I have experienced bouts of depression since I was 13. The most astonishing thing for me, in others reception of this, is not that they react with pity, embarrassment or judgement. These three are often associated with the coming out of the closet as it were with depression. The one reaction that I have received repeatedly has been denial.
This is a strange habit, that I haven't been alone in coming across and is a response that stems from depression sufferers just as often as the depression free. As a teenager, getting to grips with a very complex mental illness, I was consistently told it was adolescent hormones. I knew it was something different because of the patterns. It didn't come on a day to day basis, but periodically, at almost the same points each year, lasting for just over two months, coming on and slipping away in distinctly perceptible phases. This denial was something that really exasperated me growing up, but something that I believe originates, especially where parents are concerned, from a desire not to put it in a separate box that hangs, bogey man like, over day to day life. If it is written off as something less medical, and denied the official terminology, it's just a confusing feeling that will go away. When I realised that what I was feeling was depression, that it was a specific 'thing' and was something that could be delved into and explained, I actually felt better about it, not worse. It became something manageable after years of just putting it down to inexplicable and contradictory feelings that might one day decamp.
Since acknowledging that the very dismal phases I encounter are the effects of depression, I have noticed that the people trying to tell me I have it all wrongly labeled, fall into these two brackets. I have to admit, I have been guilty of the first. That of people who also suffer from depression, so refuse to accept that you might feel the same. Depression is such a solipsistic illness that the cliched 'you don't understand me' we have all been caught shouting at a spouse, parent or friend whilst in the depths of a black hole holds less gravity if you accept that you share your confused head space with an estimated quarter of the population. Something that I have grown out of the older I have got is a destructive pleasure in how I feel. As a teenager I revelled in it, and felt oddly proud that I was able to feel to such extremes. I managed to shake this off in my early twenties with the awareness that I was acting like a twat and needed to pull myself together. Whilst this hasn't removed the base feelings, it has definitely made them more manageable. I now respect my mind as something that is equally valuable when fill to bursting with endorphins as when it's writing at 2am in a moody funk. But people tend to want a slice of it to themselves. In my first year at art college I naively told my tutor that my work was about depression. As a woman who enjoyed announcing to the class how many valium she had taken that morning, she snapped at me that I should be more careful about claiming I experienced depression, and that many people thought they had it who didn't. I indignantly relayed this story to a friend, who told me I had too good a life to have depression and laughed it off.
This brings me to the second half. People who have never experienced it, so write you off as being melodramatic and self pitying (I just looked up 'self pity' in google and the first suggestion was 'self pity and depression'). I know numerous people who have experienced this with their GP. Upon going to find help, they have been told it's not a 'real' illness. One friend was told by her doctor;
"Look at you, you're gorgeous, what could you have to be depressed about?"
I understand that if it is something that has never personally come up, it is hard to relate to someone who thinks their life is unravelling a week after you saw them dancing around with sunshine on their heels. For parents and partners with a more rational control on their feelings, trying to relate to something so inconsistent and intangible must be bewildering.
But here is where the attitude should change. We should be educated at a much earlier age. I don't think I heard the term depression at school, ever, and whilst sex education and physical issues are addressed, mental health is rarely ever discussed throughout these formative years. It becomes a bogus subject that is associated with very extreme cases. As a sustained, physically natural and very common illness, it is barely touched on. I wouldn't say I ever felt a shyness in talking about it, but I have definitely always felt an embarrassment that I'll be shot down. For anyone who has experienced it, you should be able to allow another to feel it, and allow them to talk about it rather than dealing in one-up-man-ship. For those that haven't, the taboo of the word as something self gratifying needs to be broken. The big news is, loads of us have it. It's horrible, it's confusing, and despite these personal denials, we are in recent years being given figures showing quite how many people live with it. We are neither special nor miserablists for having it, we simply have it, and you don't necessarily show public, outward signs or have a string of suicide attempts behind you to still suffer. It would be a huge help, if we all offered a hand out to those who are bold enough to open up and ask for it.
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