The shadowy power of depression

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.

20 Comments on “The shadowy power of depression”

  1. Vince says:

    Excellent article. I’m going back to work on Monday after 3 months off with depression. As you say, unless you’ve suffered it, or been close to someone who has, it’s impossible to understand what it does to you.

  2. Ruth Kirk says:

    What a fab, honest, helpful and accurate description of depression. Thanks for all your encouragement, and congratulations on your progress. love from Ruth XXXX

  3. hamzafey says:

    Amazing post, I felt your description of depression was spot on. I was recently told I had depression and I too took to writing about it on my blog. I was brutally honest about who I was and it was a weight off my shoulders to feel as if there was nothing left to hide. Some of my friends were also a little shocked and surprised but the friends who really cared have proven themselves to be exceptional, supportive people. My best friend today is always there to talk to during a bad spell. I’m glad to read that you’re doing well, I wish you all the best for the future.

    My story:

  4. I live with clinical depression and Tourette’s syndrome and wrestle addictions alarmingly wide and varied and would like to thank you for the work you are doing in ‘normalising’ depression a little and helping the uneducated remedy that situation…now pull your socks up and be a man about it would ya!! hahaha!! take care…Drummerboy
    Ps I also write about similar matters at

  5. Jane Hustwit says:

    Paul, wish I’d read this years ago. I would have understood so much more and tried so much harder to support …

  6. paul cafferkey says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. You have described exactly my own experience.

  7. Gary Leigh says:

    One day, and sooner than later, depression will be understood more. Trouble is getting that information out there. Difficult, but not impossible.

  8. Louise says:

    I work in the area of Mental Health. I have just read your article and had to comment here to say well done on writing a very honest, clear and no bull article on depression. This is so needed and the more who write, talk, shout about this illness the better. The amount of people who suffer in silence, who try to protect their families and friends from the pain they themselves are going through is huge. I truly believe that the courage it takes to battle this illness should be admired and recognized. Stigma is feed by fear, fear comes from not understanding something, so keep writing and keep helping people understand, it is not a weakness, it is not as simple as pulling yourself together. This illness takes real strength to fight and overcome. It is possible to become well again and enjoy life to the full, this message also needs to be heard. Well done and please keep writing.

  9. […] having depression and counselling for it I have learned some very important lessons from Christianity that are a big […]

  10. Dippyman says:

    […] having depression and counselling for it I have learned some very important lessons from Christianity that are a big […]

  11. Thanks for stopping by my blog…we share similar topics to write about…i like what you are saying and commend your courage in writing publicly about your struggles…regards…Drummerboy

  12. Ya this article really helpful for me. Thanks for all your encouragement, and congratulations on your progress.

  13. […] operates by stealth, creeping about in the shadows and striking hardest when you’re on your own; when nobody else can see. The outside world sees […]

  14. […] thrives on secrecy. It is a shadowy menace, like Harry Potter’s nemesis, Voldemort – an enemy so terrifying that people don’t speak his […]

  15. […] day. It’s about feeling better, staying well and finding ways to cope if I feel depression’s malevolent presence  – and, ideally, heading it off before it manages to get a […]

  16. […] Now, if I feel stressed or anxious, or if I can feel my mood darkening – even if I just feel stuck in a rut – I make time to get out birding, and it helps to distract me and give me something positive to do. I find it relaxing but also exciting, because the wonder of birding is that you never know what you will see next. That sense of anticipation – something to look forward to and get excited about – is a feeling that can get lost in the spirit-crushing mire of depression. […]

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