So I don’t live on a boat anymore. I don’t live on a boat anymore, but I do still have a debilitating mental illness, so hopefully this isn’t too awkward for everyone.
I haven’t written for some months, because for most of them, the ones furthest from now, I have been quite depressed. Very depressed. The video messages, sad songs and letters to my infant self I imagined I would use to express myself to you did not materialise. I have had to break it to myself gently that I am not a creative depressive. Well I am, but not when I’m depressed. Depression eats my creativity, it eats my brain, it eats my body. But even if I had been documenting my time falling down the shit-walled staircase of depression, it would not have made its way here. The thought of broadcasting that news would have been horrific to me. It is no surprise that I started this blog at a time I was hallucinating snakes, if you catch my drift.
I wasn’t sure if I’d keep writing. If once I’d clamboured out of another episode of depression the best thing to do was tell everybody about it. If I wanted to continue to draw attention to this part of my existence. If I wanted to dwell on it. And then I thought about the pain of mental struggle. How it hurts you and it hurts the people you have loved most in the world. How sometimes everyone hurts at the same time, and other times you’re so lost inside your own body, your core is so disintegrated and unrecognisable that you aren’t even capable of understanding the hurt that is going on until months or years later. And then you realise and it hurts all over again. I think this blog is positivity from that pain.
While I was depressed, I would get emails from people telling me the blog made them feel less alone. It was a strange experience, reading it back to myself. I didn’t recognise the person who was writing. I read the posts many times over those months, because it was proof that I could exist as something else. There was one paragraph in particular I read repeatedly, willing myself to believe it:
Of course I want to dwell on this. I have been given insight to a universe within a universe, a realm of human existence that was invisible to me. I will dwell on this forever, because I want to, not because I have to. I want to go back for the fallen women, because not everybody has got a family like mine. It made me so uncomfortable that my mental health could silence me. Depression is grim, and boring, and torturous, and insidious. It’s the loneliest thing in the world, and that’s why it has to be spoken about. Being crazy isn’t just about falling down stairs and getting drunk and kissing people you shouldn’t and screaming and hyperventilating and jumping off buildings and talking really fast and being good at art. It happens in the quietest moments, to people who look like they’re just sitting down. That’s why I want to write about depression. It’s too easy to ignore. But I’ve had to wait until now to do it because despite all the great campaigns focused on getting people to talk about mental health, sometimes I’m the one who doesn’t want to. Sometimes I challenge myself not to talk about it for a week. Sometimes Stephen Fry is on the TV talking about being crazy and I have to leave the room. You know?
It was harrowing for me, that I was able to go so many weeks without writing anything. Or, you know, doing anything. My existence was primal. Except without any hunting or gathering. Lots of hiding, shaking, fear. Days were spent sitting on the floor crying with my back against the door like a scene out of Eastenders. I would have to psych myself up, sometimes for hours, before I could leave to use the toilet. I watched some days come and go, from under my bed sheets, like a sad mole. A classic.
What my body lacked in activity, my mind made up for with compulsive negativity. Thoughts about my health, my life, my losses, my guilt: rumination. I attacked myself relentlessly, listing my failings, telling myself I had no friends and that I would die without achieving anything. Paranoia sky-rocketed, I avoided the eye contact of people on the street and would be extremely fearful walking around at night. Every day that passed with no calls or texts became affirmation that no-one loves me, and yet I was suspicious of friends who did communicate with me, trying desperately to figure out what their hidden motive was. For me, depression is kinda vicious like that; you spend so much time trying to shake off the paranoia that you don’t have friends, that by the time you do, you almost certainly will have lost some, which doesn’t help with the paranoia etc. amen. I came to resent the people who I knew would be shattered if I died. In that mind set, they were an obstacle. Sleep was the only reprieve, so I did a fair bit of that.
One night I had a turning point. I had been sitting on my bed for about three hours crying. Pretty standard, nothing to report there. And then everything went black. My eyes were open, but everything was black. I realised I was at the bottom of what felt like a really long chimney, with black walls all around. I started panicking because there were no footholds, just smooth walls like plastic. As I looked up I made out a dot. Sky. I picked up my phone and started typing. I’m going to share this piece of writing, in which I inexplicably refer to myself in the third person – not a thing I ever do, ever. This is fairly brutal but if I did hit the bottom, at least I bounced, right?
I stopped there to call a friend and they answered with all of the compassion and love that I had convinced myself didn’t exist, and I felt better. That was the beginning of my recovery. The recovery that I thought this blog was going to be about, before I realised that depression needed to come before the recovery. The act of writing in that moment allowed me to see my thoughts. To remind myself that they are just thoughts, not the truth. To make them tangible rather than all-consuming and paralysing. These days, after fighting quite hard, that distinction is beginning to come naturally, and that is freedom.
I spent the whole of last year oscillating between the person who wrote the first quote in this post, sitting on the roof of a houseboat, and the person who wrote the second, quivering under her bed sheets. Depression will come back, and it will be disappointing and terrifying when it does. But next time I will see it coming, and that will make the difference. I am careful not to get too smug or complacent about feeling better, because I have felt better before. Lots of times. But I celebrate the fuck out of moments of hope when I get them though. My most recent came a few weekends ago, walking down the canal with a friend, making empty promises to the boats as I went past. A beautiful dark haired couple strolled past with their baby strapped to the father’s chest, and I saw it’s little round head poking out, cheeks red from the day like the sweetest tomato you’ve ever had. I felt a pang in my womb – a feeling I used to have almost every time I saw a child, but not since my first depressive episode 16 months ago. A pang of longing and hope and desire. A pang that belongs in the future. A future I’ve been too scared to think about for so long. A future I didn’t think I deserved. Life.