“What would you call depression?” my therapist asked me last week.
My initial response was one of confusion as I struggled to wrap my brain around the rather unexpected question. My first thought was then to simply say that depression is called depression, that being the name that everyone, regardless as to whether they were medical, in the media, working for a mental health charity or lived with the condition called it. But I did understand what the therapist meant; she was asking me to think beyond the a list of symptoms and medication, asking me to think about what depression specifically means to me.
I told her that depression was called Louise and she calmly but firmly told me that simply wasn’t true.
There was something in her tone of voice that made me stop and think about my answer and seeing my hesitation she advised me to go away and think about my answer without feeling as though I’d been put on the spot.
I have been thinking about her question all week, trying to put a name to the formless yet overpowering entity that is as much a part of me as the fact that I have hazel eyes and that I detest celery.
I think of it a bit like the stereotypical introduction that people are supposed to give in support meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Like so:
“Hello everyone, my name is Louise. I’m 28 years old, married, mother to a gorgeous little boy and I’m an alcoholic.”
I’m a depressive.
I am depression.
For me, it feels as though depression is everything that I am, having eaten away at the different aspects of my personality until I can no longer really recall what they were. I don’t remember if I was kind or friendly, generous or funny, quirky or outgoing or anything much at all.
It is so implicitly part of me,affecting my friendships, relationships with my family, my job, my social life (or lack thereof) and my ability to be a mother. It is intertwined in everything that I do, constantly invading my thoughts and whispering in its spiteful yet strangely compelling voice so that after ten years of listening to it every single day I now believe each word it says without questioning its motives or wondering whether it might possibly be wrong.
It is in every minute of every day, colouring each word and thought in different shades of grey; unattractive and uninspiring, yet oddly comforting in its normality and predictability. This may sound bizarre but one of the most damaging things about depression for me is having a day where I feel happy or even just stable and knowing that sooner or later the positive feelings will go away. It is miserable to feel miserable but at least if I’m already there I don’t have to experience the crushing sense of loss that occurs when I feel my mood slipping and knowing that this period of low mood could last for days, weeks or even months.
Yet even when I’m not in the midst of a period of low mood (as I am now), depression is still predictable in the things it whispers in my ear and I am predictable in my belief of everything it says. The only thing my mood dictates is how loud those whispers are; whether they are background noise that can be ignored with a bit of effort or whether they have the power to stop my in my tracks and pin me to the spot with their intensity.
I look in the mirror and agree with depression when it tells me that I am disgusting and ugly.
I look at Squidge and know depression is right when it tells me that I am a useless mother.
I look at the Northern One and know that it speaks the truth when depression tells me that I am a disappointing wife.
Depression is everything.
Depression is almost the only thing.
How can you name something so powerful and so destructive, that has no gender or form and that no one else can see or hear or even really understand without experiencing it for themselves?
Yet despite the seeming impossibility of the task I also understand why my therapist wants me to try; that by finding a name for depression I am truly considering it as something separate from myself, allowing me the chance to wrestle some control away from it and returning it to me.
I haven’t felt in control for a very long time.
In scary films, the fear is always the most intense when you don’t know what you’re actually afraid of. You jump at sudden noises, shout at the characters about to go into the spooky basement and hide behind the sofa cushions when you even suspect that something terrifying might be about to happen. Your heart races, you breathe faster and the knowledge that something is very wrong settles uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach. Then, at the crescendo of ‘what-the-hell-was-that’, when the monster or phantom is revealed, simply by knowing what it is and being able to put a name to the thing that you feared, you are instantly less afraid.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I still don’t know what name I would give depression but I’ve decided that it needs a human name. The strength and intensity of its words is like having another person standing beside me; an invisible, malevolent person completely bent on my destruction but a person nonetheless.
Even the most evil and terrifying of people have names.
Yet to assign a name to depression in this way I have to decide upon its gender. Is depression male and therefore has the ability to overpower me with its superior strength and break me with expertly placed kicks and punches. Or is it female and thus more spiteful, wearing me away bit by bit with its barely disguised insults and whispered comments behind my back?
Maybe trying to look at depression as though it was a person is the wrong approach. After all, people can be every bit as unpredictable and fear-inducing as any ghost or monster. But the way it talks like me, sounds like me and knows exactly how and when to hurt me the most, surely these are human traits?
I don’t imagine my therapist thought this would be an easy task but she also made it perfectly clear that she wouldn’t ask me to do anything that I wasn’t capable of or able to cope with. Therefore she thinks that I’m able to think of a name for depression; one which enables me to know it and by which will enable me to start loosening the strangle hold that it has me in.
“What would I call depression?”
Where to start?