The idea for this blog post has been festering for a very long time. I often sat down at my lap-top to pen the words and then clicked ‘don’t save’ at the very end of them.
The festering got bigger, it grew nails which dug into my skin, clawing at my veins and I could no longer ignore it.
The night I read the words of ConorCusack talk about his battle with depression, I bawled my eyes out, I felt every single emotion, his words seeped inside me and I remembered the feel of the cold bathroom tiles against my skin. I read his post three times and internally applauded him. I always empathised with depression, telling people to speak out about it but I was a complete hypocrite. I didn’t have the bravery I was encouraging others to have.
I had stepped out of the shower and caught myself in the mirror, it wasn’t one of those occasions when I thought ‘Oh Shel you need to lay off the choc’ or ‘Diet Time’, it was worse than that. I hated, like I meant really hated the girl staring back at me. She had become ugly, I wanted to exfoliate the skin off her, until it was red raw, tears fell down my cheeks and I wished with all my might that I could step out of this body.
It was June 2009, I had been so happy. Those that know me well will say that the majority of the time I’m happy, goofy, giddy and in the summer of 2009 I was still all of those things but it was a complete act. Yes personal things had happened which probably triggered something, I don’t know.
It was a Sunday night, I was out walking as I often did but on this particular evening I kept walking, around the same ring I often walked but I kept going, passing the same houses once, twice, thrice etc, I didn’t want to go home, I couldn’t go home. What I had been hiding was bubbling up inside me, crashing to the surface and I knew that the minute I returned home it would explode.
I knew the word, depression, I had whispered it to myself but I told myself I couldn’t be depressed because I was still as bubbly as ever around people but it was when I was on my own, it just all came out. I would cry until my eyes ached, have sleepless nights and feel anxiety all the time.
When I returned home that evening I fell down on the sitting room floor and crawled up in the foetal position, I couldn’t stop crying. I was trembling. There was a rug on the floor and I clutched to it like my life depended on it. My mother thought someone had done something to me. It had come as a complete shock to my parents and I felt so embarrassed but I couldn’t go on anymore. I couldn’t fight whatever the hell it was I was feeling.
That night I remember begging not to be left alone, I was so scared. My mother had told me she would take me to the doctor in the morning. I was twenty three years of age, I had everything, okay I mightn’t have had everything that Kendal Jenner has had at sixteen but life was okay for me and I felt so ashamed to be crying over nothing. The dread in the pit of my stomach made me physically sick and I ran to the bathroom several times that night to throw up but I couldn’t rid my body of the aliens that had invaded it.
I was petrified, I thought I was going to be locked up or something, I wasn’t mental. I pleaded with mum by telling her I was just upset over something and that I was suddenly okay but she didn’t buy it and the next morning I found myself in the doctor’s waiting room but I hadn’t an infection or a sore ear or anything else I might have presented myself for.
I was cringing over what my mother had to see the night before and worse still I was embarrassed over what I was about to tell the doctor. I know it sounds so stupid now but that’s how I felt.
At the doctor’s I let it all spill, he just listened. He didn’t say ‘ah it’ll be ok’ or anything like that. I had told him about a recent event and for the first time somebody asked me how I had felt about it. Conor Cusack stated how somebody asking him how he was was the first step in him recovering.
I remember telling my doctor I didn’t want ‘happy pills’ because it was my personal opinion that they wouldn’t help and I had seen first-hand how they artificially affected a person’s mood and I was adamant in staying me. I also clearly stated to him that I was by no way suicidal and I meant it. I read Elaine Crowley’s interview about her depression where she said that she was never suicidal but wouldn’t have minded if a bus just knocked her down and that is how I felt.
I was so relieved that my doctor didn’t think I was mental. By no means was I suddenly cured when I came out of my doctor’s surgery that morning but I pretended I was, I had made a promise to myself that I would never let my mother see me in such a condition and I plastered a smile on my face. I would contain everything until everyone would be asleep at night and allow all the heart wrenching tears to fall from my eyes, I would cry on my way to work, tidy up my make-up and then be the happiest version of myself for the rest of the day.
I distanced myself entirely from close friends, I was going out less and less and I had little interest in myself, let alone anyone else. Two months later I was back in the doctor’s clinic, feeling yet again embarrassed. We spoke about pills and I said no. I asked him what I could do to get rid of what I was feeling, I was petrified he would lock me up in a psychiatric ward and so I played down a lot of what I was feeling.
I was desperate to get better by myself because I was too scared of the alternative, I forced myself to exercise, eat as well as I could and I tried to remember what used make me happy. I re-discovered my first love, writing. When I couldn’t face the outside world, I would sit at my laptop and write. There is a chapter in Marian Keyes’s book ‘Further under the duvet’, where she speaks of her alcoholism and how in the depths of our depression discovered a love for writing and well we all know who she is today. I used re-read that chapter over and over and over and it inspired me to keep fighting ( and writing).
I got better but it didn’t happen over-night, it was step by step and even today I’m still trying to re-build my confidence. 2009 was horrible, absolutely horrible. I never told a single person about the way I was feeling, I even lost friendships or became really distant from certain friends because I was no longer able to meet for coffee and wear a smile.
The darkness never ever went away and sometimes I do wonder to myself ‘okay Shel maybe you are imagining this’ but nothing might be wrong and yet I would have to go to bed at five o clock in the evening because I can’t handle any more or I might decide to fall to my bedroom floor and cry. It’s absolutely horrible and I know that there are people who feel that darkness every single day.
With me, it visits me and it leaves. It decides itself how long it stays, 2013 has actually been the worst year since 2009 for me, the early part of the year in particular. When Conor Cusak wrote about being too consumed with hurling I was asking had I become too consumed with writing, yes I loved it but after work I would come home and spent every other waking moment trying to complete a book I had hoped would be published. I kept saying to everybody ‘yes I’ll do that after I finish the book.’
I don’t know, I’m only guessing. In March my anxiety was so bad I would shake all night in bed, my teeth would shatter and I would be physically sick. It used overwhelm me to the point where I would be dizzy. I went to my doctor again, almost in tears and yet again I played it down. I was terrified he would think I was mental, and yes I know even thinking that probably makes me mental.
The hardest thing I found was the ups and downs. Still nobody knew about the way I was feeling, not even my family, after the night I broke down I never once again spoke about the way I was feeling. I was so ashamed that they had me as a daughter, I felt so guilty. There were people in worse life situations and yet I was like someone sitting on the pity pot.
I wanted very few people around me because I didn’t want them to see what was really going, some nights I would go to bed and beg ‘Lord, please please please just make this feeling go away, please. I’ll do anything.’
I felt so undeserving of the way I was feeling, I’m no angel and I’m far from perfect but I never did anything intentionally bad to anyone.
One summer evening after spending the day with a friend he asked me ‘What the hell is wrong?’, I said nothing but by the next day it blurted out of me. He didn’t know what to say or do and I begged him to say nothing because there was nothing he could say. He tried to understand and I found it so hard to explain it to him. He had always seen me as happy-go-lucky Shelly and yes maybe he had a right to feel betrayed by me.
My reason for writing this blog post is that depression comes in many forms and I think it almost affects everybody at some stage of their lives. Sometimes it can be triggered by something and other times it might just come in your front door to you unbeknownst.
I take my hat off to the likes of Conor Cusack, John Murray and Elaine Crowley for speaking out about their own struggles with life. I keep going back to Conor Cusack’s blog post because it resonates so much with me, but he spoke about depression being his friend and I get it. This was the year when I thought, ‘Okay Shel, something is wrong or something in life needs to change’ so I took out my pen and paper and wrote down a realistic set of goals or things I wanted to achieve. I was clearly not happy with certain things in my life and something had to give.
I had felt like a complete failure and I want to reiterate what John Murray said on his radio show last Monday morning when he returned after suffering with depression, if you get down by no means does it mean that you have failed life’s test. I’m a naturally very positive person and those closest to me never once saw anything wrong ( bar one friend) but that was completely wrong on my part. I should have spoken to all my closest friends the second I felt this way because it would have given them the opportunity to understand rather than them thinking I had gone off them.
I wrote a post a long time ago wanting women to shout ‘I love my body’ and while I still want that statement to be shouted from the rooftops, what I want more is for people to become more open about depression or feeling down, pay attention when someone is trying to tell you something. Sometimes I might go down to my doctor for something completely unrelated to feeling depressed and I ensure I beam from ear to ear walking into his surgery to let on I’m happy which is completely stupid of me. We need to get rid of the embarrassment. I remember thinking on my worst night on the sitting room floor ‘what will the neighbours think’ or worrying that if I over-came it, would I always be remembered as the depressed girl.
This is just my two pence worth and my little contribution to removing the stigma of depression and demonstrating that there isn’t only one type of person that gets it. I haven’t spoken about everything in this blog post because some things I’m just too uncomfortable to write about but a long time ago I learnt that the strongest hands to catch me are my very own hands. A few years ago I wrote ‘ A letter to my sixteen year old’ and I want to finish this post by quoting it.
‘Somedays you will struggle to be as happy as what you are pretending to be, you will experience severe slumps in your mood but you have a bounce stronger than a bamboo. Think of me as your big sister, I will always be there for you. I will sleep alongside you each night, I will dry every tear that falls from your amazing eyes, even on the darkest night I will not leave you because I am you. I will be your smile when you are crying, I will be your sunshine when it is pouring outside and I will always have your back.’