When I was about 20-years old, I shut myself away for a few weeks in the one room I was living in. I didn’t answer the phone or engage with the outside world in any way – other than to cash my dole cheque to buy food and baccy. The baccy ran out of course, so I would recycle my dog ends, and then recycle them again. I can still remember the smell of my fingers. Food would run out too of course, so occasionally I had to venture out and shoplift.
I didn’t have much to occupy myself – no TV, let alone the internet (hardly anyone had it). I’m sure I would have read. I do remember lying on my bed for hour after hour, occasionally breaking the monotony of catatonia by crying and rocking or suddenly jumping to my feet, pacing around the room, punching the side of my head and loudly berating myself – “you stupid cunt, you stupid cunt” etc.
During a later significant low period, I discovered writing suicide notes brought me some relief. This may, in part, have been due to the therapeutic value of writing down my thoughts and feelings but I don’t belief that was really what helped. It was the realisation that how I was feeling did not have to go on forever – ultimately there was a choice I could make which would stop it. I did not have this awareness at 20 – I experienced the suffering as interminable.
One day I arrived home, from a brief sortie into reality, to find a friend of mine sitting on my bed, he had scaled the wall and climbed through my first floor window. He told me to pack a bag and moved me, temporarily, into his mum’s house.
With encouragement I went to the doctors. He gave me a questionnaire to complete and told me to bring it back for my appointment with the community psychiatric nurse the following day.
The questions took the form of a “Cosmo Quiz” – a series of statements which I had to rate regarding how often I experienced them (Often, rarely, never etc). Initially I thought I might have been given the wrong form – especially when I read: “I hear voices telling me what to do”. Indeed so little of it seemed to apply to me that I worried I might be told there was nothing wrong with me. I considered exaggerating my symptoms but, in the end, completed it as honestly as possible and dutifully returned it to the CPN.
He tallied up my score and said something like – “You’ve scored 32/50, which means you have chronic depression. How do you feel about that? Not great I expect.”
I laughed – it was a good (if slightly high risk) joke.
The truth is, it was the phrase “chronic depression” itself which felt trivialising. It did not resonate with my experience – it did not grasp it. I hate the word depression now – perhaps it is simply familiarity breeding contempt, I don’t know.
If you ask people what the worst pain is, many will say toothache – and I would agree with them. However, even the most severe toothache, as overwhelming and all encompassing as the pain can be, is not you. You are not toothache – it is a thing that is happening to you.
Depression, if we must use that word, is everything about you – it effects what you think, how you feel, how you hold your body, how much energy you have, your sense of who you are, how you interpret the world around you, the decisions you make and, most importantly, how you experience and relate to other people and how they experience and relate to you.
It is an intricate, tangled web woven through every single aspect of the self. It is global – an existential disease of being. Which is why people say “I am depressed” or “he is depressed” but don’t say “I am a broken leg” or “he is the flu”.
Although, of course no-one is born with depression in the same way as they are born with two legs. It is not congenital (and if you think it is, you have misunderstood the neuroscience). There may well be a link between a parent’s depression and their offspring’s but it is not the same as the link which means you have brown hair.
Nowadays my mood is almost always low, and this is interspersed with periods similar to the one I describe above – but they will only last a few hours, maybe a day, not weeks as before. And of course I now understand the connection between my early experiences and my misery and self-loathing.
Unfortunately the problem is now no longer just about those early years – I have had 20-odd years as an adult interacting with the world as me. 20-odd years of fucking things up and creating self-fulfilling prophecies.
I meditate and sure…my mind clears for a while – but I am still me. I go for a run and, endorphins and dopamine or not, I stop running and I am still me. I so desperately wish I wasn’t.