I have the Black Dog, and no I’m not talking about a cute little puppy people, I’m talking about depression. I got it not long after puberty. (Sounds like I picked it up and that’s how I think of it sometimes – something I acquired but haven’t yet found where to drop it off, or where to return it).
At first I thought it was just hormone changes but while the rest of my body settled ok into woman-hood the Black Dog kept on barking at the door! I couldn’t make him go away. I don’t think happening to also acquire Restless Legs Syndrome helped the situation either (see story One jerk too many!) that just became fuel to the fire.
This might come as a bit of a surprise to some who know me ‘cause on the surface, most of the time, I come across as a personable, happy, sometimes even vivacious kinda gal. I learnt from early on with my depression that it was better to try and put into place coping mechanisms to get me through the most dark of days, to allow me to get to work and to function like the rest of my mates. No one wants to hang around with a miserable, complaining sod all the time do they?
And that’s exactly what I would’ve been if I let it totally consume me when I became blue. So, I tended to keep to myself.
It wasn’t until I got home at night, or at the weekends, that I could allow myself to slip into the darkness, to over think, over theorise, over worry about every last minutiae of life…
Over the years I have tried all kinds of therapies to help with my depression, including various medication, and some work better than others. But be warned, a lot of the drugs can make you gain a hell of a lot of weight – NOT what you need when you are already feeling blue!
When I’m not medicated I’m always looking behind the door to see if the dog is lurking. Any one who has depression knows that you just can’t really control when a bout of darkness may come over you. Sometimes it can be virtually a wave that washes over me and other times I can feel the tension building over a few days. If it’s the latter I try to get onto medication straight away or run. I have found jogging helps.
What I do know, is that at times it has certainly made forging friendships and relationships difficult. It is difficult to communicate, difficult to care, difficult to feel, difficult to connect, difficult to make rational decisions, difficult to make any decisions, it can be just difficult to exist.
And, when you are at work that is even more difficult. For example, in my latest occupation, teaching, I’ve had to learn how to have two personalities. I’m sure some students would attest to me having a Jekyll and Hyde persona…but really for the bulk of the time I’m able to put on my “happy face” and carry on. And, I like to be alone. I rarely go to the school staff room and have learnt how to become focussed on my work and tune out to others around me. I do my work and go home.
And, here I am, still plodding on in the world. But it’s difficult!
Thankfully the stigma associated with declaring you have a mental illness is lessening these days, but having said that, until now, I’ve been rather reticent in speaking out about my depression. Celebrities such as newsreader Jessica Rowe, Professor Stephen Hawking, Olympian Dawn Fraser have helped with raising awareness and associations such as Beyond Blue are thankfully getting the publicity they deserve.
I’ve also felt guilty for mentioning I have depression. (I’m even having a pang of anxiety now – and I have had this story ready for months but have kept delaying putting it up.) There are a lot of people in the world in worse shape and situations than me (world poverty, child abuse, chronic diseases etc spring to mind) and so the guilt, pull yourself together, being worthless, kind-a-trip in your mind starts to play out…. You try to “put on your happy face”, “keep soldering on”, ’cause that’s what you feel you should do, and things in life aren’t really that bad are they?…but then that’s the frustrating thing about depression you can’t stop it…it just seeps in…you don’t feel this way on purpose…
I’m sharing my story in the hope, that if you too have been silent until now, you might get the courage to share your story or, if required, find the help you need.
Whilst I’m not sure if I can ever be free of depression, I have thankfully learnt to manage it. But hey, it’s difficult!
(Pictures are of Molly, courtesy of Oscar Stevenson)