When I had a breakdown in 2010, I wasn’t honest – not with myself, and definitely not with the people around me. I didn’t really understand that I was depressed; it felt more like something had snapped irreparably deep inside of my head, and I tried my best to hide that from everyone around me – until I got to the point where I could no longer hide it, and I scared a fair few people.
Since then, I have been more vigilant about my mental health, determined to never end up back there again. Last week, after a couple of weeks of feeling progressively more rubbish and less able to stop eating chocolate, it dawned on me: I’m depressed.
It’s not that I necessarily feel sad so much as I just don’t feel much of anything right now. Just fed up. And sleepy. I feel like I’m trying to drag myself around with a ten tonne weight on my back or something. Moving at high altitude, where there’s not quite enough oxygen to let me move how I always used to.
The last time this happened, there was a certain amount of irresponsibility about it; I let it happen, like an experiment: I wonder what would happen if I just kept drinking/stopped eating/didn’t ever speak to anyone again/died. I’ve written before about how I didn’t really want to get better, and that was part of the problem. I had the luxury of having no real responsibilities, and a very understanding employer who let me have a lot of time off on full pay, so that I didn’t have to worry about going back to work in order to pay the bills. It was just me, on my own, in my house with a bottle of vodka.
I stumbled out of that void two years later, with many scars both mental and physical. Not to mention the violent, abusive ex and the premature baby. Like a dazed hero in a movie who’s not quite sure how they ended up surviving, but they’re glad they did.
This time around then, I have none of those luxuries. I have a child who depends on me not only for food and safety but for emotional support. Smiles and cuddles and love. I have a house we’ve only just moved into, and I’m self employed which means if I let my clients down we’re both in deep trouble. I’ll be honest: that side of it is probably adding to my stress levels, as I panic about the fact I’m not able to concentrate on anything for more than a couple of minutes, but I still have to get work done for clients or I won’t get paid.
People always tell you to ask for help when you’re struggling. The problem is that I don’t necessarily feel there’s anyone I could ask. And also that I don’t even know how they could help. I can’t ask people for help with S because, to be perfectly honest, I’m ok when she’s here. I can hold myself together, and she is a brilliant distraction from my thoughts. The problems come when she’s at school, or in bed asleep. There’s nothing to occupy my mind, so it goes off on those random rambling trips where all the bad things happen at once. I can’t ask people to help with my work because how can I take payment from clients for work and keep it, not pass it on to the person who’s done the work? I can’t ask someone to come round and clean my house because well, I’m not completely shameless just yet.
The problem with depression is that it’s not a thing. It’s not a burn or a graze or a broken bone or a burst appendix. You can’t see it; you can’t really explain it; it’s not caused by something in particular. It’s probably more the lack of a thing really. It’s the lack of ability to give a shit. The lack of concentration, the lack of self control, the lack of self love or even basic self care.
I decided this week to treat it as if it’s an actual thing rather than a non-thing. If I had a broken leg or an ear infection, what would I do? I’d give myself a break. I’d tell people about it in the hope they would be a bit understanding if I’m hard to contact or don’t do things when I say I will. I would be honest; nobody tries to hide a broken leg or an ear infection.
And I’d take better care of myself. You rest a broken bone; you care for an ear infection. You put a plaster on a cut. I’m not going to the GP because I don’t want medication, and I don’t want any more of their pointless talking therapy (for those who don’t know, here’s what happened last time I went to a counsellor).
So what can I do, then?
I can give myself time off whenever possible; cut back to the bare minimum, and not waste precious energy and concentration on things that don’t matter.
I can take a bath in the evenings instead of watching TV without any of it really going in. I can stop eating chocolate for every meal and start eating more healthily. I can take the supplements I know help with my mental health. I can listen to the music that brings me joy.
I can do things like treating myself to a hair cut (did you see it?) I can cuddle my daughter and take her to the park when really I feel like hiding under the duvet. I can dance with her to her favourite songs, and I can say yes to days out with her when I really don’t feel like it.
I can plod.
I can be kind to myself, and I can be honest with myself and with those around me. Honestly, I’m depressed right now. But it won’t be forever.
I might not be as responsive or sociable, on social media or in person for a while but I do appreciate the tweets and messages people have sent lately. It means a lot.