Depression and anxiety are strange bedfellows to have. I, like a lot of people, have had a long term relationship with both. I also think it’s important to talk about them, to remove their stigma. We don’t live in Victorian times, where women are treated for hysteria when they try to do crazy things… Like vote. Illness is illness, and there’s no shame in being ill.
“We don’t live in Victorian times, where women are treated for hysteria when they try to do crazy things… Like vote.”
The depression side is a delight, as you can imagine. It’s like a shadow, always there, sometimes noticeable, sometimes hidden. A common misconception about depression is that you are sad all the time. Sometimes you are happy – you’re laughing, and life is wonderful, and fun. And sometimes you are sad. Sometimes you are very sad. This can be because something has gone wrong (gained weight; said something silly; been dumped etc) or sometimes it’s for no reason. That’s the really fun part, when everything is going well but you’re overwhelmingly sad. That’s when it all gets difficult to understand.
“Ride this hellish roller coaster to the end!”
Top tip when dealing with someone with depression: don’t try to get them to snap out of it by reminding them how good they have it. We know. It just makes things worse knowing that you feel heavy and dark, and that people outside perceive you as selfish for feeling that way. When you’re privelidged, it’s very difficult to justify your depression. No one says “what right have you got to have the flu, there are starving children in Africa?” (or something similar…) Sadly, the chemicals in my brain are not letting me be rational today. They’ll get over it, but right now, I need to ride this hellish roller coaster to the end!
“Literally, the only thing I fear more than a bout of depression is the first pang of cystitis”
The depression bullies you, its nasty little voice snipping in your ear about how worthless you are and how stupid you look. When it’s not around, it feels like a holiday. “Ha ha!” you think, triumphantly, “I’m cured!” And this can last a day, a week, sometimes longer, and you think it’s over. It tricks you. Then one evening, you realise you didn’t get dressed today. Or you didn’t wear make up all week because you didn’t care. Or you cried at work. And you realise that the shadow is visible again, and that the effort to fight it off is going to be exhausting. Literally, the only thing I fear more than a bout of depression is the first pang of cystitis – you may think I have my priorities wrong, but I’ve made my choice.
Now the big difference between my experience with depression and anxiety is that depression is a lot easier to conceal. It’s quiet, like a ghost or a whisper. It’s slow burning; running in the background; white noise. Anxiety is loud, it bursts through like an angry firework. It is frenetic and shouty. Depression makes me lethargic; anxiety will not let me sleep. Anxiety is like depression has been given a megaphone and is using it to scream in my face. It goes at 100 miles an hour, in caps locks, turned up to 11.
“It goes at 100 miles an hour, in caps locks, turned up to 11.”
The panic attacks can be horrendous. The first panic attack I ever had I thought was a heart attack (I wasn’t overly familiar with the symptoms of heart attacks at that time…) My heart began to pound like it was going to burst. I could hear it in my ears. I had breathing through my mouth – gasping, unable to quite breath enough to calm down. I literally couldn’t think, and my vision started to fade out into a tiny pin prick – like when an old tv switches off. Yes, I remember when tv shut down used to start black as the edges and funnel to the little dot in the centre – very retro I know! Then my legs gave way under me.
After that, the consciousness came back (I never actually lost consciousness, but that’s the best way of describing it) but a was shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t speak properly. My speech was stuttery and quiet – unlike my usual, eloquent conversational skills.
This was followed by hours of a thick, black molasses of depression. It’s a real party combo.
This doesn’t happen a lot, but as you can probably tell, it’s a memorable experience. A sneak attack where you are betrayed by your entire body. I thought we were friends, body! You used to be cool…
“A huge win”
Now, the reason I’m sharing this is not to get sympathy – I don’t want you to feel sorry for me or indeed anyone who suffers from anxiety, depression or, indeed, both. Chances are, you suffer (or have suffered) from them, and I’m telling you nothing new. I hope my story will help you understand what is happening inside my head a little more. Or maybe it will help you realise that you’re not strange when you feel the same or similar. Maybe it will help to go some way to destigmatising mental illnesses. And if it does, that’s a huge win.
It would make me feel very happy.