Depression is like a slippery serpent, slinking about in the shadows. It slithers into your mind, where it feasts on – and feeds – your fears, doubts, worries and anger. And once it’s got hold of you, it makes you jive to its sinister tunes. You could look at it as a vampire. Not the young, sexy kind of vampire you might be used to seeing in the movies, but the evil, vicious sort that’s too busy eating away at your confidence and self-esteem to pause for a pout.
Whether you see it as a serpent, a vampire, a bully or – as many do – a black dog or a dark cloud, depression is an invisible illness that relishes the dark.
Because you often have no outward symptoms of depression, it’s not the kind of illness where someone will come up to you in the kitchen at work and say ‘Oh dear, you don’t look well’. There are no spots or swellings to give the game away.
This is perhaps why depression can end up feeling like a dirty secret. Nobody will know about it if you don’t tell them. And the cruel thing about this illness is that it makes you feel ashamed of it. If you admit to it, terrible things might happen to you. The doctor might PUT YOU ON TABLETS. Oh the shame. You might even get SIGNED OFF WORK. How humiliating.
Both of these things have happened to me. Both have been necessary, and both have helped me. Nobody has given me any stick for it. In fact, the more people I talk to about my depression, the more I realise how common it is, and how many people – old and young, male and female – have experienced it at some point in their lives.
I didn’t talk about my depression for a long time, because I didn’t really want to admit I’d got it. I gradually told a few more of my friends, and the encouraging thing was that they were all so supportive and understanding. Nobody came out with those classic lines ‘Well you look OK to me’ or ‘Pull yourself together’.
The big change for me, though, was when I wrote my first blog about depression. I’d previously written about light-hearted stuff, like going on holiday and bird watching, but something compelled me to write about this hidden scourge of my life. I took a deep breath, posted the link on Twitter and Facebook, where I knew my friends and colleagues would see it, and then sat and wondered whether I’d done the right thing.
Well, I needn’t have worried. The response was overwhelming – humbling, even. And it has been the same whenever I’ve posted anything about depression. There are loads of people out there who are experiencing the same thing, supporting and encouraging each other.
Don’t let your depression trap you in a dark corner. Shine a bright light on it – expose it for the snivelling little viper that it really is. It really won’t like it.
My first step to confronting depression was to admit to myself that I needed some help. My second step was to get that help. And my third was to ‘come out’ about it – to write openly and honestly about what was happening to me. It’s actually quite therapeutic.
Does this mean I’m cheerfully shouting out about my illness from the rooftops? No – it’s much easier for me to write about it than to talk about it. Not long ago, when someone asked me on the phone why I’d been off work, I told him I wouldn’t bore him with the details, and swiftly moved on. But that was because I didn’t know him very well and felt it was none of his business.
Many people do know about my depression, including you. And I’m happy about that. Keeping a secret can be stressful – and let’s face it, there are enough stresses in life without creating more of them for yourself. This is one secret you should share.