I’ve never been a very happy person. Even as a child, masked in blissful ignorance of most of the horrors that the world has to offer, I was bitter, cynical and sarcastic. It’s just the kind of person I am, and I hope I always will be. You’ll never catch me enraptured in the throes of ecstasy, I tell you that.
But depression isn’t a case of happiness or unhappiness, as I have learnt over the years. My worldview is occasionally pessimistic, but most of the time I consider myself a rational and realistic person. Being in a bad mood, or having an off day, or even being sad for a prolonged period is not the same as being depressed. Unfortunately, I don’t have the words to describe it to you, and that is the problem.
Articulation has been a strength of mine since I learned to speak (incredibly prematurely, as my mother will proudly tell anyone who lets her talk for more than ten minutes), and I have always been interested in words, language, reading and expression of all forms. I was lucky in that I was left to my own devices a lot as a kid, and so my leisure time was often spent doing whatever I wanted: in this case, reading, drawing and writing. Stories were my passion, but really I would have tried to write anything: recipes, news reports, encyclopaedic entries, anything. One of my best friends says that her first memory of me at school was as the girl who had come in with stories written on sheets of paper, stapled together and handed to anyone who would read them; by the age of eleven, i had begun to self-publish and distribute my own work, apparently.
My teenage years were difficult, as I assume they are for everyone, but I still managed to write and express myself. My emotions would come out on paper as at least semi-eloquent pages of appropriate angsty drivel. Until one day, I stopped functioning as I always had.
I say it was one day, but I don’t think it was. Gradually, over months and months, the words that I wrote slipped away from me. Before I had felt intrinsic to everything I had ever written, whether it was about myself or otherwise. I was writing essays, blog posts, diary entries, and none of it said what I had meant it to. Of course, it wasn’t the physical churning out of words onto a page that created the disconnect, but something within my mind.
A brain fog had descended. It came with other unwelcome changes, like increased anxiety, disrupted sleep, a constant feeling that something was wrong, the worthlessness and dead-inside despair that were oscillating from one extreme of ‘wow I hate myself so much’ to ‘I literally don’t care about anything’ (hint: they mean the same thing). Depression is a nasty, insidious illness that affects people in a huge amount of different ways; Woolf and Plath are two examples of how while depression can be awful for the person it inhabits, it can also inspire some great work (disclaimer: I actually really dislike the work of both of these writers and would not suggest attempting to make yourself feel depressed in order to produce work). But for me, the loss of my ability to express myself has been the most frustrating and painful thing to deal with in my experience of depression.
Nowadays, I’m coping with my illness and trying to keep myself creatively stimulated, taking care of myself and generally getting on with things. And I feel more okay being able to express myself, be it creatively, academically or in my daily life, than I have in a long while.
*this relates to my personal experience and is no way a factual statement for all sufferers generally.