Depression: the enemy within

I harbour an enemy within me that, left to its own purposes, eats me up from the inside out. It’s kept on a tight leash, caged, muzzled, silent, but for ten years it rampaged wildly. It chewed up the first decade of my grown life until I didn’t believe the pieces could ever go back together, I didn’t even know where they belonged.

Many people didn’t know how to respond to the beast inside me, and I didn’t know how to live in the same body alongside it. Throughout those years I tried to discover who I was when all I could see or feel of myself was this daily, unrelenting, all-consuming battle for survival. And now, I wonder how that decade shaped and will continue to shape me, and how I might be able turn the fearsome power of my brain towards making something good of it – making me better, giving me something to share.

Depression is different for everyone who experiences it. The shadowy shape-shifter is so notoriously difficult to diagnose, to treat, to understand precisely because the only expert is the person who feels its breath tangled in their lungs. So I will not generalise when I talk about the enemy inside me, or attempt to find understanding beyond myself. All I can do is describe my own foe and, in doing so, perhaps help myself or others simply by pulling it out into the light of day and taking an unflinching look at it in all its ugliness.

I took a few deep breaths, in through my nose and out through my mouth, and then I wrote this description of the bleakest, most desperate battles. The times when the emptiness would swell and grow, stretching my insides and filling me so completely that there was no room to breathe. The times when my tears dried up, my eyes widened with panic, my pulse racing, pacing, turning, frantically searching for a way out while my ears split with silent screams. The walls would close in around me and begin their own shape-shifting, distorting as my breathing raced fast, faster, so very fast. At times the only way I could feel anything, know I still existed, was to scratch, again and again, my hand or my arm until raw pain gave me something to hold onto, something that cut through the fog and reached me. Physical pain was a lifeline without which I would do anything, literally anything to make the other pain stop. It helped me to survive just long enough for the numbness to descend. What wonderful relief this shock, anaesthetic, system shut-down – I felt nothing, in a deeply real way. I was nobody, nothing. I could exist like that.

Other days, functional days, were very different. I could keep up the act, pretend to be normal. Some days the deception was exhausting, other days I almost could deceive myself, but whichever kind of day it was, they all began with a shock of pain as, a moment after wakening, my chest would contract, my heart literally spasm as the enemy woke up too. Each and every morning I had to remember that I was, in fact, full of emptiness.

As the day progressed, the enemy would often come out of my chest to play havoc with my ability to get anything done. It must have been amusing to watch me dance to its whims, disappearing, hiding, crafting excuses and trying not to be noticed when thoughts would demand, demand my attention, seize me immobile, stuck and incapable. Cogitating, speculating, deliberating – ruminating my way through a mind that had lost its ability to tell truth from fiction, reality from hell.

I was never ok. Even during the best times, I was never just ok – I was only hiding from the enemy, distracting it with other entertainment. And I was always angry: at the good times for not being good just as much as at the bad times for being so bad, and at the knowledge that this would be all there was to my life. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. A decade of different pills, doses of pills, combinations of pills, had fallen on the battlefield and no kind of therapy or specialist had touched my enemy.

Those people who love me watched me always, protected me in every way they could, fed me when I couldn’t, came back time and time again when I needed to know that the world hadn’t given up on me. And a seedling given wordlessly to me then grew big and strong, and one day a new type of pill worked. It just worked.

I am not a religious person, but I thank any god for the little drug that gave me my life. It’s a bit of a bruised and battered life, coloured with complexity, fear and vulnerability, but – what I feel now is real. For more than three years I have really lived – and it’s a life so full of life. And now, this story has to end here because although it is hard to find words to describe the beast I battled, there are simply no words to describe the joy of its defeat.

Josie

This blog was originally published on Josie’s blog.

An enemy, a fog, a black dog…whatever depression looks like to you, it’s important to remember that we all need a bit of extra support from time to time. Our information on depression tells you about the different options available.