I've had depression my whole adult life. Most of the time it doesn’t affect me and people are quite surprised to discover it is something I suffer from; I am outgoing, loud and fairly opinionated, I am sociable, communicative and the first one to get up and shake my thing on an empty dancefloor. I take medication that keeps me on an even keel and I am lucky that I have a wonderful group of friends I can talk to when I am feeling particularly down - they take me out, let me talk and do their level best to show me that I can be happy. But sometimes that isn’t enough and recently I have been signed off work by my doctor with a particularly significant depressive episode.
It isn’t easy to explain. During this bout there have been days where I have literally been unable to get out of bed, to get a drink, go to the loo, to eat. There is emptiness, followed by despair, followed by panic and fear. Fear that I’ll never be free of this seemingly endless cycle of my own introverted thoughts. Some of the symptoms of depression are an inability to concentrate, a heightened level of emotional sensitivity, lack of motivation and difficulty making decisions and interrupted sleep; these things make going to work during a significant episode very difficult. But it is unpredictable and there are better days, where I’ve been able to take the focus away from myself and go out and do some food shopping, meet a friend for coffee and dare I say it, have evenings out, having a drink and feeling free of the black dog for a few hours. A lot of that is putting a brave face on it and afterwards the depressive thoughts come back tenfold, but yes, there are times in the midst of a bout when I feel alive again. There are people for whom this indicates that I can’t really be that ill, and certainly shouldn’t be off work – in essence that I am the very worst kind of malingerer. You might agree with them. If you do, that’s your choice, I am not going to justify myself to anyone. It is what it is, I am who I am.
Depression is not about strength versus weakness, coping versus falling apart. It’s as real a condition as any other – other people just can’t see the symptoms like they can a rash, a stammer or a fracture. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but the main reason for that is still because of the stigma surrounding mental health. Diagnosed depression can be managed with medication, talking therapies and the like but the attitude of other people to it is for me, a definite obstacle to being free of it. For every friend who gets what it’s about, there are countless others who don’t, for every friend with depression, there are countless others in denial and refusing to seek help because when all is said and done, we still have a culture of shame and fear around depression.
“What have you got to be depressed about? You’ve got a great job/lovely home/wonderful partner!” doesn’t even come into it, it’s got absolutely fuck all to do with financial security or whether you’re seeing someone as so many people seem to think. Sure these things can make anyone feel a bit depressive - who hasn’t been unhappy in a job, home or relationship at some point? But there is a vast difference between the unhappiness we all must feel at times in our lives and the condition Depression, diagnosed according to standardised, recognised medical guidelines.
I don’t go around advertising that I am a depressive, I wouldn’t be shouting my mouth off about any other illness I had either, but on the other hand I will not be shamed into not talking about, because it is not a fake illness. It is unpredictable, frightening and exhausting, but it won’t beat me and nor will the attitudes of other people.