Many people who follow this blog will know that I had a breakdown in 2010. My GP told me I was clinically depressed – she figured that out from one of those handy questionnaires they have on their computers these days.
For a while there, I was visiting my GP every Friday morning. She would do things like ask me if I wanted to see an alcohol counsellor and tell me my obsession with suicide was just a side effect of my medication.
I went to the appointments because I didn’t want to worry her any more than I already had, and I played along with the assumption that I wanted to be “better” and get back to “life” but the truth is that actually:
I didn’t want to get better.
That’s something nobody really mentions about depression. It’s just sort of taken as given that someone with depression wants to get better. After all, if you had a broken leg or appendicitis, it could also be safely assumed that you wanted to get better.
For me though, the most dangerous part of depression was that I had absolutely no desire to get “better.” For me, “better” meant just being hoodwinked. A brainwashed automaton, drugged up to the eyeballs and programmed to conform so that they can go back to their useful place behind a desk or a counter somewhere. Stop being a burden; ignore the sheer horror of life and get on with contributing to society. Buy some more shit you don’t need, and get drunk on Friday night.
I began to think people who were “happy” were just woefully stupid – they just couldn’t see the bleakness of real life that stared me in the face. Getting “better” wouldn’t be about feeling good so much as just learning to ignore the inane shittiness of life.
I took a perverse pleasure in my wallowing. It became a competition with myself, to see just how bad I could get, how far from the “normal” path I could stray. With every step I took I knew I was getting closer and closer to a point from which I would be unable to return. But it didn’t stop me. I didn’t want to return.
When I looked around me, there were no examples of a happy life. It’s really hard to find someone who really is happy in their life and not just moaning or plodding or just waiting for the weekend.
When there are no examples of happiness around you, it’s easy for the depression to convince you that the very idea of happiness is nothing but that – an idea.
And antidepressants don’t make you happy. They just patch you up enough to get you out of the waiting room and back to your desk. Like taking ibuprofen for a broken leg, without ever getting a cast. But you can’t really get a cast for depression, can you.
Nobody seems to acknowledge the fact that when you’re trying to climb out of the bog of eternal stench, the hardest part is deciding you want to get out.
Perhaps they don’t know! I suppose if you’ve never experienced it, it’s a fair assumption that a person with depression is desperate to get better.
The sad fact is that – for me, at least – I knew that things like getting out and seeing people or exercising or just getting fresh air would make me feel better. But I resisted it. I didn’t want to lose the clarity I felt I had about the way things really were.
Depression is like someone leaning over your shoulder throughout your entire life, telling you he doesn’t really mean that or that’s really shitty.
This is different from the feeling that you don’t deserve to get better, that somehow your life is not important or valuable enough to warrant continuing past the end of this week. It’s more a sort of extreme apathy and inertia, where you don’t see any real reason to want to get better.
For me, my breakdown was also a sort of career crisis. Once I had been off work for a few weeks, I realised I didn’t actually like my job. I had stumbled into a career in pensions six years earlier, and with time away from my work, I realised I actually didn’t like it. It was the people who had made my job bearable, and when depression robbed me of my ability to communicate with those around me, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to the job. In that respect, I didn’t want to get better because I didn’t want to go back to a job I didn’t like or a career I had been successful in by accident. That’s not so much laziness as the absence of any sort of desire to do my job.
The problem with depression is that you have to want to feel better in order to do anything to help yourself. And the very nature of depression is that you don’t want to feel better and are at best apathetic about whether you live or die.
Why don’t we talk about that? Perhaps if we could start conversations with look I know you aren’t even sure you want to get better, but would you at least come for a walk with me things might improve. I felt ashamed of the fact I didn’t want to feel better. I felt like that was yet another thing that was wrong with me, another reason my depression must be so much worse than anyone else’s – because surely any normal person would want to feel better when faced with this. And I really did not.
Sometimes, as an outsider looking in on another person’s depression it can seem like they are wilfully refusing to get better – they’re refusing to help themselves. It can be hard to maintain compassion for someone when they refuse to take even the smallest step towards recovery. And it’s really hard to be depressed, and to admit that actually you don’t want to get better. You don’t want to stay how you are, but you don’t really care one way or another. Like flicking between channels where Real Housewives of Atlanta is on one channel, and Real Housewives of New York on the other. You don’t particularly care to watch either, but you don’t dislike either enough to flick to another channel. That’s depression, for me: not liking or disliking anything enough to do something about it.
What can you do about it? I wish I had the answer. For some of us, we can just wait it out and remind ourselves: this too shall pass. For some, a friend or relative will step in and arrange for counselling or medication. A routine can help. The compassion and companionship of friends and family without trying to fix things can help, but can also feel suffocating and induce huge amounts of guilt. There is no one answer; there are as many approaches as there are people because although the diagnosis of Depression is the same, everyone’s depression is different.