Saturday, 30 July 2011

Flippancy is a defence mechanism

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.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Not to be morbid..

I never intended this blog to be morbid and depressive, I envisaged it being witty and insightful and laugh a bloody minute. But I have just found my way, by accident, into my sent mail from 2008/2009. I wrote this on 30th July 2008, when I was engaged to be married, but knew deep down it wasn't for me. It's a letter to I don't know who, about my mum who died 21st May 2007.

"My mother is dead. I don’t know who this is for. I like to think it’s for anyone suffering the loss of their beloved but probably it’s just for me. A self-indulgence.
We all knew it was coming; she’d been like a cat with nine lives. No one could be that ill, for that long and continue to fight and fight and fight. We’d been told she had months, not years. In the end it was days.

Within hours of her passing people were saying at least it was expected. Why do people think that makes all the difference? It wasn’t fucking expected. I hadn’t been expecting the phone call in the middle of the night, I hadn’t been expecting to see her dead in a side room of a hospital ward, I hadn’t been expecting it to be now.
I say now, but I started writing this just after she died; 14 months ago. I recently got a new laptop so I was copying across all the bits and bobs saved on the old one, when I saw this. I read it, and I cried. It’s still true. 14 bloody months have gone by and it’s all still true.
Even when I made myself face the harshest realities of her illness, I never imagined the actual moment of her passing. Yes, I’d been terribly practical, planning the funeral in my head, organising my father’s life and grief in advance. It didn’t matter in the end. The holes that have been made in my heart, my head, my gut are beyond imagining. You can’t prepare for that.

Funny, how you still function. I’d never understood how bereaved people were able to carry on being human. Truth be told, I’d always thought my grief, when it came, would be so overwhelming, people would see how it is to be truly lost in despair. I was at best na├»ve, at worst supremely arrogant. I know better now. God, she was fabulous and funny and beautiful. But as much as I miss her I wouldn’t wish her back to the life she had. The indignity of a once such vibrant woman being confined to a hospital bed, kept alive by machines while her mind wandered further and further from reality. It would have been an existence not a life.

I dial ‘mum mob’ on my way back from work, even now. I always called her on the walk between station and home. I wish there was a voicemail message so I could hear her, but she never quite got to grips with the whole voicemail thing in life, so I suppose I’m expecting too much to hope to hear it now, in death. I remember she had her own mother’s handbag in the back of our airing cupboard when I was small. I didn’t understand that then. She’s gone, why hold on to the tat? But I’ve got mums handbag, stuffed in the back of a wardrobe because I can’t face looking through it. I know there’s some change in her purse, but what do you do with a dead woman’s coins? Can’t give them away, can’t spend them.
14 months, and I still feel lost. I still feel anger and bitter and I’m raging; at the hospitals for not curing her, at myself for not doing more. And at her, for leaving me when I need her most.

It’s hard to remember the times before she got ill. Try as I might, the memories of sickness and distress will keep pushing out all the happy and fun times. I hope this will pass. It has to pass because I can’t spend the rest of my life with only the sad recollections of a too-short life for company. And I know the other stuff is there, waiting in the wings, anticipating a time when I will look back and laugh and remember and be thankful for the life she had.
I’m getting married. She won’t be there. I never really expected that she would be, but it still puts a pre-emptive downer on the day. She would have loved being the mother of me, the bride. I want to go shopping for her outfit. Actually I do go shopping for her outfit but then I remember she’s gone. Anyway, it would have been a hard task persuading her to splash out and not go for a Matalan two piece. Perhaps I’d have splashed out on her behalf, but then again, perhaps not. I was never quite the daughter I wanted to be. I took too much and gave too little. Maybe that’s just how it is with mothers and daughters.

People tell me I’ll feel her with me. I haven’t yet. But mum, if you’re out there, I miss you. And I could really do with a cuddle."