Sometimes, thanks to my little blue pills, I forget what it’s like to be right in the middle of the depression.
On Saturday, The Husband was out with the boys and I was alone in the house, when I hit my head really hard on the corner of the worktop. I sat and cried, and then everyone came back in, and I had four really lovely get well cuddles. The Husband had a nasty cold, I was coming down with it, we had hot water problems (all over the upstairs landing) and car problems, but those cuddles made all the difference. They were just lovely and cheered me right up. For me, this is normality.
But if I cast my mind back to a time when I’m not medicated, or at least not adequately medicated, things are very different.
You wake up, and for a few seconds or maybe a couple of minutes, everything is ok. Then you think about having to get out of bed, get dressed, face the day, and everything seems like an insurmountable effort, and your heart sinks, and the anxiety starts. Each step in getting washed or showered and dressed has to be achieved in isolation because the idea of everything that has to be done before you can even leave the house is overwhelming.
Once dressed, you need to eat. Everything seems tasteless, or full of guilt because it doesn’t align with whichever healthy diet you should be on right now, and anything which needs preparation is too difficult to achieve. Throughout the day that’s where junk food comes in. Comfort eating usually works temporarily, but then the health and weight worries kick in and need to be managed.
Once at work, in some ways it’s better. At work, you can immerse yourself in tasks which are one step removed from you, do a good job and feel better about yourself. Know that you’ve earned, that you’re supporting your family. Sometimes that’s all there is to hang on to.
But there is also the monumental effort of having to interact with people. Putting the face on. It’s essential (and apparently completely possible) to look and behave normally – at least on the surface. It becomes vitally important that as few people as possible know what kind of a space you’re in, and that those who do are getting a watered down version of how you really are. You know, intellectually, that there are people who would help if you asked them but it’s just plain impossible to ask for that help. You can cope.
And there’s that niggling voice, so quiet you can hardly hear it, constantly whispering at you until you can’t fight it any more – in fact you don’t even hear it any more, it’s just become part of your life… telling you you’re not worth the effort; that other people cope with far worse; that if they really knew you they wouldn’t feel the same; that you deserve to feel like this; and even if you can manage to shut these voices up, the strength it would take to reach out and open up just isn’t there. It’s all been used up in getting from one end of the day to the other without everything falling apart.
Every contact makes you flinch, your stomach knot, your heart sink. Every letter that comes through the door, every time the phone rings, every email, every text – even when there isn’t likely to be any bad news, it hurts to interact, to read what someone else is saying, asking you, demanding a reaction you cannot possibly give. And when there is the possibility of bad news, then this is magnified. Sometimes you feel ill, actual physical symptoms like the start of the flu, or having the top layer of your skin stripped off – so you feel everything just so much more intensely. You can’t accept love or comfort or tenderness because you need to insulate yourself artificially from everything, and that would involve opening up your defences and allowing yourself to feel something. And often the pain that comes with it is intolerable.
And of course, things do fall apart. Bills get missed. Dates get missed. Deadlines get missed. And each one feels like a disaster. It’s more evidence of your failure to cope, of a world that just plain essentially disapproves of you, your problems, your way of living.
So you live from morning to evening, waiting for the time when everything is done for the day, when you can sit in front of the TV and suspend your life in favour of soaps or talent shows or any variety of detective shows, or maybe films, or boxed sets – someone else’s reality. And then bed, and sleep, where you recuperate from the pain you’ve managed to live through during the day.
Somehow it never occurs to you that no-one deserves to suffer like this. That it’s an illness like measles, or pneumonia. You wouldn’t expect to live with a broken bone without painkillers, or an infection without antibiotics, but somehow you expect to live through this kind of pain without help. And it can be done, of course it can, but surely it doesn’t have to be this hard?
The answer for me was my antidepressant and antianxiety medication. I’ve just been back to the doctor, and after a long discussion we’ve agreed that I probably won’t ever be able to come back off them now. I’ve has somewhere like seven or eight really bad episodes of depression in my life, and at that point, it’s a lifelong illness. I became suicidal very quickly once I tried to stop taking them, even though it was a slow rampdown, and that’s not like me at all. Apparently this is common, and suicide is a real danger in these cases.
We’ve had a bastard of a weekend. Nasty colds, broken hot water tank, cowboy plumbers, screaming children (may not have been a problem if the colds hadn’t been so bad!), car problems (and the associated financial panics) , and of course, for me, a bang on the head. But it’s ok – cuddles, a nice cup of tea, some chocolate (diet, what diet?) and I feel ok. Able to laugh. Able to cope (just). This is my new reality. Albeit with a headache and no hot water or central heating right now!
So I’m writing this in part at least, to remind myself of what it’s like when I try to manage without the medication. So I’m never tempted to do it again. Because it’s so very hard to remember when you feel ok, normal, rational, how very bad it gets at its worst.