As I Understand Depression

Ever since I published my suicide attempt (or Splash, as it became known amongst friends) people have asked me for a follow up piece on how I deal with it. So here it is.

Truth is, I’m not sure I deal with it. As I’m going through a depressive patch now seems the right time to try and explain for those who don’t understand, and talk about dealing with it for those who I might be able to help.

I say going through, which in itself we’ll take as a positive, rather than I AM Depressed, which seems much more permanent and ever lasting. It’s also a weird one, as I seem much more cognisant of it than normal.

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Fact is, it’s generally something I have to keep an eye on. That dark cloud, that it could come at any moment. While there can be triggers, there are times when I just feel it approaching. It’s like an aura a few days to a few weeks out. The sound of the oncoming storm, even if you can’t feel it (or admit that that’s what is coming.)

It’s at that stage when reminding yourself that there’s a cloud coming helps. And thus begins the intellectual battle with the emotional/hormonal one. And fuck me can that hormonal side make a strong case!

I’ve found it helpful to let those close to you know if I can feel it. That’s taken a long time to be able to do, as well meaning and well intentioned advice can have the exact opposite impact. I suppose we could say it’s like warning your coach you haven’t slept or are feeling a serious case of DOMS from the previous day. While it doesn’t change the workout, it can alter our expectations of what our performance will be that day.

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When the big dog arrives, or the black mist descends, or you fall down the deep hole, you cannot help but focus on the pain. Regardless of all the good around you the one pain point screams like a siren and draws all your attention towards it and it alone.

Think of it like this, if you sprain your ankle or break your arm, that’s all you can focus on. The pain is at times all consuming. You might forget about it for a while but then it hits you again with a blinding reminder it’s there. It doesn’t matter that all your other joints are working well, it doesn’t matter that you can still do lots. All you can focus on is the pain point. Same with depression.

The truly interesting (and possibly terrifying) is that when in a depressed state, the thoughts and feelings you have take on such a degree of certainty and permanency unlike any other time. That you are finally seeing clearly how everyone hates you, and the world is a horrible place.

The irony of this certainty is that it only exists towards the negative. All the bad you can think of (and man can you think of a lot) is one hundred percent certain. Everything else good you did/felt/achieved, you doubt completely. “I told you it was too good to be true, you never deserved that happiness” the darker angels of one’s nature taunts me with. Repeatedly. You never deserved happiness. This is your natural state.

Writing this now I can see it’s complete horse shit. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take A LOT of effort to put those voices in perspective. And please don’t get alarmed by this. In order to paint an accurate picture the harshest and darkest thoughts must be expressed.

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There is an over riding, all encompassing desire to escape and to hide away at it’s peak. All your energy collapses and concentration – fucking forget about it! So while there may be a hole host of positive steps that one can take to help them out, the energy simply isn’t there. To relate it back to exercise. No matter how much you may want to pick up that heavy bar or hit that handstand push up late in the workout, or do just one more fucking burpee, you simply cannot. Same with the dark hole. Sure, focusing on the things you’re grateful for will help but the effort it takes to drag yourself away from that virtually all powerful pull of the negative makes it all but impossible.

The single worst aspect is the self hatred, of annoyance that turns to frustration that turns to anger at oneself for not shaking it off. While amazingly, writing this up, is as absurd as it sounds. Fighting the storm like this (berating yourself for not being able to control it) only amplifies it. Intellectually I know, and you know, that self acceptance is the answer to let it wash over you. Reminding yourself of this is key.

This really is a first world problem. That the thoughts in my head turn against me. That’s not a real problem. Certainly not like the ones people face. And since if the reader has made it this far, you deserve to watch this:

Comedy helps. Even if you’re not in the mood to laugh, comedy helps. Comedy is that way of taking a different perspective on life and while at times it may be completely absurd and irrelevant, it’s exactly what you need. It is no more ridiculous than the negative slant you’ve allowed occupy your brain.

And music helps, even if you don’t want to relate to it, it can disrupt the slide in your brain. When you find yourself listening to “Eyes Without A Face” or the more downbeat Sigur Ros songs you know it’s time to start listening to Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up” and other upbeat songs, especially if you’re angry with them because there’s nothing to be happy about.

(My second favourite song of all time, btw)

Achievement is the route out of the hole for me. At times. Whether it’s universal or not I have a need to feel useful and purposeful. To feel in control. Though again the energy to start can feel debilitating. Because as you start to clean your kitchen you realise just how filthy it’s gotten, and just as you get through the dishes, the counter is fucking filthy. And there’s laundry to be done, and then your room is a fucking state. So all your efforts only have a minimal impact, and don’t “solve” the problem. It could be that you’re looking for that one fix that makes everything better, and alas it will be the culmination of hundreds, if not thousands, of small, repeated efforts that will make it better.

And please don’t call me brave because I share it openly. I don’t feel it’s any bravery on my behalf. I possess an ability to describe things in a way that on occasion resonates with people. If that can help people, I should do it. If you’re in a position to help, you should help.

I tell people about this because I’m certain (there’s that word again) that there’s someone suffering far worse than me, alone, and without the support I possess. But there is a worry that all this becomes very hipsterish. That as depression and mental health become mainstream it becomes an excuse for those that are lazy or not arsed to do their job. I argued quite extensively with a therapist about this point. And maybe it’s me being harsh to others plights. I dunno.

As you withdraw into the hole (remember, in it’s insidious nature it feels to a degree right and home and where you belong) you develop the selfish attitude that people should be sympathetic to the plight inside you. Although how could they know when you haven’t explained it to them, and are so immersed in your own internal pain that you don’t focus on them and what struggles they may be having. In your head, you’re the only one suffering. Alone.

It’s said that concentrating on others and helping others helps immensely with it, yet I haven’t found the sweet spot there between helping others and looking after myself. So I can’t offer any insights on that.

All this shouldn’t mean that you should treat me, or anyone else going through a struggle any different. I don’t believe you can anyway. Being nice to someone only when they’re struggling isn’t really being nice, is it?

Crazy thing is, the fog lifts, or you wake up and find yourself out of the hole, and you can’t identify with the thoughts you had or the feelings you experienced. They’re not real. Like a dream, they’re something you only vaguely recall and can’t wholeheartedly associate with the “you” you are now.

The ‘benefit’, for want of a better word, is that I do tend to enjoy the upswings more now. Not completely, as there is a bit that thinks at times it’s too good to be true. But through exploring this, and writing this piece, I’ve learnt to understand that is is a journey with ups and downs, neither of which is permanent, and to try stop looking for permanency and an even keel. To me there is no end point, and chasing that without savouring the journey is something I have to keep reminding myself of.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “As I Understand Depression

  1. It amazes me how on days when my dark cloud is lurking I see a post from you that reminds me I’m not alone or unique or a freak. Thank you Colm for resonating once again x

  2. Pingback: The Value of Training | Cheesecake & Barbells

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