I remember as far back as when I was seven years old, I felt such desolation and sadness around bedtime as I didn’t want the day to end and strongly wished it could be early afternoon again. I didn’t want the days to advance as I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. In hindsight that was a lot of fear for a seven year old to live with. I never told anyone that I felt this and hid my tears from my family because I didn’t want to be ridiculed for feeling this way.
As I got older a dark smudge appeared in my world, always there but never significant enough to take over the landscape of my life. It would grow periodically when I was sad or upset but it remained a blip in the background, mostly, through my teens, but I always felt there was something wrong with me. The few times I tried to express this I was shut down and told everything would be alright.
Things changed dramatically when I was eighteen, a major life event led to the smudge growing to dominate my thoughts. I felt desolation and sadness, but also fear, unworthiness and betrayal. I don’t think I ever recovered from those feelings. My life changed and nothing would ever be the same again, I tried to bury the damage I caught. I think that was my first fork in the road.
Since that time the smudge grew and grew, I pretended everything was fine. How could I not? I had everything I wanted, didn’t I? I was in medical school, my Mum was happy, I was doing what was expected but I never really fitted in and I couldn’t possibly tell anyone about the smudge or my doubts, compulsions or persistent fears.
I qualified from medical school with a smudge that dominated the landscape of my life, it was no longer in the background but took up most of the canvas. I didn’t have time to dwell on it as I went into my first job as a junior doctor, I had a one year contract that involved rotating around three jobs, and immersed myself in the job, working long hours, sleeping little and trying to ignore the smudge. I pretended to be someone else to deny the smudge’s existence, but it didn’t work.
I finished my first post with the smudge resembling a moderate sized hole. The sadness, desolation, isolation and not belonging caught up with me in my second job as a junior doctor and I drew on the hope I had to make it through. If I kept believing I would feel better I could get through this.
My third post felt like a relief as it was such a light job compared to my first and unlike my second, I was around a lot of other people again. I actually felt pride in my work but the black hole remained. I found it dominated at a drop of a hat. The smallest things led me to feel despair, but I had a supportive team and somehow they buoyed me through the choppy seas. I am grateful to them. However, I felt a disconnect I couldn’t describe.
I moved back to London for my senior house officer jobs and the black hole grew and grew as did my uncertainty, fear and despair. By the time I finished my three year contract in London I had two main elements on my canvas: a large black hole and my then fiancee and now husband. I felt the depths of despair but was caught by another human being, who, although didn’t know about my dark hole, was accepting of who I was in a way that no one else in my life could be.
I didn’t know why at the time but I had to go wherever this man would take me, he was my only resistance against being consumed by the black hole that seemed to be taking over everything.
The black hole receded during the first couple of years of our marriage but as soon as I started working again the black hole dominated, it grew and threatened to push my husband out of the canvas. It was at that point I stopped working to curtail the dominance of the darkness, I gained my cats, but ultimately felt I was losing the battle and sought formal help for the first time.
After twenty-eight years of nurturing and growing this malevolence that is depression singlehandedly, I sought help. I acquired various diagnostic labels and learned that the black hole did exist, I wasn’t the only one who could see it and I wasn’t the only one who had it. I am lucky as the few times the black hole has eclipsed everything I have been able to tell my husband and I have had good medical support.
My relationship with my husband is unconditional, all he ever wants is for me to be healthy in body and mind and is willing to give me all the time I need to achieve this. He’s the only one in my life who doesn’t make me feel defective, but accepts me whole with the depression and other illnesses. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t push me to get better and challenge my perspective. He doesn’t tell me what to do or how to do it and above all has gained more respect for me as a person for putting myself through whatever I need to get better.
Now I attend regular session to help repair the canvas, to push back the damage of the black hole and reclaim and reapply the colours underneath. I may never be free of the black hole, it may fluctuate for the rest of my life but the hope is not to let it dominate and to add different new colours to my canvas.
This is the simplest way I can describe living with my depression. It’s not a choice, I can’t just buck up and it’s more than just providing fodder for the gossip mills and is definitely not an excuse for anything. I don’t need excuses because I have nothing to prove to anyone anymore. Depression is a fact in my life and yet another invisible disability I live with.