Check phone. Again. Nope, he still hasn't texted. Heart lurches, stomach flips and brain tries desperately to recall That Nice Thing He Said which means that He Definitely Will Text. It's tough being an optimist, but my soul won't have it any other way. I appreciate how beautiful and precious life is and I walk around saying thank you for things (in my head...mostly), whether it be an amazing busker at a tube station or an immense catch-up-over-curry with a close friend. And in the romance department, my heart's already tangoing up to cloud nine with a complete disregard for the likelihood of it plummeting to earth at any moment.
As an optimist, I sympathised with depression and I respected its seriousness. But as an optimist, I was immune - right?
In June 2014, I embarked on a journey. To hell. I am thankful every day that I found my way back. At my lowest, the first thing I would do on waking in the morning would be to google 'painless suicide methods'. And my optimistic, life-loving soul was powerless to help, because it had been hijacked by an evil force that took its place in the driving seat of my every thought: depression.
My happy, hopeful self was replaced by a version that was hollowed-out. No one is immune from depression. Not even hopelessly romantic optimists (*waves frantically*). I spent six months dragging myself through the unbearably long days, pasting on the closest thing to a smile that I could remember.
I couldn't even remember the person I'd been for 27 years and I came to an undeniable conclusion: I was just, shit. I couldn't have fun because I was boring, I couldn't hold a conversation because I had nothing interesting to say, and I couldn't be a decent friend because I was selfish. And actually, while I was depressed, I was. I couldn't keep up with important events in friends' lives, I forgot what they'd said, and I forgot the name of the bloke they were dating (though in the case of friends with a dating history on a par with my own, this last one was perhaps justified).
I took various steps to overcome depression, most of which felt utterly futile at the time. But gradually, at a barely perceptible speed, I managed to wrench my soul from depression's clutches. It was a feeling of euphoric relief once I realised that I was free.
When depression stole my ability to support and cherish the people I loved, I lost a fundamental part of who I was. It wasn't my fault, but due to its lying, twisted nature, depression told me it was. But there was something else helping to perpetuate that blame: stigma.
Even once I'd recovered, I could barely say the word "depression". It didn't come out right; I'd stutter, trip over it, and then rush it out in a low mumble. For someone who'd happily spill my heart to the old lady at the bus stop (can you tell?), it felt wrong that most of my friends and family knew nothing of what I'd been feeling for six months.
So one evening on the train home from work, I began to write.
As feelings and words that I'd never spoken came out of hiding, hesitantly and then frantically scrambling to the page, I realised that being vocal about my experience could go further than my family and friends. I'd felt useless and guilty when I was depressed, but more than anything, I'd felt alone. It's not like people routinely post on Facebook that they're suffering from anxiety or "feeling a bit suicidal today". I felt a responsibility to stand alongside fellow sufferers and challenge the damaging idea that depression is something to be ashamed of. So I thought, "Sod it, someone's got to do this".
I posted my soul-baring article to Facebook with a racing heart, churning stomach and sweaty palms.
Nervously, I awaited the responses from the people in my life who would soon find out that I'd not long ago considered suicide a sensible option. The expected shocked calls and messages arrived, but they were also heartwarming; full of respect, support and love.
But next, it was my turn to be shocked: I'd gone further beyond my family and friends than I ever dreamed. In a few weeks, the article had been viewed by more than 8,000 people. I received hundreds of messages of thanks and support from colleagues, ex-boyfriends, friends' ex-boyfriends and complete strangers. Many people told me that the article had given them hope, and others said that they finally understood what a friend or loved one had been through. Some said that it had given them courage to speak out themselves and not feel ashamed.
"You sharing your experience of depression saved me from it."
"I wept when I read your piece...I felt like I could finally forgive myself."
"I will keep fighting harder now that I know there's light."
This response, from a friend's ex, is still my favourite:
"I had been hearing a lot about depression but it never sat right in my small brain. I can't explain how but I'm a different person to who I was 45 minutes ago (I'm a slow reader). Thank you for changing my thoughts on this bastard illness completely."
The most powerful weapon we have against depression is talking: dragging it out into the open where it can't hide and secretly torment, but can be seen for the ugly beast that it is. If we continue to perpetuate shame, those suffering will continue to hide how they're feeling, and there will be no one to challenge depression's voice telling them that they're just, shit.
We must keep talking and challenging stigma. There are people in our lives depending on it, and we probably don't know who they are.
This post refers to and contains extracts from "My journey to hell: How depression hijacked my soul, and how I finally wrenched it back" from my blog wolveswitandwisdom.com.Suggest a correction