Trigger warning: This blog explores women’s experiences of depression.
In July, one of our community, Jayne Blackman, died by suicide as a result of severe depression. Obviously, this has affected many of us in many different ways and will continue to for a long time to come. One of the things that emerged was the need to create space to talk about this community and mental health in a safe held way giving voice to many different perspectives.
We are deeply grateful to Eleanor Brown for leading many of us to think more seriously about this. Our diversity group is planning to develop a statement in relation to a greater awareness and understanding about mental ill health as an inclusion issue in our community and we are in the process of figuring out how to create safe and inclusive space in our community for all kinds of mental health issues.
The pieces of writing which follow are part of the beginnings of opening these conversations. In them, members of our community share their own experiences of depression and we are grateful for their vulnerability and courage. Of course, depression is not the only mental health issue and there are many other women with their own experiences which are not shared in this specific space.
Red Volcano, Tiny Ant
I like the edges. I like where the moss ends and forest floor begins. I like the embers as they touch the earth and the sea as it meets the rocks. I have always found work which centres on this tipped viewpoint where we cling white knuckled to the overhang. I like to give of myself to the point of exhaustion, I like to stay up late until the first light shows. I feel safe on these edge points and maybe this is my ticket to thrive. I am not great with words like abundance and nurture and wholeness. It is not my stomping territory. It’s at the edges where the shadows are and I lose myself there for minutes, for days, once for five years.
I think I learnt how to be depressed, I saw it, I re-enacted it, it felt familiar. I have spent years seeking to unlearn, to plant flowers, to harvest acceptance. But underneath it all I try to disappear. I go into lock down and the idea of doing something that I enjoy like putting on my shoes and opening the door makes me feel like being sick. I know the voice in my head and the numbness that permeates my body. It feels like my memory of my early life, as normal, from mother’s milk to liquid lead. To meet me I am bright, I am light, I am fun. This is me too as the sun hits through the forest canopy I drink it in. But for long phases my safest spot is under the rock.
Sometimes it isn’t a battle inside me but a love affair with this dark part of me which wants to die. And yet here I am in a community of women. Women who have touched their own darkness again and again. My thoughts of being lost are yours too. My desire to run away is yours too. I don’t think those thoughts will ever go, I am not even sure what I would be without them. They give me my visceral experience of the world and my desire to put something positive into it. But it is not easy when the mammoth comes and sits on my chest when I just want to make a cup of tea and kiss my daughter.
Wolf Who Walks Her Own Path
Depression has neither space nor language out here in the non-WiP world. If a close friend asks, I might say, actually I’ve really been struggling recently. I don’t say, I can’t make decisions anymore because life is meaningless. So melodramatic. I can’t take that part of myself seriously, and I don’t expect anyone else to either. So I put walls up and keep it to myself. I go through the motions. It ebbs and flows. I live with it because I decided long ago that suicide was not an option for me. I am grateful for this, because there is no question in my depression. I wait it out because I have to.
My anxiety is more socially acceptable. Women are expected to question themselves constantly. I’m supposed to be worrying about being sexy. Recently I’ve been obsessively worrying about whether the fact I prefer being alone in nature to being with other people means I’m becoming more depressed and isolating myself further, or whether I’m just accepting who I am. I am ashamed to write this because it is not a genuine problem. Other people, people I care about, are having real problems, right now. Health. Money. Family. But that’s the beauty of my anxiety. It needs no basis – in fact, it works best when I have no problems. It’s the endless consumption of my energy by questions that may not even have an answer. Having a genuine challenge brings relief, something to aim all that energy at. When my anxiety has nothing to get its teeth into, it sinks them into me. Or my partner.
And then I enter a WiP space. A woman looks me deep in the eyes and asks if I’m ok. I want so badly to keep my walls up but they crumble and I break down. I want to be a pillar of the community, holding and supporting others, and instead I’m getting snot all over the jumper of a woman I look up to and respect. I want to use that predator energy to connect, but really I want to hide and not have anyone look me in the eye anymore. It feels like a battle. I’m so grateful for the women who catch me, and I feel guilty for taking so much. Is it ok? Women keep telling me all of me is welcome. What if all of me is just this, crying and endlessly needing a shoulder to lean on? What if I’m never able to hold anyone up? What if I never have any energy for anything except these endless questions?
I’m so grateful for being on the website team because it allows me to give to my tribe when I can.
Lillith & Billy-Joe Wolf
Depression for me is synonymous with tiredness. My main symptom is that I sleep. My other main symptom is that I read differently. When I know I’m depressed, I then realise that for (usually) months and months I’ve been chain-reading: picking up the next book almost before I’ve finished the last one, reading at all times and occasions, ignoring almost all else as long as I read. And of course I squeeze even more time out of the day by sleeping as much as possible as well. Between reading and sleeping, on a weekend, I could have as little as an hour left in the day to fill with things. That’s my depression thing you see, that there’s too much day to fill, a yawning darkness stretching in front of me. Empty. Alone. Deserted. While I sleep, my mind doesn’t see the darkness. While I’m depressed, I rarely dream, so sleep is a black nothingness, a no-time place, a safe place. The same with reading. The words fill up my brain and crowd out the mental jabber, the gut-clenching fear of the blackness, leaving me able to pretend that it’s ok, I’m coping. But I’m not really. Because you see, I don’t eat well, food shrinks to something I can eat easily, without effort and without clear up. I don’t wash a lot – it’s almost impossible to read in the shower and a bath takes too long to prepare. I don’t work well, leading to problems there. Housework might as well not exist and I’m more likely to do a quick 10min internet clothes shop that actually put a load of laundry in. I resent talking to people because that gives my brain a chance to realise that it’s not just a black hole of nothingness, but there are people out there that care about me. I resent anything that takes me away from sleep and from books. And then an intervention happens. I accidentally notice the sun is shining, or I read something that jerks my brain awake or someone says to me that things aren’t right. I can usually force myself to a doctor at that point for the meds that will, once again, drag me out of the depths of my black hole. And then starts a struggle to regain equilibrium. It’s never easy…. It’s always worth it. And I’m one of the lucky ones.
The Fucking Banshee
I was extremely busy building my own business, and nothing else really mattered at the time. At first, it was about earning enough money to pay for my wedding. Then it became, “How far can I take my business?” I spent long hours working at the office, then going home from work to work more at home, then working weekends. And suddenly I was working from the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, barely getting enough sleep. I was so busy working that I turned down any invites from friends for any social gatherings “work is more important. They’re not really my friends anyway” was my justification. Then skipping breakfast every morning turned into skipping lunch too “I don’t have time, I’m not hungry anyway, work is more important” I told myself. I didn’t recognize at the time that not eating all day then binging on takeaways in the evening was a cry for help.
Eventually, it became difficult to justify taking a shower in the morning. “Why shower when I can use that time to work?” I told myself. Eventually not taking a shower turned into a little game, how long can I go before not showering? 5 days I found out. Dry shampoo is the band-aid of self-care. I turned down so many social invites that I didn’t get any invites anymore. I felt so alone. My husband expressed concern about my work pattern and tried to get me to do more social things and take better care of myself, but I wouldn’t have any of it. Nothing he said went in. Nothing was more important than my business. Nothing. Fighting with my husband became a regular occurrence, fighting that we didn’t spend enough time together, that I didn’t do any of the housework, cleaning, dishes, meals, etc. “I’m trying to build a business, I’m earning money and you’re going to college, you have time for housework, I don’t,” was my justification to him.
I told my business partner that the business was more important than my husband. When I said that, I really meant it. The fact I said those words, out loud, and meant it at the time, brings tears to my eyes and fills me with regret now. It was a warning sign that I completely ignored.
Then I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I’d stay lying in bed for as long as possible before I’d start work. I couldn’t manage a shower. I couldn’t manage breakfast, or the dishes, or doing laundry. The simplest tasks seemed like the most difficult things to do in the world. It wasn’t a game anymore. I was a functioning depression, I still worked, but I did little else. I was in denial that I was depressed for a very long time.
This went on for a year, before I finally came to realize that my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I didn’t enjoy work anymore. I wanted out. I fantasized about running away. From work, from my husband, from my life. I eventually went to my GP and admitted that I was depressed. She diagnosed me with severe depression, anxiety and burn out. Even though I knew I was depressed, I was still in denial because I didn’t do anything about it, hoping things would just change on their own. They didn’t. It took me another few months before I went back and self-referred for CBT. It took another 4 months on the waitlist before I was finally seen. The spot in my bed felt like it kept sinking and sinking as I spent more and more time just lying in bed, doing nothing, dreading having to do more work. Once I finally got CBT, it helped me recognize my depression symptoms; not being able to get up in the morning, not being able to shower, skipping meals, binge eating. But recognizing depression is only one side of the coin. Actually changing things was another ordeal.
I eventually was able to justify in my mind the cost of private counselling. It helped me recognize I needed time off from work. I took every Friday off for a month. My business partner didn’t understand why I needed time off, but at least I had a faint idea why I did and knew I needed to set this time aside for myself to work towards a recovery. My husband was proud of me.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself having specifically set aside spare time just for me. I binge watched a lot of Netflix and just sat at home for a lot of it. Then I realized I didn’t need to put pressure on myself to do anything. And just giving myself the space for me was all I needed. After the month of Fridays off, I continued the trend by not working anymore on weekends. Waking up every morning and eventually getting to that shower somehow seemed less of a chore.
After 6 months of restful weekends and weekday evenings, I realized I wasn’t depressed anymore. And I realized I didn’t enjoy my job anymore and needed to change it. At least I was able to admit that to myself, whereas before anything good for me I had justified as not necessary. I realized I wasn’t a robot, I’m a human being and I have physical needs that need to be fulfilled in order to live like self-care, socializing, and time for myself. Denial was the strongest part of my depression and the biggest blocker to overcome, but I’m glad I did overcome and made the small steps over a long period of time towards self-recovery.
This is an open blog so if you would like to write about your experience of depression then please email [email protected]