When you suffer from depression, or any other mental disease, you often say or do things that you don’t really mean. You might snap at your friends, or suffer massive mood swings, or decide that you don’t care about the things that you really do actually care about. This can put a lot of stress on relationships. I generally handle this by being quite clear about why these things happen, and by apologising or explaining afterwards when I’m in a better state to do so. I’ve found that when I’m honest and open about the difficulties I face, and when I let people know that I’m doing my best to cope and to minimise the not-me things I say and do they’re ridiculously understanding. People are awesome like that. And when I’m open and honest about it all they can generally tell the difference between me actually being angry or unfair and the times when it’s “the depression talking”.
Like I said, people are awesome. People (especially my friends) are also remarkably perceptive at times. When I’m suffering from depression, however, I’m not. Perceptive that is, not awesome. Often although they can tell what’s really me… I can’t.
Something that I’ve dealt with a lot, and heard of from a lot of other people, is the feeling of confusion about where the illness stops and where you start:
“I’ve always been prone to tears and breakdowns…it’s just me.”
“I’ve always had a thin temper… it’s just me.”
“I’ve never been able to see the bright side of life… it’s just me.”
And from the more positive side:
“If I’d never had depression I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
“If I’d never suffered from depression I wouldn’t know how to cope with all this stress… and the stress in my life isn’t all from depression.”
“Depression has pushed me to explore how and why people feel the way they do, or has inspired my greatest art, or has taught me the hard-won patience that’s my best asset in life.”
I guess it’s not unusual when you deal with something for so long, and when it takes such a huge part in your life. I guess it’s even less unusual when it’s a part of your own mind and feelings. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s not tough to deal with. And let me tell you, it’s bloody hard to deal with.
Most people I know who have suffered from depression have also found themselves seriously asking this question:
“Who am I?”
I’ve known more than a few people who have avoided or outright refused treatment or medication because they were afraid it would change who they were. Who they are.
That’s pretty scary. Imagine not only living with the blackness of depression, but choosing not to try to get out in case it changes your very being. I mean, that’s heroic sacrifice right there. That’s one of those big dramatic moments where the lone human stands up to the gods and says “Yes, I’m flawed. But I’m human. And I’m proud of it. And I’m going to keep on struggling through this life.”
I have taken medication. I have undergone treatment.
Am I still the same person I once was? No, I’ve changed. But so does everybody, every day. But the medication, or the treatment, or the depression itself haven’t actually changed the core me. I’m still Aoife Brown. I’m still the artistic, caring, thoughtful person that I have always been. I am not my depression. My depression is not me.
But I still understand that worry. And I still worry that the emotional outbursts and the despondency and the tears are so much a part of me that they won’t ever be gone, and perhaps shouldn’t ever be gone. Despite knowing who I am deep down. Despite having friends who know it too, and reassure me of it.
I guess this is the point where I offer some advice. Something to help the other people who feel that way. Something to let them know they’re not alone. That scares me too, because if even I still struggle with it then how can I really advise others. But here goes, for what it’s worth:
-Trust your friends and loved ones. Be honest and open with them. Sometimes you are too close to the problem and can’t see the wood for the trees. When you’re at your worst you won’t believe them when they tell you that there’s a core you that’s not just depression in human form, but on your better days you’ll hear and remember, and sometimes even believe. It’s incremental. It stacks up. Someday that knowledge will stick even in the dark times.
-Pay attention to yourself. Take care of yourself, yes, but also notice what you’re doing. A lot of people act on automatic every day, and don’t really think about those actions. Watch them. Get to know yourself, and see what does and doesn’t change as your moods change. I think you’ll find the things that you care about most in yourself don’t change with your moods or illness or medication. Those things are the core you, and getting rid of an illness can’t take them away from you.
-Finally, if you don’t want to take the risk of medication or treatment, in case they change who you really are… then don’t. Learn your own mind. Ask your own questions. Find your own coping techniques. Don’t give up on a life free of depression, but do it on your own rules, and at your own time. Maybe someday you’ll feel confident enough to move try them after all. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you won’t need to. Take it as it comes. Just don’t give up on trying to be better.
That goes for everybody. Don’t give up on trying to be better.
Depression is shit. No-one deserves it. Everyone deserves to live their life cleanly and fully and without that heavy nothingness hanging around their shoulders dragging them down. YOU deserve a life that isn’t controlled by depression.
The real you. The core you. The you that’s solid and centered. The you that will make it through all this.