The amount of times I’ve started, sometimes even finished and then promptly deleted this is something I’ve lost count of. Despite most of the year in regular therapy and getting so much better at talking about this, I couldn’t share this. Will I even put this up? Pfft.
A little over two years ago now I went to my GP and said “So I think I might have depression?” whilst out of breath because I ran round there as I was running late, giving what I can only imagine was the impression of someone so terrified of talking about it that they were trying to catch their breath, but truthfully by that point I had finally resolved to go and see the doctor about whatever ‘it’ was. The only thing I hadn’t done was tell the truth to my parents. Going to see the GP then was just a check-up because I hadn’t had one in ages and that made sense to me. Of course they knew it was a lie but they went with it, I must have had my reasons.
I talk with the doctor a bit and then he says he doesn’t think it’s depression, although I was noted for having seen a doctor about it several years prior, but that actually it’s anxiety, as he then lists out the symptoms. Oh, I realise, this does sound right. Huh. Well okay then, working out what it is is probably going to be pretty helpful. Would I go for a five-week session of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at a hospital that wasn’t entirely convenient? Sure, I wanted to try anything. I was resolved, remember? It needed to happen.
The CBT didn’t help. Not really. The counsellor I saw was pleasant and understanding and was able to highlight numerous damaging tendencies I have, but then I could’ve told you how my perfectionist trait was so warped aiming high was not good enough, especially as the bar was constantly moving further and further upwards quicker than I could keep up. She did try though, on the final session, to get me to confront a particular issue and I just froze. No words came out my mouth. I shook my head weakly, recoiled from any sense of action because why would I do that when I’m a worthless piece of garbage and why on earth should anyone believe what I write down for this thing when I don’t believe it myself?
As she put it to me, the course of CBT I was on was really for people with “surface level” issues or those who had been on a longer and more involved course due to having much worse issues (read: suicidal) and were having something of a check-up. Being neither, she promised to push to try and keep me on for something as part of the NHS, but I was not able to, although she did point me to MIND where I have been attending therapy since. I do not blame her or the NHS for that, the funding needs to be there, but that’s another story.
Before I started weekly therapy I had periodic sessions. During the second the therapist said “And how do you feel about your depression?” I knew beforehand that the two were linked, albeit varying from person to person, but I could do nothing to argue with her because she was right, it wasn’t just anxiety, it was depression. You know, the double whammy of fun!
Between the two, the depression makes me think I’m not worthy of happiness, in turn making me miserable, which has the knock-on effect of amplifying the anxiety that I won’t be happy because I’m not doing anything to make me so. And I’m pretty lucky in that regard because my depression tends more often to hit harder in waves rather than be constant so there is some respite. Of course the anxiety is a constant problem so no solace there.
This has impacted every facet of my life. I volunteer so that I can feel like I’m doing something productive, “knowing” that I am incapable of accomplishing anything else. I find it hard to let people get emotionally close, be it friends or family, because the idea that someone should care when I “know” that there’s nothing worth caring about seems abstract and that even if I did have the opportunity I still wouldn’t say anything. I indulge in subtle self-destructive tendencies because success is more terrifying than failure with there being so much more to lose, not for myself because obviously I am of little worth, but for other people it may impact. And so on.
The fact I can say this though is critical to resolving it. The first instance of depression I had was when I was 19. I went to the GP after one specific incident that was otherwise totally out of character, I raised concerns about depression without really knowing anything about it, but nothing came of it. I didn’t go back to talk about it. I then made a pretty big decision that to this day I don’t consider a bad or good move, just one I now understood why it was made because that’s all my mind could do to think of as helping. I spent months unhappy, not having any real idea of what to do. I ‘fixed’ it several months later, tricking myself into happiness and thinking that would be enough.
It’s amazing how many alarm bells you’re willing to overlook simply because you don’t know how to address a problem you’re not sure even exists. I went at least a year, if not two, as I finished my degree, suffering from a renewed bout of depression that I had no real way to address. All I could think of was this weird thing that I couldn’t spell out that was doing something and it was all very washy and therefore, why look into it? I waited so many years before raising even the concern with a doctor. I look back at this time with a depression-amplified regret of having been wasted.
I have in my head this simple image explaining acknowledgement of mental health issues. One panel would have someone on crutches and a wrapped up leg. Someone else would go “Oh my god, are you okay?!” and the person would respond “Broke my leg. Suuuuuuuucks.” Second panel would have person A ask person B if they were alright. B would say “Yeah, fine, you?” with a smile on their face whilst a thought bubble said “No, I think I’m shit and feel alone and I have no idea what to do.” But they’ve already said they’re fine, so that’s that. Besides, they were just being nice by asking, no need to trouble them.
I have gotten better about talking about this with some people, but remain cold with others about it. We don’t know everything that goes on in the heads of the people we care about, but what we can do is try to be considerate and there for them, regardless their issue because that time you ask if they’re alright, that might be the time they finally fight against what their brain is telling them, willing them to do and speak out and reach for help.
In a recent therapy session I commented that I was so used to relying on my brain to get through various situations, dodge and avoid others and generally be useful, but for almost nine years it has twisted logic in a way I didn’t want. I can’t rely on what I thought was my greatest tool and it is terrifying. But I don’t want that to be the case anymore. I’m bored of losing a battle to something I should be able to control. It is a long, long process with set-backs and overriding sadness and hopelessness, but I realised that. I also realised that feeling like I deserve happiness is okay. I need to get there, but it’s a solid aim to have.
Welcome to the trenches in my mind. Gonna be here a long time.