Two things to tell you. One, I’m writing a book (you might know this already). Two, I suffer from depression. As things stand right now, managing the first is harder than the second. I’ve toyed with the idea of discussing depression on this blog for a long time, but it was difficult for all kinds of reasons. Primarily, I was embarrassed. No matter how many times you’re told that “you wouldn’t be ashamed of breaking your leg”, there’s a stigma around mental health which doesn't exist for most other illnesses or injuries (unless you get a hoover stuck up your arse, or similar). So, rather than give you a long explanation of what happened to me, I thought I’d share a very short extract from my book (likely publication date - never). Most of the novel is entirely fictional, but because it addresses a main character with depression, I’ve obviously drawn on some of my experiences.
The set-up here is this - depression is a character in the book. He (and it is a he) has a voice and narrates large chunks of the story. So here, when he talks about “we”, he means both himself (the depression “character”) and the main real person,who is having the breakdown at this point. And when he says “I”, it’s the depression talking and “he” is Nick, the main human character with whom the depression shares his existence. Clear? No, probably not. Anyway….
Here’s how I try to describe having a nervous breakdown:
“We stared at the floor. A voice was echoing miles away. The world was frozen in front of our face and we had forgotten how to move, how to see, how to feel. A distant touch on our arm. The nervous reaction that would have turned our head felt like treacle running through our body, crawling from arm to shoulder to neck and then head. It seeped into our brain and, like a cloud drifting on a windless day, our head moved to the left.
A sound came from the person beside us. Their face was familiar but seemed out of place. Inside, we were writhing in a brutal ecstasy. A moment of powerful climax. We squeezed together everything we were and everything we are and bound it tighter and tighter until…
a flood of fear, hope, love, hate, loss, failure, weakness and despair erupted inside us. Then the tears. The endless, uncontrollable tears as the person we were gushed out of us. Heaving sobs forced out a torrent of pain. Our wrists curled inwards – fists clenched to the point of drawing blood, the tension in our forearms causing veins to push out onto our skin. Paralysed.
And suddenly our mind became blindingly clear. The inevitability of death not so much a desire as a fait accompli. We didn’t fight. We couldn’t fight. It was just there. The only thought in a mind cleared of everything else. We expected it to simply come. To scoop us up from the dirty bench in the dirty park in front of our wife and children and take us. Death not as a journey or even a destination, but death as us and us as death.
For two days we stayed together. Our body was redundant really. We had stepped into a new place and all there was was us and nothing. Nothing stretched out like a desert – squeezing us with its vastness. We’d found enough inside us to ask for things to be hidden. No knives, glass, pills, drink, belts or ties. And we looked at nothing and nothing paid us no attention at all. But wherever we turned, it was there. If we tried to look up to the future, a sharp light burned our eyes and so we stared back at nothing again.
There are only two things that can happen. Either you can live, or you can die. And, quite clearly, we lived. We weren’t relieved, or angry, but we weren’t dead. And if you’re not dead, then sooner or later you need to live. So, slowly, hesitantly, we were helped to the doctor. And then we knew we would live a little more, not because we were helped, but because we were frustrated that we hadn’t been. And that meant that we’d found a reason to live, even if it was destructive and not the reason it should have been. It was enough for us to loosen our grip on one another. Just enough to for me to see a chance for another moment of ecstasy in our future. And just enough for him to take the step that led to the hospital.
And when we ended up in the hospital, slowly I unwound myself further and there was a little distance again. But neither of us could forget what we’d been through. How close we’d come to leaving this world as one. I was content to rest for a brief while, but the passion and the power of that day left me wanting more. And we’d laid the foundations for much more. A hit to take us to the very edge of existence. An opiate-like high which next time, we might not come down from. It was a risky business, but what is life if not a series of risks. Ours were just going to be bigger, higher, darker and louder than the rest.”
All I’m hoping from this is that a few people get a better understanding of depression, or at least start to think about it, even if just for a minute or two. And if you’d like to learn more, then the social media campaign “time to change” and the charity Mind are great places to start. Thanks for reading.