12 August 2014

On Depression


"You'll have bad times, but it'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to."
"I do a great impression of a hot dog."
It is never easy to stomach the death of someone that you may not know, but love all the same. Someone you have never met but has made you laugh, cry, think, and feel good independently of whatever else is happening in your life. 

Robin Williams is man who starred prominently in my childhood sources of entertainment. I think Flubber was the first VHS tape I ever owned and I could probably still recite the script to Jumanji along with the film. But it was not his presence in the films I loved growing up that made me feel as though I’d swallowed something heavy this morning when I read about his passing.

Depression is something that manages to be ignored whilst at the same time somehow glamourized and sensationalised. It is not a few bad days that can be swept under the carpet and forgotten about. It is not a tragic but beautiful phenomenon that exists to make us feel more alive. It’s real, it’s ugly, and it affects around 25% of the population in the UK.

This story is not written to wrap up depression in a poetic bubble outside of reality. It's written to anchor the illness to real life and to the experiences of real people. You may be one of them, and if you’re not, chances are you know one of them. If this story brings the smallest amount of understanding to even one person, it’s done its job. 

Robin Williams was not alone.

Neither are you.

This story always has been, and always will be true. 

 
Excerpts from Through the Fog

You stand on the bridge, leaning against the cold metal barrier and letting the soft wind caress your face like a whisper. You look down at the cars, glancing each way across the bridge to convince yourself that you are still alone. Take a step up onto the small ledge that lines the bridge. Tuck the toes of your scuffed converse under the railing. Look down at the cars. For the first time since the breakdown, you feel like you are in control. You lean a little further and breathe in the beautifully crisp air. You’re holding the decision in your hands. The headlamps of the cars whipping below the concrete under your feet blur into a continuous stream of light. You could end it now, if you wanted. 
You’re possibly the most vulnerable you have ever been, and yet you feel the most powerful. You’re practically giddy on it. The mere fact that you could just pitch forward and have it be over with is enough, knowing that you are so close, hovering on the edge. 

On the short walk home the reluctant thought ebbs its way into your mind; maybe it’s about time you got some help.

*

You had a perfectly normal, functional family… for about a year and a half. Then your daddy started throwing things, and your mummy got scared, and now you found yourself in a new house and a new town sitting cross legged on the floor in an empty living room. Your mother, with a new-born baby sister cradled in her arms, sits in an enormous wicker chair nursing Baby with a bottle. You sit before her, with Bunny and a toy bottle clasped in your infant arms, babbling away about something and nothing and mimicking her pose. Her eyes stay glazed, her face angled towards the window, waiting for the delivery van to turn up and deliver her the few things she now owns in all the world. You remain oblivious. How long will it be until Baby can sit up and play with you?

The furniture arrives, threadbare and worn to knowing adult eyes, but to your eager innocent ones the sofa is a pirate ship, the dining table a den, and the beds the perfect trampolines. Baby begins to make a strange wailing sound, so you busy yourself with flitting around the removal men and generally getting in the way.

You lie in bed that night, and tuck the duvet around and under your body. Everybody knows the monsters can’t fight their way through puppy dog sheets.

*

That man is back, the one who makes your mother smile in a way that makes you think you’d never truly seen her happy before now. This time he’s brought you and your sister ankle bracelets. You laugh at the idea… a bracelet for your ankle? Silly. But you both smile and say thank you the way you were taught, before scurrying off to watch Sesame Street.

One morning you bounce up onto your mother’s bed, in a way only a child can at this time in the morning. She smiles at you, she smiles at your sister, and she smiles at the man who sits beside her.

“How would you like to have a different last name?” she asks you.

You pause, your head on one side. You glance across at your sister. You think very hard for a second.

“Well…” you said finally. “I’ll have to change the sticker on my drawer at nursery. But this one is easier to spell.”

*

It’s not as if they’re my real kids.

You didn’t even hear the words yourself, and yet they echo around your mind like the clanging of a bell. You stare in disbelief at your mother, the phone in her hand a visual reminder of the conversation she has just had. Your sister, her face set in defiance, every inch of her screaming we didn’t need him anyway. It takes you a while longer to understand what you have just heard. Your mother and the man who helped raise you are no longer together, true, but… you thought…

You raise your head. Your sister’s unspoken words are right, you don’t need him. You don’t. When was the last time you actually enjoyed his company, anyway? The last time he took you away, a cheap caravan holiday despite his frequent visits abroad with his new girlfriend, you spent your nights with your sister sitting on the park while he drank. Hearing his obnoxious music from the other side of the camp site, wincing when you saw the unimpressed expressions on the people who passed by. Creeping back in when the music finally ebbed away, crawing into your sleeping bags and attempting to sleep through his drunken snoring.

It’s not as if they’re my real kids.

But surely, he couldn’t have said that? This is the man who raised you. He taught you to ride your bike without stabilisers, helped you to understand long division and built snowmen with you the first winter it snowed. You call this man Dad, send him Father’s Day cards and ring him up when you do well in school.

What is so wrong with you, now that you are grown? Did he raise you, watch you grow, and not like the outcome? You simply do not understand how somebody could cast you off so easily. You think about how it happened the first time, of those long afternoons waiting endlessly for a visitor that never came.

Maybe there is something wrong with you…

*

Mistrust has become your default with no reprogram option. Do not trust the man who smiles and asks your name, who extends a friendly hand in greeting. If you trust him and you get hurt, you have only yourself to blame. And when you do trust someone, when you open yourself up and allow yourself to teeter on the edge of self-destruction, the beast circles back and stares you in the face; do you trust yourself? How you can you possibly still rely on your own misguided judgment? After all, you remind yourself; you have been wrong before. Can you cope with being wrong another time? Will this be the one you can’t bring yourself to bounce back from? How many more men will grow bored and eject your from their lives?

The things you thought you had dealt so well with at the time are creeping up behind you. People say you've done so well despite everything. They don’t know. They don’t know how you feel like you’re breaking. They don’t understand, you’ve just been lucky. You don’t deserve anything you have. You don’t deserve anything. People smile and laugh when you say this, putting it down to low self-esteem and modesty. But you know better. 

You lie in your bed at night and you long for the days when the monsters could be banished by the comforting embrace of your duvet. But somewhere along the line the monsters set up camp in your head and there they squat, chunnering away, occasionally re-locating to your heart to prod painfully. They squeeze your chest and rip the air from your lungs, make your skin itch with misery until you are driven out to the bridge again. They turn your world on its axis and laugh at your despair as they work. There is no one to blame; these are your monsters, born out of the fog that resides in every inch of your body and suffocates everything.

Some days it’s okay. Some days it’s more than okay. There are times when you’ll be wandering along the street and a chirpy song will shuffle onto your iPod, and suddenly your chest fills with a warm bubble. The corners of your mouth lift involuntarily; your legs ache to skip along the road. You breathe in heavily and throw your head back and think blissfully; I’m still alive.

Some days are not okay. Some days it’s not okay at all. These are the days when it’s not enough anymore for you to just hold onto a blade. You run a pair of blunt scissors over your arms, just scratching the surface, tracing over and over the lines until just before the skin tears. Does this count? It makes you feel a little better.

For a while.
*


This story is incomplete.



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