after months of my life wasted in self-hate and struggle, something the depression trash-talking in my ear made me forget.  Then the chronic pain kicked in and for the first time in my life, I really understood what it was to not have enough spoons.*  And that knocked me so far back into the black hole that I simply couldn’t pull myself out.  I needed help.  And finally, I sought it.

So, what has this taught me?

It’s taught me a bunch of things which I have said to other people, but now understand properly for myself.

Depression lies.  It will tell you you are a terrible, ungrateful person, who doesn’t deserve help.  Ignore it.  It’s a dick.  You aren’t.  You deserve help.  And ignore anyone, including yourself, who says that drugs or therapy are ‘a crutch’.  If you have a broken leg, you get a freakin’ crutch.  If your brain is malfunctioning and making your life hell, you’re entitled to lean on something to make that better.

Invisible illness is the pits.  *I hope I have always been sympathetic to those who have chronic, invisible illnesses.  But now I empathise.  I am grateful every day for the fact that my knee problem is getting better and that the anti-depressants work for me.  I know that there are many people whose problems have no cure and who don’t get much relief from medication.  Be kind to the people you meet.  Not all handicaps are visible.

Unnecessary suffering is not noble.  Life has enough unavoidable suffering.  Don’t put up with it if it can be avoided/ameliorated.  Ask for help.  And maybe ask someone close to you, or a professional, if you aren’t sure if you need help.  As the psychologist said to me, ‘just because the family is more or less fed and you haven’t burnt the house down, doesn’t mean you are okay.’

Depression doesn’t mean you are miserable all the time.  One of the things that stopped me from getting help was that I did still enjoy things.  The picture above is an example.  I went to the centre of Australia for the first time this year with my husband, as an anniversary treat and it was wonderful.  I thought that, if I could have a good time, I must be okay and my inability to be creative (for example) must just be my own laziness.  But it is possible to have good times and still not be yourself.  You might appear normal to others, but when it takes a herculean effort to appear that way, that’s not normal.

I have people who love me and who want me to be okay.  When you are down on yourself and think you are useless, (or bad or crazy) it’s very easy to only see the ways you are failing.  It’s one of the ways that depression lies.  It tells you that you aren’t important or loveable.  That isn’t true.  Trust me, there are people whose lives would be much worse without you.  I never got as far as thinking that the world would be better without me, but I now understand how people get there.  I may not feel as if I deserve to be loved (it’s a bit of a life-long issue for me) but people love me anyway.  That’s very cool and I make a point to remember it, often.

So, that’s what I learned in 2015.  What about you?

🙂

Copyright © Imelda Evans 2016

 

22 thoughts on “What I learned in 2015

  1. I got so excited seeing a pop up in my email for “wine women & wordplay” – and I got a bit sad reading your post and what you’ve been going through. I cheered at all of it, especially “invisible illness is the pits” – as I get older I learn more about the things we cannot see and I do my best to empathise too – and generally I just cheered Imelda, because I have a whole lot of love for you from a distance, (including a physical distance and cyber distance). You are one of the extra special women in my world and I’m so glad to hear you took this step in 2015 and that it’s working for you and you’re feeling better. xx huge hugs from me

    • Thank you, my love! Don’t worry, there will be lots more cheerful posts to come! Your support and love, long distance and all, is one of the things that keeps me going! Right back atcha, with interest! The stupid thing about this slough that I’ve been in is that I haven’t been able to write much and when I have, I haven’t been able to tell whether it’s good or not. There are at least five posts in the ‘drafts’ on this blog that I abandoned because I ‘just couldn’t finish them’. Looking at them today, I can see there’s nothing wrong with them and mostly what they needed was posting. It’s a stoopid thing, depression. It makes one stoopid. But I’m kicking it’s arse and taking names now, so, as I said, more cheerful stuff will come!

  2. Imelda Evans has been a direct inspiration to me in the form of the ‘return,’ the ‘coming back,’ in being the human in all its beautiful forms. I’m I sad for her? No. To me, she doesn’t deserve it. Am I proud of her in this post? Do I have to be? (I am in case you’re wondering … ) Whatever she does, Imelda does it because…. IMHO… she can and does … so very well … and always well intended. One of the most honest, well intended, gracious giving hearts I’ve seen.

    Imelda knows how she has inspired me. She knows how that has become cemented. It’s that cement works that states how she continues to inspire me. I see it all the time in my dog’s face. Don’t know what that means? Yeah, well that’s OK… Imelda does…. (but just to let you in slightly…. it has a lot to with Imelda not being a dog (even tho’ dogs are wonderful creatures and greatly loved) and everything to do with ‘coming back’. Thank you Imelda Evans.

  3. A very succinct description of depression. It’s great you now feel able to talk about it. I’ve also always found it’s really only possible to talk about it and name it when you are on the way to recovery. When I’ve had serious bouts of depression in the past anti-depressants helped me out, it’s like taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection (along with very understanding friends and family! and professional head helping people, who can be counsellors, psychiatrists, or psychologists). As a general rule you are better off taking them even with the occasional crappy side effect. There are so many invisible illnesses and people who don’t have enough spoons. I know I am definitely one of those and have to be fairly careful with how I chose to spend my spoons. Still get it wrong occasionally, but hey, if you don’t push the boundaries sometimes how do you know where they are? 🙂

    (if you do choose to push the boundaries, make sure you have the right support networks in place to keep an eye on you and give them express permission to kick your ass when you go to far!)

    • Thank you! I’m glad you feel I got it right. And you’re so right that you can only see it when you’re coming out. Part of writing this is to help myself and others see it and seek help sooner! I am also seeing the head-helping people and doing exercise and all of that. And pushing very gently. 🙂 Best of luck and may you always have as many spoons as you would wish for!

  4. Howdy Imelda!
    Seems like you’ve grabbed the bull by its horns, so to speak. I know many who have been helped by anti depressants, and am glad that you are now happy & feel normal energy.
    So, I’m looking forward to a new book, you betcha!
    Nice to find you blogging, again!

    • Hello Resa! Thank you for being so understanding. You are one of the people I feel so guilty about neglecting. I have thought of you many times while I’ve been in the fog, but it had been so long that I didn’t know how to contact you without explaining and I couldn’t work out how to do that. But while I struggled to write, I have been working on stories, so I hope to have one soon! Thank you again. You are a doll.

    • Thank you! Yes, I was being dogged. Not entirely a co-incidence that he came to stay when my flesh and blood dog died, although it wasn’t only that, of course. But loneliness and loss (neither properly identified or addressed) were definitely factors! I am dealing now and also hope for a productive 2016. Thanks for your encouragement, it’s much appreciated. 🙂

  5. Imelda, I share your pain. Been there, done that. Struggled stupidly on my own for years. Anti-depressants work for me too and I am so grateful to my doctor for persuading me to take them. I finished writing my first romance novel last year and I am pretty sure that I would never have accomplished that if I wasn’t treating my depression and anxiety. Treating. Ongoing. And that’s okay with me because I never ever want to feel like that again.

    • I’m so glad to hear you listened to the doc and are feeling better! The worst thing about it for me was that I just couldn’t write. I could think about stories, I could plan, but when I came to the words, I just couldn’t string them together. So I believe that you might not have finished without the help. And I am all for taking them as long as you need them. Something else that I realised AFTER I sought help (ugh!) was that it’s like any other health problem, in that family history and age are factors. So easy to see sense, when your brain is unscrambled enough to see! Thanks for sharing. It really is good to know that one isn’t alone, or crazy. 🙂

      • Yes, quite right about the age factors and family history. Once I started on the road to recover, I investigated both. The family history in particular was fascinating. It was frightening but at the same time helpful.

  6. A mirror-image of my story! Never-ending pain, depression, doctors finding more problems, more pain, depression. Thought I was above ‘psycho’ MEDS, gave in, unbelievable relief, NO DEPRESSION! Still pain, but chin up.
    Then…..incredible pain, depression, in-depth tests, diagnosis, steroids, will probably develop moon-face, don’t care, NO PAIN, NO DEPRESSION.
    What a trip! I’d filed my half-finished YA novel, never believing I’d ever return to it, but lately I’ve been feeling the urge. I could have felt the usual vibes long age, if I’d filed my pride instead, but the old taunt directed at sufferers of depression (‘She’s like a hula dancer on Valium’) always echoed to crush my motivation.
    Just days ago, I peeped into the file.
    Yesterday I read my novel.
    Today I wrote 2000 words.

    • Hello Erin! Sorry, somehow I missed your comment! Oh, I feel you. Why is it that we are sooo resistant to accepting help? Really, what is that about? I am so thrilled that you’ve come back to your novel. Congratulations on your 2000 words! You’re inspiring me. Do let me know how you get on! And thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so good to know that I’m not alone. 🙂

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