You’ve suffered with depression since you were a teenager, on and off. Significantly more on than off, but varying degrees of “on”. You know the wishy washy grey days, and you know the black numb days, and every shitty shade in between.
Sometimes, nothing helps. It just IS. It’s just there. Sometimes it arrives like an uninvited guest. You’ve been “fine” the day before, and yet you wake up with the cloud there, unasked for, like a dream hangover. And as the day passes, the cloud stalks you, settles on you, and starts to take you.
But over 30 years, you’ve learnt that some things DO help (and not just the medication, which I believe is essential), so here are some of the things that sometimes work for me, in the hope that they might work for you.
You suffer with your sinuses and have a super hooter. Some smells can make you ill, and even make you vomit, but others clear your head and your soul. You are particularly partial to the pure cooling bliss of lavender, which soothes you, even when it shouldn’t.
The smell of citrus cuts through the crap and each sniff gives you a second of respite, clarity.
Fresh air. Inside The Bell Jar or the snow globe, everything is stale, and half dead, and a rush of breeze to the head reminds you that another world exists. It greets you with a smile, like health.
You’ve heard that poetry can be an effective anti-depressant, and you love poetry, so that’s good. The slowed breathing required to create holy communion with a poem is like a religion, and the connection with other people’s emotions reminds you of what you no longer feel. Poetry slows time down, as you savour each word and rhythm, and each couplet nourishes your soul.
Your favourite poet has always been Sylvia Plath, and when you need her, she’s always there, her words cutting through the stale air like a knife, and reminding you what it’s like to hurt and feel and hurt and cry and rage and hurt and be wounded by the knife of life. The poems she wrote in the last months of her life are full of anger, and also hope, and they soothe you like balm.
Haig has written several exceptional books about suicide and depression. You love that he is not preachy, just a member of the club, sharing his worst moments with you, and reminding you that there is hope, if you can only cling on a little longer. Notes On a Nervous Planet is your bible, stuffed with little face slaps that remind you how your own behaviours are killing you, and urging you on, coaxing you back to health.
You don’t remember when life got so damn NOISY but your sanity depends on cutting the chatter. You only like music, not SOUND, and you can only tolerate what you’re in the mood for. Some days you yearn for the sunshine, so you play cheesy pop, other days you need to stabilise, so you choose mid-tempo tunes that soothe you without troubling you.
Sound becomes a key regulator in your life. Many days, silence is the best music you can hear. It’s the only way you can hear your own voice. Other days, Radio 5Live is the only thing that’s there for you, the backdrop of friends, chattering in the background, allowing you to dip in – if you want to – and out – if you can’t.
This year you’ve loved Taylor Swift more than ever. Her 2 albums have been a masterpiece of mood and emotion, equally soothing and thought-provoking. Those songs have been there for you when you’ve needed company, needed to listen to poetry (for what is a great song except poetry put to music) or needed solace. Music can cure.
You’ve always loved your bed, and loved sleep, but when you’re depressed, you measure your life by the time you can spend there. You know that sleep is not only a healer, but a time stealer, and that if you sleep enough and for long enough, you will eventually wake up feeling better. If you can keep sleeping, you might even get there faster.
Lack of sleep makes you jangly. Jittery.
Bitchy. Your synpases no longer
connect the way they should and everything feels such an effort. The day becomes a countdown to bed, rather
than a reason for living, and you have to search harder for the things that you know will
Don’t Embrace The Darkness.
When you’re in the Snow Globe, you’re stuck. You don’t feel in control, and you don’t feel like you can move. But somehow you know you have to remain positive, even if that takes every ounce of energy you have.
You remember reading, in 1989, an interview with Kate Bush where she was asked to name what she would most like to eradicate in the world. Her answer was "negativity", and she went on to explain how it was such an empty and pointless emotion, something that achieved nothing, and you had an epiphany. From that moment on, you tried to be more expansive, more open, and definitely glass half full.
But hope hurts, so you try to stay on an even keel,
and you fight to Keep Calm and Let It Go so that you don’t get more diminished by
what life throws at you. And sometimes
it gets strained, sometimes it cracks, and sometimes it plain old rips at the
seams, but for the most part, your positive mental outlook keeps you tethered
to this life.
You need to find your tether. Each and every one of you. There has to be something or someone that locks you into this life and makes it impossible to leave, even when every bloodied cell and broken bone is begging you to quit.
For all the dark days, and the black days, the days when I want to stop the world and jump off, the days when I just want it to end, there is one thing that stops me – my daughter.
There are days when I REALLY struggle with my depression, days when my insecurities, low self-esteem and fuck-ups come crashing through the wall I build around myself, and I can find no reason why MY existence should continue. But all it takes is one thought of my daughter, and I carry on.
I distinctly remember being in the grip of post-natal depression when she was a few weeks old, and asking other people to bottle feed her. They would happily accept, but also ask "why", and I don't think a single one of them understood me when I said I did not want her subconsciously scarred, and to remember on some level that her arrival into the world reduced her mother to constant tears.
And some days, it's pretty much like that, all over again. I will NOT have my daughter growing up without a mother, or wondering her whole life why her love wasn't enough to keep me alive. I will not do that to her. Famously, Arthur Miller said "a suicide kills two people, that's what it's for", and I will not have my amazing, pure, and wonderful daughter blighted by that which blights me.
So please, find your tether. Find what soothes you. And hold on, for dear life. And know, above everything, you are not alone. Far from it. The community of the depressed has never been larger, never been more vocal, never been more willing to help.
All you have to do is Reach Out, or Hold On.