Hands up if you’ve ever been to panto at Christmas time! Most of you have I should imagine. But what if I told you that there is one scene, in every panto, that perfectly encapsulates what it feels to have depression?
It’s an analogy I’ve used a couple of times lately to friends to describe how I feel about the next depressive episode that I’m waiting for and after they heard it, they told me to share it so here it is…
Waiting for the next depressive episode to hit is like that scene in the panto where the lead character doesn’t realise that the monster is on stage and everyone is shouting ‘he’s behind you’.
Except, the audience is full of clones of yourself. You’re shouting ‘he’s behind you’ because you know the next episode is coming. The problem is, even though you know he’s there, you don’t know where or when he’s going to scare you. So until he pops out, all you can do is run around aimlessly trying to keep going as best you can.
That is exactly how I feel right now.
I’ve left Australia and, for the moment, I’m doing ok. I have my good and bad moments and days, as expected – because travelling is another kind of monster for me – but on the whole, I haven’t broken yet. I’m doing much better than I had anticipated. However, I know myself well enough to appreciate what’s coming. I know that there is a dark storm brewing that Maleficent would be proud of. I just don’t know when the storm will hit me and just as a good thriller movie; the suspenseful waiting is the worst. Your adrenaline spikes because you know you’ve got a fight on your hands but you can’t beat the monster with your wooden spoon because he hasn’t shown himself yet.
And every now and again you catch a glimpse of him or at the very least you can sense his presence. You feel low, anxious, worried about the episode which you know is going to hit but you can’t do anything because he won’t come out to fight. So you have no choice but to wait. And worry about how scared you’re going to be when he finally shows himself.
But you can’t explain your fears to anyone because they’ll tell you to ‘stop being so negative’ when in reality it has nothing to do with being negative and everything to do with being realistic. It is not melodramatic of me to say that a very bad episode of depression is coming my way after leaving Australia and going back to the UK. I have had this illness for 16 years. I know how we interact with each other intimately.
I’ve spoken before about the ‘fear of the fear’. How, when you suffer depression and/or anxiety chronically that even when you’re not currently experiencing an episode, you are very usually worried about the next one; worried about the trap door opening from underneath you. You can never full appreciate the small freedoms that you experience with your mental health because you’re already anticipating the next imprisonment. It’s a difficult thing for non-sufferers to grasp but when you go to hell once, it’s pretty hard not to imagine and worry about going back there; especially as you are never sure how long the purgatory will last each time.
I will of course do my best, just as you will, to hide from the monster or even try and get ahead of it to scare it first but I also appreciate that sometimes in life, the monsters temporarily win. Whilst they may have hidden behind the toaster last time, they might pop out from kettle on this occasion; you can’t plan for something that changes inexplicably.
So until that time comes and he shows himself, all you can do is listen to the calls of ‘he’s behind you’ and be ready with your wooden spoon to fight.