Juniper, at The Cut of my Jib, makes me laugh. We were chatting yesterday and she sent me a message with this quote:
Comparison is the thief of joy.
‘That’s from Mumsnet,’ she explained, which was what amused me. I love the idea of her sitting there trawling Mumsnet for the perfect motivational quote. The original, according to the internet, is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. Hmmm… somehow Mumsnet actually seems a more probable source. Anyway, more on this later.
I woke up this morning with a sense of shame similar to that I feel when I wake up and *know* that I sent a whole bunch of ill-advised drunk texts the night before. And yet last night I drank less than half a glass of wine. What did I do?
I tweeted about being blindsided by depression.
For someone who overshares about her sex life on the Internet, I feel way more uneasy about talking about my mental health in this way. ‘Look at me!’ it seems to scream. ‘I’m sad! Love me! Love me! Love me!’
So why do I do it?
Because late at night, when you’re alone and it feels like no one quite gets it, it’s easier to share with a faceless crowd on Twitter than it is to tell a real person. Imagine I’d phoned my mum at gone midnight and said ‘Mum, I can’t stop crying. I’m terrified about the future. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on like this.’ What good does that do? All that means is that two people lie awake worrying, rather than just one.
But when I wake up the following morning, it makes me cringe. Telling complete strangers that you’re sitting, shaking, in floods of tears? How pathetic. And that, broadly, is how I feel about my mental health more widely.
I was brought up to believe that mental health issues were something that happened to other people. Other *weak* people. At dinner, when I was a teenager, my mum would occasionally mention a friend of hers: ‘P’s just been put on Prozac again. Seems like everyone’s on it these days, doesn’t it?’ The disapproval was clear.
By the time I was first diagnosed with depression, Prozac was out of fashion. Citalopram was, and still is, the antidepressant of choice. I didn’t start taking it without a fight – my mum’s disapproval was still ringing in my ears – and I’ve never told my parents about the 18 months I spent on it, despite ultimately being honest about therapy.
It felt like a failure.
A lot of what you read about depression tells you that sufferers don’t talk about their feelings, that they suffer in silence, withdrawing, cutting themselves off from the world. I can’t even do that bit right: I’m a noisy, hysterical, selfish depressive – ask me how I feel and there’s every chance I *will* tell you just how shit everything is, that I’ll cry, that I’ll make you so uncomfortable you’ll wish you’d never asked. Most people suffering from depression lose weight. Not me. I stop eating meals, sure, but the food, the fatty, unbalanced, unsatisfying food, continues to pass my lips. Too often.
I’m a failure.
I mean, I’m not, obviously. I have a job that I quite like and that I’m quite good at. I have a handful of friends I see regularly. I’m fucking a guy that I both like and fancy. My family love me. But even though I *know* those things (and I never forget them), in the dead of night, or on an idle Sunday afternoon, they sometimes cease to be true. It feels like no one cares, like I don’t matter, like I’ll never, ever love or be loved.
Of course, everyone else’s life is perfect. That guy my friend’s fucking? Well, he’ll probably fall in love with her and they’ll spend every weekend doing romantic, exciting stuff together and I’ll never see her. (Did I mention I’m
a bitch, as well as being ill?) My other friends live too far away, we’ll drift apart, lose touch. My parents? Well, you can see where that one’s going…
But essentially, this is where Juniper’s quote (hey, Teddy, was that your quote? Forget it, it’s Juniper’s now) comes back in. When I’m low, what makes that low spiral lower still is comparing myself to other people.
It feels like everyone else has plans, exciting plans, every single weekend. Never mind that I’ve already used up my holiday allowance for the year doing fun stuff, never mind that I no sooner get paid than I spunk my salary up the wall doing all kinds of interesting stuff, it still feels like I’m doing it wrong, and everyone else is doing it right. Of course, the boyfriend on the arm in the Facebook pictures doesn’t help…
But it isn’t that, is it, really? I’ve been single and content before now. Friends have had partners who’ve come and gone, and we haven’t lost touch. I’ve been *happy* now and then. No, the problem is that I’m sick…
But sick isn’t a comfort either. People deal with depression in different ways, some better than others, but even I don’t know if I’d rather you told me everything will be ok in the end, or whether you treated me like I’m the same as I ever was.
Last night, I cried until the early hours. I went to bed shattered and burnt out. I woke up this morning feeling much like the sky looks after a storm – my skin was puffy and pale and my stomach was still churning with anxiety, but the worst had passed. My sharp edges felt blunted, as though I were a softer, more approachable version of my usual self. I’m sure a few people will breathe a sigh of relief, reading that.
But I’m not me when I’m sick. I don’t recognise myself. Yes, I have sharp edges, yes I’m a handful. But I’m me. And I have sass.
I want my sass back.