The shadowy power of depressionPosted: April 20, 2013
First published by York One & Other.
When Darth Vader warns Luke Skywalker “You underestimate the power of the dark side!” in Return of the Jedi, he could very easily be talking about depression.
Until you have experienced it for yourself, or supported someone who has, it is very easy to underestimate. You can’t fully appreciate its insidious power – the way it takes possession of your head, your thoughts, your moods and your character.
It isn’t a sulk. It isn’t a strop. It isn’t the same as feeling fed up, nor is it the same as feeling a bit down. Depression is an illness – a debilitating and often long-lasting illness that torments the people it affects and those who love them.
It rots your confidence. It dissolves your self-esteem. It whips up rage inside you and turns it inwards. It clouds your memory, erodes your concentration and deprives you of sleep. It makes you anxious, irritable, vague, indecisive and susceptible to other illnesses. It makes it impossible to enjoy anything.
Considering that depression affects one in four people, it’s a remarkably misunderstood illness, loaded with stigma. It can be seen as a weakness or a character flaw, or bring shame and guilt. Phrases like ‘Cheer up,’ ‘Snap out of it,’ ‘Could be worse’ and ‘Man up’ are about as helpful to someone with depression as a punch in the face.
I was diagnosed with depression in early 2010, following a prolonged period of stress the year before. I was, as I told the doctor, completely frazzled. Since then, I have been taking antidepressants. I’ve had two rounds of counselling and, following a particularly severe bout of depression in autumn 2011, I had to have some time off work. I’m recovering well now, and trying to come off the medication.
It’s easy for me to share that with you now, but when I first had to cope with depression, I didn’t want to tell anyone. The ‘secret’ only ever came out when the time felt right with people I trusted. I carried on in that way for more than a year, until one day I decided to write a blog post about it.
People were surprised – shocked even – because depression is an invisible illness, and they only really saw me at my best times of day. I’d carried on as before, keeping it hidden.
But more importantly than that, friends and strangers alike supported me in my recovery and surprised me in return with their own experiences of it. I’ve carried on writing about it and found more and more people are fighting the same battles.
That, to me, is the main reason that the stigma of depression needs to be lifted. By feeling able to share their problems with other people, people living with depression can relieve themselves of part of the burden, and learn from what others have been through. You find that, far from being a weakness, depression is the end result of being strong for too long, and your body deciding it has had enough. It’s a physical illness as well as a mental one.
The antidepressants take the edge off the symptoms, the counselling certainly helps you to understand and handle the triggers, but support from other people is what makes the difference.
- If what I’ve described sounds familiar, talk to someone. Start with your GP – it’s less daunting than it seems. There’s lots of extra help on the internet, from organisations like Mind, the Blurt Foundation and SANE. And I highly recommend Dr Tim Cantopher’s book, Depressive Illness: The Curse of The Strong.