So it has been many a day since I have posted here, but given that I am now in a time where I want to process a few things and I a) do that best by writing, b) want to share what I’m writing in the hope that it helps someone else, and c) have the time to actually write, here seems like a good place to do it.
As I posted on social media yesterday, I have not been doing so well. I know that can sound kind of vague so I guess I wanted to be a bit more explicit and describe what that is like. And perhaps you’re wondering if that is helpful for me, or even anything you want to read. And if you don’t want to read I totally understand and feel free just to scroll on by. But I actually do find it helpful as a record of what I’ve gone through, and maybe it’ll help someone else?
I have had clinical depression for many years so in some ways this is not entirely new. Mum reminded me that when I first went to see a doctor about how I was feeling and she said she thought I might have depression I was really angry and refused to accept it. I didn’t remember that reaction at first but I now vaguely recall that feeling of not wanting to accept that there was something going on in me that couldn’t just be fixed easily. And being worried about what people would think of me. That I wasn’t strong enough, that I wasn’t capable, that I was broken in some way. As if that matters.
I guess things have come a long way in terms of how we talk about mental health since then and I don’t know actually why I was worried about that diagnosis, in terms of what people might have thought of me. Once I actually started getting treatment and started working through my issues I realised I wanted to always be open and honest about depression and how it affected me. This is all bearing in mind that mental health is a complicated and complex area and there is no one clear way it looks. The way it affects me is different to the way it affects somebody else; it might be more severe or far less severe for me than for you or someone you know. But it’s all worth taking seriously.
So I guess I’ll start with how I’ve been feeling lately.
The thing about my depression is that it doesn’t come on suddenly, it’s not usually triggered by any one incident. But it is an ongoing condition that I have to monitor and use strategies to deal with. Sometimes it’s hardly a bother. And other times it’s really hard to get out of bed.
My personality is also one that hates to let people down and hates to be thought of as lazy. So even when I should rest and should be taking care of myself, I will keep forging ahead doing what I think is expected of me. I also perversely get irritated when things that I find hard but necessary (like work) drain all my energy and mean that I don’t have time for the things that I feel fill up my cup and help me, like music or theatre or other extra curricular activities. So I get over involved in things, forgetting to count the cost of the whole time or commitment involved and only thinking of how good it feels when I’m in the moment of doing the actual thing. (And people observing this and telling me how busy I am just makes me dig my heels in further. I know, it makes no sense.)
In recent months it’s been interesting, as all of our extra curricular pursuits have been curtailed due to COVID-19, I thought that perhaps I would recover some energy. To be sure, initially it was really great to have lots of time at home, not to have to go out at night, no rehearsals to go to, nothing to plan for. I know a lot of people found that really hard but as an introvert and already being tired I was quite relieved. But it didn’t really make that much difference to my energy levels oddly.
(Side note: The constant thrumming background of anxiety, disaster and the unknown with the whole COVID-19 situation and the state of the world in general has not helped. I’ve tried to limit my news intake but you can’t escape it. So there’s that.)
Life has still been relentless. Despair has increased. Work marches on as it always does. And I felt like I was sinking further and further. Usually I can find ways to help my mental state, a bit more physical activity perhaps, reading my Bible, listening to uplifting music, seeing friends, talking to my psychiatrist. But this time nothing seemed to shake it for more than a day or two. I just kept sinking.
My temper started fraying. I would find myself getting irrationally angry with mum, who is the one person who stands by me and supports me through everything and never did anything to warrant me being angry. I found myself having extreme physical reactions to loud noises like the vacuum cleaner starting, or a spoon being dropped on the floor. I had a constant low level headache, and a feeling like I’d either just been punched in the stomach or needed to throw up. I cried every morning in the days I had to go in to the office, big heaving sobbing crying, then would try to get myself together in the car and walk in the office with a big smile. I spent all my energy on trying to appear as a functional human being, but I found it really hard to take in what people were saying, or to contribute anything meaningful to a conversation, or to even understand what was going on half the time. I would get home from work, or even social interactions and be so exhausted I’d have to just sleep. My entire body felt so heavy all the time that I didn’t want to move even though I knew it would help.
None of that is normal, friends. Obviously.
As life in Tasmania started getting back to ‘normal’ after the initial lockdown, the pace at work was ramping up and I was starting to panic. I was telling people that I wasn’t coping, but thought I could keep moving forward. But it was becoming clear that that wasn’t an option any more. What could I do? How could I cope? How can I let people down?
In the end it was all very simple. I prayed a lot. I talked to HR about leave options. I talked to my psychologist, who said “you need to take a break from work right now. If you do not you will end up in hospital, it is that serious.” I talked to my boss, who was so understanding, told me to take as much time as I need, that I wasn’t letting anyone down. And that very day I went home, got into bed and slept.
I’ve been having terrible nightmares, but that’s not really a surprise is it?
I am so grateful. I’m so grateful that I live in a place where these things are taken seriously, where I have access to leave so I can just stop work, where there are options for treatment and professionals I can work with to get well. I am so grateful for time. I am so grateful for the prospect of rest.
My body still doesn’t know that it doesn’t have to hold on. I think it will take a week for me to actually wind down to the point where I can start thinking about getting healthy. It’s Sunday night now and I keep expecting I’m going to have to get up and go to work in the morning. The other thing I am well aware of and need to watch is that as soon as I start feeling vaguely normal again, my brain will start telling me that I’m lazy and wasting time. I need to not feel guilty for taking rest and for working on my health. But I know that that’s going to kick me in the pants at some point in the next few weeks.
Anyway if you’ve read this far congratulations and thank you. If you ask me to do something with you in the next little while please don’t be offended if I say no not yet. But know that I am really grateful to you for asking. And if I look mostly normal and I’m laughing and chatty, just be aware that perhaps it’s taking all my energy to appear that way.
And if you are struggling too, even though it is really hard to ask for help, it feels so much better when you do. Tell somebody. Talk to a doctor. Don’t feel silly about it. Our struggles can be vicious in the darkness, but seek the light. It makes it easier to see what you’re fighting against.