The truth about depression

The worst thing about depression isn’t that it lies. It’s that it keeps telling you uncomfortable truths until you’re too weak to keep saying “so what”.

When my depression tells me that no-one will miss me or that the people I care about will be better off without me I know that it’s lying. No matter how worthless I am they would miss me because they are good people and my death would hurt them because they’d feel like they failed. Clinging on to that has kept me going. I’m not living for me and I haven’t been for years.

When my depression tells me that none of that matters in the grand scheme of things it’s not exactly lying. My life and the lives of everyone I know are meaningless when placed against the span of human history. All of human history is insignificant in the whole history of life on our planet. And that’s just on a local scale. Our whole solar system is not even a mote in the eye of the universe. Sometimes it’s a comforting thought. I am so insignificant that there’s a real limit to how badly I can fuck up.

When my depression tells me that I don’t matter that’s old news. When it tells me that the Universe is huge and ancient but still young and that it’s impossible to conceive of how brief and tiny my life is by comparison I can agree. But when it starts to say that’s also true about everyone I care about then I have a problem. I’m only living because I don’t want to hurt them. But if their pain is unimportant then there’s no reason for me to keep going.

I’m going to stop writing this now. I have no idea if it’s making any sense. The depression is very bad right now and my brain isn’t communicating with itself very well.

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Perspective shift

Last year I was diagnosed with lymphoedema. At the time it just seemed like yet another thing wrong with me. I almost asked the Doctor why he bothered telling me since it’s just another thing that I can’t fix. I did some research and found that it was either genetic or caused by being fat and while I was suspicious that it might be genetic it seemed more likely that it was caused by being fat. So not only did I have a new thing wrong with me that I couldn’t fix but it was probably my fault.

Today I found out that my research was wrong. My lymphoedema would appear to be caused by Lipoedema. It makes sense of a lot of things. It explains the leg pains I’ve had for years, the way my legs were huge but my feet didn’t have any fat on them, and especially the time I lost more than 8 stone (119 lbs or 54 kg to be exact) and saw little change in my legs – my body was 8 dress sizes smaller than my legs.

Now I was only able to lose 8 stone because I did get really fat. But not until after I tried anorexia for a while. I had fat legs when I was anorexic too. I don’t mean imaginary fat legs. I mean the last day I was actively anorexic I was 13 years old and I was wearing a t-shirt sized for a 11-year-old girl and size 10 women’s trousers which only just fitted over my knees and thighs but fell off without a belt.

When I stopped restricting my food intake my disordered eating snapped back in the other direction and I took up binge eating. Which didn’t help my legs or my already fragile self esteem. Every time I tried to change my eating habits I found that I couldn’t keep it up. The anorexia had left me unable to see any positive change in the mirror and the lipoedema meant that I wasn’t getting much positive feedback from my clothes.

I used to describe my teenaged self as fat and depressed. But maybe I was just an average girl with undiagnosed lipoedema and ADHD. I spent my childhood and teen years feeling stupid and worthless and deformed and it’s cast a long shadow over the rest of my life. What would I have been like if we’d known what was wrong?

The thought of it makes me feel queasy. I can’t think properly because of the unfamiliar sound of some part of my mind repeating “It wasn’t your fault. None of it was your fault.” It feels weird. I tend to assume that everything is my fault.

Not a real person.

One of the things I struggle with a lot is the feeling of not being a real person. I think some of it is imposter syndrome and some of it is a throwback to the bullying I grew up with. When everyone tells you that you’re ugly and stupid and worthless you tend to start believing them. If you’re smart enough to know that it’s not true you still can’t help suspecting that you’re not a real person because who would treat a real person like that? Real people have rights. Miss-treating real people has consequences.

But lets not forget that for a lot of people I am not a real person. I am a poor, disabled, depressed, fat, middle-aged woman. You’d be surprised how many people will lose interest in my humanity the moment one of those trigger words is mentioned.

There are a few men for whom no woman is a real person. They might not express it this way but it’s clear that to them personhood is a uniquely male quality. That’s why they think that rape is not a thing. Because they think that only male desires count. If you think of women as objects then of course you don’t care about consent.

There are a larger group of men for whom women are people but with an asterix. They say woman* or female* but that asterix leads to some mental footnote that defines a woman according to some personalised criteria. If you listen to them long enough you find out that woman means a cisgendered, hetrosexual (or bisexual but only for male entertainment), able-bodied woman, between the ages of 17 and 35, with a BMI in the underweight or normal weight range with an attractive face (and if she’s a woman of colour she’d better have a really attractive face) and “good” breasts. The rest of woman-kind doesn’t count as female because we have failed in some aspect of our femininity. Remember that to them the primary purpose of a woman is to be decorative. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do only how we look.

There’s a lot of people for whom poor people aren’t really people. That’s why they don’t care about minimum wages or benefits or social housing. The assumption is that poverty is some kind of moral or intellectual failing rather than a necessary side effect of capitalism.

Some people make similar assumptions about both physical and mental health. There’s an almost superstitious belief that ill-health and injury must be a punishment for something. There’s also a surprising number of people who are happy to declare that depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD, OCD and autism are “all in the mind”. Which of course they literally are. They are illnesses of the brain. They cause changes in brain activity, neurochemistry, and sometimes in the physical structures of the brain. No amount of willpower is going to remake the chemistry, activity or gross anatomy of your brain. You can’t just get over it.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to agree that people are people.

Regardless of skin colour, nationality, religion or lack thereof, political affiliation, age, sexuality, gender identity, nationality, wealth, health, ability or IQ there is only one Homo Sapiens species. We all belong to it and we are all people. Even me. Even when I don’t feel worthy of it. Even when people in power are trampling all over those rights that I have but for some reason can’t use.

Can I tell you a Secret?

Can I tell you about how I’m feeling? Can I tell you what I’m thinking about? Can I relay my deepest, darkest truths? Can I put down the terrible burdens I carry with me every moment of the day, at least for a moment?

 

No. No I can’t. And that’s a problem.

There are things I can’t write here because it might be read by people who know me and I don’t want to worry them. And this blog is supposed to be entertaining and there are somethings that I just can’t make funny. But I could write them on an anonymous blog.

I could write some of them anonymously but there are things that are so toxic and dangerous that I can’t put them anywhere online in case someone vulnerable read them and was further damaged by them. I could write them down in a pen and paper diary though. Of course eventually other people might read my diaries but by then I’ll be dead and some of the sting will have gone out of the words.

Some of the sting. There are things I can’t write anywhere in case some day my children read them. And even if I could write things down somewhere no one would read them that’s not the same as telling someone.

Maybe you’re wondering why I don’t just see a therapist or a counsellor. I can’t afford to pay one and, though I live in the UK and we have free medical care, the mental health services are badly underfunded. My doctor wont refer me to anyone because I’m not sick enough. The life-long battle with depression hasn’t killed me yet so I must be doing OK. My doctor also wont give me pills because reasons.

There are free counselling services. The local one had an 11 month waiting list last time I checked. With so little coverage I’d feel guilty taking up their time. There are certainly people around who need it more than I do.

So I’m stuck here thinking things I can’t write down or say out loud but I need to talk about. I’m worried that I might get frustrated and say something to the wrong person and then I’ll have hurt someone. If I keep silent the only person I’m hurting is me.

Hello, Darkness, my old friend

The black dog has pounced once more and I am in the pit. Though, to be fair, I’m always in the pit. It’s just that usually I can pretend that I’m not. Or at least pretend that being in the pit is fine.

But now the black dog of depression has jumped on me and stolen my mask and I am forced to be honest about the things that I am never honest about. People talk about depression as if it steals your joy, or your happiness, or your purpose, or the meaning from your life but that doesn’t happen to me. I don’t have any of those things anymore with so I’m really a very poor choice of victim. I’m surprise it bothers. You’d think it would have got the hint by now.

Why do people call depression a black dog? It’s really more like a cat. It likes to play with it’s victims and leave them alive (well, mostly) but crippled.

So here I am, in the bottom of the pit with the depression beast sitting on my chest so that I can barely breathe. I’m playing dead. Eventually it will get bored and climb out of the pit and go and torture someone else. I won’t get my mask back either.The beast has already shredded it. I shall have to make a new mask to help me display socially appropriate emotions.

There was a time when, at the end of a bout with the depression beast, I’d be able to climb out of the pit. Then the pit got deeper and I had to rely on someone dropping a ladder or a line. But then I failed too badly and too many times and the whole floor dropped out from under me. Now the best I can hope for is to convince everyone that I’m OK, that the pit is fine really and not nearly as deep as it looks and that they should go on without me.

I will bide my time and I will make a new mask and before too much longer I shall be back to feeling nothing at all.

Missing the sweet spot

They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.

Which might explain why I am not a successful artist.  I keep missing that sweet spot.  I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world.  I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.

This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness.  It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me.  Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking.  It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.

When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself.  Is this hard wired?  Is it a feature of my personality?  Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?

I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time.  I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I knew that I was sad far more than I should be.  I hated my body.  I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.

I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed.  I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.

I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing.  I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked.  I realised that I would never be good enough.

I had been dieting.  Well I thought it was a diet at the time.  I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit.  I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes.  I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt.  I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair.  I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.

At the time I thought that it was  sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there.  I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back.  I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.

I thought about it for a long time.  I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being.  They way people treated me made me miserable.  But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects.  I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment.  I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated.  If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.

I tried to lower my expectations.  I don’t recommend it as a tactic.  Life seems to take it as a challenge.  No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.

I tried to believe that the names they called me were true.  I tried not to care when people hit me.  I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter.   I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished.  I tried to keep my head down.  I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me.  I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me.  I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.

It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses.  I think.  But what do I know?  I’m an idiot.  Maybe it did help.  After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated.  Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.

The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything.  From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.

And now I must stop because I am boring myself.  If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross.  I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining.  Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block…

but there is such a thing as a blocked writer.

And right now I am a blocked writer.  I’m not writing.  I’m not editing.  I’m barely thinking.  It’s not the writing that’s the problem.

Do you ever get that thing where you know you’re just not good enough and it’s just not worth the effort? That’s kind of how I’m feeling now except that it’s not that I’m not a good enough writer and my work in progress isn’t worth the effort.  It’s that I’m not a good enough human and breathing isn’t worth the effort.

Like I say.  It’s not the writing that’s the problem.  Writing is one of the few things that I’m fairly sure I’m good at but what is the point when it’s me that’s doing the writing?

I know that a lot of writers suffer from depression.  I know that a lot of great writers struggled through depression to write great books.  I don’t know how it’s done though.  How did they keep going?  How did they keep writing and editing when they couldn’t think straight?  How did they have the audacity to send their work out when they felt worthless?

I feel worn down by the never ending shoulds.  This draft should be finished already.  I should have worked today.  I should be in bed by now. I can’t sleep.  I’m just sitting here on the wrong side of 2 am listening to the imaginary pounding in my chest and wishing it meant something.

I should probably be kind to myself but that’s something else I don’t know how to do.  I see other people do it.  I know that being kind to oneself is an actual thing that people do.  Some other people even seem to like themselves.  How does that work?  What’s it like to look in a mirror and like who you see?  What’s it like to be happy in your own skin?  What’s it like to assume success instead of failure?  Is that even possible?  Is that a thing people do or are they just pretending?