Depression: Small Steps and Giant Leaps.
When I was in school I was “The Clever One”. I was the girl who could be relied upon to do well in tests and to have answers to whatever questions teachers might ask. I was good at that sort of thing. If I had a talent, then school was it.
In uni, much was the same. I had a stupidly small number of lectures per week and a stupidly long reading list. I went to maybe a handful of lectures each year, read the books, did the essays and exams and came out with a good degree.
I guess it sounds good, doesn't it? Boastful even. But that's not what I'm trying to do. You see, I was good at learning, I was good at knowing things. But I was bad at working.
Being “clever” hasn't helped me much since I left uni. In the real world, it doesn't matter if you test well because the real challenges aren't graded. You can't just know the right answers, you have to be able to be strong about practical things, too. And that's not something I'm so great at sometimes.
I think a lot of people who know me would count my greatest asset to be my big ol' brain. And in many ways they'd be right. But my head is also my own worst enemy. It's what makes me over-think and over-analyse everything. It's what makes me find barbs in every compliment. It's what makes me withdrawn and sullen. It's where my anxiety and depression lives.
Those of you familiar with my style know I tend to wander around my point for a little while before finally getting to it. I'm a meanderer. So bear with me and just enjoy the ride.
For anyone who suffers from depression, I'm covering familiar ground, I bet. You know how our brains work against us. You know that no matter how wonderful our nearest and dearest are, those hateful little voices in our head like to remind us that nobody really likes us. How could they? You know what it's like to wake up in the morning and remember some tiny task that needs to be done (small things, like having a shower or unloading the dishwasher), and think that it'd be so much easier to just lie back down, close your eyes and will yourself to die. Then, it doesn't matter how clever you are, suddenly your brain is not on your side.
Part of being depressed is gritting our teeth and bearing it when people tell us to cheer up or get over it. It's having no good answer when somebody asks what you have to be depressed about, or reminds you that so many people are worse off than you are. Those are people who might feel misery at points in their lives, but they'll never understand what depression is.
Depression is a medical condition. It's not just someone being a misery-guts or being lazy or being dramatic. It's a condition that is, in many, deadly. It's a condition that can make you feel so terrible that you try to slice the bad feelings out of your very skin, or swallow handfuls of pills just hoping that they'll numb the pain before you die.
In these days of Facebook, Twitter and all those other sites that allow instant venting, I have often felt uncomfortable when people “overshare”. I squirm in my seat a little every time somebody discusses their changed medication, their therapists or their myriad mental problems. But... why should I judge them so harshly? At the end of the day, if I judge them then I'm doing the same thing as so many other narrow-minded cretins out there. You know the types. They're the people who look at a self harmer and say “Oh, s/he's just doing it for attention.” My God, that offhand declarative makes my spine feel like it might blister with anger. It never seems to occur to such people that if a person is willing to cut chunks out of their flesh that maybe they need some attention!
Some people just don't think, do they?
One of the greatest problems with depression is how it seems to make the sufferer feel smaller, while making everything in the sufferer's life seem bigger. It can make even those small, everyday tasks seem utterly insurmountable. When the idea of brushing your hair makes you feel lost and unable to cope, imagine what catching a bus to work and work itself can feel like.
The obvious solution is to stop going to work, right? Take some time off, gather your wits and go back as fresh as a daisy. Sure. If only all like were so simple.
The thing with taking time off work is that you can end up spending a lot of time in your own company. You don't want to go out and try to have fun, because even if you felt you could cope with leaving the house, you feel guilty for trying to feel better. I mean, what kind of person takes sick leave and then goes out shopping or for a coffee? Time alone with your own thought, time for “mindful rest” can be great. But a lot of time to oneself can be deadly. Literally.
I've been wandering around it for a while now, so let me try to get to the point. Depression sucks, and sufferers know it. I don't know if it goes away, but it's treatable. It sure as hell doesn't always feel like things will get better, but they can. It's all a matter of taking teeny, tiny steps in the right direction.
If you suffer from depression:
Go and see a doctor – If you're unwell, you take medicine, right? So why should depression be any different?
Do things which make you happy - Life is short and life is hard, so make the most of what you can. Don't feel bad about trying to have fun if you're off work.
Take Small Steps - Sometimes the little steps feel like giant leaps into cavernous uncertainty... but usually, you'll surprise yourself by landing on your feet.
Don't Assume and Learn to Question – Your mind is stuck on negative and you know it. You interpret every expression to be tainted with disdain and every comment to be tinged with dislike. Learn to ask yourself if what you think is necessarily true. If there's no real, measurable evidence, then maybe it's just your head trying to make you its miserable bitch.
Share Wisely – Don't feel like you can't talk to anyone, but remember that the whole “everybody hates me” attitude can be self-perpetuating. If you need to vent, try to do so with a friend, face to face, in your favourite little coffee shop. You might find that just being out with a friend makes you feel better already.
Watching someone go through depression can be just as hard as being a sufferer, if you truly care about that person. You'll want to be able to snap your fingers and make everything better. You can't. But you can help. You can be a good listener, you can offer a shoulder to cry on, you can know when to be there and when to give space. And you can do your very best not to offer empty words. If you tell someone with depression to “cheer up”, they are well within the rights of the universe to slap you.
So, if you suffer from depression, begin your road to recovery by making a small step in the right direction today. And if you know someone who's depressed, help them take that step.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression and seems to be in need of urgent help and advice, check out The Samaritans.