For those who don’t know, and there would be few who accurately do, I live with atypical depression.
But today, hiding from the rain and eating cake, I feel the need to express a few things that I’ve learnt in living with this thing… I dislike labels… it may be an illness to some… I don’t quite know what it is to me.
Often I equate it to Diabetes; a similar condition that will never be ‘cured’ but one can learn to accept it, manage it and live as best they can.
I currently see a very good Psych, who was recommended by a very good G.P. Some of you may understand how lucky this is, having suffered through many a quack or simply not being able to afford specialist care.
I am pleased to acknowledge that mental health research and practices are light-years ahead of where they were when I was first advised to “talk to someone” at 19 years of age, and it was a relief to finally hear, that everyone does depression differently.
I, for one, do not get suicidal. I don’t self-harm. I don’t lose sleep. I don’t abuse substances. I don’t get violent or lash out, nor do I spontaneously burst into tears – all of which are standard “have you ever” questions on any Psych101 quiz sheet.
If you don’t tick enough of these boxes: "you’re not depressed... it might just be the weather...man up" I do lose my appetite. I lose my initiative to do… anything. I lose my sex drive. My capacity to insulate myself against the outside world all but evaporates and I need increasing amounts of solitude. If at work, I can function, but it will exhaust me. And because I lose my appetite and energy, I don’t eat correctly or exercise, both of which are common antidotes to this condition, which only perpetuates a spiral.
I then judge myself for having no energy and wasting my life… but every Creative does that.
What is particularly frustrating with this condition is unlike other illnesses, it flares up again and again, whether you like it or not.
Unlike, say Herpes...
I caught Herpes from someone – I have Herpes – I get treated for Herpes – I no longer have Herpes – I go on with my life.
Depression, to me, is more like sandpaper lining the inside of your skull; often the most innocuous tilt will cause it to graze your brain and bleed – so how do you remedy that?
I don’t know.
I didn’t come from an environment where self-care was a high priority, more often than not my body doesn’t even recognise I’m in trauma until it’s at a critical stage – I don’t cognitively stress.
When I first began seeing my Psych’ it was after a period of (forcibly) moving house three times in under a year, being cheated or robbed by three separate Landlords and having gone to Tribunal three separate times to reclaim expenses and perhaps some justice… I represented myself and won... three times.
I hadn’t had a ‘Home’ in over a year and I'd had to fight every troll, witch and ogre who was trying to con, lie and thieve from me.
I was broke. I was sick. I was scared. I was tired… so very, very tired. And of course there’s also a ton of creative projects that I could (should) be working on, but cannot find any energy to commit to and that compounds my frustration.
Initially, my Psych’ had very serious concerns over my stress/anxiety scores and was looking to prescribe me medication. Luckily I was still able to laugh about many aspects of my life, and that, to her, was a precursor to my resilience.
I suppose the point of me sharing this is to say; To all of you who share this condition, in whatever form it takes, you are not alone.
Depression is vile in that its most insidious symptom is to polarise its host, as if we are trapped inside a glass box in a playground; you can see us, we can wave and smile, but we cannot feel.
Unfortunately there is little our outside world can do, other than offer empathy and understanding… this is worth infinitely more than suggestions on “how to be happy”.
Lastly, everyone does depression differently… my experience is just that, mine. I only share it as an example of how Depression feels to me and to honour other friends who are more brave than I and have shared their experiences.
Let's take care of ourselves in the new year.
P.S - A reminder that speak on Mental Health + Creativity on a contra basis, else I donate my fee to Beyond Blue (see here...)
Christopher. S. Sellers is an expert on Creativity + Innovation
Founder + Director of Black Bulb Creative