I HAVE been depressed most of my adult life.
Depression impacts on every aspect of life and well-being. It is much more than feeling sad. It is a mood disorder that can interfere with everything.
Having untreated depression can put your life on hold for months, if not years… it can also lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
My own depression festered inside me as a reaction to many things: the sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager, a major life crisis in my late 20s, battling cancer in my early 30s, relationship breakdowns, the loss of two of my children, bankruptcy, assault, the loss of my home and the deaths of my soul-mate Andrea, my life-long friend Jayne and my amazing father.
Any of these things could have triggered the condition, and for me they did as a matter of course.
The depression manifested itself in feelings of deep lows or worthlessness – especially in a relationship or at work – but also in many other less obvious ways such as anger and irritability, frustration, OCD behaviour, tiredness, insomnia, forgetfulness, clumsiness and the inability to concentrate on one thing for long periods.
In my case, it was all of these, plus for many years, an over-dependence on alcohol.
But, there is a limit to how long you can lock things inside while appearing to function normally on the outside.
And my “normal” exterior collapsed in a complete nervous breakdown on 12 June 2013… a day when I simply could not hold it all in any more.
It is now five years since that collapse.
Those years have been an important period of professional counselling, the love and support of family and close friends and the catharsis of writing and unburdening my mind, memories and fears.
In the months soon after the breakdown I was struggling to get back to a life of any sort and was fighting my way out of the corner.
Now, I am so far out of the corner you won’t find me… I have at last found my way home.
But the Black Dog never leaves and the depression can still manifest itself abruptly… often when I feel I am being dragged back into that corner.
And without control I snap.
Irritability is a symptom of depression, and it makes total sense; depression usually plays havoc with our sleep patterns.
Lack of sleep causes irritability, and makes us less able to cope with day-to-day challenges.
With depression often comes aches and pains, and our digestive system can be affected, causing us discomfort. Pain makes us irritable and frustrated.
Moreover, depression can be overwhelming. Getting through each day often requires Herculean stamina.
So much energy is directed towards trying to cope that, if anything goes wrong, or something else is added to the pile, we snap.
We just can’t handle any more.
Sadly, our irritability is often directed at others, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This isn’t acceptable, but it is understandable.
It’s good to wait until you feel calmer, then apologise, and explain how you felt at the time – it can be helpful for others to understand your perspective and give them a chance to help.
More tears and genuine remorse is a bi-product of depression.
The classic symptoms of depression – disinterest, lethargy, sadness, detachment, and sleep problems – can make our lives so difficult.
Suddenly, we’re don’t care about the things that we used to enjoy. We can’t concentrate on our favourite books, or TV shows. We don’t have the energy to get up, get dressed, and go out to meet friends.
So, we stop doing things.
Soon, we might not recognise the person we’ve become. We feel as though we’ve lost ourselves to depression. This also inevitably leads to anger; we become angry at depression, we might blame ourselves, and feel incredibly angry at our circumstances… why me, why has this happened?
Depression is an illness, yet we very often blame ourselves for having depression.
It feels like a personal failing.
Because depression is also a thief.
If we’ve been living with depression for a while, it can feel like it has been stealing from us.
It can feel like we have lost an aspect of ourselves, of our identity; we are forced to come to terms with a new ‘us’. We may wish we could go back to how we were before.
Depression can force us to give up work, or our studies, putting a stop to our life, for months or years. It’s common to feel that depression has stolen time from us, and to feel angry about what could have been. Depression can also make us lose touch with friends, or push away our loved ones.
We might feel angry – both with the depression, but also with them. It’s very easy to get lost in thoughts of what could have been.
It can help to try and look towards the future, rather than ruminate in the past.
We can’t change what’s happened, but we can set new goals that interest us, as we are now. We can reflect on the things that depression has taught us about ourselves, and what makes us happy – and make plans based on this.
We can even try reaching out to the people that we previously pushed away, and explain what was going on for us at the time. They may have been hoping from afar to hear from us again.
Looking forward, and achieving new goals, can ease the anger we feel at depression’s thievery.
If you feel depressed, talk to someone… be brave and confide, you will be amazed how many other people out there feel similar things and will let you unburden.
And how many will also forgive and help you to rediscover the real you.
There is light on the other side of that dark door… just have faith in yourself.