We need to talk about Collin*
I was recently talking to a friend about depression – we have both suffered with it off and on and they are one of the first people I go to when I’m ‘having a sad’. Talking to them made me think about my own history. I have always tried to be open about my mental health issues and in this spirit of openness, I’m going to talk about it again.
My depression first reared its head after the birth of my daughter. It wasn’t PND, but the shitty childhood I had had was suddenly back in my mind as something I was determined my girl wouldn’t suffer. In retrospect, I’d had depression for most of my life but in the 1960s, wee lassies (or adults for that matter) from working class backgrounds had to suck it up and get on with it or suffer in isolation. Depression was an indulgence for the middle and upper classes, for those who could take time off work if they couldn’t face life outside their beds. I know I’m generalising here and there will be many of you who disagree with me, whose experience is different from mine. Please feel free to share your own experiences. They are just as valid as mine, but this is my post and this was my life.
I was bullied when I was a wee girl. If you’re interested you can read about it here and here and here, but the details aren’t important. The result was that I felt small and useless and worthless and friendless and so terribly, terribly ugly. I was determined that my daughter would have a different childhood to mine and this brought all my experiences down from the attic and dumped them in my front room. I couldn’t avoid them.
Luckily, after a few bad experiences with mental health care in Glasgow, we moved to Aberdeenshire where I eventually got the talking therapy I needed and I managed to come to terms with my childhood and the feelings I had for my parents. I also got the best piece of advice I ever got from anyone. I spoke to my psychiatrist about feeling let down by people. She told me that in all likelihood, these people weren’t trying to upset me. They just had different – not better, just different – standards in what constituted acceptable behaviour. It was a light-bulb moment and has helped me immensely over the years to not take things personally.
So you’d think that I’d be all cured now, right? Ah, if only.
Several years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Life has become a never ending treadmill of pain, IBS, exhaustion and more pain and there have been times when I’ve questioned whether or not I could take another 30+ years of it all. Thankfully, I’m contrary enough (or Glaswegian enough) to be able to give myself a shake and shout ‘fuck you!’ to my stupid body. But it does effect me mentally and there are times when I can’t leave the house or answer the phone or talk to online friends. So it goes.
Long term depression has changed my brain chemistry, I believe, irrevocably. I am inclined to a depressive nature and am constantly alert to triggers I know will make me ill again. There are periods when I withdraw from social media because people are too upsetting; I rarely watch the news; hearing about cruelty hurts so much it becomes physical. I walk a thin line between wanting to make a difference and maintaining my mental health. I doubt I’ll ever be able to stop taking antidepressants and I’m OK with that. I’ll never be able to stop taking an antihistamine either so there’s no difference as far as I’m concerned.
One thing I will never, ever do is hide my depression or pretend that life is fine and dandy when I’m struggling. I abhor the stigma of mental illness and if my depression makes you uncomfortable then fuck you. This is me. This is my life. And know what? I think, all things considered, I’m doing OK.
If there is anyone out there struggling with their own depression, please seek help if you haven’t already done so. If it would help you to talk to someone who is removed from your day to day life, talk to me. If I can be of any help to anyone going through similar experiences then it makes my own shitty depression worth something. You aren’t going through this alone, even though it seems that way at times.
*I’ve decided to call my depression Collin. Makes him less awful to me.