Depression is a word we hear a great deal these days, which in some respects is great as mental health has held its stigma like a shield to keep us from the rest of society for too long. In other ways however it has become over used for example “I’ve got to work this weekend I’m so depressed” which over time minimises and on occasions ridicules what can be a disabling and debilitating illness which sadly sometimes proves fatal. It is that narrow view of depression which leaves so many sufferers delaying seeking help as they don’t want to be seen as weak, I’m a mental health nurse and fear of that view from those around me certainly influenced me seeking support and I ought to know better.
Here I shall outline my personal experience of depression, this isn’t from a textbook and it isn’t from my work as a mental health nurse this is my experience. My life.
Depression is more than sadness and tears.
It is a brain so slow that a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response feels more pressured than a post graduate dissertation deadline even when the person waiting for the answer is a patient loved one who repeats the question until you can process with a kind smile on their face.
It is eating tins of sweetcorn or tubs of glace cherries as decisions over food mean making a sandwich becomes simply too challenging and that is without the lack of motivation which becomes all encompassing.
It is having thoughts which are so far removed from your usual belief system yet being really angry when the lovely nurse suggested they were symptoms of psychosis in your care plan. I’m a nurse, I’d know obviously.
It is legs so hairy that never mind the worry over being detained under the Mental Health Act the worry should in fact be being taken by the local zoo or animal park.
It is, in the early stages, when motivation is beginning to dwindle but some ability to process thoughts still exists putting sugar in coffee to save the energy of making a meal.
It is staying for the whole day in pyjamas as no motivation to wash or dress and further through the recovery process still staying in pyjamas as now no clothes in the wardrobe fit due to a combination or medication, inactivity and the kindness of friends bringing treats.
It is seeing that ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that folk talk about but then looking in the mirror and seeing the physical damage this mental illness has done to your body; googling teeth whitening as you think it may be weeks since you last brushed them.
It is starting medication which makes your mouth really dry so drinking more and therefore in turn never being able to be far from a toilet.
It is your feet seemingly growing but when the light of recovery begins to shine realising it is simply your toe nails having grown so long that they are on the verge of needing minor surgery rather than a pedicure.
It is having to sell items of sentimental value as your period of full salary from work runs out whilst reminding yourself that health and family are what is important not jewellery.
It is, whilst in the depths of despair, seeing messages with scrabble tile fridge magnets written by your hubby to try and encourage you to wash or even brush your hair then a friend having to spend hours brushing the tangles through when you don’t manage that.
It is a head which is itchy and hair which looks wet as it is so unclean.
It is skin peeling off as you are so dehydrated due to forgetting to drink.
It is not realising you are even cold until your husband comes home and wraps a blanket around you and puts the fire on as you are a pretty shade of blue but are still sat in the same position he left you in earlier.
It is not remembering Christmas Day due to ECT treatments and knowing you can’t get those memories back.
It is finding the jar of coffee in the fridge.
It is four inch roots and natural nails when you are usually known for beautiful nail designs.
It is family and friends arranging a rota to be with you after treatments to enable you to stay at home and to be in touch throughout the day to prompt drinking and visits to the toilet.
Its questioning your faith even though in hindsight that same faith is exactly what brought you through when you felt like giving up.
It is putting every ounce of hope in each person I see taking me in their arms and holding me to put my brokenness back together. It never worked for more than one magical second but still craving it with each person I saw and I am the sort of person who hates feeling or appearing to feel needy when well.
It is being told that this new medication which is working well and has you believing in the future again means that despite reaching the top of the list at the fertility clinic you should give up on your hope for another baby.
It is watching the same programme again and not even realising until your husband points this out.
It is wanting to be able to read again as recovery progresses but still not being able to do this with a concentration of no more than 140 characters. Thank you twitter for reintroducing me to the real world.
It is being exhausted and tried of living but equally being terrified of dying.
It is having to exfoliate your entire body once feeling better and watching several layers of skin come away as it is months since you have showered properly, you have stood under the water because hubby told you to but not had the energy to wash.
It is over a year later still having to set a reminder on your phone for taking your medication each evening because you owe it to everyone including yourself to do everything possible to stay well.
It is having tremulous hands because the previous day at work you were so busy you forgot to drink enough and the wonder drug that is lithium also kicks in with its side effects.
It is feeling like you have to prove yourself a little bit more than your colleagues to show how well you are.
It is feeling heartbroken at the reminder when you see three magpies that to have a fighting chance of staying mentally well that nursery rhyme will never fulfill itself.
It is remembering to take days just to be still and remembering that life is not an emergency.
It is being kind to yourself about being a mental health nurse who became so poorly and remembering that an RMN who has ECT is no different to a midwife who gives birth.
For me the decent into the depths of depression and the climb out of this vast quarry is like needing an ear syringe, its gradual; you know you are not right but have no idea how deaf you have become until your ears are syringed. Recovery is as terrifying as the illness for me as looking back it took me months to accept just how ill I had been. I am blessed with a tremendous circle of friends and family around me and a faith which means I believe that God never wastes a hurt and that I will be able to use my experiences to the benefit of others in the years to come.
The examples above aren’t in any sort of order, certainly not chronological, some were early in my period of illness, some were in the depths and some were as I was moving on in my recovery. Some I remember and some I have been told by friends and family as I have a period of time missing from my memory whether from the depression or from the ECT, either way I am stood stronger than ever and so glad every day to be alive.