Wednesday, 1 August 2012
About twelve years ago, I had a conversation with somebody who is very dear to me. It went something like this.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“No,” she said, tears running down her cheek.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, concerned.
“I don’t know,” she replied, struggling to keep control. “I j..j..just don’t know.”
I sat down beside her and held her in my arms as she completely lost control and sobbed her heart out. I said nothing; I just listened as she tried to pour her heart out to me and tried to explain how she felt.
It was all I could do. I was there for her but I felt helpless. I had no words to help her. I just had to be there, hold her and listen to her as she soaked my shirt with her tears.
That person was Mrs PM.
She was suffering from depression.
Over the years I have known her I have learned to read the signs of this affliction. I can tell when the trigger has been fired and the journey into the chasm has begun. From somewhere, a black cloud appears and completely envelops her. Even when she has every reason to be deliriously happy, the black cloud drags her towards a pit of despair.
She is helpless and cannot stop it. And I have to accompany her on this ride until the black cloud dissipates.
Normally, there are no external reasons for it to happen. Mrs PM may be really content in her job, happy with her friends and family and then suddenly the black cloud starts to materialise.
She should be happy – she has absolutely no reason not to be happy. She is comfortable, generally stress free and life is there to be grabbed and enjoyed.
Yet she is crying and can do nothing to escape. I have tried to help just by being a voice in the wilderness that tells her everything is alright, arms that hold her and listen to her words as she tries to make me understand how she feels.
I can’t understand how she feels and that is deeply frustrating for both of us.
When she first told me about her depression, I was puzzled. She had always seemed so happy, so confident and so in control. And when I first saw the black cloud I was shocked. I didn’t really understand. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I did not know what to say.
Most people don’t know what to say or do. And a surprisingly large number of people think that depression is a random bad mood that can be cured by the phrase:
“Just pull yourself together.”
This is the WORST thing you can say – absolutely the worst thing. This is not just a passing phase.
Having seen Mrs PM at her lowest ebb, I want to grab such people and scream “DON’T EVER SAY THAT TO A DEPRESSED PERSON AGAIN!”
There’s not a lot you can do, full stop, but such thoughtlessness can make things far worse.
Depressed people cannot help it. It is not a state of mind; it is an illness.
My experience of Mrs PM’s depression has helped me recognise symptoms in other people. Mrs PM, of course recognises those symptoms too, more so in fact.
When she first felt something was wrong, before she met me, Mrs PM went to the doctor to seek the answer to the questions:
“Why do I feel like shit? Why am I so sad? Why can’t I stop crying?”
She has often said to me that two men have changed her life; the first is me (the charming baboon whose blog you are reading); the second is the doctor who answered those questions.
The doctor put her on a course of anti-depressants and she changed dramatically. If it wasn’t for those little pills, she would never have asked me out. Depression had confined her confidence into a cage deep within her psyche, and the key to that cage was lost. Those little tablets forged a new key and released that inner confidence, making Mrs PM the woman she is today – the woman who stole my heart (and won’t give it me back).
I don’t mind – my heart now belongs to her.
There were ups and downs as she got to grips with this new liberating medication; sometimes it introduced mood swings that made her totally and utterly euphoric one moment and absolutely devastatingly depressed the next.
Sadly, in order to find the right medication, she has had to endure a lot of pain. And during the first year or two of our relationship, I had to be there for her to help her through it. And I simply could not help her in any way other than to sit with her, look after her and make sure that she could cope. What's worse, I was a bit of a mess myself at that time, so I had to try to forget that and focus on Mrs PM.
Whether or not I helped, I don’t know. What I do know is that having somebody there was better than having nobody.
The silver lining to this black cloud is that Mrs PM has been perfectly fine for quite a few years now. Her depression was a menacing abomination for the first four or five years of our relationship. Now, thankfully, the medication she takes these days has stabilised her mood, allowing her confidence to shine in abundance. The black cloud has almost been annihilated so much so, that I have almost forgotten what it looks like.
I know that if she were to stop taking the pills, she would fall back into the black cloud’s clutches once again.
If you met Mrs PM, you would have no clue that she had ever suffered; she is warm, confident, funny and wonderful. And best of all she is happy.
Of course, not everybody needs medication. There are techniques that involve no medication at all such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), something that works for some people.
So why am I telling the world about this?
I have seen the woman I love reduced to a sobbing mess due to depression. We were talking about a friend of hers, the other day, who is recovering from post-natal depression and I thought it might be a good idea for a post.
Mrs PM gave me her blessing to write about her experience, because she knows how debilitating the condition can be. I have heard her chatting to friends about it and in some cases, some of her friends have actually recognised the symptoms and done something about it as a result.
There is no shame in admitting that you are depressed, in Mrs PM’s eyes. She has turned her life around and wants to talk about it. She wants people to know that the black cloud can be beaten into submission.
Mrs PM is now a happy person and has been for years. The black cloud occasionally threatens to make an appearance but more often than not it is a fleeting threat and she copes admirably.
That’s the silver lining.