Having suffered from on and off Depression (and Anxiety) for almost ten years now, I have recently started to feel a whole lot better. In fact, I have gotten to the stage where I can actually look at depression in an objective fashion and see exactly how the feeling of sadness and emptiness traps you. Something that bugs me though is the attitude that a person can ‘snap out of it’ or ‘just start being happy’. It doesn’t work like that and in fact, even when you begin to feel happy again, it’s not the end of depression in general.
I wanted to write this post because although a lot of people I know are familiar with the fact that I have suffered on and off with mental illness, a lot of them don’t understand it and, shamefully on my part, I have never explained it. Those that are unaware of the facts regarding depression in any form are lucky to have not had first hand experience with the disease but should note that it is important to talk about it. The amount of people suffering from some form of mental illness is staggering yet there is still an amazing amount of stigma surrounding it. These are issues we should talk about regardless of how hard and uncomfortable people might find it. I think it is important to realise that just because a person is not as depressed as they once were, it’s a hard path back to normality. I want to talk about why I found depression so hard to escape from so that people are aware of what it does to a person. You never know when someone you care about is going to fall into a bout of depression so this is the kind of information I would have liked to have been told whilst I was trying to fight my way out.
This was taken during a major depressive episode- I looked and felt awful
Leaving depression behind is scary as hell. Something my boyfriend and I established after I began to cope better with my depression was that it had always made me feel safe. That sounds ridiculous but it was and partially is, still true. The depression had always given me an excuse, a safety blanket. I was able to blame everything on the depression- and yes, a lot of the stuff that happened to me was because of the depression but I soon became unable to see the difference between depression-related issues and standard every day issues. Coming back into the real world is hard because, as corny as it may sound, you have to learn to love yourself again. You have to throw off the metaphorical (and in my case, physical) blanket and learn to care, learn to look after yourself again. Sleeping every day is still something I crave when I have a bad day but somehow I’ve managed to get myself to a place where I am able to process that that isn’t the best thing to do and I finally have mustered up the energy to get up and do something during the day.
Even on days when I genuinely feel like I haven’t beaten it, I am able to know that although I am having a down day, it doesn’t mean I can’t get up again tomorrow- and I know that I will. The way that I deal with it now? If I have a down day, I let myself wallow, just for that day. As long as I know it’s just that one day and it won’t happen often. I won’t get carried away and I will go back to being productive tomorrow. It is not a sin to feel sad.
Everyone writes books and guides on how to stop being depressed but nobody writes anything on how to cope with the aftermath. Nobody explains just how tough it’s going to be to stop yourself slipping back into a depressive episode because everyone seems to think that if you stop being depressed, you’ve beaten it. For people who are prone to depression, it is a recurrent disease and like the recovering alcoholic, every day is a struggle.
What I personally have found is that the mood swings don’t tend to be so extreme now but the sad, emptiness can still be there, ever present encroaching on your newly found happiness yet unlike the recovering alcoholic, emotions are something completely unavoidable. Instead we must try to let sadness in for a small period of time. Immense willpower is needed and yes, you might not succeed immediately- I didn’t and I still don’t on some occasions. You should let yourself feel sadness for a minute, an hour, a day but no longer than that. By keeping up a positive attitude every minute of every day, you are effectively lying to yourself so I feel that a balance is needed to keep from living a complete lie.
So remember, being depressed doesn’t just stop the moment you feel happy again for the first time, you can relapse and it does take time to get yourself back to feeling good but it is possible to get there.
If you are suffering, there are plenty of people you can turn to, although I know the idea of this can be very overwhelming. The Depression Alliance have a page of useful contacts which can be very helpful.
If talking to an expert does not sound like your type of thing, then I have an email address on my contacts page. If you want to just rant and cry and shout to someone, I will read and reply to each and every email and you don’t even have to give me your name.