Hope – a letter from my long past.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
I don’t know who I’m writing this to, your name or much about your situation. I know that you are suffering, and that my own experiences may be of some help to you or your family.
A little bit about myself, my name is Jen. I’m 24 years old and have suffered from depression from one degree or another for the last eleven years of my life, possibly more. There is a family history of depression and self abuse, down both sides of my family, but mainly through my paternal line. My father, uncle and grandfather are all diagnosed depressives and are or have been serious alcoholics at some point in their lives. However, throughout all of this I have educated myself, being awarded the highest mark ever on my degree course, maintained healthy and happy relationships with my friends and family, always kept my goals in sight, and developed and grown as an individual. I am happy now, and contented and finally achieving what I should. I also know though that I shall probably have to deal and live with this condition throughout my life, but through learning about it and myself, I know that it is manageable, and no impediment at all to my dreams and aspirations. I am happy, but know that there may come a day when I maybe less happy. I thank God for everyday I wake up feeling like this because throughout everything I have had support and people who have done their best for and by me. I am blessed, it can be hard to remember that at times, but it is essential for the maintenance of hope, which is what makes life worth living.
I have come out the other side, and life is beautiful. The road is long and hard, but it’s worth every little baby step you have to make to get there, and I’m certain you all will. It will make you stronger, bring you closer together and bring you to a greater understanding of one another and yourselves.
For me depression and self abuse are separate things, not necessarily going together. The abuse is symptomatic of the depression and is an outward symbol and sign of how I was feeling about myself and my life.
Many people, in my experience, think of self abuse as the typical cutting or burning. For me it isn’t. Self abuse for me has included anorexia and bulimia, binge eating and then puking up. Alcohol, and major recreational drug abuse. Chronic infidelity in relationships, constant self degradation; you are often your own worst critic when you are down. Obviously the cutting and the burning, but also tearing out of hair, continuous scratching and chaffing, head butting walls …anything which has a detrimental effect on your life and your relationships is self abuse, anything that stops you from being your absolute level best, from achieving the absolute most that you can from your life. If it something that is happening that you can put a stop to then, for me it falls under the category of being abusive. As well as this, when you are feeling so low, have so little faith in yourself and your ability to function, unfortunately you can attract individuals into your life who may take advantage. I have just removed myself from an abusive relationship, and this for me has been the last stage of letting go of my past and accepting myself.
What I have come to realise is that the common thread throughout all I have described is fear. Fear that you can’t make it, that you shall or are failing, that you will never be good enough. (My experiences again, I would add, I am not addressing this to you as your experiences). The fear of letting go, of allowing yourself to be set adrift in the world, to hope that everything will be okay. From this for me comes a need to control. I have also in very mild form got OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), checking that I always have my mobile on me, silly things. I know it’s in my hand bag, I put it there two minutes earlier, but I don’t quite have enough faith in myself to believe, and it’s an expensive phone to loose.
I have spent much time in the last four years undergoing quite intense self analysis. I have read books, spoken of my feelings and experiences and been through three counsellors and therapists in as many years to find someone who was right for me. I would also say, don’t forget each other. The people closest are those who can hurt the most, but they are also our biggest comfort.
Depression, my experience of this condition, is a initially a feeling of loss of control, firstly of what I call negative emotions, frustration, anger, rage, hate, upset, misery, rejection, loss, isolation, envy, the list could go on and on. All these, when I am depressed combine into a huge ball, it weighs constantly, and I can feel it all the time, in my chest, the weight there, requiring a constant effort to suppress it, to keep up the little smiles, the “hi how are you’s?” the stupid rituals that define us as normal healthy and functioning human beings. It’s hard to distinguish at first. Gradually I become aware that something is wrong, but it can take me a while to work out what it is, the shape and texture and weight of it.
As it becomes heavier, more distinct, it becomes harder to ignore, harder to pretend that nothing is wrong. Like you hear of an alcoholic, I can deny the very existence of the problem, because to admit to it means I will have to admit it to myself and maybe to other people, and I have to start dealing with it. As this realisation begins, as it becomes harder to ignore it scares me, more than anything. It makes me want to scream, like you see people in the movies scream, that blood curdling sound from the bottom of your soul. I have sometimes too. To realise and admit to this problem is to admit that I may stop being Jennifer Layton, bright, intelligent attractive, and become ‘depressed’. I lose the person I am, to the monster that I can feel growing inside my chest, the one that I have to control with every ounce of my being and will power, because the society we live in doesn’t allow any room for loss of control, for negative emotions, and I have to function here from day to day.
At this point, the need for control becomes paramount. If the condition is not checked and dealt with, it can be sometimes, and then the rituals become harder. Every minute is a struggle for control, a struggle for you against yourself. Controlling the urge to cry, to lash out at people for things that really shouldn’t matter, that would normally make you laugh becomes the most important thing, above all else. For me the guilt sets in at this point. That it’s happening again, that I should be able to do and deal with this. I am an adult after all. Why can’t I be normal like everyone else? Why do I have to go through this? The guilt of what I have put my friends and family through in the past and potentially in the future, the guilt of what I have done to myself adds to the ball, it grows and begins to lash out, the control becomes harder and then the piss your pants fear of losing control and what is just around the next corner and how the fuck am I going to deal with it gets heavier and heavier and worse and worse.
The outward signs of my depression become more obvious to those who are close to me. The withdrawal, the mood changes, the lack of communication. This is the monster losing itself on me. I become the monster, I become the negative feelings that I have been unable to suppress or deal with or make go away or ignore. This for me is the next stage of my depression. This is where the feelings come out. The continued functioning, but a gradual shutting down of my life, my interests, literally my personality, as the inky blackness that has taken a hold in my heart enters my brain and then my soul until there is nothing happy, being told to deal with it, that everything will be alright just doesn’t work anymore. I am loosing hope, the vital understanding and belief that we all need to get out of bed in the morning, to function and know that what we are doing is worthwhile. That is why I have included that poem at the start, because beating this is about the restoration of hope for the next minute, tomorrow, next year for those who suffer and those who are close to them. This for me is normally where the drug taking, the infidelity and the cutting or burning or tearing out of my hair occurs. It lets me feel or forget the emotions I can’t get out, it lets me, temporarily, do something about the monster, the heavy weight I have inside me constantly. This, when you are at this stage is terrible. I remember standing in a supermarket and being asked if I wanted white or wholemeal bread. I couldn’t decide, the feelings were too much, they had taken away my ability to speak or communicate in anyway, to think, to make the simplest decision. I cried in the bread aisle. I broke down and sobbed because I had reached this point again, that I felt that I had made no progress at all, that I was still reduced to so little. I cried because I didn’t know what bread I wanted, because I needed someone else to tell me what I wanted because I was so reduced. I cried because I felt I was losing the fight against myself again. I cried because I know what was coming next.
Towards the end of this stage for me is the feeling of standing at the edge of a precipice. Below you is a dark vortex, of despair, and self loathing and the unknown. That is what I felt in the supermarket that day, and because I had reached this point before, I knew what might happen next, because it had happened before, the monster, myself, my feelings THE DEPRESSION (all these become one and indistinguishable) will push the real me over, Jennifer Layton, the bright young intelligent attractive capable young woman over the edge into myself and I will be lost again in the vortex of THE DEPRESSION.
As I have lived with the condition for so long I know now that there is no shame in asking for help. My logical rational self knows this, but it is a constant fight against THE DEPRESSION and the monster voices telling you how worthless and useless and bad and wrong I am. I know now that I can ignore these voices, that it is alright to ask for help even if it doesn’t feel it at the time. I know because I have been over that precipice several times in my life and anything on earth is preferable to going there. It has taken me several journeys, there and back to be able to find the strength to reach out during these first two stages and shout, “Help, I need help, just a little.” It goes against everything that you feel, everything that you believe, but when you do it for the first time and everyone comes running, saying what can we do, we love you, how can we make this better, let us share your burden if it is heavy, it breaks the monster, the feelings of isolation, the lack of love in and for yourself and those you loved in the past. You know that you would do it for anyone you loved or cared for, but again, at this stage you forget you can love, yourself, your family, your friends and you forget that they love you too. Love is an alien concept in THE DEPRESSION, and if it can be restored, the belief in love and in yourself, then hope is restored as well. John Lennon was right, love is all we need at the beginning and then through everything else. It is the foundation for everything, and nothing is possible without it. It is the first step, the first baby step toward making things right.
Before I was able to realise this, I have hit the last stage of what my experience of depression is. This is my white hell. Imagine being inside a glass bubble, thick glass, perfectly clear, but reasonably sound proofed. It goes everywhere with you, and you cannot get out and nothing can penetrate it. Muffled noises can get through but seventy percent of real life, apart from the visual is blocked out. The numb, the white noise, the autopilot, I have used all these words to describe this stage and I hope that you may grasp what I am groping for. This is the last stage of THE DEPRESSION for me, the destination as it were. This is the stage that can continue indefinitely, it has no measured end and the beginning is soon forgotten. It is existing in the basest sense of the word. This is being pushed over the edge by your feelings, by your inability to handle them. The precipice is your brain, your body saying “ENOUGH, I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS ANYMORE.” It’s like a switch. I may wake up one morning and it will happen, something may happen that will cause the switch to go. My memories of these periods are quite indistinct. It feels very clean and sterile and peaceful. After the turmoil of rage, the fright, the frustration, it is calm and the calm is good. I begin to need less sleep, or more sleep, I begin to need less food. I get over the need to function, I just am. I am on autopilot, I become numb, I smile and nod and feel empty and clean inside. I am a vessel that has been scrubbed and sterilised and contains nothing, and it feels good after the previous incarnations. This is the stage where control of my eating habits begin to assert themselves. I have no desire to hurt myself, to express the rage and the pain as I did before because I no longer feel it. My brain has disassociated itself from the feelings, and also in doing so has disassociated itself from me, my vitality, my uniqueness and from life itself. I just wish to exercise and maintain this calm. I remember feeling almost Zen like, and a desire to exercise control and maintain this state of being. I look back on photos of myself from this period and I am almost emaciated, but at the time I was chasing perfection, I was pushing myself, to maintain the calm. How long could I go without food? Three and a half, nearly four days. How long can I go without sleep? Three days without drugs, five days with. These little goals, so ridiculous now, became all consuming. This is what people cannot understand when I am in this stage, my whole perception of myself is skewed and distorted, my perceptions and belief of the world are. I am living a fantasy because the reality has become too much, and reason and logic and feeling have no place in this fantasy.
For all the peace, this stage is the most dangerous. This is where in the past I have stopped functioning. It is not possible to maintain this existence. This is where hope is gone. This is where you stop getting out of bed in the morning, stop washing, stop leaving the house, just stop. Reality has feelings, and reality cannot be dealt with so, you don’t. I would happily have locked myself in my room and never left my bed at this stage. Visiting the toilet and eating become an irritation, so you eat and drink less to avoid disturbing your state. Communication and contact are vital at this stage; these must be maintained, for me to come out of this stage. Life is an unwelcome intrusion to the blankness behind your closed eyes and inside you. Reality must bite and it bites harder when you have drifted to this point because in order to become healthy again, you must rise back up through the waters, through the two previous stages in order to breathe again. This stage is denial, of everything, of feeling, of yourself and who and what you are. You either get out or you die.
This is my knowledge of depression, in its entirety. It is the sum total, no holds barred. I have cried when I have written this, but I hope that is doing so I may be able to reach out to you and show that there is an end, there is hope and there is happiness and fulfilment. I know I am much stronger and determined than many people my own age, and I have achieved more in my lifetime so far than many manage in sixty years.
I have done it. I have hope and know that this condition can be controlled. The monsters are inconsequential, they are yourself, your own fears and doubts becoming real when they need not. The third stage of depression for me is a comfort zone, a mental coffin, with me (THE DEPRESSION as I become it and it me) in and everything else out. These are my own experiences, my own beliefs. They may be wildly different to your own, they may hit a note with every sentence.
The things I have realised in order to deal with the condition is that it is absolutely imperative to learn and recognise the signs in yourself. When you see them tell people, more eyes are better than just your own, especially if your are beginning to see things differently. Take each little things in one go, every achievement, every triumph is worth celebrating. Remember these, not the failings. Remember you are human, do not expect perfection from yourself. It is okay to cry and to be vulnerable; often people love you more for it. You should love yourself more for it, because it is the bravest thing in the world to be able to do, to admit you are less than perfect, that you might need a bit of help to get sorted. I have hope and faith in you, even though I do not know you, because I have hope and faith in myself and this life. Be happy and safe and well.
Love and affection,
Jen Layton. xxxx