A lot of my writing has been about dealing with my own mental health issues. About how traumatising they can be and how they can impact you in so many ways. About how even simple tasks, like brushing your teeth, can become something even Sisyphus would balk at. At my worst I couldn’t even get out of bed, on slightly better days I could weave my way to the sofa and spend the next 16 hours watching whatever I could find to distract me. Better days I might get in the shower, better days than that I’d get a shower and get dressed and on the truly exceptional days I could do all of that AND go to the shops. Go me!
But one thing I haven’t spoke about, one thing that I don’t see a lot of people with mental health issues talk about is how they are when they are “well”. With any chronic condition there are times it will flare up, indeed many people might find themselves dealing with these issues off and on for the rest of their life. I appear to be one of them, and acknowledging that fact helps me in some tiny way to deal with it.
I’m not on medication anymore, in fact I had some less than desirable side effects from them. I wouldn’t encourage anyone not to take them, only that for me they didn’t really help in the long run- turning me into a barely functioning zombie and to be entirely candid they also impacted in a way that meant even if I did have a sex drive (something that tends to go when depressed) then the pills made sure I couldn’t act on it anyway. I’ll leave you to work out that cryptic side effect of my citalopram.
Maybe one reason people don’t talk about the “well” times is that it can be, for me at least, difficult to properly reflect on my depression when I’m not in its grips. The depressed me seems like an entirely different individual- right now I know the reason I’m not getting out of bed till mid day is because I don’t have to instead of being unable to. The reason I might marathon view some episodes of Deep Space Nine is now because I fancy spending some time relaxing. And the reason I am not going out to the shops is because I’m being a lazy git.
But when depressed it is so much easier to understand the nuances and subtleties of the illness. We all “know” what pain feels like, we all “know” that breaking a leg will hurt but unless we do, unless we’re in that moment we might not be able to truly appreciate just how excruciating it is. All of our thoughts on pain are in retrospect and though we can talk about how bad it is, and how we may never wish to experience it again, when we aren’t feeling it, it is usually quite far from our minds. The same with depression.
Right now, as I write this, I am trying to think back to just how it felt those days when putting on clothes was a real task. And I can’t. I can see it, I can understand it was difficult, but right now all I can think is “It’s just putting on clothes, how hard can it be?”, even knowing that it WAS hard. In that regard, I can completely understand why some people don’t quite realise that depression can be so debilitating. Even as someone who has it, if I can’t quite grasp it then how can I expect someone who has never had depression to? And there are a lot of those “just get over it” types- one of the worst things you can say to a depressive, but I think many don’t say it out of malice but because they genuinely cant fathom how putting on a jumper can be such a great task. But it is.
I am currently in an “up”. Feeling “well”. Much of this is tied into the fact I stopped drinking in December, but that isn’t the sole reason, its just that it has helped. Allowing me to focus a bit more. I am still a depressive, and even though I’m feeling “well” I’m not feeling fantastically better. Going outside on long journeys (more than 30 minutes) is still daunting, I still would rather be closer to my comfort zone where I feel safe. I still don’t feel great, still feel a certain amount of self, well, not hatred right now but certainly dislike. And my self esteem is still shot. That all sounds pretty bad, but being well doesn’t mean I am actually feeling a great deal better but that I am able to deal with it and push it to the side – that I can cope right now and that even though I have these feelings they are manageable.
I’m even smiling a bit more. And I am getting more into a frame of mind of losing weight again- weight I put on because exercising and eating healthily were too much work when in full depressed mode. Being well when you have a long term condition that flares up periodically, isn’t that you are feeling like a normal person necessarily, but that you can cope with and control the darker parts of your mind.
Being well is a luxury that many depressives don’t have. Many are constantly in that pit, unable for no fault of their own, to clamber out. I’m lucky, I do get the occasional well moment. Its rare, and maybe only lasts a few weeks out of the year, but I get them. But feeling well right now doesn’t mean I am well. It doesn’t mean this wont come back again, because it will. And that’s not being defeatist. Its being a realistic and accepting that someday in the future it WILL happen again. Even when well, depression is still part of me, even if not physically suffering I am at least consciously aware of it in the back of my mind, slumbering.
And I have to be ready for when it comes back. There is always a calm before the storm.