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