Depression is a complex, multi-faceted illness, rife with contradiction. Every person’s experience of depression is uniquely different, but it is medically defined by a set of symptoms; shared characteristics that all sufferers have in common to more or less a degree. How can an illness so well defined, with arguably clear treatment options and measures of success be experienced so differently, even by people of similar ages and backgrounds? The answer must lie in the complexity of the human mind: the tapestry of our genes; our history; our environment. I think perhaps all sufferers of depression will agree that it is an illness of agonising contradictions, a nihilistic battle with existence that is at once mundane and all-consuming.
These are some of the contradictions pulling me apart in my daily experience of depression.
Depression is blankness: a disturbing lack of feelings or emotions that can instantly tip straight into despair, and an overwhelming sense of loss, anger and emotional and physical pain.
Feeling nothing; feeling too much.
Depression is crying for days on end. Depression is not being able to cry.
Depression is lying awake with a continuous stream of anguished insomniac thoughts ripping through my head. It is sleeping like the dead: hypersomnia that no amount of sleep can remedy.
Depression is heart-wrenching loneliness fighting with an aversion to people and places with people. It’s wanting to be held so tight and rocked and stroked and told it will be ok, every day, all day, over and over, but with a fear of being touched, a recoiling; not wanting to inhale another person’s breath.
Depression is a mental illness, defined by distorted thinking patterns and emotional anguish. Depression manifests itself in a plethora of physical symptoms: headaches, exhaustion, nausea, sleeplessness, hypersomnia, muscle aches and weakness.
Depression is a terrifying black dog, teeth bared, ready to tear me to shreds, that morphs into a safe, familiar, engulfing cloud of puppyish comfort and release.
Depression is a mask of smiles and conversation, a desperate façade of functionality and stability, when I can’t even open my mail or cook a meal.
Depression is selfish, self-absorbing; closing the door to the world; not giving a fuck. Depression is feeling all the pain in the world and not being able to bear it; caring too much.
Depression is eating everything in sight, pushing food down to squash the pain, to prevent other behaviours, other forms of self-harm. Depression is having no appetite, no pleasure in food or eating, not caring about my body; hating my body and wanting to shrink to nothing.
Depression is longing to hide, to be invisible and left alone; but wanting attention, needing constant praise, relying entirely on others for my self-esteem. Depression is pushing away the one I love and would spend my life with, but clinging to the pain of loss and longing to pull him back with love. Depression does not have much to offer.
Depression is not being able to go on, not seeing the point in carrying on, but still battling every single day to keep going. It’s feeling like someone has pulled out my plug, my batteries are empty, but I’m unbelievably strong. It’s knowing that I’ve achieved nothing when I’ve achieved more than anyone around me realises just by getting out of bed.
Sometimes I have no idea how or why I keep going, why I don’t just melt to the ground where I stand – how many times I’ve imagined doing just that! But I carry on, for days and months and years. I hope it’s worth it.
This is the third article in our series on mental health. Read the other articles here and here. Want to read further on depression, or do you feel triggered by reading this article? Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
About Jane Akerman: Ecologist, entomologist, environmentalist, depressed. I’m a sufferer of dysthymia who takes comfort in nature and my best friend Billy, a rambunctious Jack Russell.