The Cult Noise of Depression

Mostly copied from CultNoise, with a few amendments. The point is, these are the important things to know…

Yesterday was the start of Depression Awareness Week 2015. The aim is to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding depression, as well as other mental health issues. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime – so why aren’t we talking about it yet?
To mark the occasion, we have compiled a list of the top twenty things people with depression want you to know, all drawn from our writer’s personal experience.

Stop handling me with kid gloves.

I’ve got mental health issues, but this doesn’t mean that I’m ‘broken’. Do not talk to me like a cat you just saved from a tree; especially when you never cared before. My pet peeve is the head tilt with “So how are you feeling?” from people who previously would never have spoken two words to you and now feels the need to partake in charity. I would be grateful if this was at all sincere, like with loved ones. There’s always one loved one who tries to wrap you in cotton wool and is terrified to even go to the shop, for fear of leaving you alone. Please do not stop your life for me.

You can tell me your problems, I can handle it.

If you are my friend or significant other, please share your feelings and worries. Just because I am dealing with my own problems does not mean that I cannot listen to yours. I can handle it. In truth – focussing on someone else’s problems makes me forget about mine for a while. Also, it feels like I’m being a good friend Normality is key.

I don’t mean to hurt you.

For friends and family of those suffering from depression, life can be just as hard. Watching someone you love struggle and cry, in some cases self-harm and attempt suicide, is hard to understand and accept. We know that and feel very guilty. Unfortunately, depression can be a very selfish illness. Sometimes we can be unintentionally harsh and mean, but most of the time we don’t mean the things we say. It’s out of hurt. The best defence is a good offence and all that. Often we can push people away to ‘protect’ them from us and it just results in hurting them even more. If we take it as far as to try and hurt ourselves to stop the suffering, it is no reflection on them. At that time all you think about is the all-consuming beast that is depression. Without a doubt, it is a challenge to love and care for someone with depression.

‘Am I wearing a sign?’

Paranoia often comes hand in hand with depression, along with the fear that people are judging you or talking about you. It often feels like you are wearing a large neon sign that says ‘I HAVE DEPRESSION’. The thing is – it isn’t noticeable. Depression isn’t like a broken arm or leg – you can’t see it. Somehow, because it feels like such an overwhelming factor in your life, you think others can see or sense it too. People do not have spidey senses. Those with depression look just like everyone else. We are sneaky individuals.

Sometimes it can feel like I am two different people.

When we get really low, it can feel like we are two different people: one is the true us and the other is an emotional, grumpy wreck. Rather than feeling like we are both people, it’s important to remember that the ‘other’ you isn’t you: it’s depression. It can be helpful to disassociate yourself from the ‘other’ you. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as ‘the black dog’. My depression is my shadow: darker in the sunshine. Whatever you call it, remember that it isn’t you! Also, it’s important for us to have others recognise that there is a difference too. I am not my depression.

If I don’t take my tablets, do not yell at me.

Some people take antidepressants to help manage depression. It is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is each person’s personal preference. It is not uncommon for people who are on them to suddenly stop taking them. Admitting there is a problem can be hard. Sometimes they are helpful, despite the side effects, but sometimes they just make us feel worse. The thought of having to take pills to make yourself ‘normal’ can sometimes be distressing. However, the sudden withdrawal can cause a slight meltdown. The worst thing you can do is to yell at someone to take them. That is no use. Imagine you had to take tablets to be happy every day, because your brain didn’t make the right chemicals. It can be upsetting. Logically explaining and understanding the frustration is much more helpful.  And hey, sometimes we just plain forget.

Depression and being sad is not the same thing.

Being sad is a normal human emotion. It is reactive. If something bad happens to you then you become sad and then it relents. There is some opportunity to ‘cheer you up’. It is not constant, but depression is. With depression, someone could offer you a trip to Disneyland on the back of a unicorn and you would not even crack a smirk. It is relentless and life-altering. It can change your personality, interests and goals in life. It can last for weeks, months or even years. If we compare depression to cancer (which a lot of people do not like) then sadness is a benign tumour. It is horrible but treatable. It is not life threatening or cancerous. Depression is a malignant tumour. The cells grow out of control, become cancerous and potentially life threatening – they spread throughout your body.

I know you are trying to help, but don’t try to give me medical advice. I know more about my diagnosis than you do.

This includes: “have you tried exercise?”, “maybe it’s your diet?” and “it must be hormones”. Honourable mentions go out to: “are you sure you need medication?” and “have you tried reading the Bible?”. If you have had depression for a long time, you will have heard some of these at least once. It’s nice that people are trying to be ‘helpful’ but if you have had it long enough then you will know everything about the medication, diagnosis, causes and treatments. Each person is different and knows what is best for them. What works for one person may not work for another. For those who are new to it all and do not know what to expect, the best advice comes from actual medical professionals and those who have been dealing with it for a while. They can tell you the various routes you can try but, in the end, only you know what is best for you.

This is not a choice.

Why would anyone choose to be depressed? It can mess up your relationships, work, studying and family. Nobody wants to have low moods all the time or to be such a challenge. People do not choose to have flu or polio; it is not within your control. There are ways to lessen the chances and practice good mental health, but no one can 100% say it will never happen to them. We have not “brought this on ourselves” by life choices and we are not weak.

It can also be physically painful.

This is something that many people do not understand. Sometimes depression can be physically painful or uncomfortable. Most of the time I liken it to a lead weight in my chest or like someone has punched a hole straight through me. Chest pain, headaches, back pain and muscle aches are common problems associated with depression. Sufferers can also experience fatigue, loss of appetite and sleep problems. Sometimes medicines which help with depression can change the chemicals involved in nerve cell communication. This can make them more effective, and potentially become more sensitive to physical pain. Depression can also slow down the digestive system, resulting in stomach problems.

Having depression does not make me ‘depressing’.

I’m a nice person, really. Most people who know me would describe me as such. However, sometimes people don’t want to invite you to places or hang out with you because they assume you will be in need, of company; of attention. We do notice how others react to us. I am not going to go to your house and cry into a wine glass, while I tell you how difficult it is to be me. To be honest, most of the time we are feeling super-down we don’t actually want to socialise anyway. There is no point in going out just to be ‘depressing’. We can be fun and interesting even with the depression, just some days are worse than others. On most occasions, people would not even know we suffer from depression because we are as sociable and upbeat as everyone else. The thing is, people do not know what is going on inside your head. The strongest looking people can be the ones fighting the hardest battles.

I don’t want to be a burden.

When you have depression you often have to rely on at least one other person to keep your head above water. Knowing how difficult it can be to accompany us on this roller coaster of emotion, we often feel guilty about it. We don’t want to put anybody out or to be a burden, especially on our loved ones. You have to remember that they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be. If they care enough about you, then they will never consider you to be a burden. You have to ask for help when you need it.

Sometimes I just don’t want to socialise. It’s not personal.

On bad days, we may not want to see anyone or socialise. Sometimes the pressure of trying not to be ‘depressing’ in a social situation is too much and so avoiding it seems like a better choice. We just want to be free to feel our feelings. Support and friendship is always appreciated, but sometimes we just need some space. It isn’t personal. Knowing you have got friends or family willing to be there if you change your mind makes the difference. Just don’t push us to socialise when we are not willing because then it could spell disaster or even cause us to feel worse than before. Trust that we know what our head needs.

This isn’t a ‘trend’ or ‘cool’. If you had it, you would understand.

Films and TV shows paint depressed people as being cool, edgy and moody. This is so far from the reality. Depression isn’t sexy. Crying for hours on end, unable to get out of bed and sleeping all day is not sexy. Trying to ‘fix’ a damaged person is not some sort of Xbox achievement, so don’t enter into a relationship with a depressed person unless you actually care for them. Actually typing ‘depression is sexy’ into Google brought up disgusting pages from uneducated idiots, who quite frankly need high fived… in the face, with a chair. To say that people who are fighting it are sexy, because they are strong, badass individuals, is much more acceptable. It seems, at the moment, that depression is the new black. It’s not a badge of honour or pride; it’s a poisoned chalice. Self-harm is not trendy or to be used as a way to keep your favourite band member from leaving. Children need educated to know that these are serious issues and that this type of publicity is irreparably damaging to mental health advocates. We are trying to end a stigma, not make it trend on Twitter.

On occasions, our thoughts scare the shit out of people.

General melancholy becomes quite normal as do the weird-ass things you sometimes say. Some people may not see it that way. Telling close friends, very matter-of-factly, the ways you tried to commit suicide may become quite normal to you, but not necessarily to them. We can scare the shit out of others, but we don’t mean to. This is our normality. Being depressed tends to mean you think more about life and the meaning of things.
To be honest, once you hit that low, you stop caring about what other people think of your opinions and ‘crazy thoughts’. We may also act a bit differently and spontaneously. For example, I once sunbathed in the rain. These aren’t cries for attention – the way your brain functions just becomes a little different… and weird to some.

I am very unpredictable.

One second I can be okay, the next I will be crying. No, I don’t know what is wrong. Nothing happened. Story of my life. Things are never fantastic, but they aren’t always horrible either. They are just… Depressed people don’t become insanely happy: that is manic depression/bipolar disorder – a different kettle of fish. Those of us in that kettle have a whole load of other things we’d like people to know and we are even more difficult to deal with simply because we are so complex. It’s often like someone just flicks a switch and we suddenly become inconsolably upset. There is not always even an explanation for it or, if there is, it’s something small. The smallest tasks can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb. Don’t be surprised if we cry over spilling a cup of tea or losing our keys. It happens!

Small achievements to you are massive to me.

Reaching little goals that we set ourselves are a massive deal. Most people aim to get good grades or get the promotion of their dreams – sometimes just being able to get out of bed is an achievement. So do not knock us down when we achieve them, instead be proud of us! They may seem minuscule to you, but to us, they are each a step closer to recovery and seem as difficult as any task that you attempt. Some day we can aim for bigger things, but today is just about getting healthy.

I can be really challenging, but if you put the effort in, I will be the most loyal friend.

Without doubt, being friends with someone with depression is hard work. It can be exhausting, frustrating and upsetting. When you suffer from depression, you truly see who your real friends are. Many friends will desert you, but you discover that they were never really friends at all. As hard as it can be, we treasure the ones that stay more than anything. And we are guilty of not showing our gratitude to them. We do not take you for granted. Things may be tough, but we are eternally grateful for your love and support. That makes us some of the most loyal friends to have, next to Labradors. The effort is never forgotten and helps to create a bond that few other friendships have. You both also know, that no matter what shit either of you go through, that you will be there for one another. You aren’t fighting alone.

When I speak about it, it’s not for attention, it’s to raise awareness and end stigma.

When people, such as me, speak out about their experience of mental health issues, they are often met with hostility and judgement. People think it is being done for attention. Therein lies the problem. There are so many stigmas about the issues and the things that I have mentioned that people associate many mental health advocates as attention seekers. Really, all we want to do is talk about the issue.

We share our experience so that others know that they are not alone.

Talking openly about the issue will make it less of a taboo.

Do not be ashamed to talk about mental health – especially not this week.

Talk to those of us who know.

Thank you 🙂

On the Wings of a Hand in Glove

10.02.15 (Day 414)

11.42

It’s good to talk and a lot of people like talking to me and gaining my advice.

Another one of my teenage friends and adopted children has been grounded because of her association with me. She’s had her wings clipped. Adopted because like so many others, she adopted me and not the other way around. That’s how it’s always been.

I don’t go looking for these kids, nor hang out with them any more than I would prey on them. I don’t habitually hang out with the kids because of the false assumptions that the plastic police make as that’s the way society has conditioned them. I have my own life and there’s always plenty to do but I make time to help people when they need me.

Sometimes I go to pubs. Pubs are public houses. That means that they are open to the public. Sometimes teenagers associate with me in pubs; in a public place where there are other adults. And when the teenagers are in the same place as me, invariably they are good company. Many of them are wise beyond their years, sometimes because of their upbringing.

Sometimes these young adults come to me because they need to speak to someone and they’re afraid to talk to their own parents. I’m not a replacement, I don’t tread on toes. I have my own kids and I look forward to their teenage years with trepidation. They’ll grow up and it’ll be as though I’m gradually losing them as they gain independence from me. But I won’t stifle them by grounding them. Start treating your kids like the young adults they are, like I do. Don’t clip their wings, allow them to spread. They’ll make mistakes but you’re there to pick up the pieces. You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool. They come to me for sage advice because they trust me. That advice is sometimes brutally honest: I’m not afraid.

I don’t have any qualifications other than what life has taught me. I fell by the wayside, which is what some of your kids might do if you make them rebel. I have experience of life, which I share as I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did and for you to suffer as parents like mine have.

Did you know that I stopped one of your daughters killing herself? Probably not because she was too scared to come to you so she came to me instead.

I have a lot of time and love for those kids, just as I do my own. The terms of endearment are just that: affectionate ways of addressing people, as I do my own kids and as we do in London, where I come from: Bermondsey to be precise. Up there we know how things work the old fashioned way and we look after family, both biological and adopted.

I’ll probably receive threats now. It happened before. I’ve been reported to the real police by the plastic brigade because of my associations with young people. Nothing happened because there was no wrongdoing. If I do receive threats, then I won’t deal with them the Bermondsey way but I’ll reciprocate by going to the police myself. I have nothing to hide as I have done nothing wrong. I have character witnesses ranging in age from teenagers whom I’ve helped to people my age, some of whom are the parents of the very kids I’ve helped alongside them as parents.

I’m staying with one of the kids and her family while I wait for a place of my own. Look at yourself before you look at me and ask who’s doing the better job. My job is just being me: writing, cooking and dispensing the occasional piece of advice. I can provide references.

By grounding your kid, you’re just going to make her kick back and rebel. By clipping her wings, you will only encourage her to fly the nest at the earliest opportunity.

I have done nothing wrong and therefore have nothing to apologise for.

Maybe it’s time the groundings and the threats stopped. Maybe it’s time to talk. Then you might realise that when your children are with me and other adults, they are safe.

That Place

I have recently returned from an epic journey, having discovered the location of the place where Editors often direct us Writers. Yet another rejection slip and a rather curt comment from an Editor instructing me on where I should put my latest story prompted my journey. He was very vague in describing my destination and I therefore found it hard to locate.

I thought I’d found the place most nights, but each morning I knew I hadn’t. Last night I was sure I was in the right place, deep in a forest. This morning, as the wind parted the canopy and the Sun streamed in, I knew I was wrong again.

Setting off down a well-used path, I found a cave stretching deep underground. It grew so dark that I had to strike a match to see. Deep inside were thousands of manuscripts, just like the one I’d written and been carrying all this time. I put it down, in this place he’d told me of, where the Sun never shines.

© Steve Laker, 2001 – 2003.

Voisonous

02.10.14 (Day 284)

The same but different. Separated at birth or born of different parents? I wonder sometimes.

There’s a difference between poisonous and venomous. Poison is inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin (something I do a lot of); venom is injected (I have a lot of it). Those below a certain Intelligence Quotient don’t get this, in much the same way that they can’t understand a lot of what I write, nor understand some of the words that I make up. Like Biobollical. When I used that word in this blog, it referred not to my biological family per se but to those who I left behind; those who abandoned me. For “biobollical”, see “biological”, as that’s what those who can’t read apparently see. Read it. Read it again. Read it thrice if you have to (“Thrice” means three times). Now think before speaking again. I recognise that it’s difficult for some to differentiate between fact and fiction; words and stories but read more. Read between the lines and maybe spot parallels.

______________

From a parallel universe, a sci-fi tale:

Sleep eluded me last night as a result of various inconsequential and trivial worries, as well as real ones which actually concern me.

I’m clearly not a product of the mother ship. I’m the rogue boat, set adrift and searching, like we do in Ghost Bird for planet Somnia; that elusive world and one which we call home. Ghost Bird wasn’t launched from a mother ship. It was too big to fit through the exit hatch – the cunt, we call it out here – so Ghost Bird had to be extracted via the mother ship’s hull. The captain of Ghost Bird (that’s me) came into this world in a similar way: the head was too big for the cunt, so he was born by Cesarean section.

Last night Ghost Bird received an incoming communication from an unidentified alien species now occupying the mother ship. Clearly this was a species of lower intelligence as Ghost Bird’s on-board computer had to translate the message and the best that it could come up with still didn’t really make sense. It certainly didn’t come from a species the captain of the ship recognises: “I’ve read the Captain’s log…” (well done) “…and if that’s what you think of your biological family, you can fuck off.” If that had been from my mum in the other universe, I think you’ll find I did when you ejected me.

Clearly we were at war and Ghost Bird went into battle with the enemy ship from which this message emanated; a ship called The Poison Dwarf. Ghost Bird is bigger and better than the dwarf ship and has spent more time floating around in space. Ghost Bird has superior weaponry as it fires venom (an attack mechanism). The dwarf ship didn’t think things through when installing weaponry and instead of venom, it ended up with poison. Poison is a defense mechanism. So when Poison Dwarf went against Ghost Bird, the outcome was predictable and inevitable. The dwarf ship was shot down in flames of venom and communication was cut.

My communication device is approaching overload, so I need to sort out the needy. There are Clingons on the starboard bow, so the captain of the shit needs to get rid of them.

Do you know how to tell which way a ship is sailing, or flying? The right (starboard) light is green. Red (port) is what is left (or wrong). Ghost Bird also has blue lights on the stern and a white light on its bow, so we can see in all directions. Maybe one day we’ll find home. Those in Somnia have a message which we’ve transmitted. As we try to find the home planet, they continue to send that message to Earth. And therein lies the paradox, as illustrated by The Drake* Equation: by the time they get the message, we’ll be gone.

Some will understand what Drake proposed; that contact is virtually impossible:

Drake_Equation

*Frank Drake: born 28th May (two days before my birth date) 1930 (40 years before me) in Chicago (a city I love) and a man after the captain’s heart.

This is Captain Frank, signing off to search, fight and attempt world contact once more.

To be continued…

______________

Back on Earth,

Cooking again. Reading the weekend newspapers (Guardian and Observer) and playing online poker. I’m back in that game, both online (for real money, against real players) and live, home games (for play money) against a not surprisingly good player: my sister, The Courts. That girl is a natural. We spent the best part of the month we lived together in the squat playing poker and it didn’t take her long to learn, not just the basic game (rules and hand rankings) but also positional play, bet sizing, dealer raises, pot stealing, bluffing, double-, triple- and quadruple-bluffing, opening ranges and so on. She also has intuition and a very good memory: valuable assets at the poker table. Hours to learn; a life time to master: poker and The Courts. I taught my little sister well.

My little sister: the fourth love of my life, after my biological children and The Wife. Like The Wife, The Courts lives on the same planet as me: down to earth.

We know how the land lies (and the people) and they make me wonder. They cause me wonder.

Different in many respects but always the same.

Some Numbers

16.01.14

I was curious to know how prolific I am with the writing, so I ran this blog through some tools. Stats (before this comment):

76 pages;

1217 paragraphs;

25’775 words.

And counting…

I have been busy.

That Place

That Place

I have recently returned from an epic journey, having discovered the location of the place where Editors often direct us Writers. Yet another rejection slip and a rather curt comment from an Editor instructing me on where I should put my latest story prompted my journey. He was very vague in describing my destination and I therefore found it hard to locate.

I thought I’d found the place most nights, but each morning I knew I hadn’t. Last night I was sure I was in the right place, deep in a forest. This morning, as the wind parted the canopy and the Sun streamed in, I knew I was wrong again.

Setting off down a well-used path, I found a cave stretching deep underground. It grew so dark that I had to strike a match to see. Deep inside were thousands of manuscripts, just like the one I’d written and been carrying all this time. I put it down, in this place he’d told me of, where the Sun never shines.