Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Black Clouds; Silver Linings

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.


MedicatedMoo said...

Good on Mrs PlasMan for letting you share her story.

I've had the Black Dog visit me far more times than I care to count, and my own special pills have, in my husband's words, 'Brought back the sparkle and life to your eyes.'

It is difficult at times to hear snide remarks about depression or other forms of mental illness and not cringe, but the one thing that sufferers can do is spot it in others and offer a hand.

This is going to sound a bit odd - and maybe you'll roll your eyes when I mention the group 'Nickelback' but when I heard their song 'Lullaby' a few months back on the car radio I had to pull over and take a few deep breaths. That song alone should overcome any other shortcomings they supposedly have.

Hugs from me to Mrs PM and to her friend who needs - and will get - help.

Elephant's Child said...

This is a wonderful post. Huge thank yous to you and Mrs PM.
My partner also suffers from depression and it hurts so much to watch him in the depths and know that there is nothing I can do except be there. Which doesn't feel like nearly enough. Just as sometimes the medication isn't enough.

Anonymous said...

And "situational" depression is exactly like - that's my form of depression. It lifts, eventually, without medication but I have a sneaking suspicion that a touch of clinical depression is what makes my "situational" depression so easy to fall into (- or not.)

You instinctively did the right thing - we just want someone to listen and no, we can't just snap out of it - if we could, don't people think we would? It's not a pretty way to live...and it affects everyone around us and we don't really want to make everyone feel as miserable and powerless as we do.

Powerless - that's the word. We feel powerless.

About 6 weeks ago I finally got out of a depressing situation, and I have not had a depressed moment since - life is not all unicorns and rainbows - but I haven't had a tearful melt down for no good reason or any of the other things that accompany depression.

So I'm lucky - I don't take medication (which can have side effects) - and I know what makes me go to the dark side but once there it is so damn hard to make myself reach for the light...

Pandora Behr said...

Thank you, thank you thank you for this post PM.

You are a very special man.

Thankfully, a lot of the stigma around depression is gone, but everything you say here his true.

A most special post.

Pand (Fellow depression sufferer)

drb said...

Dear Mr PM,
I'm very glad that you and Mrs PM recognised that depression is an illness and not just a passing mood and she has it under control.

Sorry, I just have to put on a my neuroscientist's hat: Depression can be genetically predisposed but also a result of chronic stress. It is an epidemic because of our sedatory lifestyle. During caveman time, stress (such confronting a predator) produces hormones for us to fight or flight. However in modern days, we can't physically fight or flee from our stress sources. So, the stress hormones linger in our body and start to kill our brain cells. Depression is a sign that our brain cells are not well. In fact, imaging of untreated depressive patients shows that their brains have shrunk. To prevent depression, one has to do physical exercise for at least 30 min everday to burn off the stress hormones.
So, if you have a really stressful day, go for jog, head for the gym or pool.

River said...

Thank you for writing this and thank Mrs PM too. Depression is so hard to understand for us that don't suffer. We know it's an illness that can't be helped by saying things like "just get over it". Most of us don't have a clue about how to help. My ex suffers depression and has tried many medications, but they haven't helped. Possibly because he also suffers paranoia and psychotic reactions to the paranoia and he's alcoholic too. Or it could be that he doesn't give any medication a fair chance. If things don't make him feel better instantly he starts to play around with dosages and mixing meds. It's probably a combination of these, but his increasing violence is why he's now my ex. I couldn't just sit and get hit again.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Kath,

Love Chunks has summed it up brilliantly. I mentioned that to Mrs PM and she loved it.

I've actually seen Nickelback live and own an album by them. I hadn't heard Lullaby - but I can see what you mean (having just looked on YouTube).




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

I know how you feel - but Mrs PM tells me that being there does help (even though it doesn't seem like it).




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Grace,

It seems quite a few people suffer bouts of depression and can ride the storm, so to speak. And that's brilliant but it does attract those who think that "pulling themselves together" is a good thing. I guess such an approach would have the same negative effect on "situational" depression.



Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Thanks for that, but I am only ding what anybody else would do I think.

It's good that the stigma is fading. People need to talk about this - which is why Mrs PM does just that.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

That's really interesting and makes perfect sense to me. I've suffered from stress (about 16 years ago) - and it had all sorts of physical side effects. I'm not sure that depression was one of them - but I can see the logical conclusion to excessive stress.

I've made a pact with myself never to allow that to happen again - and despite a hiccup or two, I seem to have managed that.

And yes, I do try to escape work with a good walk at lunchtime (I think my jogging days are over sadly).




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I'm really sorry to hear that and I don't blame you.

Mrs PM struggled to find the right meds but never tried to juggle them.

That way chaos lies.



white nectarine said...

PM, Pandora sent me. I just wanted you to know that you have described chronic depression brilliantly well. My experience has been ver similar to Mrs PM.
You also give me hope that someone will still love you (me!) even if you do suffer from depression, that there are men wise enough out there to recognise it as an illness that otherwise suppresses an otherwise wonderful, courageous woman.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi WN and welcome,

There are definitely men out there who understand. I know of at least one guy who's missus suffers from a similar condition and have even chatted to her about it.

And of course, it can afflict men too.

Those who think that it isn't an illness need to be educated. I just thought I would do my little bit to further the cause.




drb said...

Yes Mr PM, a 30 min brisk walk (i.e. your heart rate actually goes up) will help. Please encourage Mrs PM o do the same.

I am working in a highly stressful job but luckily it takes me 30 min to walk to work.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

Rest assured that this is exactly what I do - and Mrs PM too - plus a walk together at the weekend.

I really should get my bike out ...




Anji said...

I know how you feel. My eldest son was depressed when he was 15. I held him in my arms when he told me all he wanted was to die All you can do is reassure them that they are loved and you are there.

It took him two years to get back to himself.

Thank Mrs PM from me. Too many people don't understand. Now your post is here and someone who is seeking help will find it and you'll be helping someone back on the road upwards.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Anji,

It's amazing how many people have experienced depression either personally or because of a loved one.




DelGal said...

Dearest PM-

Sorry this took forever to reply to, had wanted to post but alas I got some coughing cooties and I lost my computer mojo in the process. But I'm back!
I appreciated your wonderful post, you are truly a great guy for sticking by Mrs PM. I wasn't so lucky and lost my ex-husband to my illness and depression issues. Luckily I think I've found someone else who has been very supportive of me :)

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Lynette,

One of the problems I think is that people do not actually know what depression is.

I hope my post just educates in it's own little way.