This post should be titled ‘depression made me not do it.’ If there’s one thing that depression succeeds at, that’s taking away pleasure from everything that I ever found enjoyable. Depression’s a fucking killjoy. If anybody ever starts a change.org petition to change its name to “the killjoy illness,” I’ll happily sign it and force everybody I know to do so. While we’re dealing with the nomenclature, I have to say that I much prefer the dated term “melancholia” to depression. Depression can be geological, economic and meteorological, while melancholia refers exclusively to the mind. Besides its different meanings, the word “depression” is terribly overused. Depression is that song you like but cannot stand to listen to anymore because you’ve heard it so many times that you can no longer remember what it meant to you in the first place. Depression is the ‘Friday I’m in Love’ of words. Hell, it’s the ‘Such Great Heights’ of words. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard somebody say “I’m so depressed” or “how depressing” about things as meaningless as the following: Not being able to fit into the same size of jeans they wore as teenagers, having to take exams for something that they willingly signed up for, a music festival ending, having nothing to do on a Sunday. But since using the word “melancholia” to refer to my mental health disorder makes me sound like a nineteenth-century woman who needs a walk along the coast and an orgasm (although not necessarily in that order), I’ll stick with “depression” for now (the word, that is, not the disorder, although it is a tough one to get rid of).
1.Depression made me ignore my problems
One of the most disturbing aspects of depression is, without a doubt, the way in which your brain manages to trick you into ignoring the fact that you’re depressed. This ignorance is not so frustrating when you’re going through your first depressive episode and have no clue what’s happening to you. However, when you’re going through your second, or third, or millionth depressive episode and it suddenly dawns on you that you are depressed again or that your depression has been worsening steadily for months (or days, or weeks, or years), you feel like a goddamn fool. “How could I be so blind?”, “Have I learnt nothing about myself?” and “Am I the only one who hadn’t noticed?” are sentences that have come out of my mouth several times in the past months.
2. Depression made me obsess over the wrong things
When my psychiatrist told me that I have an obsessive personality, my first thought was “well, duh, how am I supposed to work on a PhD without an obsessive personality?”. The problem with depression is that it made me obsess over the wrong things. Instead of obsessing over books and records and films and all the other things that make my heart happy, I got obsessed with death, my insecurities and solutions to my problems that were problems themselves. We’ve all thought “if I do x, I’ll be happy” at some point in our lives. Depression made me think that “x” would fix me, that everything that was making me unhappy would magically disappear. It turned my brain into a long tunnel surrounded by fog with a single solution at the end. I was blind (or I wanted to be blind) to all the warning signs that indicated that way was a dead-end street. Eventually, I had to retrace my steps. And yes, the sentence “how could I be so blind?” was uttered again.
3. Depression made me stop listening to music
About a month after my depression kicked in, I spilt a cup of tea over my computer and lost, among other important things, all the music I had downloaded through the years. I know that downloading music is extremely 00s, but how else are you supposed to have absolutely every album you want to listen to in the same place? Anyway, I got a Spotify subscription and, partly thanks to depression and partly thanks to its stupidly awkward browsing system, I got stuck listening to the same bands over and over again. But let’s not blame it on Spotify. It took me a couple of years to even consider connecting my record player. If you know me, you know that this is a clear indicator that something is not right. So I spent 2014 and 2015 without listening to or buying any records. Ok, that’s a lie, I bought a couple of records that I only listened to for the first time last month. Somehow, for two long, musicless years, I didn’t really think of this as a problem (see point 1).
4. Depression made me stop watching films
My obsessive personality drives me to write down every single thing that I do. It is thanks to this obsessiveness that I know I watched ZERO movies between May and December 2016. If you stop for a moment and consider that I’m writing a PhD about films, you will see how this constitutes a bit of a problem. At some point in early 2016, the mere act of sitting down to watch a film became a trigger, regardless of whether that film was related to my thesis or not. Instead, I obsessively consumed TV shows. I got through ‘Skins’, ‘Orange Is the New Black’, ‘Gilmore Girls’, ‘Fresh Meat’, ‘The Village’, ‘New Girl’, ‘Fuller House’, ‘Master of None’, ‘Call the Midwife’, ‘Jane the Virgin’, ‘Hannibal’, ‘Unbreakable’, half of Buffy and a couple of embarrassing Spanish TV shows. What the fuck, 2016?
My PhD constitutes a major part of my depression and medication really affects my ability to focus until I get back to normal, whatever normal is. As a consequence, I’m still struggling to watch films without panicking, but it’s getting better. I’ve even watched PhD-related films, something that I couldn’t even think about for half a year. Progress is slow, but I’ll get there eventually.
5. Depression made me ignore (some of) my friends
When you’re depressed, you drive people away from you. I’d argue that the opposite also happens, because, who likes to hang out with someone who is constantly dwelling on their own misery? When you’re depressed, your problems achieve such magnitude that you fail to notice that others around you may have problems too. Your sadness becomes a bubble and you turn into John Travolta (but with better hair and worse dance moves). I start seeing the worst in people, their (apparent) happiness turns into a reminder that everything in my life is wrong, I lose all empathy. Sometimes I even start disliking some of my friends for no specific reason (sorry, guys, it happens). I consider myself very lucky that I have a lot of extremely good friends scattered all over the place who would always be there for me if I reached out. Thanks to them and their incredible understanding of mental health issues, depression is not as isolating as it could be. The truth is that depression made me lose touch with a bunch of people that I care about and love. Sometimes for years.
6. Depression made me stop reading
I read an average of 50 books per year. Between July and December 2016 (can you start to see a pattern here?) I didn’t finish any books. I lie, I read a bunch of books at the beginning of September when I caught a nasty chest infection, but I can’t remember what any of those books were about. I’ve been obsessively keeping track of everything I read for 13 years now, and I can 100% assure you that the longest I’d ever spent without finishing a book in all this time was ONE MONTH.
7. Depression made me drink less, and then drink more
Medication and alcohol don’t mix very well. That’s why I spent nearly a year (August 2015-May 2016) drinking almost nothing at all. I never really gave it up, and I certainly enjoyed a few too many drinks on a couple of nights out, but I mostly remained sober. I can’t remember a time when I drank less than those months since I was 15. Then, when everything started spiralling downwards, I started drinking regularly again and, for a few months, the thought of not having anything to drink at home triggered my anxiety to the point of having to go down to the bar to get some beers to drink at home. While I was too scared to acknowledge the fact that been a) blind to my problems and b) obsessed with the wrong solutions (see points 1 and 2), alcohol numbed my feelings enough to make living bearable. At least I had started listening to music again at this point.
8. Depression made me lose confidence
One of the moments when I realised I needed help was when I found myself speaking a sort of code language with a student who came to my office. I was trying to address a problem without actually mentioning anything that might make other people in the office identify what I was talking about. I was basically scared of being wrong. I started thinking that I wasn’t qualified enough to do something that I’ve been doing for years, that I would make embarrassing mistakes in front of my students, that everybody else was a better teacher than I am. After I got help I had one of the best semesters ever and actually found joy in teaching again.
Another aspect in which my confidence was hit hard was my writing. I stopped writing anything that wasn’t my depression diary (more on that another day). When my tutor returned the first chapter of my thesis, he told me that I had included too many literal quotations that had to be paraphrased. That brought me back to a late night/early morning spent obsessing over a single sentence. A moment when I thought I just couldn’t write and ended up typing a literal quotation and going to bed. Yes, I included a lot of literal quotations, and I did it because I didn’t think my writing was good enough.
9. Depression made me snap at those who saw my problems
I hate arguing with my friends. Last summer I snapped at one of my best friends. Twice. Within a week. The reason why it happened was basically that she could see how unhappy I was and tried to make me do something about it. I wasn’t ready. I’m still sorry I screamed at her.
10. Depression made me spend a lot of money
When I unpacked my books the last two times (ah, the joys of moving), all I could think about was “when did I buy all these books?”. The answer is after therapy and whenever I was feeling like my life lacked meaning, which was most of the time. I also bought a humidifier, a tablet, a stupid amount of notebooks that serve as a reminder of how little I write these days, an electric blanket, a vegetable spiralizer, a blood pressure meter, more shades of red lipstick than I need and probably some other useless crap that I’m never going to use. At least it also made me sell a bunch of stuff.
I could go on forever, but writing about this (and doing it honestly) is really psychologically draining and now I feel like I need a drink, a hug, anxiety medicine and some chocolate. Writing about mental health is exhausting, but it’s necessary.