I’ve always found it unhelpful to see depression as a mental illness. For me, when periods of depression are triggered, it’s with a tightening feeling in the stomach, a fragment of a second where it feels like my heart has stopped. Then the panic from my nerves which hasn’t yet reached my brain: I need to escape this busy space, this room, this conversation. Only then does it become mental, as the sadness hits me and my senses malfunction, wildly swinging from being unable to sleep and sleeping all the time, not be able to eat and horribly overeating, and a whole range of other emotions that don’t really fit into the traditional ‘wave of sadness’ image: loss, envy and more than anything else blind fucking terror.
I’ve suffered from manic depression probably since the age of seventeen, although probably before that- it’s difficult to know from that far back what was depression and what was just a bad day for a confused teen. However, it’s taken me three years to actually be able to put the experience into words without falling back on cliché or ‘facts’ about depression that I’ve learned from television, films, music and books.
The problem is that it’s difficult to tell what is part of the disease and what is just an integral part of you, because no one ever really discusses these things. People are more than happy to tell you about their current cold, or that summer they nearly died from an appendicitis, but you’ll never hear an anecdote of ‘that week where I wanted to kill myself’ or ‘my summer of self-harm’. Then again, I can totally understand why people don’t want to talk about it. No one needs the constant worried looks you get from friends you play the D card with, the comforting shoulder pat that wasn’t there before and the conversation second only to ‘I see you more as a friend’ in bullshit awfulness: “you know you can tell me anything, right?”. Well guess what: I can’t actually, because I know the things that are reverberating within me right now are tiny insignificant problems, but that doesn’t stop them keeping me awake at night sick with misery and despair. I can already hear the conversation you’re going to have tomorrow about me, rolling your eyes with a mutual friend over how overdramatic I am. I can’t, actually, because I’m not even sure myself why I’m currently feeling like I do. I can’t, actually, because a lot of the reasons I feel like this are because of you, those tiny meaningless things you do or say that explode inside my head, leaving me paralysed and alone without really knowing why.
All I know is that if the self-loathing lonely teenager I was had had access to personal accounts of depression such as the one I’m trying to write for you know, I know I could have identified the problem a lot sooner and sought the help I desperately needed (and still desperately need) much sooner than the three years it has taken me to find it. Or if any of the boyfriends or close friends I have been luckily enough to have in this time had read them, they might have been better able to understand why I could be so cruel to them at times, why sometimes I just had to shut myself away from them, why I could be so volatile. Not being able to understand why you are feeling the way you do is one of life’s most terrifying moments, and until we start talking openly it’s going to continue to terrify our friends, our families, ourselves.