March 7, 2013

That black dog

As far as I know, I have been living with depression for about 12 months. It may have started earlier than that, but after losing my partner to a heroin overdose five years ago, it's been hard to know where the grief ended and where the depression began. 

Lately I have realised that although there are many similarities between grief and depression, the two are markedly different. 

About a year after my partner died, and the initial shock had worn off, I was motivated to make the most of my life, to make it count for something. 

Even though I was still incredibly heartbroken and lost, I enrolled in university and held down two jobs, and even though I began to suffer from social anxiety or what one doctor diagnosed as 'agoraphobia', I was still able to get myself out of bed each day and excel in my studies, in my writing, my job and at home in my role as a mother. 

However, all of those things quickly came undone when that black dog crept in. I lost all interest in my writing, my studies, and my lifelong passion to work as a psychologist. 

My faith in myself had been eroded, and suddenly, everything seemed like a massive waste of time and energy, like I could no longer see the point to anything at all.  

The only thing I wanted to do each day was to stay warm and safe under the covers and in actual fact, 'sleeping' felt like the only thing I could still do well. 

I've slept more in the last 12 months than I think I have done in my entire life... and yet I am never truly rested, in fact I am always exhausted. 

Welcome to the world of depression...! 

It may be a mental illness but from everything I've read and experienced, it affects you mentally, emotionally and physically as well. 

Perhaps the best way to describe depression is like a toxic poison slowly eating away at your soul. Everything about me feels infected; my moods, my thoughts, my sleep, my hopes, feelings and motivations, even my libido. I recently started a new relationship, but it began just before I realised that I was suffering with depression. 

Shortly prior to meeting him, I had noticed some depressive symptoms, but I just thought I was going through a rough patch, a fork in the road so to speak. But none of my problems disappeared over night after meeting him - quite the contrary. 

I became overly anxious and stressed out about uni, and where I could once manage 5 subjects at a time, my faith in my own ability had vanished and suddenly one pending exam or assignment would make me break out in the most intense panic that in the end I had to throw in the towel. 

My depression only got worse as my relationship developed. Here was this great guy; sweet, genuine, kind and loving, and yet I wasn't able to enjoy his company or revel in the honeymoon period when everything about that person makes you feel alive, electric and magical. 

Even the thought of going out for dinner with him would make me break out in a cold sweat, I was so panicked at the thought of any kind of intimacy with another human being. 

I started sleeping all day and at night I stayed awake thinking. I stopped looking for another job or planning to go back to uni and my friendships began to suffer. I lost my confidence in everything, lost faith in my ability to be a functioning human being and to put it bluntly, I lost my way through life. 

I don't know how he put up with me for as long as he did to be honest. 

It wasn't easy on either of us and I required much more patience, support and understanding than was really plausible from an on again / off again six month relationship. I needed someone to take care of me for a change, someone to see that I was falling through the cracks, but he had only just met me. 

I can't blame him for feeling unsure and confused, for doubting that I even wanted to be with him. Even I confused myself. I couldn't give him the love and affection he deserved and I struggled to accept it in return, and before long, cancelling dates and making excuses became more common than spending time together. 

Deep down I really wanted to be with him, but I wasn't capable of much more than holding hands or a platonic cuddle and anything more felt like I was being pushed alone onto a stage in front of 100,000 people, naked. 

That was the hardest part for me, wanting something with all my heart and knowing it felt right, but not being able to express that in person, not being able to give or receive the love I knew we both felt in our hearts. 

I lost count of the times he needed me to assure him that I truly cared, and I lost count of the times that I felt like he wasn't there for me. 

In the end we were fighting all the time because I wasn't feeling heard or supported and he wasn't feeling loved. It really was as simple as that but it became so damn complicated that we almost drove one another mad. 

There is this general misconception about depression that the person can control their moods and actions and that for some reason, for another outside reason, they are choosing not to do so. 

But the truth is they have no control over any of it. No more control than a cancer patient has over having cancer. Depression is a mental illness and one that feels like you have been invaded by another foreign being, one that is already slowly dying, like a zombie that has taken residence in your soul. 

You may have all the greatest intentions, things you are going to do and change, but come the next day, when you wake to find your soul is still trapped in the darkness, you just cannot forge your way through the thick, black fog. At least not on your own. 

What you want and what you are capable of doing are two entirely different things and I wish I could have found the right words to try and explain that to the man I loved. Because I really wanted to love him, to be a good partner, to give him my heart, and yet what I ended up doing was the opposite in his eyes. 

But in my head and in my heart, I was always one step away from being able to get there, from reaching out to him, one step away from staying open, only that moment never arrived and for a long time I just kept hanging on and hoping... 

I also thought I could just lay low for a while, gather my thoughts and rekindle my confidence and go back to uni. But three weeks in and I haven't even opened the damn folder. 

And this is where the guilt sets in, and guilt is the thing that steals your sleep and makes you angry; angry at yourself for being so utterly useless, for not being able to do what people are counting on you to do. 

And that is why you want to hide from everyone, because in their company you feel like a massive disappointment, and in turn that leads to a sense of isolation and hopelessness that nothing will ever get better. That is why depression is such a solitary illness. The pressure you end up placing on yourself to be 'normal' is enormous. 

And in those brief moments when people catch you off guard, or turn up at your doorstep unannounced, you summon every ounce of energy you have left, and put on a stoic, brave face, a happy smile, pretend they just caught you having a well-deserved nap, and for the most part, they get fooled into thinking that you are doing ok. 

But it quickly becomes a pretty bleak existence, a lonely life, especially when you don't have anyone to encourage you not to believe those thoughts in your head, nobody to even realise that you are falling. 

More than anyone in the world, I miss my friend Nira right now. She would tell me not to believe my thoughts, and that tomorrow the sun will rise again. 

She would force me to examine the root of my thinking, to investigate the cause. Because that's what depression really is - a disease of the mind, a short circuit in the thinking process. I need to channel my friend Nira right now and pick myself up off the floor and carry myself into a doctor's office to get the help I know I need. 

We all need help with depression, nobody can walk through it alone. It may not be much, but that's the one thing I know for certain. I'm just hoping it's enough. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Misha,

I have agorophobia and have experienced many of the same things you have written about. I wish you all the best in your battle.