This week’s issue of Nature is a feature on depression and that means I feel like I should say something, although a lot of thoughts have been buzzing around my head since R U OK week (and before that, when Robin Williams happened, and before that, every time depression and mental illness gets front page coverage again, I think a lot of things but I never know if it’s right to say them).
I’m fairly open about my mental illness, by which I mean, I talk about the fact that I have it. It can be really difficult for people to understand what that means (DepressionQuest is a really good starting point), and it does mean something different for everyone, which is part of the problem science is having.
For me it means I am often tired, some days I forget to eat, some days I can’t sleep and so stay up all night watching Parks and Recreation and eating a packet of white chocolate Tim Tams, I can forget how to interact with people, I get headaches, stomach aches, brain fades, and even when I am happy and things are going well that doesn’t stop a creeping emptiness from tearing at the edges of my being. It means I hate myself a lot, I hold myself to a higher standard than I will ever meet, and I want to talk to people all the time even though I don’t know how to or what to say. It means I feel erratic and out of control. It means I’m frustrated, so incredibly frustrated by the fact that I eat well and love my work and do exercise and get outside and nothing gets particularly better.
It means I’m terrified that this isn’t real, that every meeting I have with a psychiatrist is me trying to prove myself and having this constant sinking feeling that actually I’m fine and everyone is like this, I’m just a bit more of a complainer.
I dislike the idea of biological tests for depression for me. I don’t want to know if I have a genetic predisposition towards depression because if I don’t that makes it either my fault or unlucky, neither of which I’m really prepared to deal with. I realize having a test can provide better treatments, and that is an incredibly positive thing.
(I was once told that if I wasn’t considering medication I wasn’t being responsible with my mental health. Having tried medication with mixed results the choice to not go down that path is as responsible as the choice to do so. And having tried medication, I cannot be anything but supportive of attempts to try and improve the fairly dire success rates we have currently.)
It’s like how I dislike R U OK week – yes, mental health awareness is great, I’m super happy it’s a thing and this week and this foundation are fantastic, but I personally spend the entire week on edge, scared that someone will ask me if I am okay and I will get to choose whether to lie or ask what they mean by okay. Because I think I’m okay, but I don’t really have any yardstick for what okay is, and I’m coping, in the way that a C- is still a pass. I spent that week wanting to cry whenever I saw something encouraging people to ask each other if they are okay because I hate leaning so hard on my friends, I hate the outpourings of emotion I require to break the weird cycles my brain gets into, and yes, I can talk about my depression and make jokes. I emphatically dislike talking about what is happening right now and yet need to have that option. I just need to steel myself for those conversations.
I don’t like being like this and spend a lot of time feeling like somehow it’s my fault for not being better by now. Every psych I saw as a teenager told me I would grow out of this. It was probably meant to be encouraging, but was ultimately counterproductive. Talking about it helps, because I know logically these feelings are shared, in the same way it helps to see other people writing well on the topic.
I don’t think I’d ever want to research on depression. I follow the updates but it is too close to study. I’m glad there are people out there that are doing this work, because that makes me feel like I’m not the only person fighting against this. There are research groups full of science heroes, fighting to protect and help every single one of us.