I made this image a while ago in an attempt to describe visually what depression feels like. It was done from ‘memory’, some stages away from the depths of true despair (for if I were there, I would not have been able to work at all), the title indicative that if I can only summon up sufficient energy and courage to take another breath, I can keep going.
Some may think that this is self-indulgent, but for me it is cathartic and therefore moderately therapeutic, as is what follows.
I am emerging from another Worst Week of my Life. ‘Another’ because I have been almost catatonic with depression on a few occasions before now, since the age of eighteen, and am therefore no stranger to what Winston Churchill referred to as ‘The Black Dog’. It always starts with a vague sense of unease, that something isn’t quite right yet it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly what that is, and I like to think that I hide it well but those closest to me may tell another story. The worse it gets the harder it is to cover it up with a grin and a casual remark, yet still I persist in trying, only to feel empty and exhausted after the event but always trying to push away the growing sensation of fear that something is very wrong. This has been going on for the best part of a year now.
I start to avoid people. I am barely working so this is not hard. Sometimes I don’t set foot outside the house for days. Communication: such an effort. I find it hard to write, very hard to speak, impossible to concentrate as my mind dances with thoughts veering crazily from one subject to another in a matter of seconds. I don’t want to interact online. I don’t want to read about photography, to do photography, to work on photographs on the computer. I have zero talent anyway so what’s the point? I know then that this is serious – if I don’t want to do the things that I love and am thinking like this, then this is not just a ‘low patch’ that I can get through on my own, it is something bigger than me, bigger than the world, bigger than the whole planet, and I am being sucked inexorably in, always in and never able to get out.
Eventually something has to give and suddenly I am in freefall, hurtling through the darkness to the bottom of the pit. I have very bad thoughts. The pain is intense, unrelenting, I can’t bear to be inside my own head, my own body. In a futile attempt to release all of this I scream and howl, hit my head on the wall, hard, maybe ten times over, which makes my nose bleed and terrifies my poor cat. And then I am so sorry. I go to bed and cuddle up with my cat, head in shock, feeling as if someone is pulling my hair really tight and twisting. I am frightened, wonder if I have done something really bad to myself this time – I’ve done this before but my nose has never bled like that. Eventually I sleep and I continue to sleep throughout the next day and the night and the morning of the following day. On that afternoon I see my doctor. She says I have concussion but other than that I’ll be fine. I tell her that I have been taking the anti-depressants she prescribed last time for two weeks now, and she says I need to give them longer to start working, the average being two to six weeks. She signs me off work for two months, refers me for counselling at the surgery, gently tells me I just need to wait for the pills to start taking effect and sends me on my way, there’s nothing more she can do.
I sleep a lot for the remainder of the week. As the anti-depressants really take a hold of my body the side-effects become more pronounced: nausea, churning stomach, light-headedness, tiredness and disturbed sleep. I have a persistent headache. I am exhausted and want to sleep but lie awake until two or three in the morning, mind pirouetting in a jig, tossing and turning, hot and cold, unable to switch off. When I wake in the morning the emptiness is there. I lie there staring at the wall and am literally unable to move under the huge waves of hopelessness. “Get up get up get up get up get up get up getup getup getup getup getup getupgetupgetupgetupgetupgetupgetupgetugetup” my mind torments me, but I can’t.
Friday: I wake up and I know immediately that I feel marginally better. It is almost imperceptible but it is undoubtedly there. It is like the lifting of a shutter. Physically I feel appalling: sick, headache, no appetite, but mentally I at least feel that I can get out of bed and face the day. I know as I write this that I still have some considerable way to go, but it is a small victory.
There is now more here on my separate blog Black Dog Journals