I wanted to write about some aspects of depression that aren’t discussed quite so often – but I found it too complicated, and too upsetting. By cutting what I want to say into three upcoming blogs – about Waste, Guilt, Other People – I hope I’ll get it out. Of course, no-one is making you read, if you think them self-indulgent…
THE FIRST THING I’d say about having depression is that it’s a terrible waste of time.
And, sometimes, it feels that I have wasted most of my life fighting it.
I visited a therapist for the first time when I was about 21, and having panic attacks. Now I’m 53 and continuing to see a shrink once a week.
I still get panic attacks sometimes, but these days I suffer more from full blown, I’m a waste–of-space depression. So, clearly, I’m not sorted out yet.
In all of those 32 years since I first rocked up in a consulting room, I reckon that I have experienced more bad days than good.
But I have tried to fight this illness, and in many ways this struggle has come to define my life.
I have been on Happy Pills, sometimes for years at a time, although not now.
The NHS has tried out Group Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Cognitive Analytic Therapy on me down the years, while I have spunked thousands of pounds of my own money on private therapists and counsellors. So please don’t say I haven’t taken it seriously.
I haven’t just thrown money and time at my depression, but energy, too.
Because exercise helps me massively, I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours running and cycling and swimming and weightlifting out my demons.
I have studied scores of self-help books, trying to learn how to live a better life, and employed any number of distraction techniques: from breathing exercises and meditation, to snapping myself on the wrist with an elastic band if I catch myself thinking sad thoughts.
I have scrawled down hundreds of symptom lists aimed at breaking down exactly why I feel panicked, or tearful, or hopeless.
Then I follow these up with depression-themed To Do lists, so I can Get A Grip, and finally live in new and better ways that will make those symptoms go away.
And yet here I am – still very much a depressive. And gutted about it.
“Part of me is cross and upset at the gaps that depression tears in my life,” I wrote in my diary last month.
“Take yesterday. Because half an hour, or an hour, wasn’t enough to work out the bad feelings, I had to set aside 100 minutes, in the middle of the day.
“I had to clamber on a bike and fight my way up hills with burning thighs just to feel OK.”
When you do this sort of stuff for long enough, it gets to be a burden in itself. And then you start to wonder what you might have done with your life if you hadn’t spent so long, fighting the fires that depression causes.
“(Depression) stops me, in large measure, doing what I am good at,” I wrote the other day.
“I don’t think there is any question that I am less successful – in conventional terms, anyway – than I would have been if I didn’t have depression.”
So would I have been more of a success as a journalist if I’d had more self-belief? Would I have become a novelist, or a film director, instead of a Teaching Assistant, if fighting my mood had not exhausted me?
Maybe I simply don’t have the talent for those things and wouldn’t have made it anyway; but it certainly wasn’t my ambition, growing up, to devote my life to fighting being sad.