My name is Danielle — but that’s not so important. What I want you to know is that I suffer from Clinical Depression. Maybe it’s genetic, maybe it’s the result of circumstances, maybe somehow deep inside I chose this path — though all the therapists tell me that’s impossible.
In the past 18 months I’ve spent more than a year in a psychiatric hospital, much of it inside the hospital’s most secure unit, to protect me from myself. Only now do I feel ready to share a little of my journey with others who may be on it, and with those who find themselves accompanying them. Because statistics say there are lots of people like me out there, and yet we barely whisper the name of the illness let alone talk out loud about it.
There are lots of published blogs, diaries, even novels about cancer and other headline diseases which can help someone who suddenly finds themselves plunged into that world make sense of it. We speak of these illnesses in hushed tones for fear of provoking them, but we accept them as something that befalls people who are near and dear, or known to us. We know how to talk to those who suffer in these ways, we understand their treatment programme and the toll that it can take. We know that they may die and that that death may come as a horrible, steady progression against which all that doctors can offer is pain alleviation. We know what to say after that death comes to the people that are left behind.
But what do we know and say about Depression?
Somehow it has become an illicit illness — rarely to be mentioned if at all, and then in hushed tones. Maybe we are afraid that it’s infectious, that if we associate too closely with those going through it their dark vision of the world will become ours.
It has become so easy to say “I feel a bit down today” but so hard to find explanations or even words adequately to account for the all-encompassing nothing that is Depression. There are no days and no nights, no seasons, no minutes. Just one solid blanket of grey cutting off the future, creating monstrous shapes out of the past, curtailing all possibility of connection with people around you, and leaving you spiraling in an unending vortex of past pain and current blankness
Sometimes we don’t talk about it simply because we don’t know about what’s going on with even close friends and family. But let’s be honest: sometimes we don’t talk about it because we don’t know what to say, or because it embarrasses us. Day by day we talk with each other about what we do, not what we think. Maybe we just don’t have the words to offer the kind of gentle support we offer to other physical illnesses.
But to shoot the elephant in the room, maybe we are also a little ashamed.
It is less than a hundred years since psychiatric clinics and hospitals replaced the lunatic asylum. It is still relatively recent that the idea of Depression as an illness like any other — with a start, a middle and an end — has replaced the combination of melancholy and madness that used to be diagnosed.
That difficulty in encountering Depression from the outside makes it even harder for those of us on the inside. It makes us feel somehow illegitimate, weak to have given into something that doesn’t really exist yet still feels as if it tears us apart. It’s easy to feel like a non-person, somehow blanked out of the networks we are part of when well. And the shame is overwhelming at times, a tidal wave washing across everything, built of guilt at having succumbed to the emotions others keep in check. Because in full flow, Depression prevents us from doing anything — with no future and a past we try to forget, all we can do is navigate ourselves from moment to moment, and discard everything outside this.
I have experienced most of what Depression, its phases and its treatments have to offer over the course of the last two years. And this was my second time around.
I plan over the coming weeks and months to share just what that has been like, and some of the thoughts and challenges I still navigate day-to-day. This is my first post in a blog series I’ll be calling Depression Squared — About Depression from the inside out. I write this knowing that every experience of this fearsome illness is different. But I want to bring the conversation to life. So that those of us directly affected can feel less alone, and so that those who could stand alongside us start to understand what it is that we are going through.
I hope you follow me on my journey. I hope you share these words with someone they could make a difference for. This is 2021 and it’s time to talk about Depression.