It’s World Mental Health Day, and so I wanted to write a blog about depression, but it’s such a big massive YIKES topic, that who even knows where to start? So let’s not consider this How To Fix It guide or the Complete Saga of Kate’s Funny Ol’ Brain. Just some thoughts on it for now.
(This is your trigger warning – I am going to talk for ages about depression, and while it’ll end on a happier note, we don’t all have it in us to read for ages about depression. If you don’t have it in you right now, feel free to message me and I’ll send you a meme instead, I have one ready, it’s hilarious).
For a long long time I was depressed. At the time, I felt like my depression wasn’t that bad; and still now I have imposter syndrome about it. It doesn’t feel like it was bad enough to be allowed the authority to complain, let alone write a blog on it. I was going to work, I was doing what I needed to do, I was smiling in photos, I was saying yes to brunch.
But I couldn’t really feel anything.
It was like I’d always been a happy little ladybird out in the world, smelling smells, tasting tasty things, seeing… seesaws. Then at some point someone trapped me under a jar. I could still see the world, but I couldn’t quite remember how things smelled. I could remember feeling good, but it was like remembering something I’d seen in a movie; not something I could physically feel. You know when something small and wonderful happens in life, and the joy of it tingles all the way through your arms and legs and you feel alive? And no, I don’t mean an orgasm, even though wow that really sounded like one, but instead, that first sip of coffee in the morning. Or achieving something and feeling genuinely proud of yourself. I’d lost that. I couldn’t feel it anymore.
So I did what I always do when there’s a problem to be fixed. I wrote lists! I considered – what USED to fix me when I was a bit low? And so I went to the gym, I ate vegetables, I drank water; I set goals; but all of it was an uphill struggle. None of it sunk in. It felt like a gargantuan effort to eat well for one meal, and then I’d feel depleted, like my only oomph for the day was done. My jar was still being held down. Some people talk about depression being a black dog, but I grew up with a black dog, and he was lovely (RIP Sid).
My depression was more like a mean old woman, with those little ingrained pursed lines above her lips, there forever because she’d spent her life looking disapproving at things. Mean old bitch, holding down my jar.
I didn’t invite the crone in, and I can’t pinpoint when she arrived. She just slowly set up space in my life without me noticing. One night she must have slept on the couch, then she left a toothbrush behind, maybe a pair of shoes, and at some point without me even realising, she was sitting on my chest frowning at me while I slept.
I’d try to jog. She’d come too, clinging to my ankles and making me drag her down the street, while she’d sigh at me for being too slow and too shit at dragging things.
How did I move her out? Well, I don’t know if I did get rid of her entirely, and I don’t know if I ever will. Some days a shadow of her comes back and we have to sit together until she’s ready to leave again. I know I have to exercise and eat right regularly, I MUST, and this is a super frustrating realisation. (How can the things that make me so happy – sitting and carbs – also be the things that bring me down?? It’s flipping RUDE is what it is. Lethargy & Kate are like the modern day Romeo & Juliet, we are so good together but oh so bad). I have to journal. I have to get enough sleep. If I don’t do all that, regularly, forever, I have no doubt that little old bitch will sneak in at night-time again and put the jar back on.
So RUDE. Worst flippin houseguest.
But back to January. I’d been smacking into the sides of my jar for at least a year, without being able to put my finger on what was wrong with me. And then I found an article online about “high-functioning depression”. I read through all the symptoms, and at first I was like, um, isn’t this just how everyone feels all the time? And then I mulled on it for a few days and thought… maybe it isn’t? Maybe I’m not supposed to feel this much full-body-sadness about my future and my life and who I was and my worth? I don’t think I always felt this… grey?
So I went to the doctor. In Australia, if you want Medicare to help pay for your therapy (ie if you DON’T want to spend over $200 for an hour-long session), you have to see a regular doctor first to get a permission slip to then go to the other doctor.
My doctor wore blue sneakers and was a little bit chubby, and I love chubby doctors, because I feel like we’re starting off on a more equal footing and they’re not going to say “just don’t eat as much and exercise more?” like it’s new information. I told him I was sad. He pulled out a piece of paper, something called the K10, and did a quiz on me. How often did you feel everything was an effort? How often did you feel hopeless? Or worthless? Well, just… most of the time. Sometimes all of the time. He nodded. We talked for thirty minutes, well over my scheduled fifteen, but he didn’t make me leave early. He said he wouldn’t diagnose me based off the K10, but it was enough to recommend I go to a therapist. Then he wrote me a note and said I should make an appointment somewhere and go.
As a side note, I felt like my depression was entirely manageable, I’d diagnosed myself as high-functioning, after all… and it was still SUCH a huge mental hurdle to go into a room and tell a stranger, “I am not ok, and I need help”. And then find a therapist and call them and have the same conversation again?! I could afford a Saturday appointment. There was a doctor eight minutes’ walk from home who didn’t mind going over time. What do people do who couldn’t find enough inner oomph to call the doctor? Or ones who can’t afford it? How do they get to a therapist? How do they get rid of their old crone? Or does that old crone just hold down their jar forever?
I went to therapy. My therapist and I talked about self-care that wasn’t food. (I’d tried that method already; I’d gained 20kg; it was fun to do but ultimately the long-term results didn’t really prove the return on investment). She talked about just sitting with feelings. Being kind to myself. We talked about trying to exercise again. I told her my entire life story. I told her about crying in Bunnings after I ate a sausage sizzle I felt like I needed but didn’t feel like I deserved. I went back every two weeks.
Exercise had always made me happy, but I had sore crunchy knees, and so I hadn’t done any in months. So I went to a sports physio to work on rebuilding the foundation before I tried to set a new powerlifting world record. (This is seriously how I framed it in my head. My crone’s standards for success were flipping ridiculous). I went in there already defensive. My crone was so unkind to me in my head that I expected it from everyone else, and would treat new people like they had a whole lot to prove. I had a massive chip on my shoulder and thought everyone was out to get me. But the physio was kind to me. Even when I dared him to tell me off by talking about donuts, he just high fived me because donuts were great.
The jar started to lift. I started to crawl out.
I set myself more little goals. I wrote down in my journal every day the things I had achieved that I should be proud of. When the old crone would pipe up that it wasn’t good enough and that I was wasting my life, I’d try to conjure up the image of a lovely old woman to give me a hug instead. I went to physio every week and did my physio homework. Then I got the physio to recommend a gym where they’d be just as nice to me, and I went there every week too.
I read books on emotional eating; and wrote pages and pages in my journal about trying to get to the bottom of it; not quite realising that the food was a symptom of my depression and not a separate problem to solve. One food book talked about how feelings were clouds. Picture yourself observing the feelings, not letting them observe you. And realise that just like clouds, they will float away.
It was excruciating, and no, I am not exaggerating with that word. I had never let feelings sit with me before. I don’t like conflict and I don’t like discomfort. Normally if I felt something uncomfortable I’d block it out. iPhone games, beers, food, Netflix; usually more than once at the same time (the pinnacle was pizza and beer and Netflix while also playing Gardenscapes; it’s like being in a gorgeous JACUZZI of distractions. I did this often.)
Sitting with feelings made me feel twitchy, like I was in drug withdrawal. (I can only assume; the closest I’ve been to a physical withdrawal is when I stopped drinking coffee for a week in Europe once). My heart would race and I’d sweat. It was so unfamiliar. I didn’t want to be on my own, truly on my own. I had to have podcasts or TV or people to talk to all the time. I was scared what might happen if my feelings could get a word in. What would they say?
Remembering they were clouds that would pass, I started to cautiously let myself really feel them, and let them ask me questions. And yeah, it sucked. Some of them were awful and confronting. But it was like working a muscle. With practice, I got stronger.
Is this advice? I don’t think so, I’m definitely not qualified to give any. It’s what worked for me, and god, it took me a year to figure it out. Looking back it feels entirely lucky that I met that therapist and that physio and found that book and had the right friends in the right places who would ask the right questions and who were solid right rocks I could lean on. It also all cost a lot of money and meant I had to leave work early on Thursdays and work from home every second Wednesday. What do people do who can’t do this?
It was also around this time that I went through a breakup, started a new job and moved out the friend I’d lived with for two years. All of that in one month. (2018 has a lot to fucking answer for, I will tell you that). I’d wake up at 2am sweating, either full of anxiety or full of raw anger or twitchy adrenaline, desperate to go do sprints or attempt parkour. It wasn’t new, I’d been waking up in the night sweating and anxious for months, but the new thing was that I was listening to what it was saying instead of shoving it down with internet scrolling and denial and muffins.
Reader, it was exceptionally shit.
The bit I wasn’t expecting was that when I finally let the awful and confronting feelings come in, and I really let them talk to me, they left the door open behind them. Spotting a welcome mat they hadn’t seen in a long time, the happy and the joyful ones skipped in behind sprinkling glitter in their wake. I had these big happy waves that I didn’t even know how to truly process. They almost startled me. Colours?! Do you KNOW how great colours are?! And they’re everywhere!
It’s the small things. I put on this new lip balm I’ve got, and remember the woman who sold it to me at Priceline, her makeup utterly flawless, her teeth huge and white. I had gone into the pharmacy terrified I could feel a cold sore forming. I left with lysine pills and this lip balm, the excitement of the saleswoman infectious (ironically, just as my cold sore would have been, had I allowed it to form). I put it on, and it feels so smooth, and it smells good, and I feel warm in every layer of my skin, all the way through to my middle. I remember her face, her excitement, and I feel connected to her, and the world, and it is just LIP BALM.
Depression wrapped me in a big heavy raincoat to keep my skin safe from hurt, but the problem was, this stopped any warmth coming in either. And now I get to feel this silly dopey inner smile, often. I really like my life. It feels so damn flippin cool to get to actually FEEL that.
Other people have it so much worse, and for so much longer. Other people don’t have the privilege I had to be able to afford doctors and physios and time off. Other people don’t have the support networks of people who continued to try to build me up even when my crone would tear the building down right away and smirk at me, holding her hammer in her mean little hand. (Seriously the WORST houseguest).
I don’t know how to end this post, probably because it doesn’t have an ending. I am happy now, I am “better”, but I’ll also have to work to keep that old bitch off my back forever. Maybe I’ll just ask that today on World Mental Health Day – and then every other day you have the emotional capacity to do it – you can be one of those friends who builds someone up. We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life or head, and kindness is free. Be the woman in Priceline who shares her excitement about lip balm. Be the physio who high-fives the sour-faced donut fan. Be the friend who says “you don’t have to entertain me, I don’t care if you just look at the wall, I want to hang out with you”. Be kind. You just might be helping move someone’s jar.