This guest blog post is by Elaine Scott. For more information about Elaine see below.
The road to depression is a long, slow decline not a rapid roll downhill. The symptoms creep up on you so slowly you are not even aware of them until you are so far down the hill that the climb back up seems insurmountable. It is not a road travelled out of weakness, laziness or selfishness; in fact it is often those that are strongest and who give of themselves the most that are the ones to travel this road. It is unlikely that any single factor will make you change direction and start heading downhill; far more likely is that it will be a complex combination of events that together confuse your compass and divert your course.
The story of how I came to walk that road is typically long so instead I want to talk of my depression itself, what it means to me to live with depression, my periods of remission and some days so dark that I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. Undoubtedly the roots of my depression lie in my low self esteem, which is a direct result of prolonged bullying as a child, but the reasons why this general self-loathing developed into depression are simple, none of what has brought me here is especially unusual. People suffer these type of events every day, some develop depression as I did but most struggle through and carry on with their lives. I lost a child to meningitis; my father had a roller-coaster ride through heart disease and cancer, before finally succumbing to the latter; my marriage became more and more intolerable and finally came to an end a year after my diagnosis; my youngest son has challenging behaviour and was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder; and I was studying for a degree with the Open University. The confluence of all of these events in the space of a few years was enough to make me lose my faith in life and in myself and, without me noticing, I slowly, very slowly, became very ill.
I remember clearly the day I realised I wasn’t well. How it had taken me so long I don’t know but that day a friend gave me a cheery smile and hello and the difference between her happiness and my hopeless despair hit me like a ten ton truck. I cried all the way home and called the doctor as soon as I could collect myself enough to talk. The doctor I saw could not have been more reassuring and understanding and prescribed me anti-depressants and iron supplements as, on top of the depression, I also had severely depleted iron reserves in my system.
At this time I think I was at my absolute lowest. I was sleeping badly so my nights were a nightmare of wakefulness, either tossing and turning in bed or getting up and watching all night news to try and lull myself into a state where I could sleep. If the nights were bad, the days were worse by far. I existed in a fog of exhaustion, self-loathing and mental pain. I spent what little focus I had on getting the children to and from school and ensuring they had clean clothes to wear and food to eat; beyond that I did not function at all. When alone I drove too fast and too recklessly, not caring whether I survived the process or not. Trips to the supermarket were (and still remain some of the time) a special form of torture, I felt cripplingly conspicuous, feeling that everyone there knew how hideous and worthless I was, and making the usual simple decisions about what to buy was incredibly difficult. I would walk around in an increasing state of panic wanting nothing more than to just not be there at all.
Every day, and still most days even now, I thought of ending my life. All I wanted was for everything to just stop. Even this release was, and is, not available to me though. When my baby son died my family were devastated, I still get flashbacks of telling my Mum on the phone and of my Dad, my Dad, crying at his funeral. I am haunted by these memories, how could I knowingly and willingly inflict such pain on the people I love?; how too could I leave my children wondering what they had done so wrong that I wanted to leave them? Having this escape of last resort closed to me left me feeling unbearably trapped. Even today when I feel trapped I can ‘see’ myself inside my head; running from door to door, searching for a way out where there is none to be found. Those times are when I feel insanity taking hold of me and the fear and desperation can be unbearable. If there is no one there to support me I hit myself to stop the pain.
Eight years on I have been on and off medication and in and out of various types of counselling. The best counselling I have had has been with a private psychologist and with a CRUSE Bereavement Care counsellor. I still have depression but the counselling did help me deal with various issues, some of which have even stayed dealt with! I have had periods of remission from my depression, sometimes for months at a time, and I have never returned to the near-catatonic state I was in at my worst.
Today I am in the middle of a prolonged depressive episode that has lasted for around a year so far. I am on medication and have had a short course of CBT-based therapy which helped as long as it lasted but hasn’t really had any ongoing benefit. I can maintain some equilibrium most of the time as long as life doesn’t throw me any surprises but it doesn’t take much to tip the balance and then the dark clouds close in. Most days I still want the world to stop so I can just be without all the demands interacting with the world makes on me. Some days when I’m driving home after dropping my youngest at school the urge to keep driving is overwhelming but I know that if I disappeared from my life all the ties that keep me alive, however constricting they feel, would be broken and I would have no reason to live.
So I keep going, taking each day as it comes. I don’t look ahead; I can’t see a future so I worry instead about what to make for tea today, maybe even tomorrow on a good day. I would like to be well, to be able to face the world without paralysing anxiety or the exhaustion of depression but at the moment I just can’t see what would bring about that change in my life. Depression has become my safety net, without it I would have to be in control of my life and deal with all of the difficulties and stresses that brings. Retreating into depression allows me to hide from the things that I can’t face, protecting me from what I cannot cope with. If this sounds like a cop out, that’s not what I mean at all. I believe that my depression saves me from worse mental trauma; when life becomes too much to bear, depression is my safety valve; without it, no matter how much I wish I didn’t have it, I doubt I’d still be alive today.
‘Dahlia‘, by Elaine Scott
Originally from Edinburgh, I have lived all over the UK and moved from Aberdeenshire to Hampshire three years ago. I’m a single mother to three teenagers and my youngest son has an autistic spectrum disorder. Having been a single parent for six years, my fiancé and his 10 year old son will soon be moving in with us, bringing new challenges but also a lot of support for all of us.
Follow Elaine on Twitter: @vivizaraz
Elaine blogs at Escape Through a Lens
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