Depression crept into me when I was very young. I can't recall the first time I could identify the sadness, but I remember frequent episodes where I would float out of my body and not recognise myself. I've always felt like two people. My therapist says I have a warrior and a demon fighting inside me. Actually, she didn't say that. She deflected me with the question "What do you think?", as is her way, and I grandly described the daily battle in my head. Demon is for the days when I would feel so desolate I would look at an oncoming train in rush hour and muse that jumping in front might actually be less stressful than squeezing on, where I would feel my skin crawl at the shame of interacting awkwardly with strangers who were pressed against me. And warrior, because very occasionally, on my good days, with words and not punches, I could be Buffy. Gangly, weird Jewish Buffy.
I grew my demons in the nineties, where depression was not the buzzword it is today (so buzzy in fact, that it's got several Buzzfeed lists. That's when you know it's of the zeitgeist.). When I was at school, the only acceptably cool affliction was one of the eating disorders. I never liked to be like everyone else, so I pioneered self harm - far less cool but it left room for eating several packets of biscuits in one go if I'd had a terrible day. I know that sounds flippant, but before I gained the knowledge that I didn't have to feel the way I felt, that there was medication out there for me, I was looking for ways to feel better. And I always found comfort in food.
For the best part of 20 years I've lived wading through, and mired in, intermittent sadness. It was triggered by the usual things; pressures of school, misfittery, awkwardness, otherness, and it's subsequent bullying and just not being at all cool. But as an adult, the triggers disappeared and it took on a life of its own. When I'm asked to write about the subject, I tend to lean towards jokes simply because describing depression, (which in my case, is a chemical imbalance that is now righted to a huge degree by antidepressants) is so incredibly personal. And though I am happy to tell very personal stories about it on stage, the no-punchline reality makes me cringe. It makes me cringe because I was inadvertently raised to believe that depression is a luxury disease, something you have to 'just get over'. And maybe that's correct for some. But the feelings are real. The guilt about having the feelings is real. The all-consuming despair is real. Blowing everything out of proportion and not knowing you're doing it, until you've destroyed every situation because you can't find a way back to reason. The constant crying for weeks. The regret at the time you're wasting because nothing is really wrong if you take away the dread and despair that seems to coat your insides. The multiple personalities you develop to please friends and family who can't handle you at your worst. And then it stops. And I'm okay. And I'm okay for a while. And I don't need pills. "I'm fine." I would tell people. " I'm okay. Pills aren't for me. I've never fancied them. I always pull out of it."
One evening after not having pulled out of it for many months, I tried to buy a half bottle of wine. I've got a huge fear of those half bottles of wine. You know those tampon ads from the eighties where the girl would go to the checkout, and the insensitive lad behind the till would yell "How much are these extra wide jumbo tampons?" across the shop (and then the advert would rather obnoxiously show how discreet their own tampons were. And any normal girl who usually buys the bigger ones suddenly knows in her heart that she has a fat vagina). Well, mini bottles of wine are my jumbo tampons. I have this huge fear that the insensitive checkout boy will yell "Dinner for one?". I have a fear of that because it actually happened once, and I wanted to yell "They are the perfect size when you know your limits and have enough confidence to not need other people around to validate your drinking!" but instead I probably (definitely) cried.
I tried to buy the half bottle of wine because throughout my life, I have had a compulsion to do the occasional something that scares me, something to break through the prison walls of depression. It's often something dangerous, that could put me in harm's way, or it's something reckless that won't end well, or it's something emotionally difficult, like the wine. The most scary thing of them all was the idea of getting medication, which is why I wouldn't do it. I think it was easier to just accept the misery than take the risk of taking pills and have to a) navigate a brand new state of being or worse, b) realise the drugs don't work, and I am beyond hope for anything other than this feeling, forever.
I was forced to confront that final fear when I publicly melted down in a supermarket, after a 17-year-old checkout girl asked me for ID to buy a half bottle of wine. It's hazy what happened next, though I believe I yelled the phrase "I need the alcohol more than the compliment!" at her. After I was removed (yes - removed! And not in a fun way like the time I got an Asbo on the bus), sobbing, from the establishment, I went straight to the doctor, and straight onto pills. Which is the end of one story and the start of a new one. I'm not sure how it ends. But I haven't cried since it started.
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