Depression has been a part of my life for over 10 years; yet I still don’t fully understand it. So, how do I explain what “it” is to someone who has no experience of depression in their life?
In all honesty, I’ve rarely been asked to explain what depression means to me. You say the word and people either turn away in fear or they try to relate in attempts to console and/or fill the silence. When really, all I need is for someone to ask “And how does depression affect you?”.
Depression, for me, is another soul taking over my mind and body. It cohabits day in day out in attempts to knock my confidence, whispering insults in my ear. And I can live with this; I know it is a part of me and I’m grateful to merely exist – so if I have to share with depression then so be it.
The struggle comes when depression really takes over, and I forget my strength, vitality and the love I have for those around me. Every word, action, or passing glance is an attack. My body aches and all I want to do is sleep until the pain goes away. If someone tries to ask me how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my head, I can’t answer them. I become so overwhelmed by the pure negativity that I shut down to protect myself.
In the first few years, my coping mechanism was self-harm. I didn’t do it to “feel something” or to punish myself. I self-harmed so that the pain would stop – in the brief moments afterwards I felt a sense of calm and control. This was fleeting, and as with any addiction, I needed more of it to achieve the same results. Before long I was hurting myself “just because” and to this day there are months of my life that I cannot remember – my brain has shut off the memories because they are too harmful.
The scars act as a reminder that I may have lost some battles, but I’m winning the war. When strangers stare in confusion, or whisper to their friend who turns in shock – it hurts. I vividly remember parties when other girls would gather, laughing and pointing – the world can be a cruel place. But when someone approaches me with kindness and asks about my scars, I feel hopeful, and explain that “I have depression and that’s how I used to cope, but I’m okay now”.
Kind words can open the door to a conversation that not only helps me to understand my depression, but potentially helps others to understand it too.
If you know someone who might be struggling, I ask that you give them your time and patience...
Depression makes me feel worthless, insignificant and burdensome, I won't ask you for help, because I don't have the strength. Please could you sit down with me, and let me know that you are 'here'? I might not be able to talk about feelings, but ask "how do you feel today?" and I'd know that you care.
Please don't be offended when I don't respond - sometimes the only way of coping is to shut you, and everything else, out. I might snap back at you, or say "I'm fine"; when we both know that's not true. Stay with me, even in silence, tears, anger and irritation - don't ask "Why? What? How? When?" Just tell me you're here when I'm ready to talk, and maybe one day I can.
Find something that brings me back to moment, and allows me to escape (however briefly) the depression. My favourite food, film, a walk with the dogs, making plans for the holidays, a tub of Ben & Jerry's! Hope that I might be able to share what's going on in my head - but give me time, don't push for answers. Ask what I need from you, and one day I might know.
If each person reading this held out their hand to someone in pain, it might start the conversation that helps, even just a little bit.