Depression Survival - a Personal Account
Created | Updated Jun 25, 2009
This entry gives the unique experience of one Researcher who has battled through depression and serves as an example and as an inspiration to us all.
Dark Seasons of the Soul
I remember the phone call quite clearly: I'd phoned in sick to my (hellish) workplace that morning because I couldn't leave the house again. Instead of the boss, it was a fellow workmate who answered the phone. I didn't get much of a chance to speak.
'Oh is that you Suzy? Let me guess, you're not coming in... as usual.'
Just a simple sentence, but those words stung me to the core. My inherent unworthiness had been noticed. I couldn't hide it anymore. People weren't prepared to put up with my s**t any longer. I had no right to be paid. So I did the only thing I could. I put the phone down and curled up into a foetal position in bed. The curtains were drawn and they would stay drawn all day. This had become my life.
I used to wonder if I was really depressed at all - if I hadn't just convinced myself of it in order to get attention. A person cannot be a friend to his or herself feeling like that. After so much punishment from outside and in, the body and psyche buckle. Life becomes one long damage limitation exercise. The isolation builds gradually, and people drift away. I couldn't bear the humiliation of just sitting there with nothing to say, so I gave up meeting my friends or going out. I couldn't tell my parents - I didn't want them to worry.
But the paradox was, I did want them to worry. I'd already envisioned how my funeral would be and had even chosen the music. They would regret not having had sufficient time to spend with me. They would be sorry about my upbringing. For a long time I had been screaming, 'somebody do something!' in my own way. And no one had answered. They had just carried on being happy, living, working, achieving things. It was a bus I couldn't catch. I felt I was hammering on a one-way mirror - soundproof; and clear enough to show other people's glories, whilst rendering my own desires invisible.
First the reading stopped. I'd always been an avid reader but now my books were gathering dust. They spoke of meaningless things, and it was hard to concentrate anyway. I was distracted by unwanted thoughts, often very abstract but unbelievably painful that would come at the worst possible times. I remember I once felt sorry for a chocolate rabbit because it was about to be eaten. I didn't know such extreme sensitivity was possible. All my senses were assaulted - sounds became magnified and traumatic, yet taste and touch dulled.
It was much easier to live in a vacuum when stimulus became painful. No phone calls were allowed and I made my very first 'Do Not Disturb' sign. Of course I hated the cowardly measures I took. I hated myself enough to physically attack myself. It seemed to make sense, translating the invisible pain to visible wounds. Other times I would fancy that I might contract cancer, there'd be no shortage of sympathy then. The news would make me cry. How could there be hope for anybody with war, famine and pestilence scourging the planet on a daily basis? How could I expect any help when so many people were much worse off than me?
I decided to leave my job. I couldn't bear the social contact, and was ill-equipped to deal with the pressure. I cursed myself for fleeing, even if it was a survival technique. But I did survive. Only now have I been able to identify what it was that triggered a recovery.
Despite my best efforts to ignore it, the Sun shone outside. I had been voluntarily housebound for weeks so I went out into the garden to get some air. There was a rake leaning against the wall and I took it with me without really thinking.
It was spring, most definitely, and translucent green threads were pushing up through the ground. I used the rake to comb through weeds and unearthed a violet.
It felt like I'd never seen a Violet before: and I hadn't much interest in gardening. But I'd seen them in books and this one was quite perfect. I studied it for a long time enjoying the contrast of purple with dark glossy green. Then I thought there might be more. By the end of the day I had raked over the entire garden: without even meaning to or having thought about it much. I just acted on a seed of an idea, and it had grown into a very agreeable result. I know if someone had asked me to do it I would have refused. I would have been too tired... or would I?
I grew up close to nature. My family's religion was a kind of backwoods Voodoo: a mixture of Christianity, folklore, herbology and superstition. I knew never to trust any psychic that expected payment, to love thy neighbour, and how to make elderberry wine. I identified seasons by their smells, rather than dates. I climbed trees and made dens. I was a country girl cast adrift in the city, and I'd never even realised how much I was missing home. All I seemed to remember were the bad things that I felt had shaped my personality - the horrible silence in the room after my father left, the giggling of girls at school as they excluded me...
Under the microscope, brain cells resemble branches of trees and it is my personal belief that they develop in the same way. A mature tree when struck by lightning may lose a branch but the superstructure of the tree is not affected. If a sapling is struck then the tree grows malformed. Say this sapling has grown into three main branches, one for 'motor skills', one for 'mental skills' and one for 'emotional skills'. Lightning strikes the 'emotional skills' branch. The other branches continue to grow and spread. 'Motor skills' separates out into 'walking', 'crawling' and 'playing' branches and later on into 'writing' and 'dancing'. 'Mental skills' branches out into 'numerical' and 'spatial awareness', but what happens to the 'emotional skills' branch? It doesn't grow and its range of complexities are denied. The 'self-esteem' branch isn't there, nor the 'fulfilment' one. I firmly believe that traumas in early childhood, as the mind is forming, have a significant impact on one's emotional responses later in life.
Does this mean that there is no hope? I used to think that it did. But one can always plant seeds and hope for the best. It is in the nature of the seed to grow. It requires very little to grow. I resolved to plant good seeds in my own mind. Just little things. I allowed myself a feeling of achievement each time I did the washing up. It took some time to convince myself that it meant anything. There was something very comforting about putting things into order, maybe a feeling of slight control. I didn't do it for the interest factor, more so that I could say I had set out to do something and had done it.
So, through starting small, gradually my self-respect increased. Of course, there were still days where I thought it wasn't helping at all, that I would never achieve anything, that I was again deluding myself. But then I would catch sight of glasses sparkling by the sink, the newly dug garden outside, and there was no arguing then - yes, I really had done those things. And what was more, whilst doing them I had not had a single depressive thought. I couldn't berate myself for wasting space any more. If we consider that the mind works very much on a use it or lose it basis, I was using the good seed I had planted and it was flourishing.
The analogy of the tree is not an easy one to understand. Perhaps I am the only one who will ever benefit from it, but when I made the connection I did feel healed. It became my mantra. I had buried myself away from the light, but nature would not be denied. It cannot be winter forever. Nature has much to teach us.