I won’t leave much when I eventually go. I’ve done nothing of worth, have touched no lives, don’t even have any children to act as an imprint of me when I’m a pile of ash or providing food for bugs (finally useful!). But maybe I can leave some advice – maybe my experiences can help someone somewhere who I’ll never meet. It’s a bit arrogant perhaps but while I started writing this as a form of therapy, I also started because other people’s writings had helped me and made me feel less like a freak. So maybe, arrogance aside, I can do the same in some small way.
For someone suffering depression for the first time:
It’s sad but true: some people will stay and some people will not. Those who do and those who do not may surprise you. I lost my closest friend quite early on while someone I had only known a year or so talked me down from suicidal heights on more than one occasion and someone I had known only months stood in the depressed cold as midnight struck to mark the start of another year instead of dancing with her friends in the warm happiness. Learn to accept that some people can’t (or don’t want to) cope with you. Some you will lose forever and there will be times when you will only remember these people and use them as proof of your worthlessness as a human being. Try to remember the others as well. Of those, some will distance themselves but remain on the horizon, just in view. Keep these in the back of your mind for the good times and learn not to keep burdening them when the bad times descend. You will only hate yourself more if you keep pushing and clinging on to someone who wants to be let go and they will duck over the horizon and disappear when you do that. And finally, some will stick around although you won’t understand why. You will look at the diminished numbers of people in your network and use this against yourself; instead be grateful to those, however few, who stayed.
Use them to remind yourself that someone does care.
There will be times when nothing and no one helps. Keep trying to find some way to bring a small amount of relief in those times. It won’t be a miraculous cure, it probably won’t even get you out of bed, but it may help keep the pills in the bottle and the razor sheathed. I watched The (US) Office over and over again. I stayed in bed under the covers. I wrote. I ate my body weight in chocolate and cake. I threw myself into work. I played endless, mindless games of Candy Crush. I drank wine. Some of these things did not work and some (stand up wine) made me worse but now I know that when I hit the depths so deep that no correspondence, no conversations, no private pep talks and angry admonitions will help, I need to tip-toe around myself. No pressure, no plans. And know then avoid your triggers as well as knowing and using the little things that help.
Watch The Office over and over again. When things get really bad, watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Have fruit and snack food to hand so you don’t have to face anyone.
Don’t make wild plans. You are full of regrets. You feel worthless and pointless. Everything you can think of backs this up. No one to give you a hug and make you a nice meal when you’ve no energy to do it yourself? That’s because everyone hates you. No boyfriend? That’s because you’re unlovable and oh-so-ugly. Not changed the world? That’s because you’re useless and worthless. So the temptation is to change everything. I took on more stressful jobs, I moved to another country. I went to South America to travel and volunteer.
Don’t go to South America. It’s a fantastic place but not known for curing depression. Save it for when you’re feeling better. I’ve recently put everything on hold. No plans, no pressure. It might not work but at least this year I won’t be locked in a hotel room in the Andes having a panic attack and unable to stop crying.
Help and support
Get help. I’m not good at this one. The shame of depression burns deep and furious. If I have a good day and can therefore face up to making a doctor’s appointment (why do the receptionists insist on making you tell them what’s wrong?) and going along, I tend to convince myself that I’m not sick enough to warrant bothering the medical profession – after all, didn’t I get up this morning? Aren’t I showered and dressed? Didn’t I just eat a healthy breakfast and read a chapter of my book. It’s already midday and I haven’t resorted to Netflix yet. The doctor will laugh me out of the surgery. So I put the phone down, I cancel the appointment. Then the good day ends and I curse my stupidity while being totally incapable of picking up the phone and making an appointment.
Do as I say not as I do on this last point. Please get help.