I pride myself on my logic, people perception and emotional intelligence. However, I would describe my mind as a gas boiled kettle.
It’s made of strong stuff, can take a hit every now and then, and is very good at containing the inside boiling water. When the heat is on and the pressure builds some escapes as steam, however, the water keeps boiling away inside. It just boils and boils, never spilling its contents, just letting out steam. If the kettle is taken off the hob and moved away it quickly cools down inside and the steam stops, the water stops boiling and returns to calm.
The more times the kettle gets knocked around and the more it gets put on the hob the more I worry the kettle will break. If the kettle breaks I am scared of what will happen to the contents. Will the boiling water explode out and burn someone or will it implode and only scald itself? I would describe my mind as sturdy but fragile. If I were to break I’m not sure I could be put back together again.” That was an entry made into a mood diary I kept whilst going through counselling for depression.
A number of reports conclude that half of young gay people (aged 16 – 25) have experienced some form of mental health issue, with a shocking 40% having contemplated suicide. The main one being depression.
I want to share my own experiences of living with depression, some of you may relate, others may be intrigued.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 18 and in my first year of university in London. It is incredibly hard to describe how you feel when the depression hits. For me it is something that I haven’t been able to control. Just imagine not being able to control when you are happy or when you are sad, scary thought isn’t it? It descends on my mind like a grey mist, clouding my state of mind. I haven’t yet found the trigger that causes it. I imagine it is more than one. It can be triggered at any point by the smallest thing such as a song or a scene in a movie. The mood swings have been incredibly extreme, I could be fine one minute but then the mist descends and my mood can plummet. Writing this now I can feel my mood lowering. I can feel a strong sense of inner sadness, for no reason other than I am writing about my depression and to do that I am having to analyse myself and try and put into words what I can go through.
When the mind is clouded over there is a sense of loneliness. You may have heard people say “I could be in a crowded room and still feel totally alone”. This is a good way of explaining it. It may make no sense to you, but it just feels so isolating. If my mood plummets low enough I get the urge, the need to just be alone, just shut myself away and not talk to anyone but at the same time wanting company, wanting a hug. It is a confusing mindset filled with contradictions.
For a year after my diagnosis I chose not to take any medication. I had heard stories of people taking meds and being a ‘shell of themselves’. I wanted to still be me but beat this thing. I used the university campus counselling service. I took time to open up to people and counselling is no easy ride. To sit and think and talk through what you do, why you do it and feelings is not easy, not in the slightest. We had dug up some feelings, reopened wounds making it all become raw emotions again. My time at university in London didn’t improve. I found it to be incredibly isolating and not the student experience I had hoped for. So I was lucky enough to get a transfer to a Uni in Newcastle. Starting again in first year, but I didn’t care, I was finally getting out with a fresh start.
In March of my first academic year, I was stuck in a rut. Just walking around in this depressed, deflated state. I was getting little enjoyment out of life. I had become that shell of a person, the thing I wanted to avoid by not taking meds. So I made an appointment with my GP to talk through my options. I was put on 1 tablet a day of fluoxetine (or Prozac). This number has increased over the years. I’m now 24 (I started taking meds at 19) and am on 3 fluoxetine and 1 Mirtazapine. It is not a quick fix by any means. If we compare to other physical injuries. In this space of time I have fractured my knee which took 7 months to recover from, torn the ligaments in my ankle which took 3 months to recover from yet I am still suffering from depression. Being on meds helps me keep level. It doesn’t make me over happy though. If I liken it to swimming, without the meds I feel I am drowning and struggling for air. On the meds I can float on the top of the water. Occasionally dipping under the water but I can see the surface.
Listening to others talking about their experiences gives me a mixture of hope and understanding. When Stephen Fry spoke of his recent overdose one thing struck me, he mentioned that it was irrational and you can’t reason with the thought because if you could you could reason someone out of it. At my darkest moments I can say I am lucky to never have contemplated suicide, and I put that down to the fact that I can reason with myself. I have had the urge to be hurt, but not by myself, an abnormal urge to be hit by a car whilst walking home. I can’t really explain why, I can only think it has something to do with an injury that could be fixed. I never act on it.
I have a rogue inner voice, the inner voice being what you are probably hearing whilst reading this in your head. On a low day my inner voice splits in two and they have a fight. Imagine yourself in front of a mirror. Now imagine your reflection shouting out “You’re a worthless piece of sh*t,” imagine yourself answering back to that. The reflection then shouts some more obscenities at you to try and beat you into giving up, (because it is all your voice. It is not someone else’s voice telling you how useless you are). This mountain of uncontrollable self-abuse feels like it is resting on my head and is crushing me.
The part of the brain I can control is trying to fight off the abuse but it gets smaller and smaller surrounded by the other part of my thoughts which are so filled with hate, but it is still there, it is still able to reason, to answer back no matter how dark it gets. I have a fear that one day the mountain will be too much for the part of the brain I can control and that tiny part that continually fights back and acts as a buffer will one day lose and be consumed by the anger and hatred. This is where I think the ability to reason would disappear and that is a scary thought.
So how do I deal with all this? Well with regards to the rogue inner voice I try and keep it distracted. If I’m walking to work or around town I will not allow my mind to wander too much. I have my iPod on and the use of music keeps the rogue part of my inner voice quiet. I sleep with my iPod on, which allows me to stop the thoughts whilst I try to sleep, a problem I have been plagued with since childhood. I avoid mundane tasks. Working in a supermarket on the tills for long time periods was hell as my mind wasn’t challenged enough and so the rogue inner voice had the freedom it craved to overrun. I used to come home from a shift and watch a documentary, something to get my mind active.
I love to make people laugh. It’s addictive. I am not surprised in the slightest to find out that some of my favourite comedians suffer(ed) with depression. I find watching a stand up DVD and having a laugh a good escape from the battles inside my head. The one thing I hear the most when someone finds out I have depression is “oh well you seem happy to me.” I suppose this is why there is an element of denial about depression. How can comedians be depressed when they are so often laughing? It’s been put to me that if I can laugh I can’t be depressed. How wrong one person can be.
There’s an insight into my confused mind. It can be rough and there isn’t a quick fix, but I can say that the depression has made me the analytical, quick witted and switched on person I am today. It is a struggle, one that I have lived with for years, but every cloud of grey mist can have a silver lining if you take time to look hard enough.