22 June 2010

A Dark Mantle - Writing Workshop

As I've been struggling to find somewhere to start, I thought I might try a few writing exercises from Sleep is for the Weak. This is my first and I hope you'll forgive any minor spelling and typing errors as I can't ask anyone to proofread it for me.
What does depression feel like to you?
Depression and I have been life-long companions. It wasn’t till I was in my twenties that I realised most nine year old girls don’t dream of romantic ways to die. As far as I knew it was normal and no one noticed that anything was wrong. It was when I reached university that things became untenable. Between the anxiety of my degree course and the world-altering shock I received when I finally escaped the high school bullies, the invisible shadow that is depression could hide no longer.

I ran the whole gauntlet: the doctors, the pills, and the therapy. I had my patient confidentiality broken; I was accused of being psychotic twice (and cleared both times); and I had to fight my parents to remain on my university course. At the end of everything, the only thing that had helped was a list of cognitive distortions I found in a nursing handbook. Once I saw them written on the page, it became clear that this wasn’t some integral part of my personality...this was depression speaking. So I stopped. I can’t tell you how, but once I saw the truth written on that page, these logical fallacies had no power over me and fell away.

I wish I could say that I vanquished the monster and lived happily ever after, but real life isn’t like that. Now that I know its tricks, depression has become more subtle, hiding in the shadows. Taking those dark moments everyone faces in life and using them to its own end. Taking stress, anxiety and pain and making them bigger and darker than they have any right to be.

Like an ominous thunder cloud, it hangs just on the horizon ready to rush in at any moment of weakness. For the last two years I’ve felt the cloud building, each small failure and broken promise giving it power. Rather than wage a daily battle with an incorporeal foe just out of reach; I’ve saved my energy and got on with life. It mostly works. Usually my days are overcast if not always sunny, while that cloud looms on the horizon...but not always.

Last month everything came to a head, and that dark shadow swooped in. Overwhelming despair and hopelessness, so sharp it physically hurt. After an hour or two it was completely unbearable, a constant unrelenting weight that smothered me accented by a wrenching pain that threatened to tear me in two. I reached for the scissors. It wasn’t a cry for help exactly, and there was never any danger of serious injury; but physical pain gave an outlet, a way to siphon off some of the overwhelming emotion. A month later the patterned marks from the small snips are visible, external proof of an invisible pain.

I was embarrassed at first, worrying that someone would notice the cuts. That they'd think less of me or assume I was unstable, that they'd judge me as less...but I needn't have worried. People just don't look that closely. Plaster a smile on your face and chatter superficially, and no one will notice the difference.

I can’t describe depression; it’s been with me so long I can’t always tell where I end and it begins. Like a pair of dark glasses, I suspect it adds shadows to everything around me. But they say ignorance is bliss, and I do my best to ignore the darkness.