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This article was written on 10 Dec 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The man in the corner: living with depression

Let’s imagine that your head, our heads, are much like the room I’m sitting in now. There’s a sofa, a couple of chairs, bookcases and a light. For most people, most of the time, this is how it stays. Events like marriage, divorce, happiness and sadness will move the furniture around a bit and even add or take away things, but change is generally organic and it seems as though the room is always as it has been and always will be for as long as you’re alive. But for someone with depression, and here is where we get bit creative, there’s another occupant.

In my head, right now, the best way to imagine him is as being like Death in the Ingmar Bergman film, or in Terry Pratchett’s books, albeit a slightly more shopworn and soiled version. He’s wearing his cowl, his scythe is propped between his knees and he appears, albeit with the kind of gradual imprecision which makes you think he’s always been there. This, for the uninitiated, is depression. For the duration of him sitting in that chair, you will feel differently than you ever have before, because he will be talking, almost continuously, and none of it will be nice. All of it, however, will be targeted with grim certitude at the things which will make you feel the most pain.

If you have body issues, he will tell you that you’re too fat or too skinny. He will tell you that life is not worth living anymore, or that you have failed in some great and nebulous way, or that people are talking about you and saying that you’re rubbish. He will do this with huge precision, like a surgeon making an incision, because he is, in essence, part of the room. Depression is part of your own brain, and in the same way that nobody knows you like yourself, or nobody understands the dimensions of a place like someone sat in it, nobody ever quite knows you like depression or understands your insecurities quite so well. Like the Simon & Garfunkel song, he’s your own, personal darkness and he’s come to talk with you.

Except, of course, you’ll never win an argument with him, because it will be perfectly circuitous and each and every attempt will deliver you back at the start, ready for you to go around again, until your thin attempt to say that the picture is other than it has been described by him has been swept away and the repeated arguments grind your resistance to powder. In the end, you’ll be supine, but he won’t give up, but will keep on at you, mocking every attempt to rise with quiet insistence. The end game of depression, its natural, final point, is that you kill yourself, which will quiet the voice forever, but also you and anything else you’re aware of.

I’m not going to judge anyone who does that or say that their decision is wrong. The only reason I didn’t do it is some complex interaction of hope, cowardice and stasis. But there are other options which you may want to explore and that don’t involve getting into protracted arguments with what is, in essence, your own brain, which is trying, for reasons best known to itself, to make you see reality in a different way. This isn’t to say that reality won’t be shitty. You can’t, for instance, see homelessness in a positive light or have a great experience of smack addiction. But what depression does is stop you from seeing ways to get out or even to set the first foot on the path that may lead you away. I was in a heartbreaking situation that I’m lucky didn’t kill me for three years and that, even then, I found it nearly insuperably hard to walk away from. Trust me on this – I know what I’m talking about.

One of the ways is medication, which effectively sticks a muffler over his head for large parts of the day and drowns out the diatribe to a faint burble. Even then, there will be times of the day and situations where you can hear him, but something in the medication means that you might, sometimes, be able to spot exits or opportunities that didn’t exist previously. And the other way, which medication can help with as well, is ignoring him. He says don’t go out? Go out for walk and buy a paper or have a coffee or do whatever it is you used to like doing. And here’s the trick, the one piece of advice that will be of most use…

DO WHAT YOU USED TO ENJOY DOING, EVEN IF YOU DON’T THINK YOU’LL ENJOY IT NOW, BECAUSE YOU JUST MIGHT FEEL BETTER

And by this, I don’t mean taking heroin or getting drunk, just to be clear. I mean doing whatever you can reasonably afford to do that is quick, easy and will make you feel better in the short term. Let the longer term stuff shift for itself. And let me manage your expectations here. Going for a walk is not going to cure you of mental illness. You will not arrive home to find that your life has sorted itself out, magically, and now all is fine. It may, however, make you feel slightly better and clear headed, if only for seconds or minutes and, when you’re feeling this bad, you’ll take all the relief that you can get, because even a minute seems like a holiday.

My reason for writing this is that my depression bloke is pretty much camped out in the corner of my mental room and has been since before the referendum. He’s by turns quiet and loud and there are times when I feel like it’s just me and him, sat here, and will be forever. Despite that, I’m still trying to do stuff and behave not like he isn’t there, because that’d be reckless to the point of insanity, but at least treat what he tells me with vast doubt. If I can’t do it, I’ll find out, and if I can do it, then hoorah. That’s pretty much, I now realise, the mantra by which I’ve been living my life for a few months, and it works more often than it fails. Step away from politics and activism, because they can’t make you happy and because they yoke your fate to causes you can’t control and focus on living with the man in the corner. Things will move and things will change, albeit slowly.

So right now, I’m having a lot of chats with Depression and the noise is continual. I’m angry at the way the world is in a desperate and hopeless way (see the piece on AA Gill if you doubt this) which defies any succour and aware that I’m probably neither an easy person to live with or a very pleasant friend to have around, but so much of my time is spent figuratively shouting at an unseen not-assailant that real people seem, paradoxically, less real and less worthy of my time. And so, I fear, it is. The above, however, is there for anyone behind me in recovery. I have a house, I have someone who loves me and right now, that suffices, even if there was a time, only a few months ago, when that seemed in doubt. Take heart, and hold on. The man in the corner will go.

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