“This weather is so depressing”
“I’m so depressed about Manchester United losing at the weekend”
Depression, depressed, depressing – they’re all rather overused words. And yet they don’t do justice to what the reality of clinical depression is.
“Sometimes”, says a fellow depressive, “I wish I was in a full body cast, with every bone in my body broken. That’s how I feel anyway.” Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog. (1)
It is a brilliant description for a terrifying and sometimes life threatening mental illness which affects 1 in 6 people in the UK – and this year its the focus of World Health Day. So often because everyone feels “depressed” at one time or another, it can be all too easy to trivialise clinical depression, easy to brush under the carpet, to instruct the sufferer to “pull themselves together”.
Can you imagine what life is like for the person who lives each day desiring death? Where you wake up in the morning exhausted and stagger through the day in the same haze of exhaustion. Where food tastes like sawdust, your eyes struggle to focus and your heart is crushed with a heavy sadness. These are just a few of the symptoms of clinical depression and a diagnosis of depression can be made with five or more of these symptoms and it is vital to see your GP as soon as possible so that you can get the help and support you need.
Depression can suck the life out of people, and drain the energy and compassion from those around the sufferer.
There is, however, hope.
It is a serious illness, but it can be dealt with and helped. It can sound simplistic; but a healthy lifestyle with enough food, water, fresh fruit and vegetables with regular exercise can help to release “feel-good hormones”. Whilst these lifestyle changes don’t necessarily “cure” depression, they can go towards alleviating some of the symptoms.
Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and psychotherapy can equip people to deal with the things that have happened in their lives and the thought patterns which may have become entrenched.
Personally, what has helped me the most is the love and care of those closest to me. For the times when I have been unable to face another day, or to speak through my tears – and those I loved would hold me close and assure me that I am not alone.
Because that is often the depressive’s worst fear. That people would see the darkness within and run for the hills.
All too often, sufferers of depression push their nearest and dearest away. But in the midst of my own darkness, I found the following words profoundly helpful.
Andrew Solomon writes in his aptly named “The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression”
“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” (2)
Above all, cling to God. When you feel as if He is further than He has even been – hold on. Because He is there and He will always be there. On one of the worst days of my life, I was given these verses to reflect on from Psalm 40:
“I waited patiently for the LORD, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.”
They are verses which have become my prayer and it is my pleasure and privilege to try to put some of the darkness to good use.
I will not say, cannot say that the darkness has gone completely. It hasn’t, sometimes it remains and drains me. But there is hope. Hope because I have learned, over the years to hold on. Hope because there are those who love me. Hope because we have a God who does not let go. Hope because there is medication which helps to balance the chemicals in my brain which go a little haywire!
My message for World Health Day 2017?
There is hope.
Even when you can’t see it.
Even when everything feels hopeless.
There is hope.
(1) Brampton, S. Shoot the Damn Dog, London: Norton, 2008.
(2) Solomon, A. Noonday Demon, London: Vintage Books, 2002.