It all started again a few weeks back when the Archbishop of Canterburys daughter, Katherine Welby bravely blogged about her ongoing battle with depression. I was really moved by her honesty but felt that familiar and annoying little niggle in the back of my throat – the long repressed scream that I know so well was back.
The first time I became fully aware of the long repressed scream was when the Time to Change campaign first launched. My Husband, a sufferer from depression, and a local councillor, was inspired and wanted to go public with his own experiences in the hope that someone in his position could have an impact on the wider community. I completely supported him and was so proud of his courage for speaking openly about his battles and the lack of understanding he has faced. But at the same time I could see, even at a time of healthiness and freedom from depression that the condition is always there, lurking. And while that is ok, in fact it’s essential for us both to be aware that it is something to be alert and on the lookout for, it was yet another reminder that one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe two years from now I would, yet again, be living with Depression.
And then, a few months after the Welby piece I heard about Stephen Fry (another person I admire deeply for his honesty) and then read a tweet from Alistair Campbell. And the scream began to take form.
This blog has been bubbling around now for a week or two because I sympathise, I understand, I feel so very angry when I hear about the misconceptions around depression, I really do. But I also feel there’s a voice missing. Depression sufferers are writing, honestly and openly about their experiences and that is nothing but good news. The campaign is asking everyone to educate themselves, to talk and is busting misconceptions, and that is nothing but good news. But the voice which I feel is absent from all of this is the voice of those who experience depression from the other side. The voice of those who suffer from it in a different way.
You see, I don’t feel helped by comparing Depression to cancer or by being given helpful advice about ‘what not to say to someone who is depressed’. I know what not to say, I’ve learnt from long and painful experience what not to say. But do you know what, just because I know not to say it, just because I know it won’t help and could harm, doesn’t stop me from thinking it. And whilst it might be ok to frown upon the employer or the stranger on the street for saying these things, if you don’t mind, just for once, as someone who knows only too well what depression is (and it isn’t cancer) I’d like to say something. Not to my Husband, or Stephen, or Alistair or Katherine or any of the 20% of the population who have depression – but to the disease itself.
You are a selfish, self indulgent, self righteous, self pitying, insensitive, uncaring, unthinking arsehole. You sap the Joy out of an otherwise joyful kind and loving human being. You make him look upon his beautiful wife, and gorgeous children and see nothing. You convince him that it is ok to say to those people closest to him, that they bring nothing to his life and add no meaning to his apparently meaningless existence.
You sap all meaning from the most meaningful relationships in my life; you make me feel lonely, abandoned, frustrated, trapped, cheated and angry. You don’t allow me to express myself for fear of hurting someone I love and you rob me of what should be the primary source and outlet for my emotional, spiritual and human development.
Your pills reduce a living, thriving, flourishing, capable and inspiring human being to a body. It takes in fuel, it walks around the house and it goes to work (most of the time), it provides for the material needs of its family (most of the time) but it doesn’t feel. It doesn’t laugh (despite its wonderfully hilarious children) it doesn’t cry (no matter how much its wife does) it doesn’t get angry and it neither offers nor requires any affection.
Sometimes I wish I could have you myself – I wish that when I am ready to scream at the top of my lungs at how awful you are that I could ask the doctor for some pills to numb the pain of living with you. But I know that despite it all I am actually well enough to keep going, I can get through this and tomorrow will be better – all I need to do take a bit of time out and I’ll be fine, fit and healthy and able to fight another day – whether I want to or not.
You aren’t like cancer or diabetes or a broken leg. Those sufferers need other human beings to love and support them, they are soothed and sometimes healed by relationship – you reject love, you ignore, or worse, reject support and turn your victim in on themselves and drag them away from everything that they are, and everyone that could help them – cancer might kill its victims (and you are a murderer too) but at your worst you just eat human souls and leave their bodies to be cared for.
And then you leave. Your cruellest trick of all. You give me back my husband, you remind me that he is a wonderful human being, a great father, a loving kind and gentle man. And then you just lurk – leering at me from a blog post or a worthwhile and essential public health campaign – waiting to pounce, waiting until my guard is down and always, always threatening that next time you’ll defeat me.