Last week I believed I’d been depressed for most of my life. But now I’m beginning to remember times when things were good. I can remember this feeling of relief that the black noise had gone, and so I know that I’ve come out of this cycle before. I remember the feeling of being buoyant, of bouncing back really fast whenever something got me down – to the extent of feeling that Tubthumping by Chumbawumba was ‘my song’ – I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down… I remember the optimism, and the feelings of joy about the simplest things in life. I remember the energy I had, the enthusiasm, smiling and laughing all the time….
When did these feelings disappear? Where did they go? I know they lived on externally in some way which I don’t understand. I have a reputation for being a go-getting can-do kind of a person, friendly, helpful, enthusiastic, hardworking. All of that is actually true in my actions, if not in my deeper emotions, especially professionally. So somehow I manage to maintain some of those appearances whilst in the depths of despair and exhaustion.
Perhaps I fooled myself. Perhaps I thought if I could just maintain the appearance of functionality, I could ignore the fact that I was so deeply unhappy. I certainly fooled almost everyone else. But that’s true of so many other people who suffer in this way. We put on a face, an external shell, and we hide behind it. In most cases there’s a good reason for it – we need to function at work, as parents, with the more distant members of our families. We need to be able to get through the day without collapsing somehow. And sometimes if anyone knew how we felt, we wouldn’t be able to do that.
There’s also a question of defence – there are, sadly, some people out there who either don’t understand and don’t want to, or would use our mental state to undermine us rather than support. It’s a huge shame, but unfortunately in this world we currently live in it’s not a good idea to be open to everyone, to show our wounds and our weak points.
There are those of us who are lucky enough to be part of a supportive network. Even the sanest and most well balanced people, I think, need someone they can confide in without being judged, a person or people who will help when things get bad. For me, I know that when the mood starts to dip, there are quite a few people who will look at me and say ‘you don’t feel right, what’s up?’ Someone who will see the signs, understand them and point them out to me so that I can see them for myself.
I have a fantastic network. My husband has lived with me for 22 years and knows the signs – he’s been through this time and again, supporting me every step of the way. I also have some close friends, all of whom I know I am safe to open up to, most of whom I’ve known for a long time, who know my mental health issues, who aren’t afraid to challenge me when they feel something is wrong. And yet – I hid from them all. Denied anything was wrong. Thought I’d get better soon, things would improve…
They didn’t of course. Not until I realised I had a big problem and went to the doctor. Not until I accepted I had a right to more happiness than I was at that time experiencing. I believe that everyone else has a right to happiness and I’m willing to work fairly hard if someone asks me for help in getting to their happy ever after… why don’t I believe that for myself?? Is this a British thing? Is this part of the insidious nature of mental illness? Not so much believing something that isn’t true, but failing to accept what is true? I suppose it must be.
There are things that still get me down. I have bad days now and again. Bad times… but the good times, the optimism, the joy in life, the enthusiasm, the energy, are all starting to reappear. I’m remembering again who I really am. The love that kept me going when I was in the deepest pit of despair was the very inner core of this person, and I suppose was, well, my spirit. When I had lost everything else, when I didn’t see any other point in life, I still had this, and it was this unkillable, unstoppable core that eventually led me to get help and start dragging myself out of darkness. So it is my song after all. Even when I can’t see it myself, even when the effects are not immediate… I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down.