I’m sure you all know the story of the guy who had a ‘magic power’ where everything he touched turned to gold. Or, failing that, you’ve seen the Skittles commercial where everything the guy touches turns into Skittles.
Depression is a bit like that. Except everything you touch bursts into flames. And then one day you look around to find everything you loved and everything you enjoyed and everything you wanted is on fire. A lot less fun than Skittles.
One of the hardest things about depression is its ability to fuck up your entire life whilst all the time disguising itself as you. So, to the outside world and to your family and friends, it looks like you’re just too lazy to write that essay, or like you’re too rude to reply to that text or like you just really enjoy living in a bedroom that somewhat resembles the aftermath of nuclear warfare. In reality, all of these things are causing you even more distress than they are causing them, and actually, you don’t really have very much control over it all.
‘Help I’m uncontrollably ruining my own life’
Over the years I have found that the best way to talk about depression and to describe its effect is to refer to it as ‘the darkness’. I know, how very Holden Caulfield of me.
But, at the early stages it always kind of felt like I was surrounded by darkness, and as things got worse the more the darkness pressed in on me, until it was all I knew. And then, it seemed like the darkness was inside me, like it was a part of me. Sometimes I didn’t even know where the darkness ended and I began.
But the point is, this ‘darkness’ encompasses everything you see, or hear, or know. And once it gets in you then it has the ability to alter the things you see and hear and know. It narrows your vision so that you can only see the bad, and if things aren’t really bad, it has the power to completely alter the way your brain processes a situation so that you still think everything is really bad. Kind of like a superpower, except a really, really shit one.
This then causes you to completely and uncontrollably self-destruct, one piece of your life at a time; your social life, your education, your work, your future… One day you wake up and you realise you’ve done an Edward Scissorhands on all of them.
Don’t get me wrong, though, this isn’t an over-night job. This happens over a really long period of time, mostly without you even noticing. And, on the odd occasion you do have a defining ‘I burned ALL the bridges??!!?!” moment, chances are you’re too depressed to do anything about it anyway.
From this train-wreck to you
For me now, I can easily look back on the past seven years and point at some of the moments I really fucked up, and spot all of the patterns that led to the gradual erosion of the person I probably once was. But I also know, even more so than I did then, that there wasn’t much I could have done.
However, whilst looking back on my life like an old woman shaking her fist at mental illness like it were a bunch of pesky school-kids is completely fucking useless to me, sharing my new found wisdom with you guys might at the very least help someone out. Even if just in the sense that you laugh dryly whilst watching yourself spiral into the same hopeless descent as me (In which case – hold in there, buddy.)
I couldn’t possibly tell you when my mental illness decided to drop into my life, but I know things started getting really bad just before my end of school exams.
I don’t really know how I got away with this, perhaps it was because I was the quiet girl that everyone mostly ignored, but from year 9 onwards I don’t think I completed a single piece of homework or revised for a single exam.
I remember so clearly being at home, knowing that I needed to revise for my exams because otherwise I would literally fail them and then not get into college and let all of my family down and ruin my entire life, but I physically could not do it.
That was when I first really became aware of the darkness. There was something holding me back, weighing me down, and preventing me from revising even though I knew I had to. I wasn’t trying to be lazy by spending all of my spare time lying on the floor and scrolling through Twitter, it was just that I absolutely could not bring myself to do anything else.
It was fucking frustrating, to say the least.
Fortunately, it turns out I was kind of a smart kid and I got through my exams with pretty high grades without doing any revision at all.
What this meant though was that the problem never became enough of a problem for anyone else to notice and do something about until I got to University.
So, the same thing that happened to me in school happened to me at uni, except this time everything was a lot worse and I was entirely alone so I was just left to free-fall into oblivion.
Trying to do my final year dissertation is a prime example of this. I wrote the entire 7000 word dissertation in 2 days and 3 nights of absolutely no sleep and a concerning amount of Monster energy as I rocked in a corner of the library, hunched over my laptop. If I remember correctly, I uploaded it exactly one minute past the deadline.
Safe to say, the dissertation could have been better.
I’d like to say this was a one-off occurrence. It wasn’t. In fact a similar thing happened with almost every other essay I wrote during my time at university. And every time I had an exam to revise for. And actually, this is what happened to my entire degree.
‘Sorry I didn’t reply to that text you sent me, I started contemplating the hollowness of existence and needed to lie down in a hopeless void for three weeks’
Depression will tell you that no one likes you. And when you realise that you can’t remember the last time you left the house and you haven’t had a real social interaction with another human being for weeks, you start to think depression is right.
Except, the reality is that you have ignored everyone’s calls, your social media channels are as inactive as you are, you have an inbox full of messages that you never got around to replying to and you turned down any offers to hang out with people just so you could dwell in bed by yourself and your suicidal ideations.
Socialising with depression is fucking exhausting. It also doesn’t help that you are so far into the darkness that you can barely see what things are like outside of those clouds, where everyone else lives, which makes finding a mutual topic of conversation pretty tough. Everyone else is so frustratingly normal and okay and they all talk about the weather and the film they saw that weekend and for some reason none of that makes sense to you anymore.
This continues for a while until eventually the calls and the messages and the invitations to hang out all stop. And then one day you are twenty one years old and you realise you pushed everyone away until you have nothing left but internet memes and TV shows. Which, arguably, isn’t all that bad…
‘I really want this thing so why am I completely sabotaging any chance of getting it??’
So, your mental illness has already fucked up your social life, your school life and all your chances of succeeding to your full potential in your academic career? What next? Time to take a giant ass shit over all of your hopes and dreams.
I’m not talking about those dreams from when you were a kid in school, because I’m pretty sure by age twelve we have all abandoned our desires to become an astronaut or a ballerina or a world-class assassin (which, yes, is actually what I dreamed of becoming aged eight).
But we do all have those things that we love and enjoy, whether its an art, or playing an instrument or an extra-curricular activity or the thing you want to turn into your career. Whatever that thing is, get prepared for mental illness to shred it to fucking pieces.
Depression kind of feeds on taking the things that bring you joy and warping your view of them so that you push them away or completely destroy them. Any feeling of anxiety or uncertainty you might have, it will latch onto and blow out of proportion until it’s all you know.
That thing you are good at- your fear of failure is a healthy way of urging you on to do better at it, right? But depression will take that feeling and use it to tell you that you will fail, that you are terrible at the thing you enjoy doing, and that you are quite possibly the worst person at doing that thing out of anyone that has ever attempted that thing. How dare you do that thing. How silly.
Besides, you lost the ability to feel happiness or enjoyment ages ago anyway so why bother continuing with thing that you once thought you were good at and now realise you’re the worst at?
So you quit.
You quit everything.
This isn’t even the whole story. I haven’t even started on the way depression fucks up your physical health; three-day long headaches, overwhelming apathy that prevents you from exercising, the inability to consume anything that takes longer than 0.3 seconds to prepare… It’s not looking good. Even if I don’t kill myself, depression is still going to make sure I barely make it to 60 at this rate.
And then of course, there’s the way it screws up your personal hygiene (I mean, I could shower but then again I could just lie here on the bathroom floor and contemplate the hollowness of existence for three hours so…) and your ability to concentrate on anything at all, and your love life… And basically every single aspect of your entire existence becomes dominated by the overwhelming bleakness of the inability to see purpose in anything.
Depression ruins your life. And it does it quietly, it does it slowly, and it does it in a way that at the end of it, the only person to blame is you. And you will spend ages desperately looking for somewhere to vent your anger at, somewhere to point the blame, because it isn’t your fault.
So, before this post gets too bleak and you all start having existential crises, there is actually a point where this all can stop. That hurricane in your head? It will end. And when it does, you’re gonna be left with a whole lot of shit to clean up.
But here’s the thing. There are people that love you. And the people that you pushed away, they will forgive you. And there are so many more people in the world that you will meet. And you can try again. Pick up that instrument you once loved and just start again. Go back to school. Go travel. Go find the meaning of life, or just find something that makes getting up in the mornings not such a struggle.
The fires never destroy as much as your depression tells you they have. The bridges are never too burned to repair. And, I can’t believe I’m once again quoting this fucking band, but the sun will rise and you really can try again.