Trying to write about my experience shone a light on how dull day-to-day management of mental health is when it comes down to it. Luckily, though, sometimes other people’s words come into your life at exactly the right time and summarise things up in a way that succinct way. They give you a moment outside of your own reflection to get some perspective. For me, those words were:
‘I have a visual reminder: a print of Little Red Riding Hood walking through the woods with the wolf. For me, dealing with depression isn’t about trying to run away from the feeling; it’s about learning to walk alongside it.’ (Hannah Hart, ‘Buffering’ 2016)
Now, self-reflection hasn’t always been a friend of mine. Rumination on anything from ‘where do I want to live?’ to ‘how good am I at my job?’ escalated as a teenager from being healthy and productive measures of my life to being a stick to bash myself with. I started to ask myself big, unsolvable questions and follow my inability to answer them with criticism and negative behaviours.
Q: What do I want to do with my future?
A: Who cares, idiot, you’ll never be able to focus for long enough to get any qualifications anyway.
And so on.
My painful introspectiveness leads to a spiral of self-harm, starving, purging, lying and generally avoiding other people. If I didn’t let anyone in, I wouldn’t have to acknowledge just how miserable I was and, in turn, wouldn’t have to take any responsibility for it.
After several years of this, culminating in being signed off work from my primary school teaching job, I found myself utterly lost. I lay on my best friend’s bed, alone in her house, utterly bereft. My life felt meaningless and arbitrary, and after so long fighting against this feeling of worthlessness, I googled the least painful ways to take my life and bawled.
Thinking back to then, I know my impulse wasn’t to die. It was the desperate act of an exhausted, confused human who just wanted the grueling day-to-day struggle to get easier. That day echoes in my head often, because, for whatever reason, it gave me the kick up the backside I so desperately needed to take steps to change.
It wasn’t immediately smooth sailing, and five or so years later, things still aren’t. Despite seeking advice and getting a diagnosis of severe depression, years of insular behaviour made following treatment through very difficult. I initially didn’t take my prescription medication for fear that it might aggravate my already unstable emotions. For even longer, I didn’t attend therapy at all. The idea of sitting in front of someone and articulating – and giving power to – my absolute sense of powerlessness was overwhelming. After all, everyone else gets up in the morning with no struggle at all, right?! So what made me so entitled that I had to take pills and talk at length to strangers in order to make carrying out this basic task more manageable?
Cut to now. I am still learning that depression is just an aspect of me and that there is no quick fix. I still struggle to look anyone in the eye and tell them how I really feel, but I try. Alarm bells go off in my head the second someone mentions that they are feeling a negative emotion. The closer that someone is to me, the faster my heart hammers and the clammier my hands become. I panic and become acutely aware of how ill-equipped I feel to help anyone else, but I try.
And adjusting to the fact that this ‘wolf’ may well be with me forever has been a real leveler. Talking honestly, getting outside, taking joy in food, laughing – these all keep the wolf beside me tamed and manageable.
Written by Charlotte Hart