We have a dysfunctional relationship, my depression and me.
It is an incessant, continual, undulating struggle – exchanges of power, subservience, fights and ultimatums. I sometimes wonder how I managed to get into this mess, when all my other significant relationships are functional and positive.
Today I did my first training walk for the Moorlinch March for Mind. I had forgotten how good it feels to just walk. I had had a fairly challenging day with my youngest child and as soon as my husband was home from work I ran out of the door for half an hour on my own, taking some deep breaths of Somerset air. I put on my walking boots, my Mind t-shirt and my iPod and climbed the hill behind my house. It was a beautiful, still, sunny evening and the levels were looking stunning from the top of the hill. I was immediately transported back to the process of training for Mind 3000s, when I felt so well and in control and confident. I wondered if it is the process of organising an event, or just the process of getting off my arse again which is so amazing for my wellbeing. As I walked I thought about the past 18 months since signing up for Mind 3000s, the fact that sadly the momentum and the positivity which I got from that event was not sustained through the year, about how I can make sure that I stop myself being swallowed up by my sofa again once the Moorlinch March is over. And I thought about how odd and confusing I might seem to some people.
Let me expand.
At times, I can blog about my depression and Ian’s suicide, I can attend parliamentary events for Mind, I can speak on national radio to the Deputy Prime Minister about mental health. I can climb mountains.
At other times I avoid contact with everybody, I’m unable to face the simple question ‘how are you?’, I run away from situations and conversations as quickly as possible. I am a mere shadow.
It suddenly jolted me as I was walking; a moment of clarity about my own depression. How extreme it is that sometimes I am so completely crippled by my own mind that I can barely look people in the eye, I can’t go to work, I struggle with parenting. And yet at other times I can talk about mental illness, write about it, and be totally open about it. I can talk about Ian, and his suicide, in as much detail as anyone has the time to hear. I can remember, ruminate and articulate about my feelings of desperation and panic and bewilderment from a perspective which, when I am unwell, I cannot even begin to find the words to start exploring. How and why does this radical contradiction happen?
I realised that, in the context of my dysfunctional relationship with depression, when I am well, the reason it is therapeutic for me to talk about mental health goes beyond raising awareness or raising money or even honouring Ian’s memory.
It is because the very fact that I am able to do so means something. It means I am well. It means I have the upper hand. It means I am the one in control, not my depression. The power has shifted, I am sticking two fingers up, telling it and showing it who is boss. Speaking about depression in all its complexity and ugliness and truth is empowering for the very simple reason that I am capable of doing so, instead of being a terrified, paranoid mess, huddled on the sofa, unable to face anyone apart from my family. This is the essence of why it is so therapeutic. If I can do it, it simply means I am well.
My character is such that I am not someone who feels comfortable being a patient. I am the nurse, not the nursed. I am the one who makes an assessment of someone else’s situation, then comes up with a plan which will improve things, implements the plan and then analyses it to see how we can improve things further. I am not blowing my own trumpet, I am merely giving you my job description. This professional habit of being the one in control who tries to help and offers solutions means that the debilitation of depression is accentuated. Perhaps this makes me shout louder when I am feeling well again, because I am so frustrated by my difficult times and so relieved when I am feeling well, it’s as though I have to make the most of every day, hour and minute because I don’t know when the next slump might come.
I have worried at points that my openness might make others feel uncomfortable or confused, or even doubt the validity of my feelings when I am going through a difficult patch. Perhaps they think I am seeking attention, or just banging on in a very self-indulgent way. I hope it does not come across like that and I hope that this new insight might translate into the way I talk about my experiences, with an awareness of how much I change between being well and being unwell.
Who knows? I am just trying to make sense of what has been a year full of contradictions, extremes of highs and lows and never knowing what is round the next corner. What I do know is that after my most recent low, I felt I desperately needed to do something while I felt well. It is no co-incidence that it is as soon as I have started planning and training for the March that I suddenly feel compelled to start blogging again, after over a year. It seems to give me the space and the motivation to challenge myself mentally and physically.
By being involved with Mind, remembering Ian, raising money and challenging myself, I hope all the time that one day my dysfunctional relationship will end for good.
Until next time,
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