January 2, 2013

Warning, some readers may find this post triggering.

I find myself on a three-hour train journey, not at all in a good frame of mind: too much time to think. Ordinarily, as an aspiring writer, I love to think, to create, to have ideas that amuse and entertain me and could one day entertain and amuse other people. But on this particular trip, three hours alone with my brain is something I need like petrol needs a naked flame.

You see, I suffer from depression. Suffer in that I do not enjoy it. For as long as I can remember a part of my mind has repeatedly told me that everything bad anyone has ever said about me is right: the kids who taunted me for being too smart, too skinny and then too fat, the teachers and bosses for whom I was never good enough, the girls who rejected me. They can’t all be wrong, it tells me. Despite George Orwell’s protestations to the contrary, being in a minority of one does actually make you mad.

I have rarely talked about my illness

I have rarely talked about my illness, simply because nobody seems to understand it. Talk to anyone about a mental illness and they immediately lump you in with the horror stories from the 1990s of murdering paranoid schizophrenics on the British streets. You have to disclose illness on job applications and will inevitably fail the medical as a result because nobody wants to employ ‘a mental’ who might shoot up the office because they ran out of tea bags. So I keep it to myself and only disclosed it to my employers when depression began to affect my work.

And so to the train. The night before I’d sat through (500 Days of) Summer, a torturous exercise but as my girlfriend had never seen it I decided to go along with it. Much as I relished two hours looking at Zooey Deschanel, the film had a very peculiar effect on me. The film tells the story of a poor schmoe who meets an amazing free-spirited girl called Summer and tells the 500 days from their first meeting ’til the last time he ever sees her. It is not your conventional love story but the whole thing made me think about an ex-girlfriend who, like the title character, could never reciprocate my feelings for her. And my mind being what it is, it continued to dwell for the next 24 hours. Having three hours to stew just made things worse.

I convinced myself that my current relationship would fail

During the course of the journey I convinced myself that my current relationship would fail because every other one had; that I would say or do the wrong thing and end up alone until the day I die. And then the other doubts came swimming up. I was a cowardly talentless idiot who could never fulfil my dreams because I didn’t have the guts or talent to become a writer. I would never be happy in anything as a result and would spend the rest of my life unhappy, unfulfilled and utterly, utterly alone.

Every song on my MP3 player got skipped until sad ones came on: Black by Pearl Jam was on repeat for about 30 minutes. It contains the lines I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?, which brought me back to the end of things with my previous girlfriend. I was so totally convinced that I was destined to be unhappy for the rest of my life that I had finally decided to end it. I had a plan from previous breakdowns and knew what I would do. I left a message on Facebook apologising to everyone I knew for everything I’d ever done wrong to them just as my phone battery died.

my sister phoned in floods of tears

By the time I made it home I’d stabilised somewhat but still knew that over the next few days I would be ending my life. I’d been in the flat for only a few minutes when my sister phoned in floods of tears, demanding to know what the hell was going on. Part of me felt that she still didn’t care, that she thought I was nothing but a hypochondriac and that I didn’t have depression since I could actually get out of bed on a morning.

It didn’t matter that the only thing that got me out of bed was that, living alone, nobody else would pay my rent or do my laundry for me. And besides, she’d be better off without me. They all would, all I was doing was burdening my family and friends with my stupid, erratic behaviour and pathetic self-indulgence.

He claimed he understood and... was insistent that I go to the hospital

This particular train of self-indulgent thought was interrupted by a loud hammering on the door: unable to get hold of me, my sister had phoned the police. Teary-eyed and wallowing in self-loathing and shame, I answered to a copper who I swear was younger than me. He claimed he understood and, despite my pleadings that my sister had overreacted, was insistent that I go to the hospital to be checked out. The biggest shock, and one that chilled me to my very core, was when he said he had powers to make me go if I didn’t co-operate.

The fear of being committed is very much alive in me. I live in permanent fear of being locked up for my own and everyone else’s good. It happened to a friend from uni who had depression and ended up in a secure hospital unit for nearly a year. The thought of being trapped in a padded cell indefinitely terrified me on a level I can’t even begin to describe. Interrupted by phone calls from my dad, best friend, workmate and girlfriend, I ended up sat in the back of an ambulance in a sort of haze, none of what was happening to me seeming to be particularly real.

I left to find four of my closest friends waiting for me in the waiting room

After several dazed conversations with the triage nurses I was led in to see an out-of-hours GP who I basically spilled my guts to: the film, the end of my last relationship, the time spent alone, the plan for suicide, the history of self-harm. Everything. He realised that the shock of the evening’s events had brought me out of my suicidal mood and referred the notes on to my own GP, on the proviso I get an urgent appointment the following day. I left to find four of my closest friends waiting for me in the waiting room. Not judging me, not condemning me, just there. Suddenly I no longer felt quite so alone.

Since this last episode people are more understanding. I think they have come to see that I have an illness that poses a danger to me and me alone, that I will have the occasional episode that has no more concrete a cause than simply hearing a song that triggers an involuntary memory. Others I am sure still do not see it that way but only time will tell...

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