I want to be happy, I want to be free,
I want this black dog to stay away from me,
I want to be smiling, don’t want to be down,
I don’t want the teardrop, I just want the clown…
These are song lyrics written a long time ago, highlighting how I experience depression now and then and tend to overuse pronouns.
The words returned recently as I lay in bed at 11am, depressed, stiff and sore from over-analysis paralysis and a general funk, chewing the mental cud.
The song painted a picture of how depression often arrives for no reason and with no warning, like a stray black dog padding up the street behind you.
There aren’t always triggers or obvious causes, though big life events – the loss of someone close, a job, relationship, illness, etc, clearly can and do cause depression.
Sometimes you wake up in the morning feeling a million bucks, enjoy a completely normal day, before going to bed feeling like, well…
Stephen Fry caught my attention in a program about his own struggle with manic depression, saying ‘you are totally and unquestionably certain that you are a cunt.’
Depression feels exactly like that on the worst days. And you get so tired of all the sadness, of feeling like shit, being a bad person, being grumpy, letting everyone down.
You don’t want the tear drop, just the clown.
This lasts days or weeks. For the chronically, clinically depressed, it can be months and years, which to someone who only time-shares in the black lands, is a particularly nasty conception of hell.
So this is what it feels like, in case you didn’t know.
Nothing is enjoyable, everything pointless. Drinking water. Showering. Going to work. Food tastes of nothing when you can summon the energy to eat. You have a relentless desire to plank, sending you searching for the lowest, flattest point of any room like some invisible fire forces you lower than you already feel. You cry a lot for no reason.
You are exhausted, but can’t sleep. You think and speak using a blend of rhetorical questions, emphatic statements and profanity in all its glorious forms. You never want to answer the door or the phone.
A constant dread lives deep in your guts, like the nervous shock you feel when the phone rings in the middle of the night, trumpeting bad news.
EVERYTHING pisses you off. EVERYTHING is too much effort. EVERYTHING is fucked.
And it happens a LOT. To all kinds of people. All of the time. And it happens to me.
For some reason, it is often around Christmas and New Year, which is inconvenient, since even the hymns say ’tis the season to be jolly! Fa la la la la…get fucked.
Having depressive episodes when the rest of society is literally exploding with good cheer, getting together to overdo it, letting the hair down, relaxing, being grateful – it doesn’t reflect good timing. There is no such thing as well planned depression.
What to do?
You learn to manage it. You speak to a trusted friend, your lover, a counsellor. They remind you that you know all the negative thoughts are irrational and you don’t need to ‘jump on that train.’
You avoid alcohol, you eat better, make yourself exercise. You spend time with friends and family, get more sleep, look for the light at the end of the tunnel and hope it isn’t a train.
Seriously, there are a lot of analogies related to depression that mention trains. This seems insensitive.
You avoid Chadstone and all major shopping centres.
Then it passes. Just as soon as it rocked up, that uninvited shit-bird of a guest who stinks up your life buggers off, leaving you disoriented, grateful and just a little bit uneasy, knowing that somewhere up ahead they will reappear.
Which is the issue associated with depression in our society. There is no cure, only management. Despite improved awareness and campaign after campaign to get blokes speaking about feelings, it still feels awkward. The stigma persists, and the shame, and the need to cover it up, or hide it, sadly for many, with tragic long term consequences.
Don’t believe me? Try mentioning your depression the next time you get together for drinks, when someone asks you how you’ve been. Watch the eyes dart for corners, the nervous throat clearing, the stiffened shoulders and swift fidgets in the bar stool.
And I get it. Depression is not an easy thing to talk about.
It has no logical cause, no predictable pattern, no chain of cause and effect. It doesn’t look like anything other than a sad expression or bad mood. There is no blood test for it, or rash, or visible wound.
I don’t want the tear drop, I just want the clown, but wanting half of yourself doesn’t make for a whole person.
Press play. Turn it up loud.