Is that yesterday, I was able to do so much (contrary to what we’re told depression is) and today just getting out of bed was a struggle. My jack in the box, I’m ready to take on the world morning routine of yesterday was today replaced by a long drawn out wrestling match with my mind over whether or not the day was worth the effort. How can the things which I do without thought suddenly turn into a mountain right in front of my eyes? I do recognise that this is what depression has been for me for a long time: weeks of struggling interspersed with days where ‘I get shit done’. I eventually made it out of bed thanks to something I’m currently using to combat the slowness of my brain and body at present – South African House music. Music really has helped me over over the past five months. Here’s one I prepared earlier.
Is that yesterday, I read an entire book in a day and today, the thought of even opening up a book is giving me a headache. I read a book called Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning which is a memoir about depression, delusion and mania in essence.
It grabbed me because there was so much I could relate to in terms of the link between grief and depression, the manner in which the interchange between joy and sadness can be so swift and most of all, the fear of facing the fact that it can and does take a long time to rebuild one’s life after a breakdown or a long struggle with mental illness or unwellness or distress or whichever term you prefer.
Is how I struggle to read or write fiction. I have read 2 books in the past 2 weeks. Both non-fiction, both memoirs, both dealing with what it means to be human. I have no patience or capacity for fiction when I am in this place. The words do not connect enough to make sentences. It’s weird.
Is how zoned out I can be at times, how absent I can be at times when my body is most present. In the past week, I have pretty much given up on television as a way of helping me through this period. My eyes are on the screen but nothing is going in. I am not conscious that I have drifted until 5 or 10 minutes later, I regain consciousness and realise that I am not there mentally. I have in the past used TV to help me get through moments of intense distress but I feel positively bored by it at the moment which is no bad thing, I guess. The same happens at times when I am in the presence of others who are conversing and I am there one minute and totally gone the next. It is kinda funny at times but not when I think about the effect this thing is having on my brain, memory, concentration etc.
Is how yesterday, I was able to crack a joke with my dentist and today I am struggling to open my mouth to have a conversation. Depression is by no means a one-trick pony. Depression does not mean an inability to laugh or converse. It just means that sometimes, you come out to play for a bit, to be a part of the world, to be an acceptable face, person, but in private, you know nothing has really changed or is changing. I enjoy the company of others for the most part except when my mood is extremely low and I lose the desire to engage in conversations. At times, it comes across as sullenness but it is far from it. I have in the past had days where it is as though I have been stripped of my voice. It is the strange thing about depression. I love to laugh but sometimes, I don’t have the energy to do it. And when I am like this, the last thing I wish to do is inflict myself on others.
Is how much I still struggled with it when I was working as a teacher and when I was volunteering. I often recommended volunteering to my students and value what people can get out of being active, productive members of society but I realise that for me what happened was that I was able to care about others even when I cared little for myself. That is not a good thing. Eventually, it rendered me incapable of helping others, something which I continue to value. I don’t think depression is cured by exercising or working or any one thing. I do think it is a combination of things which can help. I guess I am still not at the point of believing one day I will not experience these episodes but what I do believe is that depression is not a sign that a person is only self-serving or self-seeking. I kind of feel the need to say this because of something I heard someone say which was basically along the lines of depression gets cured when you start serving others. I felt somewhat shamed when I heard this but then I know that we all have different experiences and that the person who said this sounded like he had no personal knowledge of what it is like to be depressed. If only ‘service’ was the answer to depression, then no doctor, teacher, nurse or other ‘servant’ would ever experience depression.
Is how the DSM which basically lists all ‘mental disorders and illnesses’ fits the human experience into neat little packages. Yet there is nothing neat about the human condition.
Is how quickly it can creep up on me. Like within hours.
Is how in the past, I would run for miles just to get away from it. Yet at present, I have little energy to fight even though I am not being particularly active. In the past, the combination of the eating disorder and depression meant I had an addiction to the one thing which helped me deal with the depression (or at least temporarily manage it) but which also put my physical health at risk since I was far too emaciated to be running at all. Now, I am physically in a different place but mentally too tired to use exercise (which is often touted is the magic which cures all) to combat it. I just want to sleep for a hundred years and wake up when it’s all over. I guess the other thing I have learnt over the past year is that for me, exercise has become a way to beat my body into submission in the hope that my mind will be too tired to linger on depressive thoughts. Sure, there are happy endorphins but there are also punishing regimes which in the end trigger another depressive episode because over-exercise is a one way road to insomnia for me.
Is how slow my brain and movements become once it sets in.
Is I’m really bored of it.
Is I’ve kind of forgotten what life was like before it.
Is that sometimes I just wish I would change the bloody record.
Is how much of my life it consumes so that it is as though I am nothing but my mind at its worst.
Is how I used to see it as a kind of laziness when I first started teaching and how short I was in compassion for my students who were experiencing depression. My own experience of it was what made me a more compassionate, empathetic person.
Is how I start to lack compassion for myself at these times and how shame and embarrassment begin to set in once more. The thing which helped me most in getting to a stage of being able to say, I am truly in recovery from the eating disorder was the compassion I showed myself and the compassion others showed me. I have worked with professionals who have been full of compassion and some to whom compassion was like dirt under one’s finger nails. I have always fared much better when I ‘llow myself. When I tell myself, ‘it’s okay’ rather than ‘you’ve wasted/are wasting your life away’. When I am mentally strong, I am more able to be compassionate and tell myself, ‘it’s okay, the past is in the past’ or ‘it’s okay, you’re just having a bad day’. When I am feeling more fragile, I am more self-critical. I am less a work in progress and more one constant and very hot mess.
I didn’t know I’d write this post today but I am finding that writing about this is the best way to keep myself going at the moment. The more I write, the more I process things and the more I hear my true voice, not that of an afflicted mind.
Today, since I am struggling with the basics, I will just practice and keep repeating to myself, ‘It’s okay Funmi, it’s okay.’