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Sunday 8 April 2018

Down Here

(You should probably be warned: this one is about depression and various other mental health issues. If you aren't in the frame of mind to read it, no offence taken. I've written plenty of blogs that are about something else. Try this one, which is about the Fermi paradox, and where all the aliens are.)

So. Hello again.

People will often talk about how depressed they are, and I can almost guarantee that - unless it is said in jest - the person in question isn't suffering from depression.

I don't mean to gatekeep. It's just such a small word for such a heavy condition.

Heavy. That's a good descriptor.

Something that comes up with fair regularity when I talk to fellow sufferers and survivors is that only the people who have been there - or are still there - can really grasp you, when you talk about the condition. Which I daresay is true of a lot of this really heavy stuff. It's true about a lot of experiences - how do you really convey how it feels to parachute jump to someone that has no frame of reference? So of course it would apply to mental health, to traumatic experiences.

In terms of depression, heavy is a good term, because it makes literally everything feel heavier. The process of achieving anything, pushing for anything, even going anywhere, even doing basic things, just takes that much more effort. You know when people talk about how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning? Imagine that, but it isn't because bed is lovely and cosy and warm. It's because actually galvanising yourself to stand up requires a literal self-pep talk and takes half an hour. Because your door is all the way over there, and everything else is all the way out there, and then you have to deal with this, and that...and it's all so god damned tiring.

I was having difficulty deciding what to write about today - while trying to drag my carcass out of bed - because every topic I half-settled on seemed so big, and so looming, or so trivial and so unimportant. And that was something I had to do after I got up, which in and of itself seemed like a task fit for Hercules (not one of the big ones, just like shovelling the shit out of the Augean stables).

So why not talk about that?

Then I wondered if maybe talking about depression was a bit much for a Sunday lunchtime. Do people really need my perspective on this illness again? Is it something that should be read? Something that deserves reading?

That's what made me decide to do it.

The thing is, with exposure comes understanding. Just like anything else on earth. I can't write about what it is like to run an Olympic marathon, or raise children, or earn a million. This, though - this I can talk about. And the more I and others talk about it, the better others who don't suffer can understand.

It's a neat little encapsulation of an experience; sitting there at the end of my bed, willing myself to move, and knowing now that this very moment is my topic.

That's what it is like.

It's a duality. A split motivation. You know you want to do the thing, you have to do the thing. The thing requires being done. But doing the thing is beyond you and you know it. You want to not have to. You desperately want to not have to even make the decision either way.

A common thing for people with non-diagnosed depression to think about themselves - or be described as by others - is lazy.

It gets used as an invective, as a pejorative. It gets used as a weapon, against ourselves, by others against us. Mostly because people like to believe that mental health is something that can be fixed by well-wishes and just Not Wanting To Be Like That, that way they don't have to worry about it. Which is ridiculous.

The guy missing two legs and one arm - if we expect him to do everything as quickly as someone with a full compliment of limbs, we're frankly mad. How could we think that? It's cruel and idiotic. Likewise, we don't expect the person undergoing heavy chemotherapy to be as full of energy and drive as anyone else. To do so would, again, be cruel and idiotic.

But depression is a mental health issue, so it pretty much gets ignored. It gets equated with people just being a little bit sad, and nobody can understand why being a bit sad can stop you doing anything.

The spread of knowledge, people's grasp of the situation, the illness for what it really is, has greatly improved in recent years. At least, as best I can tell. There is still the stigma, though. How do you talk about it? How do you talk about it to people that don't know? Especially when actually doing so is one of those aforementioned tasks, that seems all the more insurmountable from the bottom of the cliff.

Well, this is what I'm doing about it.

I'm talking about it, for anyone to read if they see fit.

I think, maybe, I ought to talk about it more.

Sure, it's daunting - but I'm not going to let that stop me.

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