"I'm depressed" is such a common phrase. We say it when a TV show we liked gets cancelled, or when we don't quite fit into our favourite outfit, anymore. More often than not, what we really mean is "I'm fed up," or "I'm sad." Hopefully, however blue you might feel about those things, you'll perk up within a few hours, maybe a day or two at most. But sometimes, those little things tip us over the edge and when we say we're depressed, we really do mean it. And depression isn't just a case of feeling a bit sad.
Stuff has been building up in my head for a while. Maybe none of it massive (in the eyes of strangers, at least), but none of it nice. I think the overriding sensation - the thing that connects all the smaller issues that have been building - is the feeling that I'm not important (or my feelings aren't important), or that I'm easily replaced. The other day, I heard a Mariah Carey song that I've not listened to in years, the opening lyrics to which go: "it seems as though I've always been somebody outside looking in." And it was a musical thump to the guts, because I can't help but feel more and more like that's exactly what I am.
Life has a way of magnifying the bad when things happen in quick succession and rational, non-depressed Emma would probably shake me and tell me that hopefully, nobody ever intended to make me feel that way and that it's my insecurity talking.
But rational, non-depressed Emma hasn't made many appearances, in the last few days.
When I'm on an even keel, I'm generally pretty good at self-analysis. I can tell myself "that didn't mean anything. They probably don't even realise you're upset by that. You're being oversensitive" and I try to do something to right the wrong that's formed in my head. Whether that's by avoiding social media, reminding myself of the good things I have in my life, or simply eating chocolate and binge-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I will do whatever it takes to turn my internal situation around.
Usually it works. But sometimes it doesn't. And when it doesn't, there are few things in this world more painful. I stop being me. I start being a much less cute version of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh.
Complete with rain cloud.
Suddenly, all those little insecurities I've been trying to rationalise seem to unite in battle against me. Instead of being able to think "I'm being oversensitive" or "they didn't mean that the way it sounded," my brain starts to look in greater detail at all those things that have niggled me, but which I've tried to ignore. I get treated to an internal monologue that seems to scream: "See?! You don't mean anything. Nobody cares about your feelings because your feelings don't matter. You're boring; people are sick of you. Nobody would believe you if you spoke out about that manipulative person in your life, because everyone prefers them to you. Nobody would understand if you told them how you feel unimportant lately, because you are. And who could blame anyone for preferring other people over you? You don't even like you."
It's particularly hard, given that I've gone through a lot and fought to reach a place where I do like myself. Usually, at least. But when depression bites, it's like a little devil on my shoulder, whispering hate in my ears. To borrow a phrase from my novel (Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections), I wear every insult like a shroud, becoming each one in the process.
The worst are the insults my abuser regularly threw at me. "Pathetic, needy, clingy." I'm all of those things, right now. Pathetic for being so angry, upset and frustrated, rather than being able to deal with things. Needy, because all I want is for the people I care most about to both tell and show me that they care (shout out to my Mum and sister-in-law for being beyond awesome at knowing and responding to this), and clingy, because I don't want to be replaced in anyone's affections.
I guess my abuser was right in as much as I'm not someone who can drift into that supposedly comfy place of not needing to express what someone means to you, because they should just know. I do need to be told I'm loved and that I mean something. Normally, I can tell myself that I love me, however sad that sounds. I'm not able to do that right now. And so, I find myself in a place where I don't feel like I have any worth. Like I don't matter. Like I could disappear and leave little to no gap in anyone's lives.
One of the evil side-effects of depression is that not everyone understands it. Someone who hasn't been there themselves might read the above few paragraphs and think: "Hang on... So, this girl has some stuff going on in her head and she's being all needy and wanting people to tell her how amazing she is? Bloody attention seeker."
But that's not it, at all. I don't want just random "hey, you're awesome" messages from people who may or may not mean it. I just want - dare I say, need - to feel cared about, respected and considered, because I can't do it for myself at the moment. In much the same way as when we hurt someone, it's right to say "sorry," when someone's hurting, it's right to give them support. I try to do it for other people and usually, I can support me, too, but right now, I don't know how. I want to be reassured, because I can't reassure myself.
And of course, depression is a contrary little madam. I want to be reassured, told I'm loved and made to feel like my feelings matter. But equally, I want space and I don't want people to offer me support if it's not meant, or if they secretly think I'm being OTT. I want to sleep, because I'm constantly exhausted, but I fall into bed and my own brain keeps me awake for hours, going over and over every tiny little detail of a situation, until I barely know which way is "up." I'm scared of getting nowhere with my writing dreams, but I've got little to no inclination to write anything. It's sometimes as though I can feel literally everything - every stupid thought and emotion - on an almost physical level, yet there are moments when I'm numb to absolutely everything around me. I'm seeing my favourite band in the world next weekend and right at this particular moment, I can't even raise a smile, thinking about it.
Depression isn't like a tap. I can't just tell myself "shake it off, Em," flip a switch and suddenly be fine. I wish that a hug from someone would make it go away. I've tried doing the whole "Positive Mental Attitude" thing and it's not getting me anywhere, because my brain has currently decided that "positive" is just one end of a battery. I've tried asking myself the whole "think about the things getting you down; what can you change?" question, but most of the situations are entirely out of my hands. All I can do is process my emotions, work out how things have changed for me as a result and learn to deal with it all. I can protect myself to a degree; taking steps to avoid seeing things that hurt me (I visit Twitter only to check if my celebrity crush has tweeted; I skim past everything and everyone else and I can't see that changing for a long while), not letting myself get close to anyone I no longer trust and working on re-establishing a healthier frame of mind, for example, but that's as much as I can do. Yes, it's important - being able to wrap my head around things and learn to handle situations I can't personally change is pretty vital - but it can make you feel a little useless. It's like "hey, there's no point being so sad, because all of these things are entirely out of my hands," coupled with "I can do absolutely nothing to change any of this and that sucks."
Although, I guess that's not strictly true. I could choose to communicate how I feel a little more clearly. I could say "hang on, what was that supposed to mean?!" rather than brood on a possibly misinterpreted piece of communication. I could say "this has hurt me" and try to talk things through, where talking could make a difference. Most of all, I can be honest about dealing with depression and how it feels, in the hope that at least if someone stumbles across this blog, it makes them feel less alone, less crazy or less selfish for having succumbed to their feelings. It won't help me, necessarily, but if it helps someone else, then that's my bit of good done for the day.
And, somewhat selfishly, I need to feel something good. I swear, I feel like I've gained two stone, recently. My head feels heavy with thoughts and my chest is swollen with hurt. You carry depression around with you and it doesn't just cause you emotional pain; it's a physical ache. Normally, physical ailments - nausea, headaches, that weirdly sluggish feeling that makes you feel like your limbs are made of concrete - can all be beaten with a positive frame of mind. When you're depressed, that positivity is really hard to find; you might snatch it for a brief moment, but it's like trying to catch a butterfly.
For the past few days, I've smiled when I've had to. Gotten up, done the things I needed to do. I've hopefully managed to pull off a pretty impressive acting job in public; I might seem a little quieter than usual, but nobody would necessarily know the battle I'm fighting with my own mind and emotions.
It's a battle I'll win. I'll win it, because I have to. I want to smile and have it reach my eyes. I want to stop skipping songs on the way to work, because they make me cry. I want to get back to being me. And some day - maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even in the next week - I'll realise that I am good enough, that my feelings are valid and that I can find a way to cope with the various situations I'm in.
I've climbed mountains like this one, before. When I'm ready, I'll strap up my boots and climb the heck out of this one, too. And when I get to the top, I'll try to learn something from the view. Hopefully, I won't be alone when I get there, either. Hopefully, there'll be people supporting me, pushing me up when it gets tough. When something like depression hits, you very quickly find out who you can count on, after all.
There'll be other mountains in the future, I'm sure. But with each one we climb, we learn, we grieve for anyone lost en route and we take stock, until we're ready to carry on travelling.
Life is a journey. I've just misplaced my map.