I’ve recently become aware that I’ve not written any posts about mental illness for a long time. That is a good thing in that I’ve been well for quite some time now. Long may it last.
I feel that I still have so much to share and contribute to the conversations regarding mental health and illness. I may not be depressed right now but depression hovers at the edges of my life like an annoying insect.
Life After Depression
To the uninformed, you’d think that now I don’t have depression I can forget about it and be free. It doesn’t work like that unfortunately. If I want to ensure that I don’t get depressed again I have to put things in place. It’s basically a maintenance programme.
No one programme fits all. People find different methods and ways of living work for them. No one has the right to judge someone else’s programme just because it isn’t what you would choose.
After having depressive episodes, on and off, for 21 years I’ve learnt a lot about myself. That doesn’t always mean I can stop depression coming. Sometimes that wily bastard finds a back door and creeps in before you’ve even noticed. That said, I can take control in doing things that keep me mentally healthy.
I can no longer afford to be complacent. I used to just hurtle back into life after having depression and expect to be back to ‘normal’, whatever that is. I despised feeling worn out and a hollowed out version of myself. I wanted everyone to see I was just as strong as them. All I managed to do was bring along the next depressive episode a whole lot sooner.
With the help of a mental health team I’ve accepted that I will probably be on an antidepressant for life. Please spare me the anti-drugs for mental illness judgements in the comments. This works for me and billions of others. We don’t need to made to feel inadequate for taking them.
It has taken me years to accept that taking tablets is not a weakness. I am not lesser because I need a top up of what my brain and body lack. You take your insulin and your inhalers. I take my antidepressant and I am finally on a very even keel. I’m not ‘doped up’. I still experience life’s highs and lows.
Along with medication I started running just over a year ago. It has changed my life. I’m not particularly good at it in terms of athleticism. I’m slow and I certainly do not have the sylph runners’ physique. But I love being outside, pounding the pavements, and feeling alive.
Along with running I have learnt to re-evaluate my expectations of myself.
I used to get frustrated when I couldn’t write for hours on end. I thought it meant I wasn’t a ‘proper’ writer (another fantasy role). The problem with having depression is that you tend to spend hours, even days, being inactive. You loathe yourself, thinking you’re lazy. Self-care is a foreign term.
I am learning that taking breaks and rests does not mean I’m lazy. It’s part of being productive. I confess I still have moments when that bitchy inner voice yells that I should be working but I fight it.
I cannot work, flat out, for a whole day. Sometimes I can’t do it for hours. That doesn’t matter because what I do produce in the writing spaces I use is usually productive.
Well, most of the time. When I’m well-rested, I seem to have more ideas and creativity. You can’t draw water out of a dry well after all.
Everyone Has an Opinion
When you’re depressed people like to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
Don’t shut yourself away. Do get out for walks. Don’t comfort eat. Do try to find things to be happy about.
People also have opinions on what you should and shouldn’t be doing when you come out of depression. Unfortunately the worst culprits are often those who’ve had depression. Not all of them, I must add.
As mentioned before, everyone has a programme for recovery. Please don’t make a fragile, recovering person feel like crap for not doing it your way. If they’re harming themselves, of course there needs to be a chat and possible intervention. If it’s just because you wouldn’t do it that way, please step back and let that person try.
The worst part of depression for me was about losing control. I couldn’t make decisions at all. Even deciding what PJs to put on felt like a herculean effort. My mind betrayed me and the darkness of the depression monster stole my choices.
Recovery is an empowering time for the person coming out of depression. We may make mistakes but let us try. Goodness knows I’ve made many mistakes but I learnt more about myself and how to manage this illness.
Remember that a person coming out of depression is susceptible to a relapse. Please don’t be part of facilitating that.
The Fear of the Return
For years I’ve lived in fear of depression returning. I’ve spent so much time scared of going back into the pit that I couldn’t enjoy living in the light.
This time around my mind has altered. I am embracing the moment in a non-hippy, weirdness kind of way.
After my mum died, my mindset changed. I wondered if I would get depressed again for a fleeting moment and then I let go of it. Grief is okay. It’s necessary. It’s also close to depression in its symptoms.
I allowed grieving to happen. I felt knowledgeable enough about depression and me to know it was time to mourn. I wasn’t afraid of getting depressed again for the first time in my life.
I am writing this on a well day within a fully recovered period of my life. Tomorrow I might feel the edges blurring and the claws of the beast scratching at my mind. I hope I am ready for it. I feel right now that I am.
Half the battle is won when you recognise depression is coming and get help. I pride myself on having done this for the past few episodes.
Sometimes you cannot stop depression coming at you with full force but to acknowledge it sooner is to make the episode shorter.
I remember the first few times I had depression. I was petrified. I didn’t know its nature. It floored me. I will not go so far as to say I feel blessed to have had it and now to be able to recognise it quickly. I’d rather not have had portions of my life wiped out. I will go so far as to say at least this dark cloud has an informed lining.
It’s All About Now
I don’t think about depression much anymore. The only time I become aware of it is when others I know are going through it or I stumble across it in social media.
I’m glad that I can help others who are having a hard time with mental illness. I consider this my ‘Up yours’ to depression and all it’s tried to steal from me.
I focus on now. Next week I could get depressed but I could also get run over by a bus. The odds aren’t certain.
I will not sit and wait for the darkness to smother me into its dubious embrace and whisper its lies into my ear. I’m too busy taking opportunities, adopting new challenges, and amazing myself with what I can do in these well times.
I choose now.