I talked about over-eating in my last post, so technically this should be called Unexpected Symptoms of Depression Part Two but I didn’t think of the title until now. Plus, when it comes to my stomach’s desires, over-eating is never completely unexpected.
Before I became depressed, I knew little about the illness. For a long time after I became depressed, I knew about the same trifling amount and I wish I had accepted this disease earlier on and begun to research because there may have been a few things I could have recognised as symptomatic of what my brain was doing to me; I could have changed some things.
My first bout of moderate to severe depression without me being aware that I was ill. I simply thought I was unhappy with my lot. Bizarrely, a friend of mine was going through a similar period and I was concerned he may be depressed but, even though we were “coping” in similar ways and going through similar phases, I never saw it in myself.
And I started to drink. I didn’t know then that alcohol was a depressant. I didn’t know that I was dragging myself further down. It started at uni when I told myself that a glass or two of red wine was necessary to help me sleep after long teaching practice days and long planning evenings. So far, so good. Not too much harm done. A glass or two of red wine is good for the blood pressure, right? And it did seem to help me fall asleep and switch off. The constant crying – hours at a time – had started before the drinking and so I noted no ill effects and maybe there were none. I was only mildly depressed at this point. A sense of dissatisfaction, the aforementioned crying and a desire to run away but no suicidal thoughts, no blackness of the kind the kind that keeps you pinned to your bed, no self harm or panic attacks. Nothing to tell the novice that this experience is something other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was when I started my first job that the descent quickened and by now the glass of wine before bed was a habit, as it is with many stable and disease-free people, especially fellow teachers. I was unhappy in my new job. It was a terrible school run by a madwoman and her loopy family. I was not alone in thinking this. I think all the staff did. I would have been more likely to suspect insanity had I enjoyed the job.
I didn’t furnish my flat. I bought an airbed, a fridge and a sofa and that was it. A three-bedroomed flat, empty and cold. And then one day I was putting some teaching resources in a built-in cupboard that I had not yet opened and found bottles and bottles of cava, white wine, red wine and champagne. I examined the bottles and selected the cheapest ones, the ones I knew I could replace. I opened one and drank half of it without even thinking and I cried all night. The kind of crying that leaves you exhausted the next day, that leaves eyes dry and sore, that sits in your chest long after the tears have finally dried. The kind that comes from somewhere other than sadness or anger or frustration.
And the next night I did it again and before I had even thought about it, I was drinking three quarters of a bottle and then a bottle a night and I was replacing and replenishing all the cupboard bottles many times over.
And then one day I scared myself. As I sat, drinking and crying as was now my evening habit, a little picture jumped into my mind. A picture of my collection of painkillers sitting upstairs in the bathroom cabinet. I didn’t think about taking them but there they were, intruding into my despair and tipsiness.
The next night they were there again. I finished my wine and didn’t pour another glass. I stopped having to replace and replenish because I suddenly realised that one day, amongst the hopelessness and crying and drinking, I would, on impulse, swallow those pills.
I’d like to say that that was the end of drinking for me but of course it wasn’t. I stopped drinking for a while and my circumstances changed and I recovered for a while. But over the last three years, as my depression became crippling and severe, there have been times when I have resorted to the supposed numbing effects of a nice big glass of red wine.
It’s been 6 months now since I drank alone. I did my research and I realised it wasn’t helping me. The last bout of solo-drinking I went through was entered into knowingly – like the over-eating, as a form of self-harm. I still drink socially but keep an eye on the effects it has; so far it seems not to adversely affect my mood and in fact the last time I got proper giggly drunk, enough to cause a craving for an English breakfast and a general air of delicacy the next day, it lifted my mood because I’d actually had fun.
I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have seen the link between alcohol and depression but my eyes weren’t open. And I’m lucky. I don’t have an addictive personality; I never physically needed alcohol and I was easily able to stop. Other people are not so fortunate. If I were to compile a list of things to watch out for when falling into depression (which I suppose I am in a way), self-medicating with alcohol would be high on the list of things to take control of. It doesn’t help even when you think it does.