Lessons from depression…

In 2008, I suffered a debilitating dark depression that kept me, prisoner, for most of the year. Being a working-class man, depression wasn’t something I knew about. The thought of reaching out was debilitating. The illusionary image of strength was the enemy of my recovery. It restricted me from reaching out sooner. It kept me in a dark place for longer than was needed. Last year (2020), I began to descend down the same road. It was a slow return to bleak negativity and eventual hopelessness. The mornings seemed darker. My body felt heavier. Depression is insidious. It is sneaky. It is tiring. And pretending to be strong is not the answer. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Let alone reach out for help. I wanted to be the one who had beaten depression all those years ago. I wanted to be the one with all the answers. Who had walked through hell and had the burns to prove it. It wasn’t to be. Thankfully the misery of the first bout of depression was enough to seek help much sooner this time. The lesson from the first bout was; I don’t have to fight it alone. 

For most of my life, I felt out of step with everyone. Imagine a silent disco. On the headset, there are two channels. On channel one there is clubland classics pumping out baselines with the ferocity of a Mike Tyson uppercut. On channel two there is The Smiths greatest hits. Morrisey’s melancholy meanderings light a connection in my depressed soul. I feel like the only one in the room listening to The Smiths. Everyone else is having a great time. Partying. Loving the moment. While I am gently swaying contemplating my own existence.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many others feel disconnected and lost also. Cut off from others and themselves. Trying desperately to fill the void with something. Hoping that one day it will be filled with something outside. Not being comfortable to expose their true selves, many adopt a persona. A barrier to protect them from being exposed. The artificial attracts like. Connections are merely trivial distractions from the self. Another solution to the emptiness.

The social fabric is tearing as it’s material is cheapened. Life gets devalued. Connections become trivialised. Mental health increases as isolation and loneliness take hold. Clinging to trends in the hope of acceptance. Trying to keep up with the ever-changing world. It’s overwhelming and exhausting. It is this feeling that draws us towards escapism. Fantasist ideals tantalise our tastebuds. They tease us to believe that the next thing will be the key to our illusionary prison cells. The result is that our day to day life suffers. Our minds are on tomorrow. Not now. We become focused on the things we lack and not the things we have. Escape from this makes perfect sense. TV, sex, food, alcohol, drugs, anything that gives temporary relief from the emotional pain is sought. 

Alcohol appealed to me because it gave me freedom from an anxious mind. Placed me firmly back within the moment and silenced the dream machine. Eventually, escapism is all I knew. I had forgotten how to live. Alcohol became my life. Yet, after quitting alcohol, the behaviours still remained. I still sought to escape from myself just by other means. I was blinded by broken promises of happiness dressed as manikins. The illusion of technological vicariousness swallowed my integrity. An artificial audience has begun to dictate my direction. I got lost in the delusion. Clouded by bullshit. Dragged along by nothingness hoping to reach something. Searching for reality in the artificial. 

Basically, I have reverted back to addictive behaviour without using alcohol. I had been searching for completeness. Browsing the shelves for my missing piece. No wonder I was fucking miserable. Like a hamster on a wheel dreaming of escape. I had been going around and around. Each new item I bought was the thing to liberate me. Yet, happiness wasn’t included. Everything new becomes old eventually. Consumption is fleeting. Life isn’t dispensable. It is to be savoured. Devoured. Explored. Tested. Tried. Bent and prodded. By searching externally I only found the same answers. External stimuli are temporary. Eventually, the feeling will be replaced. Like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Contentment is a fixed bucket. I had to find the road to contentment.

Perception makes a huge difference. Most mornings I would wake up and imagine sliding a pistol against the base of my skull. Suicide or face the day. That was my choice for a long time. I would say “One more day,” And then I would get out of bed. I mean, it isn’t a great way to start the day. Contemplating suicide. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It was just the way it was. A continuation of the guilt soaked mornings of addiction. When each thought would either be where am I? Or “shit! I’m still alive!” I have replaced suicidal morning meanderings with a morning complement. A much nicer start to the day. I have started being nice to myself, mentally. Saying you are good enough. It seemed like bullshit when I started but eventually, it made a difference. I’m just trying to find the level. Repetition is the mother of skill.

It has been a good lesson. An enforced reflection. A slap across the face. I have learned that obsession is putting all eggs in one basket. Addiction is a single escape. Imagine, there is a percentage of escape we need from the rat race to stop us from going insane. Addiction is 100% of that escape. The answer is to diversify our addictions. Spread them out to eliminate the obsession. Learning an instrument 25%. Exercise 25%. Spending time with friends or loved ones 25%. Reading 25%. Just examples but you get the idea. I know it isn’t as easy as choosing not to be an alcoholic/addict/user but it is integral to mental well being. 

Even after all these years, I can still obsess over people, products or travel. In fact, obsessing has been useful to achieve goals. Unfortunately, when the goal is accomplished, I am left floundering around for something else to obsess over. If I peg all my happiness on a single outcome, what happens if it doesn’t deliver? A single goal is a dangerous destination. After completion, it is a lonely place. It is good to have balance. To spread the love. To share the growth. To pass on your message. Altruism is great for happiness. It stops us from collapsing into selfishness. It also increases our awareness and mood. 

When I begin to obsess over a goal everything else falls by the wayside. Travel was a massive obsession. It has all the positives of alcohol; confidence, laughter, relaxation, dopamine, banter, connection and experience. But without the destruction of the self. In fact, travel expands the soul instead of destroying it. Because of these characteristics, I find travel addictive. Dopamine is constantly pumped into my brain by excitement and wonder. It is a beautiful feeling. Returning home is the hangover. Crashing through the floor into a dark cellar of despair. Especially, when I have pushed everything away to get to the finish line. Each time I have to rebuild the bridges to the people who saw the real side of my obsessional behaviour. It’s similar to a manic episode. It is similar to a drunken episode. It consumes my thinking and I stop doing the simple things that keep me well.

The depression last year started after achieving my dreams. All I had ever wanted to do was travel. I wanted to KNOW what the Inca trail felt like. I wanted to experience it. The fire in my soul was ferocious. Alcohol cooled it but never extinguished it. I had naively assumed that achieving my dreams would lead to fulfilment. But I was mistaken. The aeroplane wheels barely touched down at Heathrow airport, on my return, before the thought “Is that it? Now what?” entered my mind. I was lost. Without a goal, I felt I had nothing to aim for. I had stopped doing the simple things. I wrongly believed that travel and achieving dreams would answer all my problems. I heard Tyson Fury talking about how deflated he felt after winning the world title. I understand the emotion. I thought that achievement would fill the void.

I know it sounds ungrateful. I know how lucky I am to have done what I have done. I am not saying that I didn’t have a great time. Neither am I suggesting there is no benefit it having goals. Setting goals can lead to contentment. What I am saying is that the thing I dreamed about doing for twenty years didn’t make me content. What does make me content are the simple things that I can take for granted. It is those things that are the basis of my contentment. I was almost disappointed to realise that there wasn’t some magical thing in the world to complete me. Meditation, reflection, creativity, connection, gratitude, love and self- care. Those things are what I need to stay well. Not doing/acknowledging them is the same as digging up the foundations of my house. Once the undermining begins then the negativity creeps in and then the whole house comes falling down.

I recently heard of a young man taking his own life. None of his close friends or family knew of how he was feeling. Reaching out may not have solved his problems but it may have. IF YOU EVER FEEL THIS WAY THEN PLEASE TELL SOMEONE. Reaching out can seem pointless when amid despair. But it changed my life. You don’t have to go it alone. The world needs you. It may not seem like it but you are loved.

Charlie.

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

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4 thoughts on “Lessons from depression…

  1. Charlie this is a powerful beautiful piece of writing with so much to take from it. Powerful metaphors, wisdom and growth. I too have suffered depression managed with various addictions over the years and can relate to so much here – thank you! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your positive feedback. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. Hopefully, you are reaping the rewards of overcoming those obstacles 🙏

      Like

  2. We can’t beat depression, just manage it when it comes back into our lies. Some people can go years with depression others it’s withthem all the time. It takes so much strenth to reach out, iit feels the opposite buts it takes great strenght to ask for help

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pride makes it hard to reach out. It feels like a failure but it eases the pressure and may just offer a slither of hope.

      Depression may be present but life is possible with it. Even contentment but it takes introspection and change. But it is possible to do, although it may seem impossible in during the darkest days when hope has gone. But it can get better

      Liked by 1 person

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