I talk about my relationship with it a lot. I thought, if anything, I err on the side of talk about this affect/mood disorder too much. But last night, a friend was surprised when I spoke about it; I’m not sure whether she was surprised I had it, or surprised the ease with which I spoke about it.
To me, depression is a value-free term: I do not think sufferers of depression induce or intentionally invite depression’s company; I do not think it is their fault. I can’t imagine why someone would judge another person for having depression, and, until last night, didn’t realise there was still a stigma attached to it. I think everyone will experience depression in their lifetime, much like puberty, except it arrives when it wills. If you haven’t already had it, there’s a high likelihood it’s still a’coming.
Depression came. It was sometime in late 2002 after my parents bravely immigrated our lives to Paradise, Australia. Depression came as a bubble that separated me from reality. I was present, but I wasn’t there. Within the bubble, my negative thoughts were amplified and my memories were distorted. I remember being confused thinking about the friendships I had enjoyed in South Africa; I assumed I had remembered South Africa incorrectly. Making friendships had not only become foreign and complicated, as far as my mind was concerned, I had never achieved it. I didn’t want to hang out with anyone because faking being happy was impossibly tiring and being honest was not an option. How do you explain being sad for ‘no’ reason all the time?
A common symptom of depression is anhedonia: when activities that brought you enjoyment no longer do. Walking, singing, playing guitar, reading, playing sport, spending time with family – nothing lifted my mood. I tried to enjoy food; I gave it a lot of chances. I planned snacks and meals as soon as I had cleared my plate, despite the evidence that food didn’t make me happy, even temporarily. I cried when I was laughed, but not because I was happy.
My family were as supportive as they could have been. Because it was undiagnosed though, no one (including myself) really knew what was going on, only that the happy-go-lucky daughter/sister emerged from her room with puffy eyes for meals. I disregarded any invitation or expression of love, as the sentiment or words changed meaning when it penetrated the bubble. Kindness and truth deflected, as did pure intention; the bubble only permeated notions which confirmed my deteriorated self-perception even if that meant radically changing someone else’s words to do so. I thought I was going to die in the bubble.
I wish I had known then that I had depression. Yes, I probably would have cried upon the realisation, but I was going to cry anyway. At least then, I had something to blame, something to separate from my ‘normal’ self, something to despise that was not me. Instead of hating depression, I hated myself.
My depression lasted more than a year. I didn’t seek help, because I didn’t realise there was anything wrong, but I did start running. The running helped. I would sometimes feel lighter, the bubble’s walls thinner. I didn’t know about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at the time, but a verse from the Bible had the same premise, ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. Christianese, I know, and it worked. I began sifting through my thoughts, recognising each one for its irrationality. Eg. One day, I thought I was going to ruin a security guard’s day if he saw me because I was so hideous. After crying, I thought about the logic. My day had never been ruined, never mind how ugly the people I saw were. Small changes. But steady.
The bubble didn’t pop as such; its permeability just had a rationality test that needed approval before thoughts became beliefs.
If you have any questions about depression, ask me or ask someone who has experienced it. It is a evasive mental state that effects too many to be quiet about it. There are more pressing, lesser known conditions which need to make the headlines (or blog entries) tomorrow.