When I write about anxiety or depression, I always feel like I must surely have said everything there is to say. Or that if I haven’t, someone else surely has. I don’t ever feel like that when I write about sex. Anyway, for various reasons people have reminded me that I write primarily for me, so even if I have said it before, I’m going to say it again.
As a teen I was emotionally self-indulgent. I was often unhappy, and even more often in floods of tears, but the latter especially felt cathartic. I could come home from a really shitty PE lesson, throw myself on my bed, turn my supercool CD player up loud (it had space for three discs, and rotated them automatically as each album finished) and cry until I felt, well, cried out. There was nothing lonely about the emotions I felt as a teenager: I knew I could cry for as long as I liked, but at the end there would always be hugs from my parents, or intelligent conversation, or dinner on the table. That stability was pretty much all I needed from life.
Looking back, my life has been scattered with depressive episodes. I was first diagnosed at 26, but I’d now blame depression and/or anxiety for my failure to start work on my third year dissertation until a fortnight before it had to be handed in, the endless run ins with my A-Level French teacher, my reluctance to learn to drive, the fact I still can’t ride a bike …
I could go on.
Anyway. In the last year or so, it’s been the anxiety that’s plagued me much more than the depression. Panic attacks have become increasingly frequent, and now that sense that I can’t breathe, the hairs on my arms standing on end, the air around me getting colder and colder, the pins and needles … well, I recognise them for what they are, which takes away some of their power.
Plus, anxiety is so much worse than depression, right? Depression is just, well, sadness. And I can handle sadness (not heartbreak though, that’s different.) Sadness can be fixed with chocolate and wine and hot baths and long walks and time alone. Sadness is like a prompt to take better care of yourself: to eat properly, to get some fresh air, some more sleep.
I almost embrace sadness. I need that reminder to take better care of myself: for some reason it doesn’t come that naturally. When I think about it as an abstract concept, I think about rain on the skylights, about being tucked up in bed, about having an excuse to read all day.
Maybe that is sadness. It’s certainly not depression. Depression is what came back about three weeks ago now. I often do my weekly food shop before therapy, but the supermarket shuts at eight, which leaves me with half an hour to kill before my session. Ironically, in recent weeks the therapist has been explaining to me that lateness is often attributed to not wanting to have the time to think about what you’re going to, about forcing yourself to panic about the journey, rather than the destination.
So I park up (depression definitely has an effect on parallel parking, too – my definition of ‘parallel’ has become more and more loose) and I sit in the car. And I tweet, or I read or I reply to emails. Or I used to. Now, I sit and I feel this crashing sense of despair that things will always be this shit, so what’s the point? What’s the point of anti-depressants or therapy, when life isn’t going to improve? Why won’t everything just stop? Why can’t I just go to bed and stay there?
In that sense, depression scares me much more than anxiety. Anxiety might stop me going to Eroticon, but it doesn’t stop me going to work. Depression gives me a massive case of the fuck-its, and the fuck-its are dangerous. I cry a lot in therapy, which makes the therapist nicer to me than she used to be (plus, we’ve moved to a warmer room – one with red chenille armchairs and an embroidered wall hanging) and I ball Kleenex after Kleenex in my fist. I’m a mess of snot and tears and mascara, and I’m not me.
People don’t understand why depression is tiring, but that’s why. It’s tiring not only because everything seems so pointless, but also because I’m in constant battle with myself. I’m not this person who doesn’t have any determination to achieve stuff: I have a good degree, a good job, some fucking self-respect, for god’s sake. And my ability to give a fuck about any of that stuff has totally gone. Except it hasn’t. I still do give a fuck about it and so I beat myself up: I’m doing a shit job at work, I’m not socialising enough, I’m a lazy cunt. And the more I think and act on those feelings the closer I circle to burn out.
One of the statements on the Anxiety and Depression scale is ‘I can enjoy a good book or radio or TV programme.’ Already my ability to watch TV calmly is shot at: I jump between TV screen, laptop and phone and I piece The Apprentice together bit by bit after the credits have rolled. So far, my ability to focus on reading remains, and with it, my ability to write. Those two matter, and so, apologies if you found this indulgent, but I needed to do it. For me.
PS I’m a bit loathe to recommend good reading on this issue, but if you’re looking for something that goes into the issues in more detail, I found Sally Brampton’s Shoot the Damn Dog to be an excellent read.