Depression, like a lot of mental illnesses, is a chameleon which can adapt to its owners’ surroundings and is a master of hiding in plain sight.
How many times have we read news articles saying that someone’s suicide was ‘completely unexpected’ and no-one had ‘any idea’ that the sufferer was feeling as tormented as they were? There is just one colleague at work who knows my struggles and he calls me terrifying. Terrifying because, he says, he can’t tell whether I’m having a good or bad day as my smiles and laughs remain consistent.
We are continually taught that mental illness looks and behaves differently for everyone who suffers and yet, mention anxieties and people expect you to be a nervous wreck suffering constant panic attacks. Tell people you have depression and they expect you to be bed-bound in sweatpants and no make-up. If you’re in neither of these states, you ‘can’t be that bad’. But the more people I speak with and listen to (you included), the more I hear of how many high functioning sufferers there are of us out there. Those of us who hold down jobs, keep the family going, socialise and would be the last people amongst our friends to be suspected of suffering. We are the carers. The empaths. The listeners in our groups.
So my biggest battle currently? Getting any professional to believe that I’m as depressed and suffering as badly as I say I am. My doctors have left me with nothing but repeat prescriptions and silence and I’m dying because of it.
My exact words to my GP last week were “I’m dying and if you don’t do something fast I will be dead by Christmas!”. And if that sounds dramatic and terrifying it should be because it is. It is absolutely terrifying that I am 9 months into this major depressive episode and I don’t believe I will live to see Christmas. And I don’t tell you this to scare you or make you worry about me (although I’m aware that you will); I tell you this because there are hundreds of thousands of us dying in excruciatingly painful silence. We are dying because nobody is willing to have the painfully fucking honest conversations we need to be and fighting for us!
I sat there on Friday ranting at my doctor that they [my doctors and local mental health service] had left me with nothing but a repeat prescription and a ‘call us if you need us’ completing negating the fact that when you suffer this intently, you don’t have the energy to continually fight and plead for help. I sat there in my doctors office begging her to do something. To do anything to stop this. I am so desperate, I told her, I would consider electro-convulsive therapy and neurosurgery to help me.
So I told her to ignore me. To not look at how well-presented I was. Or the fact that I work full-time for 6 solicitors. To ignore the fact that I’m socialising and exercising. To overlook my inability to eat or cry. To ignore how matter of factly I was speaking about my suffering and listen, instead, to what I was saying. To listen to me tell her that if she didn’t do something soon I would die.
And I don’t write this article with ease. This is the hardest piece I’ve ever written. When I wrote about my suicide attempt two years ago, I could do so because I was through the worst of it and could look back on my suicidal thoughts and know that they had passed. Today I can’t. Today I write this article whilst in the depths of hell. And I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be worrying the people that love me by writing this but I have to. I have to upset my friends and family so that I can help all of you out there who don’t have the luxury of my honesty. Who can’t or don’t want to share your pain with loved ones. I write this for all of you suffering in silence with painful smiles on your faces wishing that someone, anyone, could see through your mask and realise that you are anything but okay. I write this for all of you who are angry; who need and want to be able to shout “life isn’t fucking fair and I hate my head”. I write this so that just one person out there in the big wide world can know that they are not alone in their suffering.
I know this article will upset and worry many people and I hope that it does if it makes you stand up and take notice that we’re dying because we’re all too afraid to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. We’re dying because instead of people admitting they ‘don’t know how to help’ they pretend they don’t notice our suffering because the latter is easier to deal with. We’re dying because people are too quick to say they’re ‘busy’.
But nothing we do will ever be good enough to satisfy those who don’t suffer. For those lucky people, we are simply not trying hard enough to get better but I am doing everything I ‘should’ be doing, according to society and the professionals. I do pilates once a week at work. I run 5-10kms at the weekend. I am socialising with friends. I’m confidante/counsellor to friends, colleagues and you wonderful people. I’m exceeding at my full-time job. I’ve started acupuncture again. I am planning things for my future in the hopes that I make it but the belief that I won’t. I am even dating. I am doing absolutely every-fucking-thing that society wants me to do and exhausting myself in the process but it’s not enough. There is always another person with a ‘…but have you tried….?’. I even had a family member tell me that I ‘spend too much time in front of my computer’. Everyone has an unsolicited and unwelcome opinion on what we should be doing to get better, never stopping to ask if we’ve already tried it or even want to. It is emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting continually trying new therapies and medications so please, I beg you, stop assuming that we are not trying everything in our power to fight and let us manage our illnesses as best we can.
If you want to help us, fight for us. Write letters to our doctors confirming how bad we are. Sit in silence with us. Do our grocery shopping. Make the decisions we’re stalling on. Do the small things that we just don’t have the energy to do. But please don’t sit there and say you don’t know how to help when we are struggling to know how to help ourselves. We need you to be strong. To take the lead in our relationships. And to listen when we say we’re struggling. Don’t judge us. Don’t tell us we should take up yoga or eat more vegetables. Be our friends. Our partners. Our family members. And fight for us in all the ways we are unable to do for ourselves.
We are trying our best so please don’t tell us that we’re not fighting to live when we’re exhausting ourselves doing so.
And no-one’s fighting to save us.