I want to die. I don’t want to be here.
I had these thoughts for as long as I can remember. I can’t pinpoint the exact time when I recognised it as depressive thinking but it was linked to old feelings, ones that dated back to early childhood.
Parental divorce was my childhood watershed event. Its impact was incomprehensible and profound. It splintered my world, opened a chasm and shattered an innocent belief in the happily-ever-after. This is all my fault.
Of course, in the intervening years I have gained a deeper understanding of the separation. I wasn’t anymore involved than I was with putting the man on the moon.
We blessed with more knowledge than ever about depression and have access to lots of support. As a society we may think we are getting better at managing its effects but it still exacts a huge psychological toll on children.
From my own experience, I didn’t know how to deal with those thoughts or feelings so I ignored them. They seemed so big. But you can’t bury things forever. Worry, anxiety, stress: it manifests in different ways for different people. Some smoke a pack of twenty a day, others take drugs. Some never leave the house, others don’t have a home. Some have physical ailments, others retreat into their own mind.
Many simply carry on regardless, others chastise themselves or are chastised by others. Stiff upper lip. You’re overreacting. Get a grip. Get over it.
But I could never get over it until I acknowledged it and understood it.
Depression for me was like standing on a ledge peering into the chasm, the deep dark abyss. What was at the bottom? Monsters? Werewolves? Lucifer holding up an emotional mirror? The depths terrified me. I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to know.
When I thought about hurling myself into the crevasse my rational mind swooped in like a studious logical superhero. The wish to disappear was, embarrassingly, overwhelmed by my desire to be an orderly person.
That’s just it: there’s no neat and tidy way to voluntarily hop off this mortal coil. The worry of who would find me and in what sort of state halted me in my tracks. I couldn’t inflict that on anyone and I hated the thought of people being annoyed with me.
It’s such a strange paradox: wanting to die but wondering about the best method of doing it because you’re worried about leaving the place untidy or pissing people off. It never occurred to me people would be heartbroken and bereft.
Among the internal turmoil was a quieter voice suggesting that living was worth it. So I kept going because, well, on some level I was still listening. I had hope. The will to live is powerful and I wanted to figure things out. The other option, oblivion, wasn’t really an option.
You find the courage to unpick the confusion. You’re told this when you enter counselling. Things may get more difficult before they get better. We will go to dark places and uncover old emotions. It’ll be hard. Painful. But we will go to the abyss together and see what’s there. Then we will deal with it.
So, I picked a path into the abyss towards the malevolent forces crawling in its murky depths.
When I reached the floor I didn’t find monsters or devils. I found a very sad, very confused little girl. She’d been there for a long time occasionally letting out frustrated primal screams as a reminder of her existence. I don’t want to be here. This is all my fault.
Confronting my inner child almost came as a relief. It was like seeing the shadow of a snarling werewolf only to find the gloom was playing tricks and it’s really a bewildered defensive puppy. It’s still a scary dark place but there’s a choice: stick or twist. I chose twist. I want to live.
When you’ve journeyed into those depths and chosen to ascend the steps back to the sunshine, you go through a process of rebuilding yourself. Climbing them is hard work. Sometimes the little girl threw a tantrum (‘Life’s not fair, waaah!’). Sometimes I got angry (‘Bloody steps!’) Sometimes we took two forward, one back. Sometimes we just stayed there for a while until we figured a bit more out. When we understood each other, we moved on again.
I learnt this child needed a great big hug. She needed the oxygen of rationale and reasoning and the chance to grieve, not be relegated to a pitch-black place. By ignoring her, she got louder. She wanted to escape the abyss as much as I wanted to step back from its edge. It’s not your fault. You are loved. Let me help you understand. Let’s go live.
What I want to say to you all today, on World Mental Health Day 2018, and everyday, is that it’s OK not to be OK. More than 350million people worldwide suffer from depression. You are not alone. Help and treatment is there should you need it. You can figure things out. If your inner voice tells you it feels sad, be kind to yourself. Do something to feel soothed: phone someone you trust, call up your favourite relative, connect with a professional service or your GP.
Being broken doesn’t mean being bad. Feeling fragile doesn’t mean being weak. Feeling like it’s all your fault doesn’t make it the truth. You can address it, overcome it, and live a life full of colour.