I spend a lot of time staring at blank walls. But then I break away, one mammoth effort later to move my lumbering body from a mattress that, despite the springs slowly breaking free from their clothy prison and into my back, feels like it could suck me into it forever. I sigh. This again. By now, I’m bored of myself.
I’m depressed again.
Much like the tides in the sea, or one of your faves becoming problematic, my brain catches itself. The world slows down. The air becomes tar.
I know it’s not the same as being sad. Sad is when your friends get a boyfriend or girlfriend and suddenly your binge drinking sessions are sidelined for date nights. Sad is your favorite show ending. Sad is people dying.
Depressed is different. Depressed is letting message after message pile up in your apps, not having the strength to give a courtesy reply. The weight of the shadow pressing down on your shoulders and sinking you away from the buoy of being worthy of any friendship. Depressed is getting blind drunk at your friend’s wake because feeling anything is like swallowing razor wire. Depressed is knowing in your soul that you are the arbiter of your own destruction; that it’s you that strains, and breaks, your relationships.
Where are you supposed to turn?
And yet it starts to bore everyone as much as it bores me. Because I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m not ill enough. When I’m depressed, I can still get to work. I still attend social events, but I use booze like a wrench to ply the shadow’s claws from around my brain. I don’t feel like I want to die.
This is the problem we face with mental health. We’re a generation of anxious people. We all have our problems. We, rightly, acknowledge that some people need help more than others. The NHS is a source of pride for our country but its wheezing, stretched body can barely contain the weight of the people who need help.
Suicidal people left for hours. Waiting lists for therapy that spans years. Desperate people given printed out web pages of the site they visited, with the number of the helpline they already rung. Trained psychologists ask people about to kill themselves if they’ve tried yoga. One person wrote that a doctor told her depressed 11-year-old to get herself together, because depression is for life. Staff are under-trained and sometimes unsympathetic; the lack of sympathy coming from seeing lives wasted that could be saved, were it not for a heartless government cutting away at the system’s fabric.
You see these stories pile up and it puts your constant, nagging grey into perspective. I can still have fun. I’m naturally an extroverted person, so sometimes it even helps to go out in big groups. To shout and be loud. To be seen. The greyness eases. I’m not in a state that these people are in. But the system that’s designed for these emergencies cannot even help people in emergencies. When you’re “not ill enough”, you step aside so other people who desperately need it are given help, and there’s still no help for them to be found.
The long road ahead
All I am, not being “ill enough”, is walking barefoot down a long graveled path. In the throes of my worst, I can only take things day-by-day. To look ahead would throw me off the path, through the jagged rocks and into the void below. Because it’s just more of the same path. I’ve been there before.
Seeing the massive rise in teenage self-harm statistics released by the NHS struck me because, in the worst depths of my despair at university, I took the sadness out on my own arms. I used to write poetry about it and get firsts. Return and repeat. I’d open the page for the university’s counselling service and stare at the glowing page. Unable to answer the first question: ‘Why do you feel sad?’ The question rattled around a numb shell.
But now I’m out of that void. My arm hair grew over the scars. I’m on the graveled path.
Every so often, along the path, there’s grass. Sometimes a patch, sometimes a field that stretches for months. Color returns to the world and the midday sun makes all shadows feel small. Eventually you run out of grass. Gravel returns.
But sometimes I stare at blank walls. I think I have to face the possibility that I’m never going to get fully better. There’s no system to help. People are bored of hearing about it. Sharing a problem doesn’t halve it for me. There aren’t enough sad songs on Spotify.
I knew what I was supposed to do when I was really bad. How do you act when you’re not ill enough? Just man up?
The only thing you can do is take it day after day. One step in front of the other, sometimes good, occasionally bad. Feet crunching against the graveled path but not flinching away. Listen to the words of your favorite artists. The Smith Street Band have a lyric that sticks out.
‘Things get better, but they never get good.’
At this point, I’ll settle for that.
Follow Tom on Twitter @TomCapon