Eight years ago I had a crash. A really big crash. My life spun out of control and hit a tree. A forest. But there was no accident site, no visible damage and no efficient emergency workers to take control and make things better.
There was just me; crying in a corner, unable to get out of bed, too tired to wash my hair for days on end, locked in a place of darkness that felt like one of those really bad nightmares where all your childhood fears leap out to confront you – expect for me the waking up and escaping was a slow, slow process.
I suffered with depression and anxiety. Gut-wrenching, debilitating anxiety, which made breathing too hard and the unlit corners of my mind far too terrifying a place to be. Depression which ground my life to a complete halt and removed all sense of hope or future from my mind.
I’d heard about depression, I was a savvy journalist, accustomed to sad stories and bad news. So when my depression hit, like a freight train careering out of control on a black night, I knew what to do.
Therapy, I decided, was what I needed. I knew I was pretty sick – for the first time in my life I was unable to write; to work – so I tenaciously set aside a good month to kick this Black Dog from my life. I set the deadline in my head and got stuck into the task.
Who knew? Who knew that seven years later I would only just be considering an end to therapy? That only now am I able to make some sense of my illness, and while I would not claim to be ‘cured’ – for I’m not sure mental health can be considered in such black-and-white terms – what I do know is that the sun is shining again. My heart is light and my hair is washed.
But that’s putting the ending before the middle.
Suffering depression was like wearing a heavy woolen coat everyday. It was cumbersome and uncomfortable, and I wanted to throw it off, but couldn’t.
The coat was often sodden with stagnant water, which left me shivering and weighed down; gauche, and awkward in every situation.
Work was often impossible; trying to concentrate on my children’s sweet faces was difficult – I was interested, I wanted to be present, but the stench of the coat was distracting -and I was frustrated by the constant cold and the cloying world inside it.
I tried to get close to loved ones, but the coat muffled my words and dampened my emotions. It was exhausting, every movement was an effort and I fought for each clear thought.
And then there was the pain; the intensity of which I still find hard to believe can exist within just one person. Pain that sent me fleeing for escape; for sleep and wishing for a more permanent end to its hold on me.
Yet depression shows no wound, no visible damage. One day I could apparently do/be everything, the next I was flummoxed by the intricacies of making school lunches; crying at the kitchen bench and overwhelmed by Glad Wrap.
Depression forced me to rip down my life, examine all the elements which formed it, and then re-build it with greater strength and clarity.
I would never have asked for it, would never have wanted it, but in having been through it I have become a better, stronger, more empathetic person.
I hesitate to say that depression was a gift…it would be more accurate to say that in working toward recovering from depression I have given me the gift of myself, and for this I am endlessly grateful.