In my last post I talked about how I thought it should be OK to share more about your mental health issues on social media and that there should be less stigma attached to it. I’m starting to realise, though, that I haven’t really been practising what I preached, and maybe it would help if I did.
The truth is that so far, I’m not doing so well this year. Over the course of my adult life I’ve had a lot of years (the large majority in fact) in which I haven’t done well in this respect, but 2018 is a bit different in that it’s come after a run of comparatively good years. Up until about Christmas last year I really thought I was starting to get this under control, but now I don’t know anymore.
(I should preface this entry by saying that I’m not about to do anything daft and irreversible, so please don’t worry about that. I’ve been through far worse than this for far longer in the past and I’m still here, so I doubt this latest down period is going to finish me off).
I’m not entirely sure what has made the depression start to come back, though I have a few ideas of what might have contributed. Being ill three times already this year certainly hasn’t helped; I feel like I’ve spent half of January and February either suffering from the cold or flu, or trying to recover and catch up on everything, and by the time the third virus hit I was getting seriously fed up with living that way. I also feel I haven’t been doing enough in the way of socialising or fun stuff lately, which usually doesn’t help either.
But in truth, while those things obviously haven’t helped, I think the problems run much deeper. I’m starting to question whether the progress I thought I’d made since about 2012 is really progress, or at the very least whether it might be built on much shakier foundations than I thought.
You see, the only thing that was ever really effective in making my depression go away was to find activities that excited me and do as much of them as possible. These included taking up Scottish Country Dancing, going hostelling in Europe and, probably most of all, urban exploration (which for a time was such a large part of my life that I made a second blog completely dedicated to it). At the time, doing all this stuff felt amazing and I didn’t waste much time worrying that it might not be the right approach to solving my psychological problems. For the first time since 1997 I wasn’t feeling dragged down by depression at every turn, and that was more than good enough.
The trouble with using excitement to combat depression, though, is that for it to keep working, you need to keep on doing exciting things, and that’s not always easy. Life intervenes and the time, energy and money required are not always plentiful. More than that, no matter how amazing any activity seems at first, the novelty just tends to wear off a bit after a while. Take the urban exploration, for example. The places I loved exploring the most were the disused urban tunnels… but there really aren’t that many of them in Scotland. Once you’ve explored Scotland Street, Botanic Gardens and a handful of others, you’re left with ones that are either far too difficult or risky to get into, are a huge anti-climax compared to what you’ve already explored, or both.
I’m now wondering whether all I really did for the last few years was try to outrun my real problems, but now they’re catching up with me and I don’t think I’ve got the strength to run any further. “What real problems?” you might ask, and that’s understandable. After all, I’ve got a good job, a happy marriage and a nice house, and I haven’t suffered horrific abuse on a par with what some people go through. What right do I have to feel so depressed?
Well, the biggest problem is a constant feeling of being out of place, disconnected, and different from other people. It’s bothered me pretty much my whole adult life, other than fading into the background a bit during the last few good years. I experience it with almost everyone (I think I can literally count the exceptions on one hand), almost all the time, and it can get intense enough to make me just not want to be around people anymore. And I really don’t have a clue what to do about it 🙁 .
Over the years I’ve already exhausted the obvious potential solutions. Most people seem to think (and I used to as well) that if I just pushed myself to be sociable despite my discomfort, I would then realise that actually there’s no reason for me to feel out of place and the feeling would go away. But unfortunately it doesn’t, not even when I spend quite a lot of time around people and get used to them.
The worst thing about this is that it becomes a sort of vicious circle. The more I keep myself apart from other people, the more I don’t just feel different from them, but actually am different. For example, whenever any group of people around my age socialise together, it seems to be only a matter of time before the conversation turns to reminiscing about the great times they had at uni or in their teens. I don’t have any great times from that part of my life to reminisce about (the depression and social awkwardness was at its worst back then) so it makes me feel utterly alienated and depressed. So then I avoid that group, I miss out on yet more life experiences, and I feel even more out of place in the next group.
(Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them reminiscing about that stuff. It’s obviously enjoyable for them and I’m certainly not going to ask anyone to stop it for my benefit. I’m just observing that it inevitably puts up a barrier between me and everyone else, one that I haven’t yet found a way to get past).
I suppose, since the simple and practical solution failed, all that’s left is to dive into the murky waters of my emotional mind and try to work out what the hell’s gone wrong down there. I have tried this in the past (in fact I once calculated roughly how much I must have spent on private therapy sessions over the course of my life, and it was quite jaw-dropping), but I think for various reasons I shied away from doing it properly. There are certain upsetting facts about my life, and more generally about how the world works, that I didn’t feel ready to fully accept, but I probably need to accept them if I’m ever going to conquer this.
Do I feel ready now? Frankly, no, and I strongly doubt I ever will. But maybe realising that’s what I need to do is the first step.
Thanks for reading.