Saturday, 12 May 2012

Standing Tall in the Dark

This is not about cricket. 
This is about my demons. 

I'm aware that talking about such personal things on a public blog is potentially a very stupid thing to do. In some ways, it would be easier to let you lot into my house and hand out my bank details (I'm not going to do this). But you know what? I'm so fed up with being ashamed. I'm fed up with letting the demons get the upper hand. So maybe if I open the doors and shed some light on them, they will retreat into the shadows a little more. And even if my demons are hardier than that, maybe someone else will read this and it will help them to understand their demons - or those of someone they know - a little better.

I've suffered from depression on and off since I was at school, I guess. It wasn't labelled back then. I was 'over-sensitive', I didn't 'deal well with others', all of those things. I believe that depression - like other mental illnesses - has different patterns for different people. Some may have one or two bouts of it, like getting proper flu, that knock them out and take a while to recover from but they do recover, completely and wholly. For others, it's almost like alcoholism in that you never exactly stop being an alcoholic even if you stop drinking. I've come to realise that my demons will probably always be there so really it's just a case of trying to manage them, of recognising when they're lurking in the shadows. Not to say that I always feel low or that I don't think that there's any chance of feeling better. Just that I need to be wary.

So, whether you call it the black dog, or demons, or something entirely different... a few words

You just need to get out / exercise / eat properly
Well yes, obviously. I fully accept that all of these things will help anyone feel better, regardless of what's up with them. However when the demons are on the prowl, it can be a struggle just to get out of bed. Putting clothes on and making a cup of tea requires major effort. Nipping out to the shops to get bread can seem as daunting as abseiling down the Grand Canyon. The world seems far too bright and noisy, and the thought of dealing with other people is utterly terrifying. No, this isn't rational. Of course it isn't. But that's the nature of the beast. 

I've had days when I've got ready to go out, then the demons have reached cold hands into my chest and physically stopped me from leaving the house. I've had nights where all I could do was lie on the rug in the living room because getting onto the sofa seemed too much, never mind actually managing the stairs to bed. Go for a healthy jog round the block? Sure, let's have a jaunt up K2 while we're at it.

Just man up and deal with it
Sod off. No, really, just sod off.

Is this some Emo thing?
But don't Emo kids go around talking about how depressed they are and cutting themselves and stuff...
How can you spot someone with depression? Nine times out of ten, you can't. One of the demons is shame. It tells you that you're being stupid, that you're being pathetic, that you shouldn't tell people how you feel because they'll only laugh at you, or you'll just be a burden on them. This is one of the reasons why it's so hard to get help. This is why, when someone admits to suffering from depression, loads of people say things like "But he's always the life and soul of the party" or "She never seemed depressed". We're good at hiding it, trust me. I know people who have used self-harm to deal with their demons. Not one of them is proud of it. So that person running round the pub flaunting the cuts on their arms and telling everyone how it makes them so deep...? Not depressed. Just an attention-seeking idiot.

What about drugs, then?
To anyone who says that people should be able to cope without anti-depressants, that they're not really managing their illness if they're taking medication - you're being ridiculous. You wouldn't tell someone with a broken leg that they're being weak unless they rip off the plaster cast and chuck away the crutches. You wouldn't tell a diabetic that they'll never really be coping until they can manage without insulin. It's the exact same thing. For a lot of people, anti-depressants act as a crutch. They don't cure depression as such, but they make it easier to deal with the world. They hold you up while you're healing. 

For some people, they need to be on medication long term, sometimes forever. And if that means that those people can function, can go outside and get their shopping and talk to people and all of that other stuff that most folk take for granted as normal everyday life... how can this be anything other than a good thing?

What if the drugs don't work?
Sometimes they don't. For some people, anti-depressants either don't help get rid of the demons, or the side effects are just too much to deal with. I've read a lot about this, because I'm one of those people. I've tried six different types, I've had a fun variety pack of entertaining side effects but never felt any better emotionally. As far as I'm concerned, drugs do not work for me. The theories and stats on this are varied and I'm not going to go into them now. But, my advice on this is:

(1) If you're also one of those for whom ADs do nothing then it doesn't mean you're defective, or a lost cause. It makes it slightly harder because you don't have that crutch but there is hope. Always.

(2) If you know someone who's tried medication and given up on it, please don't nag them about it, or rave about this fabulous drug that you / your brother / your mum's hairdresser's Auntie Mavis has tried. Chances are they've tried it, or something similar. From my own experience, this makes me feel defensive and inadequate, that I'm being pathetic because the drugs don't work for me. It doesn't help the depression, believe me.

But I'm only trying to help
I know. Really, I do. But, much as I'd love it if someone could ride in on a white horse and slay all of my demons, I know deep down that nobody can do this for me. Nobody can 'fix' me. This is hard for people to deal with - if someone that you care about is suffering, it's natural to want to do something. And it's frustrating as hell when you suggest things, when you try to help and this seems to get thrown back in your face. Depression is, by its nature, a very selfish illness. I'll probably get some stick for saying that, but it's what I believe - it makes you self-centred in the absolute sense. The demons trap you inside your own head and it's very hard to see out past them, to view the world as anything other than hostile and bewildering. It warps the way you see everything. So that well-meaning comment, that solution that's offered - it doesn't always sound like an offer of help. It sounds like criticism.

How can I help, then?
It sounds cliched, but just be there. Be as patient as you can be. Understand that, sometimes, the depressed person doesn't want advice, they just want to hear that their feelings are valid. That it's ok to be feeling wretched or frustrated or angry. Just that you care. Often, just knowing that they're not alone in the dark is enough to get them through a bad night.

Are the demons ever going to go away?
I don't know. You knew I was going to say that, really, didn't you? I wish I could promise that your demons will be off on their merry way next Tuesday, that they'll pop in for a brief hello round October but won't stay long. I can't. All I can say is that you will have good days and bad days. Having a bad day doesn't mean that you're back to square one, or that you're never going to feel all right again. It's just a bad day, as utterly crappy as it may feel at the time. Some nights you open the door before you realise it's the demons who knocked.

One thing that has helped me is finding something unshakable. At a very low point last winter, a good friend asked if there was anything about myself that I didn't doubt and I was almost surprised to realise that yes, there was. I have always been confident in my writing. Sometimes I've wondered whether anyone liked it, or got frustrated because nobody seemed to be reading it while badly spelled unpunctuated tripe got hundreds of reviews, but I've never doubted that it was good. Maybe this is arrogance on my part but so be it. This is my unshakable thing, my anchor when everything else starts to pitch and tilt. So, ask yourself - what is your unshakable thing? What can you cling to when the demons come to call? It might be something you do, or something you are. It could be as simple as "I have beautiful feet" or "I make the best cake of anyone I know". Make it your talisman. Right there is a thing that the demons cannot touch. It is yours.

And know that you are not alone, no matter how much it may feel that way. You know that because you are reading this right now.


There are days when I think I will never be free of my demons, when I think that they will lie down beside me every night until they finally break me. Those are the worst times, usually in the early hours of the morning, when I find myself wondering if it would be easier just to let them take me now and stop fighting. This doesn't mean I love my son or my family, friends, cats, cricket team any less. But sometimes, I get so tired.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this, in truth. While I believe every word of what I have written here right now, I know that there have been and will be times when I believe none of it. In those dark times, I would never have the strength to write all of this down or the courage to post it online. 

Dear future self - look at this essay. Look at this time when you were standing tall in the dark, when you had the strength to look the demons in the face. You may not feel that way now, but you did once and you will again. You will again.

Now get some sleep. I love you.


  1. I guess it's a battle to accept and trust that the view that those who love and care for you is the view we should accept, rather than the view of one's self that the illness creates.

    At least, that's what I have to try and do. Obviously there are times when that's nigh on impossible and I have to just ride things out. Not quite sure what my go-to skill is, but that won't stop me trying.

    Thanks for sharing this, and I agree completely that your writing is great.

    1. The riding things out - exactly. It's very easy to say and so hard to do at the time.

      As far as a go-to skill is concerned, it took me a while to click with mine. It's not that I'd ever doubted it, but I never realised until that moment last winter that it had been that constant anchor in my life. And I've got a few years on you! But it needn't be a skill as such - even if it's something that you think other people might see as insignificant it's still your thing. Hope that makes sense.

  2. While I only have some small experience of depression, I can say that much of what you write here rings true for me. The condition may be different, but people's reaction to being informed that I have Parkinson's (especially during a game) takes many of the same trajectories.

    Writing, for me, is simply the best way to communicate what I feel about it ... and that's to myself, as well as to others.

    Hopefully I do it well. You do.

    Now carry on!

    1. I believe that the more people who are open about suffering from whatever conditions, the better. And I know that's terribly easy to say. I'm very reluctant to talk about my depression, in general, because I've had all of those reactions - the "you just need to get out more", the "have you tried .... drug?", the "what have you got to be depressed about?"

      Keep writing!

    2. Oh yes indeed ... I get 'you're too young/you don't shake/embarrassed silence etc ...

      Yes indeed.

    3. Tardive dyskinesia?

      I've had that look of 'OMG are you going to whip out a knife and open a vein?!' Sigh.

  3. It's strange but reading this I now realise that writing is my anchor too. The downside to that is that I get very sensitive about it - fortunately it's rare that people don't like it.

    Nice piece, thank you and yes I agree too, your writing is great.

    1. See, sometimes it does take someone asking you for you to make that connection. I never clicked until I had that question put to me.

      And thank you.

  4. Thank you for this. In my experience, talking about depression, even to close family, is awful because of the invariable flood of judgment, "advice", and dismissal. I have relatives who actually get offended when I don't follow their terrible "advice" to the letter, because clearly they're the experts.

    1. And then you try to explain how someone's advice didn't help and you get "but he means well"... sigh. It's hard. Stay strong, keep fighting.

  5. I was diagnosed as being 'highly sensitive' at 16, I'm 41 now and I have had a bit of a roller-coaster life dealing with my depression over the years.

    On and then off medication (because *I* decided I was OK again) then spending months and sometimes years in utter turmoil, suicide attempts etc etc etc.

    Keeping a smile on my face to everyone and telling absolutely no-one what was really going on n my head.

    In 2006 I met my OH and told him everything right from the start and it felt utterly amazing to have told someone and he understood me totally. I went back to the GP (after lots of encouragement from OH) and eventually found the right medication for me and so far, so good.

    You will find people say all kinds of things and most people mean well but ultimately if they haven't been clinically depressed themselves simply cannot comprehend what it is like nor know how to deal with it / you.

    I now refer to having depression as 'living *WITH* depression' as (as my GP told me it's likely I will be on medication for many years)and not suffering with it.

    I'm more stubborn than my brain and it's wonky goings on and I refuse to let it rule my life ;o) ... even though it does from time to time!

    Please know there are people out there who would listen and would help constructively.

    Be strong and stay safe xxx

    1. I'm so glad you found meds that work for you and if you have to stay on them long-term, or even forever, then so be it - if they're helping you live your life that's brilliant.

      Thank you for sharing this here. It's not easy. Stay strong. Keep fighting.

  6. Doctor Wallington13 May 2012 at 21:50

    I recognise myself in a lot of this, particularly when you point out how people with depression are often labelled by others as 'the life and soul of the party'. I've been diagnosed with depression within the last year, although to be honest it should have been identified a lot earlier. I'm still on medication, and have just finished a course of CBT. This has lifted some of the short-term gloom, but it will be a long haul.

    I identify with a lot of what you've written here, so your writing is clearly good enough, as I hope my response, and the others here, will show.

    1. It will be a long haul, yes, but you're taking the right steps - finding medication that works for you & getting help. You might have some bad days but try not to get too discouraged by them (easy to say, I know).

      Thank you for reading & commenting. Keep fighting.

  7. Hope things are ok. You're missed on twitter.

  8. Thanks for posting this. I lost the man I loved to depression (suicide shortly after coming off medication) five years ago. I never understood his depression, and he would never let me in, refusing a relationship with me because he was afraid of being a burden even though I'm certain he loved me. I've not read anything as insightful and honest as this before, and although I'm of course not as raw with grief as I was a few years ago it's helped me "get it" and come to terms with his illness just a little bit more than I did before. And every little really does help. Thank you, please keep writing, and keep battling those demons - they might never go away but you won't let them win.

    1. Thank you. I'm so glad that this has helped you understand a little more about your friend and I'm so sorry that you lost him.

  9. This is marvellous: beautifully written, thoughtful, helpful. Would you mind if I tweeted this? I'm sure it would help so many people.

    1. Not at all. This is a public blog and I want as many people as necessary - or possible! - to read this particular post.

  10. I just stumbled across this piece after visiting your blog to read about cricket. I’ve lived with depression for close to 20 years, but only been open about it in the last three or four years. So much of what you have written resonates very deeply with me and you’ve managed to articulate shared feelings about depression so much better than I could ever hope to. I don’t feel that enough is written by people who suffer from depression long term. I have had friends who have experienced short term depression who think that they understand and bring helpful suggestions to me but actually leave me feeling a little drained after patiently sitting with them, listening to what they have to say, being grateful for their support but not really knowing how to politely say "thanks, tried that, didn't work".

    I wish I could better articulate how much reading this piece has done for me this morning and if I ever bump into you at a game I’d love to buy you a cider (though I tend to spend most of my time at ‘the other place’, north of the river).

    Thank you Rowan, it wasn’t a good morning but it’s a better one now!


    1. Thank you. I'm so glad this could help in some small way. It's difficult - the gut instinct of friends is, of course, to offer advice and "this worked for me" but what people need to understand is that sometimes this can make the depressed person feel worse. If you've tried those things, or just don't feel up to trying them, you end up feeling like a failure. Granted, that's hardly logical - but what part of depression is?

      I don't go north of the river that often but cider would be welcome.

      Stand tall.