Recently I caught myself saying to a friend ‘it’s not really depression, just a bit of low mood’. And at the time, maybe that’s what I felt. However looking back it feels like I was making an attempt to excuse what I had felt in the past (maybe I was having a good day). I read this Cycling Weekly article about Graeme Obree and depression this week and this stood out to me: “The World Health Organisation defines depression as: “a common mental disorder that presents with depressed moods, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.”” There it was in black and white – the 8 attributes. Markers if you will, that anyone who has had a depressive episode will recognise. A moment of insight for me – I’ve seen this list any number of times, but life carries on and your brain files the information away, plain old forgetting it in some cases. Reading it again and I suddenly realised I’m almost always carrying at least 2 -3 of these with me at any one time. In bad times I go up to an 8. In good I can go as low as a 1, maybe even a 0 sometimes.
I was an average teen struggling to deal with a variety of issues – a less than ideal family dynamic, hormones, friends. Y’know, the usual stuff that loads of teens go through. Crippling self doubt. Desperately wanting people to like me. Afraid to try to connect with anyone because of the horrors of rejection. An inability to hold conversations. Isolation due to geography. Acne. Severe resting bitch face. Being a bit too tall. The problem is, deep down do we ever grow out of these insecurities, or do we just get used to them? Make excuses to ourselves. Cover the fear. Pretend everything’s ok. Or maybe that’s just me, and my take on how my brain works. We are, after all, individuals. Not one person’s life experience is anything like anyone else’s. And do non-depressive types also feel these 8 markers, but in a different way? Are they just more resilient for some reason? Perhaps a lucky happenstance of brain chemistry that means feelings of low self-worth are easier to shake off? (I picked that one because it’s the hardest for me to shake.)
I am the master of the excuse. In the past I’ve sent apologies last minute to events, apologised for being a rubbish friend and not staying in touch, and blamed everything I possibly could to excuse my behaviour. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that I’m not all that great at coping with day-to-day life sometimes. At the moment I don’t phone my Mum enough because I’m mentally exhausted/overwhelmed and can’t face a conversation with anyone. I do my best to be ‘normal’ with Stu which is actually very easy, but after that everyone else will have to wait until I’m coping a bit better. The big problem with all these excuses is that it adds to the negativity. ‘That’s the second time I’ve cancelled on that person, they will hate me’ is a common thought in my head.
The big thing is; I identified strongly with the article mentioned above. Anyone looking at my life would wonder why I get down – I have disposable income to spend on what I want, hobbies that get me outdoors, other interests that I can do as I please, a loving partner, a job, a roof over my head, a (mostly) healthy body, at least 2 foreign holidays a year yada yada yada. Ultimately the reason I go on those holidays and have those hobbies is a coping mechanism. They are the things that drive the demons away, most of the time. And if getting outdoors doesn’t work I will go and read a book. Obsessively. Continuously. For days. Surfacing only when it’s finished and I have to find another one to plug the gap. As a teenager I read Anne Mccaffrey, David Eddings and Terry Pratchett over and over. Because that was 40+ books that I could read without interruption. I got lost in those books, forgetting about real life. I still do it. Same kind of books. Anything to escape reality. I’m going through a reading phase right now, because for some reason I’ve got attributes 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 all playing chase around my head. Hopefully if I sink myself deep enough in this latest book, when it’s finished my brain will press refresh.
I have no excuses. If I’m honest I’m actually depressed. Not enough to stop me working. Not enough to need to go to the doctors. Not enough for anyone to notice. Just enough to make every day just that bit harder to cope with. What I called ‘low mood’. And it will pass. This is something I know. I’m lucky that my depressions never last long. But I’m unlucky that it will resurface again relatively quickly. This year I’ve probably experienced 4 separate depressive episodes, of varying severity. Hopefully the fact that I’ve realised what’s going on early means I can lessen the severity and come out of it quickly.
No more excuses. Honesty is the way forward. And most of all, I must be honest with myself. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step.