If depression were a word cloud, it would be made up of a few words, repeated again and again. Because depression shrinks your world, narrowing the focus of your life down to a few, miserable feelings. No matter how vibrant and complex someone’s normal personality, depression takes that personality and compresses it, squeezes most of the life out of it. I’ve only been back in the land of depression for just over a week, yet it feels like all that’s left of me is this same old cloud of feelings.
Trapped. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that it takes no longer than a single day of low mood to have me totally back in the cupboard. After over a quarter of a century of practice in being depressed, my mind has some kind of mental shortcut – like a shortcut on a desktop – that takes me right into depression mode. Although my partner reassures me that it’s not the same this time, that I am older and wiser, have better coping skills now and a functioning recovery plan, it feels the same. The same as it did two years ago, 14 years ago, 20, 25. And once I’m trapped in the cupboard time loses meaning; going through another day depressed is as terrifying a proposition as going through another year, and I can’t see any way out.
Hollow. Empty on the inside. Missing all the interests, the drivers, the energy that keeps me writing, connecting, going out, trying new things. I can’t handle new and I can’t handle different. It’s a struggle enough to cope with the familiar; even that quickly separates out good familiar (comforting, safe spaces, safe people) and bad familiar (anything reminiscent of past depression, anything anxiety-provoking).
Bored. Things that ought to be entertaining are just too much mental effort to get into. I can’t focus. I can’t learn the basic rules of a casual video game. I go to a web page only to sit staring at the screen with no idea of my original intention in clicking the link. My eyes run over the same pieces of text.
Frightened. “Only boring people get bored!” my mother used to tell me as a kid, and now I fear she’s right. I fear than in my depression I am both bored and boring. Capable only of chalking up such splendid achievements as doing a little washing up, I know I can’t be fun to be around. So I begin to fear that my partner, my children, my friends – no-one will want to be around me. Especially as this depression goes on and on, as I fear it will. I have already started to think that I will never get back to work, that the plans I have made to get back into the workplace will just fall by the wayside and disintegrate.
Lonely. I feel cut off, shut off in my flat while my partner’s at work. Outside the front window, life goes on. Dogs are left tied up outside the Co-op to yap or whine. Preschoolers zip up and down on scooters. Acquaintances bump into each other near the flower shop, ask after partners, chat about how work is going. I could go down and be among them, but there’s a snag: despite my loneliness, I am frightened of people. Down at pavement level, I would be terrified that somebody would speak to me, that I would be expected to reply. My phone has rung twice this morning and both times I have watched in terror, panic building in my chest, my breath becoming rapid and shallow, trying to pull myself back from a full on panic attack. It doesn’t really matter who it is. Even if it’s someone I know and love, right now I’m just not capable of engaging in that obvious conversational opener, “How are you?”
Tired. I woke up at 11am this morning, having gone to bed around midnight. I was in bed so long that my back started to hurt, but even that only pulled my close to consciousness rather than all the way there. I dragged myself to a standing position, went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror. There’s been a change, even in a week. My skin seems sallow, and there are grey bags underneath my eyes. I don’t look as alive as I did a month ago. Since 3pm I have been fighting the urge to nap, but I’ll continue to hold off if I possibly can.
Bleak. Last week, my partner took me to an exhibition of Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white landscape photos. Usually such gorgeous shots of the waterfalls, mountains and geysers of America’s National Parks would fill me with amazement. Nature, I would think, is astonishing! Walking around the exhibition, I began to feel that nature was not so much so much astonishing, as indifferent. The mountains of Alaska or Wyoming do not know that human beings exist. Nor would they care. We might well all die, I thought, of plague or famine or even of nuclear war, and these great protuberances of rock would carry on, implacable, testament to our utter insignificance.
Guilty. So guilty, about so many things. I feel guilty staring a the dusty and dirt around me without being able to summon up the energy to address them, guilty that the flat will still be in such a state when my partner gets in from a full day at work. Perversely, I feel guilty both about being as depressed as I am (putting my partner through this yet again, feeling unable to complete important work tasks, not being the mum I want to be) whilst also feeling guilty about not being depressed enough. For I have been so much worse than this, so many times. I have so many online friends who are in so much deeper, darker places. And the usual pattern is that these down swings last a short time. Most likely I’ll swing up again, to normal or beyond, within a week. And yet I whinge on, to my partner, to Twitter, about how miserable I am here in this pathetic, moderate depression. What right have I to complain when others are locked in a dark and lonely room for months or even years?
Even now, I’m worrying about how dull this post is, how self-centred and tedious. There’s nothing I’d like more that to step off of my cloud and feel like me again, to stop being this way. But I don’t know how.