I’m talking about depression.
Depression. That word sends a million and one thoughts and feelings coursing through me when I type it out and read it. Thoughts and feelings like:
Shame is the biggest one, right now, for me. And ‘abnormality’. Maybe if this blog was anonymous I wouldn’t be questioning whether or not I actually write this up. To be honest with you, I am afraid to write about it. Because I’m afraid of how it might make me feel. And I’m afraid of how everyone reading this will perceive it.
I once mentioned that ‘clinical depression’ has been a part of my life. It feels so strange to say that. I want to whisper it to you with my eyes closed, so that I can’t see your reaction. We’re all just people, right? There are things about each of us that others wouldn’t ever understand. But I feel like if I open up to someone and say that I’m on medication, it gives me this automatic stigma and means every ‘normal’ person will want to back away slowly. But for goodness sake, we are all people. And the real, shameful dark truth is that, for me, on the inside it sometimes feels like a struggle to maintain a state of happiness – or to even just not feel like I’m going to break down, wide-eyed with tears dripping down my face.
Look, I’m a scientist (here we go, trying to rationalise things). I have studied a wide range of biology topics, chemicals in the brain and neurological function being some of them. I understand that this horrid darkness isn’t my fault. When I came to know and accept that, I felt so relieved. It took a lot of pressure off. It meant I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I wasn’t failing at life – it meant I could accept things, and just go forward doing what I could to work on it. For me, working on it meant trying therapy first (and we’re talking a good decade ago) – but when I realised I wasn’t really structuring action plans for myself, and the sessions weren’t helping a great deal, I decided to change tactic. Three things really impact my quality of life; friends and family, a comfortable living environment, and work conditions. I have always had a wonderful group of close, select family and friends, so that is one huge blessing that I have always been able to count on. As to living arrangements, well, when I started flatting it wasn’t so good for me, so I changed things. Now I live out in the country in a self-contained little place that is absolutely peaceful, free and relaxing (not to mention surrounded by animals). And I am finally in a job I enjoy, one that doesn’t leave me feeling mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day. My employer allows me to trek off overseas for my passionate volunteer excursions, they support me furthering my education, and I can see a career with them. So getting these three things lined up together has done a great deal for my quality of life.
For me, depression has never been about self-worth. I look at the person I am, and I adore her. I adore this slightly nutty, wild-hearted, free-spirited tangle of brunette hair and long limbs who is full of passion and constantly dreaming about the next adventure. My warm heart and ability to see things through feeling and compassionate eyes are possibly the features I am most proud of in myself. So no, self worth isn’t the issue for me anymore. I think one main ingredient in the bubbling-hot concoction of my personal depression is how others perceive me. Or how I believe others perceive me. And what I believe is based on how these people treat me.
I was a late bloomer. In school I didn’t get asked on dates like my friends. Nobody wanted to dance with me at socials. People wouldn’t invite me to parties because they thought I would be boring. I was this skinny shell of a girl, a meek, quiet thing who was usually too shy to raise her hand in class to ask a question. I remember vowing to myself that if, by some incredible miracle, a boy ever wanted to go out with me, I had best marry that man! Luckily I changed my mind.
The first guy I felt seriously about completely changed me. When it comes to matters of the heart I utterly dedicate myself. So when we got together, I dedicated myself without a second thought. It was scary, and terrifying, but wonderful at the same time – this whole, new, ‘relationship’ thing. Having someone to go to the movies with. To text randomly throughout the day. To hold hands with. To chat on the phone with in between study and dinner. And I didn’t think about it going badly. I mean, it happened to other people, but they weren’t me, and they didn’t have this special thing I had. It was real. In my mind, life was set. I mean, I was this nice, smiley, free-spirited young thing who would drop anything if I was told I was needed by this person – there was no reason for him to do me wrong. I didn’t enjoy the company of my family or friends as much, but that’s okay, because I was in a proper, grown-up relationship that was important to me and not seeing friends much was just a normal side effect, right?
I didn’t realise that over time I was being manipulated. It is hard to remember, because I realise now that I blocked a lot of it out. The manipulation – the abuse – started out as mental. Emotional. Soon it incorporated verbal violence. Then it came to objects flying across the room. The neighbours banging on the door to ask what the hell was going on. Threats. The flatmates hiding themselves from it, leaving me to fend for myself. Being held down, helpless.
I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell my friends. I thought that it was normal. I believed, by this point, that I deserved it all. I was a crazy, ugly, inadequate, worthless girl. Nobody else would put up with me. I was lucky. I needed to stop complaining, I needed to stop being so difficult and selfish. And unbelievably, when he said he didn’t want me anymore, I was destroyed. I didn’t eat, so I lost weight that I couldn’t afford to lose. I couldn’t sleep. I remember lying on the roof at night in the rain in nothing but pyjamas, in winter, hoping I would die there. I cried all the time. That’s all I really remember.
Eventually, you begin to process things. I finally realised that abuse wasn’t normal, and I tried to convince myself I didn’t deserve it (even though I did believe that I was an ugly, crazy, difficult girl – this had been utterly drilled into me, and it took a bloody long time for me to see differently). And teenage Samsam just could not comprehend the fact that someone was capable of doing that sort of thing. Honest question – how is it possible that a person can do that to someone they apparently ‘love’? Teenage Samsam would have understood it more if she had been a nasty, mean, equally manipulative and abusive person – but that just wasn’t the way things were. She was a quiet, shy girl, not demanding or material-item obsessed. She wasn’t a bully, nor did she take pleasure in seeing others suffer even in the slightest. One of the hardest things to deal with was the fact that she had to go on living without having any of her questions answered. Without any honesty or truth. No closure, no satisfaction. Always wondering, ‘why?’
Anxiety secured itself firmly after that. A loud voice. A raised hand. Someone punching another person on TV. Boys in fast cars heckling me as they drove past. People yelling at each other. Anyone touching my neck. These sorts of things would cue the onset of a panic attack. Sometimes to the point where I would black out. Soon I realised I couldn’t go outside my room without feeling anxiety. And when I was inside my room, well, I was surrounded by a black cloud, suffocated, and terrified that I was going to break down. Depression had been in my life before that, but that whole experience built on it. Now I was just terrified of everyone. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have to disagree. Someone may physically survive a particular event, but never properly recover. Even as I think back to that time, nearly ten years ago, my little heart is racing, and my chest is constricted. And again I wonder: who the hell has the right to treat another person like that?
I managed to restrain the anxiety. But the depression itself was always evident. A usual day for me would mean waking up, trying not to think too much; trying not to let that dark cloud settle. I would go to Uni, or work, and feel inadequate in the eyes of others, but I would try to ignore it. Coming home I would continue to try and ignore the pressing darkness. It was like there was a rotten, sagging ceiling over my head that threatened to crash down on me at any moment, and suffocate me in that blackness. A normal day for me would mean just trying to carry on without being crushed. Because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get up again if that rotten ceiling did finally cave in on me.
A few years ago I hit a very sudden, unexpected low point. Something that would usually be viewed as trivial affected me so much, so strongly, that I found myself pulled over in my car with a knife to one wrist. It was the first time I had even gotten close to physically harming myself that way, and I was terrified because I couldn’t actually remember getting that knife out. It happened so damn fast. I knew I needed more help.
Thus, the meds started. From what I hear about other peoples’ experiences with medication, I was lucky. I didn’t turn into a monster. I didn’t have horrible dreams, or feel unbalanced emotionally. Over time they made me feel, well, nothing – I just realised I felt like myself again. Occasionally that dark cloud would come back. Occasionally I’d feel lonely, or low. Every now and then a certain experience would bring me back down, despite medication, despite the wonderful support system I now realised I had, despite the tricks you learn to change your thought patterns and keep you from giving in to dark suffocation. But I can say that I’m still proud of my achievements; proud of my passions and the way that despite being hurt I haven’t gone on to become another abusive individual who takes their pain out on others. I was making plans and living life, and it was good. I could see that it was good.
I was spurred on to write this post a couple of weeks ago. My blog was designed to be a record of adventures, the worlds I thrust myself into in the name of “doing something good”. I’m damn passionate about conservation, the environment and animal rights – but lately I’ve also become more expressive about how I feel in regards to the ways people treat each other. I have always believed in honesty, compassion, treating others the way you want to be treated, etc. etc. I realise that I am still extremely naive. Innocence is very rare in our society nowadays, and I never used to see it as a weakness, but as something that others should nurture and cherish. In the perfect world innocence and trust would be positive qualities, but I’m sure we can all agree that this is not a perfect world, and in our society naivety and trust are excessively exploited.
Recently I put my trust in someone that I shouldn’t have. I was probably told a hundred and one times not to trust this person. And I didn’t at first. But I have this ridiculous, fatal flaw where I strive to see the best in anyone – absolutely anyone – close to me. Still, I was very vocal about the fact that I had no room in my life for lies, mind games, dishonesty, or anything but being honest and truthful. I was clear and concise in my beliefs, and I lived the way I talked – meaning I didn’t say one thing and then do another. And this person told me, non-stop, about how these qualities of mine were so good – and not just these qualities, but my passionate wanderlust, my spontaneity, my ridiculous sense of humour, my childish silliness… aspects of myself that I thought would be difficult to warm to. I remember thinking, ‘Wow. This person – this genuine person – sees me as I am, and actually admires the parts of me that I love the most.’ And slowly, I began to trust. You might say that I was groomed – over months of being told “you are safe,” “you can be vulnerable with me,” I began to believe it.
When you live with fear of being exploited by other people, it can be a challenge to let someone in. It feels as though you are standing on the edge of anxiety’s cliff, atop a mass of waves that threaten to suck you in and drown you if you fall (by making the wrong decision). And you expect to be pushed by anyone in your near vicinity, so you stand there with your walls up, pretending you can’t see the black waves below you; pretending that you’re okay and everything is fine.
Now, when you are standing there on the edge of the cliff, trying not to freak out and pretending everything is fine, and someone gently takes the time to come over to you, put out their hand, look into your eyes and tell you it’s alright to come away from the cliff; that they aren’t going to push you, that you are safe… It’s like suddenly being wrapped up in a heavenly warm, beautiful blanket of protection, and you are led away from that cliff in safe arms and taken to a place where you can see the sunlight, and smile. And relax. It’s like being able to breathe after years of being strangled.
So, imagine what it’s like, after months of being told you are safe to trust, safe to let your walls down, safe to be vulnerable – and then suddenly and violently be pushed off that f**king cliff.
That’s how it felt. I knew I had been pushed, but I didn’t even feel myself fall. I told you what bearable days are like, when I would ‘fake it to make it’ in order to keep that rotten ceiling from caving in. Well, let me tell you, this time a few weeks ago that ceiling fell on me. It crushed me. It flattened me, pushed me all the way down to the bottom of that dark, raging sea. And I couldn’t get up. I don’t know if I would have gotten up if someone hadn’t intervened and picked me up off my bedroom floor.
So, once again I am left sitting here wondering. Asking myself “Why?” It could be a lover, a brother, a father, a mother, a best friend, an employer, a teacher, an idol – anyone you respect and put your trust in… To have it broken can be devastating. It can disrupt your world, and make you forget what is truly important. It is hard being faced with these feelings. Right now that darkness is clawing at my stomach, tightening the knot I’ve had in there for weeks. Slowly, slowly (because it always takes time with me) I know I will build myself up again. I’ll get out of the water and claw my way up the side of that cliff. But this is me telling you that I am terrified of that journey. I have made that climb before, and it takes a lot to clamber up the side of that cliff – especially when you know you may reach the top only to be pushed again, or to fall on the way. But talking helps. People who genuinely listen help. People who will sit with you in silence if need be because they care help. So anyone out there who is going through something that may feel unbearable – talk about it (even blab to me, I’m always up for hearing from those I have things in common with). It’s not forever. It may feel like it will be forever, but it’s not. And don’t forget what is really important in life. I give myself moments (in this case, weeks) to feel what I need to feel, but don’t abandon your passions, or the parts of your life that deserve your attention. Remembering that you care about something can be a great motivator. Right now I have two little tortoiseshell cats curled up on my lap – these fragile bundles of innocence help me remember that despite the horrid, nasty things that happen out there, the world is also full of goodness. Choose to be a part of that goodness.
One thing you can do straight away is make the conscious decision to not be one of those people who carry the cycle of pain out. “Hurt people hurt people.” Being hurt yourself does not give you the right to then go and hurt someone else. Shut that cycle down. Concentrate on yourself. Concentrate on peace, positivity, passion. Do things that make you smile. Watch a stupid movie. Congratulate yourself on little victories, like realising you’re laughing, or getting through another hour. Let others take care of you, you aren’t alone.
So as much as I would like justice, and closure, I have to shake that loose (not easy to do when there are SO many things I’d like to say…!) I have to forgive myself for tripping up and getting pushed again. I have to stop calling myself ‘fool’, and instead call myself ‘wonderful’, ‘caring’, ‘deserving of good things.’ So, over the next few posts as we gear up to another trip to those howling wolves countless miles away, I’ll probably show you a few things I’ve been getting involved with that make me smile.
If you’ve read through this essay, you get a huge high five for bearing with it!
Original image captured by Creative Photography Ltd