Caroline's blog: Depression - the fight nobody sees
I used to know someone. In twisted times I might have gone so far as to call him a friend, except he wouldn’t leave me and I couldn’t leave him. He stayed with me, smothering me. He gave me shaded spectacles with which to see the world. After a while I forgot I had them on - but he wouldn’t have let me take them off, even if I’d had the strength to try.
He’s all or nothing and very jealous. It gets easier just to let him have his way. If you try spending time with friends or doing things you used to enjoy then he’ll be there too, sapping your energy and demanding your full attention - a bit like an obnoxious toddler, but without the bond of love. In fact, he especially targets those with little ones, those going through life transitions, or those sensitive to the changing seasons - he seems to see vulnerability or change as a foothold and then seizes his chance.
You can try to fight him - like hell have I fought him. As he slammed on the brakes I would floor the accelerator to escape. The engine overheated as neither of us ceded - rubber burnt plates grinded, the clutch gave out, I was stranded. He leaves you as an empty shell coated with all-consuming apathy. Getting out of bed, doing simple tasks, giving anything your full attention - the same full-on fight every time.
He messes with your brain and thinking. He chews up your mental processing and wipes your short term memory. He keeps his finger on the delete button so everything is erased as soon as it is inputted. You forget things, can’t follow conversations, have to keep asking for things to be repeated. You avoid others and long for rest - sleep teases yet rarely settles. Exhausted, you are jammed in a permanent fight-or-flight mode, leaving you like a drained, overheated battery. Your brain feels like a playlist of one song on constant repeat - and it’s not even a song that you like. Your usual playlist has been deleted. You long for a different track, a different style, just some variety. Even silence would be preferable. Sadly, some need silence so badly that it feels like achieving that is the only option left for them.
I would love to be able to agree with those who think he may not really be there, or that you can ignore him, pull yourself together and engage in life as normal. Sadly the facts don’t bear this out. The longer he sticks about the more damage he leaves in his wake - if he stays more than 18 months research suggests that he affects your life expectancy and raises your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Given the invisible strain he applies, that doesn’t seem surprising.
With the new term starting, routines changing and the nights drawing in, watch out for his attacks. If he’s lurking, then please be kind to yourself - it’s an illness, it’s not a sign of weakness, and there isn’t a magic cure. Listen to your body and respect what it needs - be it exercise, nourishing food, a different schedule, more rest and routine or regular babysitters to help invest in quality relationships with people who build you up. Be honest with those who know you best and value their perspective on how you are really doing. Look for the right level of support for how you are - from your GP to online support groups, there are people who understand. And don’t forget to celebrate the small victories - the unbroken night of sleep, the task completed, the children fed and in bed by a decent hour. It’s all the little victories combined which gradually build up enough strength to remove those shaded spectacles so you can see the world in colour once again.
Caroline is the proud mum of a 7 year old Disney Princess and a 5 year old Superhero. She is also a senior associate in the pensions team at a magic circle law firm where she tries to balances work and family life by mixing office and home-based working for four days over five days each week.