Many moons ago, I shared a piece on my blog by way of advice for the loved ones of those suffering from depression… But losing a friend to suicide recently brought with it some serious contemplation on the nature of mental health issues. The stigma. The secrecy. The shame. The cruel but oh so intimate grasp of depression when it takes hold. The way it inches closer and closer, like the tide gently rising until suddenly you’re doggy paddling like a fiend and barely keeping your head above water.
A little while ago, I went without my anti-psychotics that double as an anti depressant while trying to resolve an issue with my medical insurance and their chosen provider of medication. At first I thought I had it under control. Don’t drink too much alcohol as it tends to sully my mood the next day if I overindulge. Light candles in the evening as I unwind to keep my insomnia and racing thoughts at bay, encouraging the natural circadian rhythm to kick in… But slowly and surely, for all my hubris, I found myself sleeping in later, struggling to face the day. I loathed my writing and doubted every belief I’d ever had in myself.
And yet still, I was not reading the warning signs, until one fair morning when I rose to make my morning cup of coffee, only to find cat vomit on the carpet in the lounge and bird feathers and blood all over the bloody place. I have two cats: one prone to eating too quickly at times and getting sick, and another a little hunter always bringing delightful treats into the house. Suddenly, my anxiety cough kicked in and I dashed madly for the bathroom whereupon I emptied every last bit of the contents of my stomach. When my boyfriend left me for work, I watched him close the door behind him, panic rearing its ugly head in my chest, crippling me with a sense of being utterly adrift, alone.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was three weeks without my medication, mentally exhausted from a bout of insomnia the night before, my thoughts overwhelming me, and for the final cherry on top I was premenstrual. I curled up against the arm of my sofa and began to sob uncontrollably. A pile of dirty dishes alongside the utter mess my cats had made… It was simply too much for me to handle. I nursed my coffee, sipping slowly, reminding myself to breathe in and out in slow steady breaths, taking long satisfactory drags of my cigarette in between. Confession: I am an incorrigible chain smoker when my stomach twists itself into a knot of utter inert despair. It’s paralysing. Well and truly paralysing, as each and any task seems insurmountable.
Then the self critic announced herself. How other people manage such tasks as cleaning a kitchen or mopping up a floor without any hassle at all, each and every day, without fail, as if it is nothing… For truly it IS nothing!! How completely inept and defenseless and pathetic I am… I thought on every burnt chop, every surface I had left undusted for so long… In short, every possible domestic failing of mine over the last month… How talentless I am… Me, with all these lofty dreams and ambitions to one day be able to survive wholly off of my craft as a writer… And with each self admonishment, while I took in the small crime scene that was my home, the tears continued to roll down my cheek. I was fixed to my spot on the sofa as if pinned down, unable to move beyond flicking the ash in the ashtray as I compulsively lit one cigarette after the other in a nihilistic, pitiful display of disgust in what had become of me… Me who once upon a time juggled so much without a moment’s hesitation. But that girl is gone. Will she ever return?
But dear reader, there is salvation close enough at hand, if you can only doggy paddle a little longer… Remember that tomorrow is another day. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. It will come. Your strength will return to you with time and patience. Joy will find you again. You can begin afresh. Dirty dishes are simply that and no more. There are no grand ramifications to humankind, or even in your life, if you simply leave them there, for you to tackle when you feel you are ready.
Even begin small. If you feel up to it. Tackle the mugs and glasses. And each day, tackle what you can muster. Gently, and persistently, I challenge the scathing self critic with simple actions I feel I can accomplish. It can begin as humble as you like. Maybe its to get up and go and brush your teeth. Maybe it is to trim your toenails. Perhaps to make your bed. But perhaps not. Easy does it. You’ll get there. With time again, as it goes, I promise. Breathe and remind yourself that there is all the time in the world. If you had a broken leg you surely wouldn’t enter a marathon. And so it is with crippling days of anxiety and depression. Give yourself that time to heal. There is no time stamp on unabated, heartbreaking sorrow. And never shy from asking for help forthright when you are desperate. Reach out.
And for the loved ones, be compassionate. Be kind. Be gentle. Maybe offer to help in any small way you can… But never underestimate the real struggle that is depression. We are not precious. And we are certainly not prone to exaggeration. Believe what we tell you when we trust you enough to share our innermost thoughts and feelings. And know that we are, in our own way, warriors, sometimes victorious, other times lost in battle. And to all of those who fought the Good Fight but were lost in battle, and to my dear friend, Jessica ‘Moon’ Hansen, I salute you for your courage. You were all so courageous for so long, and now you may rest. But know this… You will never be forgot. Another sprite amongst the casualties, may you find good company with a poet and in words that will ever remind me of you. My dearest Jess. There was no mold when they made you.
I searched for my own heart
By Ingrid Jonker
I searched for my own heart
and long after I had lost my way
in the days trailing past with their foliage
in the aloof sky blue with distance
I thought I’d find my heart
where I’d kept your eyes two brown butterflies
and I saw the swallow swoop up
and shadows starling