Monday, 20 January 2014

More Than Feeling Blue

I've just read a post by my brother, CJ aka Scriptor Senex, telling his readers that today is Blue Monday.  That followed a post by Meike aka Librarian on the book The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  The subject which links the two posts is depression: the first a fairly light-hearted look at why we are supposed to feel at our lowest today and the second the serious depression from which Sylvia Plath suffered.

I have friends who have clinical depression.  Most of the time no one would know.  Medication assists and years or decades can pass without incident.  When depression does strike then, like any other potentially serious illness, the consequence for the sufferer and those around can be severe.

From what I can gather anyone who has not suffered from the illness has difficulty really understanding it.  In a way it's the same as, say, cancer where the consequences can be serious but someone who hasn't had a potentially terminal illness can't really understand the feelings of being told that you have that illness.

When I was 16 I had most of one of my lungs removed.  The question of dying never even occurred to me.  When I was discharged from hospital I suffered from post-operative depression.  There was little apparently known about it and it wasn't something I could talk about or explain because I didn't understand it myself.  I would walk for hours and hours on my own in an aimless sort of daze.  I walked round the coast of the Wirral Peninsula getting the ferry to New Brighton and walking round to Hoylake and beyond.  I knew the coast from Heswall to New Brighton pretty well then.

It was only when I stayed with my Godfather at his family retreat in a field in North Wales and went for a 'walk' which took hours longer than I'd expected, that I realised how serious things were and the worry that my family were being caused.  There were no mobile/cellphones in those days and my Godfather was beside himself with worry when I eventually showed up.

Then the depression went as suddenly as it came and I never suffered from it again.  But I never forgot it.  The effect it had on me has lasted to this day.  I love going for walks (or did before my dicky knee made it rather difficult).  I am happy with my own company.  However I cannot go for a long walk on my own.  Whenever I contemplate it I am 16 again and it's as if something in me is frightened that if I went on that walk my 'then' state of mind would return.  Of course that's completely irrational but that's the thing about that sort of illness: it's not necessarily rational.

So although it's Monday, this is this week's Thankful Thursday post.  Why should I be thankful?  I'm thankful because when depression is mentioned I can understand what the person is going through but I also know that for me it is an illness long gone and consigned to the history of my youth.

34 comments:

  1. Graham, this was one of the most open (and, to me, helpful) post I have read in a while. Thank you very much for it.
    One of my aunts suffers clinical depression, and as you said, most of the time, no one would know. I guess a lot of those people who constantly whine about how terribly depressed they are, really aren't; some of them are merely looking to impress on others how busy and important and sought-after they are, seeking the admiration of those around them for how marvellous they are in coping with the pressures of life (with about 80 % of said pressures being self-made).
    Many years ago, in a novel I read how a young man describes what depression feels like for him. He compared his mind to the inside of a container where an oily liquid is lazily sloshing about and against the walls of the container every tme he moves, the liquid is dark and can't be penetrated by light or anyone's gaze.
    My mother suffered post-natal depression after the birth of my sister. Yet another topic little was known about in 1967.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think, Meike, that a lot of people who say they are depressed are really just feeling a bit low (which we all do sometimes because we can't be on top of the world every minute of every day) or, as you say, wallowing in their own self-imposed situation. In New Zealand the macho culture meant that men suffering from depression were just told to be strong and pull themselves together. However a top level rugby player for NZ who suffers from clinical depression has been fronting a lot of really good adverts on the TV over the last few years persuading men (and women) to seek help for the illness. So far as the description that you have cited is concerned I didn't have any such images in my mind but then I don't really have a strong imagination. To me it was just a feeling of complete despair which I couldn't understand.

      Delete
  2. Lovely and honest. I like this post very much GB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Jaz. I appreciate that.

      Delete
  3. This is interesting. I was diagnosed with depression. The tablets, far from being a cure, were worse than the affliction so perhaps I was just feeling a bit down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps, Adrian, the tablets were the wrong ones. There is, after all, completely different treatment for the different types of depression.

      Delete
  4. Prachtig dat je er zo open over kunt vertellen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bas Het is makkelijker wanneer de ziekte is zo lang geleden. It is easier when the illness was so long ago.

      Delete
  5. Recognizing depression is the first step in recovery. But as you say it's difficult for one to recognize depression. The other point you make is the irrational aspect. Very few people have a real understanding of what irrationality is and that makes it more difficult for treatment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Red you have a good point there.

      Delete
  6. I was hospitalised with depression while I was at university, and have suffered bouts since, so I can so identify with what you say, GB. But I think there is more difference between cancer and depression than you say, because others can at least imagine cancer; no-one who hasn't had it can begin to imagine depression. You can, for example, see a broken leg; cancer shows up on a scan. No-one can see depression.

    One day, you and I must go for a walk on yur lovely island, GB!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am sorry to hear that Frances. I agree with you that people can imagine cancer but I think it may be harder to imagine the effect of being told simply because there is always the thought that cancer is a potentially fatal disease (although I accept that that's much less the case now than it used to be). I hope that one day you will do just that Frances.

      Delete
  7. I think one difficulty (in recognizing it and finding the right cure in each individual case) is that there can be so many different reasons. Sometimes depression is understandably related to exhaustion from circumstances or illness; sometimes it can seem to come out of nowhere. I have personal experience of the first, and I also have friends with experience of the other kind (needing medication and periodically psychiatric care). Enough of both to know that it's rarely as easy as just tell people to get a grip and stop feeling sorry for themselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree absolutely Monica. That 'advice' actually does a lot more harm than good.

      Delete
  8. This (http://www.upworthy.com/what-is-depression-let-this-animation-with-a-dog-shed-light-on-it?c=ufb1) I posted to my FB page this morning. It is really a wonderful explanation of chronic depression for those of us who have suffered from chronic or intermittent depression. At least I think so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a rather good video MT. I think that anything that identifies with those that have depression or explains it to those that don't has to be a positive step. For those that have it the message about seeking help as soon as possible is a very important one.

      Delete
  9. Yes, the fact it cannot be seen is a hard one for the sufferer and their loved ones. I have battled with this most of my life, for no apparent reason, and is something I am learning to live with and control as best I can. For me one of the hardest aspects is that I have everything I could wish for, and so feel guilty for having the illness. Thank you for this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julia I am astonished and therein lies the rub. I would have said that you are one of the most straightforward, balanced and non-depressive people I know. Just as someone can have a terminal illness and appear to the outside word as having nothing wrong so it can be with depression. To feel guilt for having depression is like feeling guilt for having cancer. Don't! I, for one, admire you very much and I'm sure that I'm not alone.

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GB, I've deleted my post as it seemed self-pitying. xoxo Carol

      Delete
    2. Actually Carol I didn't read it that way at all and I would be surprised if anyone else did either. It was a straightforward matter-of-fact contribution to what is obviously a subject close to the hearts and minds of many more people in my Blogland than I imagined. I'm sorry that you deleted it.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, GB. Your kind words mean a lot to me. xoxo

      Delete
  11. You are so lucky that you have been able to lock that black dog in its kennel. My son's long term girlfriend (now former) has not been so lucky. Her black dog arrived and would not go away, squatting on her life, taking the sparkle away. At twenty five she is a shadow of the person she promised to be. No, long-term clinical depression is not funny at all. It's an awful thing to wrestle with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes YP, I have always regarded myself as extremely fortunate when it comes to illness. As a teenager I had a debilitating condition for several years (caused by going to the sort of school that ignored parental notes about bronchitis and insisted that you play football and cross-country run in the middle of winter regardless) and had most of a lung removed at 16. I had the resulting period of depression. I have cancer but, apart from the surgery to remove it in 1998 and the ongoing complications caused by later radio therapy, I have had no ill-effects. I have had a heart attack and the resultant surgery to remedy that. They were discrete incidents. Unpleasant but acute. Compared with people like my brother with severe chronic debilitating illnesses I have no problems. It has made me aware that anyone with ongoing chronic illness whether it be physical or mental has so much more to contend with. I never cease to be thankful for my situation.

      Delete
  12. I want to thank you for writing this post GB, and for all the accompanying comments as well.
    I have to admit that I was one of the guilty ones who thought that folks with depression just needed a swift kick in the butt to get over it. I came to realise that it was a very serious sickness.
    Three years ago while cleaning the upstairs patio, a voice penetrated my head telling me to jump (the patio is about 18 ft from the ground.) I had been feeling a bit down and quite overwhelmed at all the stuff that I was going through in my life after my Mum's death...I felt so helpless.
    Luckily for me, I heard another voice telling me to step away from the patio edge and close the door, which I did.
    I realised then I was depressed and did not know it...
    I immediately planned a spur-of-the-moment vacation.....very much needed at the time.
    I empathise with others who live with this sickness all their lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Virginia it's quite amazing how many of us have been touched by this illness at some time in our life. I'm glad you didn't jump!

      Delete
  13. A post that is both thoughtful and interesting, Graham. I have suffered from depression in the past but strangely I cannot remember it. Perhaps I don't want to.
    I haven't seen any of John's posts on my reader either (and I haven't seen yours) I will try to resubscribe, or something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think, Jenny, that we have an amazing capacity for removing unpleasant things from our memories.

      Delete
  14. Very interesting.I'm pretty sure I am one of your followers, but I signed in and then the box disappeared, and what's more, the list of followers no longer displays on my screen! I wonder if this is another example of blogger playing up - in a different way from how it plays up with me. It's really an awful flaky system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenny Blogger is a constant mystery to me. Most of the time I just wait to see what happens and it eventually corrects itself. I have been having trouble with following some people though but there seems to be no consistency.

      Delete
  15. I appreciate your post and also all the comments. My friend recently was hospitalized overnight for depression, she called 911 and a police car came and took her to the ward for help. From what little I know it can be a biochemical problem and of course can be treated successfully. My friend is doing well, I am glad to say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think, Terra, it depends entirely on what sort of depression it is, whether and what medication can be effective. I am very glad though that your friend sought and got help and is doing well.

      Delete
  16. Hey Graham!
    I am just now reading this post. Recently, I had a cartoon on my blog and I THOUGHT about saying, "Of course, this is just a cartoon to make you smile. Depression is a very serious issue and if you have been prescribed medication for it, please make sure you take it." But then, I didn't say that. I think I might go back and add it now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought that the cartoon was very funny. If someone is having a depressive moment then humour is not high on his or her agenda. However just as an undertaker requires a sense of humour to survive so does a person with depression or, more importantly, people living with people with depression. But then I'm sure that I don't need to tell you that.

      Delete