I’ve been pondering writing something about this for a few months now, but always stopped short of actually doing it. There’s this nice snuggly thought in the back of my mind that somebody with depression might read it and it might do some good and provide a little comfort. Conversely somebody who has never experienced it and cannot comprehend it as an illness might have a read and realise how debilitating and immobilising it is. That the downward spiral is not merely you failing to “get a grip”, but that it has a profound effect on your mental and physical capacities. That it’s not that you’re failing to drive the car, but that the steering wheel is not available to you. Most importantly, I feel I can write about it now because I’m glad to say it’s pretty much gone. Primarily though, I suppose I’m doing it because it’s deeply therapeutic to write all this nonsense down. Anyway, whoever you are, hello and this is my (hopefully short) account.
Depression really does have an unfortunate name. The word has become overused, assigned to mere feelings of boredom or grumpiness in addition to a serious medical condition. The association leads people to consider it to be little more than an excuse not to take control of your emotions at best and attention-seeking at worst. Because, like all mental illnesses, it is invisible, people also consider it to be easily solvable. If you can’t see a wound, surely it’s not there, right? I have accepted that there are a number who just don’t get it because they consider themselves to be so confident and successful that they wouldn’t let a silly thing like depression get in their way. Some of these people are well-intentioned, some less-so. I do hope those who fall under that category take something away from this, because how you react to a friend suffering from depression can make the world of difference. You can’t cure them by “cheering them up”, but you can support them and help them on their way as best you can.
I’d heard many differing accounts of those who had suffered from depression. A few aspects of mine don’t fall along the traditional specifications so sadly I didn’t realise I had it till it started getting better. I noticed various improvements, both in my general wellbeing but also my physical health. With the power of hindsight and Google, I was able to find other cases where those suffering with depression had simultaneously suffered physical symptoms too. Mine were fatigue and severe pains, particularly in my joints. I was unable to lift heavy things without severe discomfort and walking long-ish distances (> 1 mile), something I used to enjoy and do regularly, exhausted me and caused enduring physical pain.
Once it finally clicked that I might be suffering from depression, I had an odd moment of realisation where a load of factors that should have been bleedingly obvious hit me at once. I was a confident and (reasonably) successful chap – I had fought elections before and had an immensely thick skin. How on earth I didn’t realise that this confidence had slowly ebbed away and the smallest tasks suddenly faced me with a painful shot of anxiety might have meant something was up I really do not know. I used to doorknock three streets an evening in an election, yet suddenly taking the bins out became the most terrifying obstacle. I used to walk to and from work every day, yet now took the tube. I regained a lot of weight and although depression doesn’t need a reason, I was working in a very unfulfilling job that placed ridiculous demands on my time and energy. I have frankly no idea what caused my depression, but I know exactly what helped and what certainly did not.
In December I started a new job. I like this job. The people are great and supportive, the work is fascinating and I really enjoy it. I’m also very lucky to have an immensely awesome partner, without whom I’m really not sure I’d have managed getting through all this. These things aren’t cures for depression, but they help. The “getting better” bit is hard to explain. The mental obstacles on certain tasks (very) slowly disappeared and I started enjoying things a lot more. I began to feel a lot healthier physically – my strength returned and the pains went away. In terms of anxiety, most of you know I tried standing in PPC selections. I felt that as I was getting better, doing something I enjoyed and I found rewarding would help me on that way. By the third of the selections, Aldershot, I was phoning members, turning up to meetings and knocking doors just like I used to. Although I lost the selection, I walked away immeasurably happy that the anxiety that stopped me from even taking the bins out wasn’t stopping me anymore. It was at this point I could honestly say I was feeling quite better.
The timescales are estimates, but I believe this all started at around mid-2013. I only realised it late December/early January and the first 9 months were the most severe. I considered myself all better end of July. So all in all, this impacted me for just over a year.
The biggest point is that depression isn’t something that can be willed away or fixed immediately. It can hit the most confident person for no explainable reason. Here’s a few suggestions as to how to help friends with depression.
1. Ask how they are. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help. Don’t force the issue, let them accept support from you on their own terms. Company made a huge difference for me.
2. Be patient and understanding. They’re as keen for it to go away as you are and they can’t speed it up. Some days they may not want to leave the house and some days may not answer the phone or texts. That’s just the way it is.
5. Realise (and this is very important) that even if they don’t show it, the fact you’re there if they need you makes the world of difference.
I really do hope this helps somebody, even if it was just for the therapeutic writing down for my own benefit. Always happy to chat to anybody about this, so if you have any questions, do get in touch.