Writing may be one of my biggest loves in this life, but it’s also one of my biggest struggles thanks to my health. As a person with chronic illnesses and major mental health struggles, I don’t write as much as I would like to or as much as I used to.
I still find the same release in writing that I always have found but, more often than not, I just can’t bring myself to write. Post-exertional malaise from my ME, and cognitive difficulty from my fibromyalgia makes the activity of writing difficult in itself, but there’s more to it than that for me; a different kind of blockage that can be hard to pin down.
This piece has been doubly difficult for me to write. Not just because of the writing process itself, but because of the subject matter. I chose to write an article for Mental Health Week about depression. And depression makes me lose interest in the things I love. There’s definitely an irony in struggling to write about depression because of depression, isn’t there?
I want my writing to make others feel less alone, but how on earth was I going to approach this topic? When it comes to something as multifaceted as mental health, it can be difficult to know where to even start. My brain quickly got to work on bullying me.
Why would anyone want to read something you wrote anyway?
You have nothing interesting to say. All your work is bland and rubbish, just like you.
I don’t know why you even bother.
There are too many better writers out there. You’ll never be taken seriously.
Your thoughts aren’t valuable enough to be paid attention to.
So here I am, scrambling around inside my foggy brain trying to ignore the bullying thoughts in my head and to figure out whether anything I have to say about depression will even make sense enough to shape into an article.
Describing The Indescribable?
Up until a few years ago, I thought of depression as an intruder. It would fully catch me off guard, kind of like a huge predator stalking in the shadows and then jumping out in front of me when I least expected it. Some people describe depression as a black dog which won’t leave you alone. As my life has gone on, I’ve come to see it more as some kind of dangerous plant, thriving in the darkness and slowly growing; creeping its way into my life until I’m swamped.
Its roots are deep, and its vines reach further and further into my present consciousness until I can feel them grasping me by the limbs and the throat, pulling me backwards into the dark. Sometimes the vines loosen their grip and retreat, and I can breathe again but, even then, I still know they’re only biding their time. They’re still there, lurking…ready to creep out of the shadow again at some point. And as the years have gone on, each trauma or stress that life has thrown my way has only strengthened the roots in those murky depths of my psyche.
As well as the stigma, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about depression. People often think that feeling down for a few days or a couple of weeks is being depressed. It’s not. That’s just feeling blue, which is something that most people experience at some point in their lives. Feeling down occasionally is part of our normal range of human emotion, just like feeling sad is. Feeling sad when something bad happens is not depression. That’s a normal reaction to something bad happening, and will usually dissipate with time. When the low mood persists long-term, that’s when it becomes a problem.
Doctors and psychologists usually look out for common symptoms when diagnosing depression, such as a loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy, feelings of worthlessness or of despair, feelings of unrealness and even urges to harm yourself in some way. Check out this guide from the charity Mind to find out more about symptoms, causes and potential treatment options. Their website is also full of resources about other mental health disorders and information about where to find help.
Perhaps my least favourite symptom that comes from being in a depressive episode is what I now call the nothingness. This is something that I have experienced since I was a teenager and still frightens me to this day when it happens. It’s not that I feel sad, or upset or even down, I just feel…nothing. In these times my emotional range seems to just shut down. I can’t feel anything or recall how emotions normally feel. It is the complete absence of feeling, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It is the most isolating thing I have ever experienced, and every time I feel my mental health slipping I become fearful of that emotional numbing.
When I’m numb, I would kill to feel sad or angry because then at least I would feel something. Many people I’ve tried to express this to simply can’t wrap their heads around it. I discovered a few months ago that this kind of emotional shutdown can be a response to past psychological trauma.
Going back to writing, it’s really no surprise that I struggle to do it a lot of the time. It’s sometimes like the parts of my brain that feed into creativity have been boarded up like an old abandoned house. It’s like somebody cauterized by ability to even think clearly, let alone comprehend those thoughts and translate them into words.
Depression makes it feel as though my brain just won’t work in the way it’s supposed to; the way I know it can work. It feels like there is a thick cloud of fog filling up the spaces in my head. Things don’t seem right; things don’t make sense. I can’t even make decisions. The smallest of decisions feels disproportionately impossible. Do I want a glass of water or a glass of juice? Do I prefer red or blue? Am I a good person or a bad person for the answers I picked? I can’t decide what I want to watch, what I want to read, what music I want to listen to.
I know that I’m passionate about things, somewhere beneath all the fog, but those things seem shapeless; far away from me. I feel completely disconnected from myself, as though the body and mind I inhabit do not belong to me. I interact with my surroundings, but it’s all robotic. I’m not sure what is real.
It’s a cruel state of mind to be in. Perhaps it’s even crueller that all of this is invisible to the world around you and can be masked by a simple “I’m fine!” when somebody asks you how you’re feeling.
We have to be brave enough to answer “I’m not fine.”
About the Author:
Charlotte is a 26 year old writer from West Yorkshire in England. After a spinal cord tumour left her disabled at 19, she started writing about her experiences alongside her university studies. Her blog is called Of Books and Stardust. She also has ME and fibromyalgia, and has experienced mental health problems for most of her life. She writes to raise visibility and to help others feel less alone. Charlotte adores literature, has always loved caring for pet bunnies (or do they care for her?) and is passionate about spirituality, paganism and witchcraft.