No, depression isn’t something that only happens on the third Monday of each January. Do I believe it’s as good a day as any other to have a transparent, honest conversation about mental health? Absolutely!
Depression doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t favour social class or gender, it doesn’t target the weak – it can happen at any time, to anyone. I wrote a very personal letter to depression a few years ago, which I’d like to share today.
We first met when I was around seven years old but no one formally introduced us and you never told me your name. I didn’t understand who or what you were but I did understand that after years of late night arguments, my Dad left. And in the silence that followed, you moved in. I didn’t invite you, I don’t think anyone did but you came anyway and you weren’t travelling light – like an uninvited, unwanted house guest who took up residence in my mind. You’ve always overstayed your welcome, you’ve never cleaned up after yourself and you’ve shown up without an invite time and time again.
As life moved on, you seemed to disappear but little did I know that you were just lurking around the corner, waiting for the right time to make your perfect entrance. Within three years my Dad had returned to the family home, without explanation but seemingly forgiven for his unfaithful actions for the ‘sake of the children’. Without any warning, goodbyes or time to adjust I found myself living in a new home in the country with the rest of my family. Leaving me confused but sparing them from the gossip and judgement of the other adults around them. Living close to my Grandma, adopting my dog and spending time in nature did me the world of good and although it turned out to be fleeting, I got a glimpse of how good life could be.
A few years in, my Dad was up to his old tricks again and it seemed that being my ‘father’s daughter’ i.e. sounding like, looking like and behaving like my Dad was going to be my downfall. When I was around 12 years old, the mind games began before escalating to regular physical abuse. I only had to look at my Mum in a certain way to push her buttons and it didn’t take long for my newly discovered good-life to become a distant memory. After waiting patiently in the wings, you seized your chance and reappeared. I still didn’t know your name but this time, you were more familiar and that in itself was strangely comforting.
Life went from bad to worse and at the age of 14, I started to fight back. We returned to London – again with no warning or time to say goodbye – and my Mum’s family joined in the daily battle. They were targeting both me and my Dad but mostly me because Dad was still ‘working late’. I didn’t know where to turn; it was chaos, there were restraining orders and I didn’t know anyone in London apart from them. My home had become a suburban war zone. At the age of 15 I experienced rape and when I got home, no-one asked why I was late; instead I had to endure more violence because I was out past my curfew again. These toxic relationships continued for years and everywhere I turned for help, I was met with dead ends. I was among the company of master manipulators and I was seriously out of my depth. I wasn’t being heard, I wasn’t being loved and I felt like I was all alone but you, depression, you were there for me every time.
At 30, knowing deep down that that loving my family from a distance was the only healthy way forward for me, I made what I still believe was the most difficult decision of my life. I chose to forgive and I walked away for good. I’m aware that the psychological trauma I’ve experienced might seem severe to some but this was all I knew, this was my normal. I’ve had a lot of counselling, psychotherapy & alternative therapies over the years, I’ve worked on myself relentlessly and along the way, I’ve surrounded myself with genuine friendships, community and dogs. Even though it’s not been a walk in the park, I’ve managed to muddle through.
Dogs have been my saving grace, their love has been abundant and unconditional but when the time comes to say goodbye, it all gets a bit much to handle. When I had to say farewell to my eldest French bulldog in 2015 I was so overwhelmed with grief that I didn’t notice that you were back again. That’s the thing about you depression, you creep around masquerading as guilt, sadness or some other emotion and by the time I suspected it was you, I was hit with the loss of another of my dogs. You saw your opportunity and you ran with it, leading me straight into your signature quicksand where the more I tried to get out, the more I sunk in and it took me almost 2 years to get back to solid ground.
I’m 40 now and I’m known for being inspiring, resourceful and compassionate. Which isn’t incorrect but I’m still human and the truth is – I’m just like everyone else, trying to do the best I can with what I’ve got. But depression, you make my life so much harder whenever you hang around. Like many before you, you take advantage when I’m at my most vulnerable and you’re only ever out for yourself but I’ve made it this far and although you might knock me down, I will always get up again – regardless of how long it takes.
Every time you return, you’re more resilient but whenever you leave, I become stronger. Only time will tell whether you’ll rock up again but depression my old friend, if you do the only place you’ll be staying is on the doorstep. The older I get the more tools I’ve acquired to keep you at bay and I have people around me who hear me, care about me and love me. 2016 was your last time in residence and even if you do show up looking for somewhere to crash, please know that you will never again be given a spare key.
Deciding to share my letter publicly required courage *takes a deep breath* but I figured that if one other person reads this and it makes a positive difference in some way then it’s worth it. Like others all over the planet, depression is part of my story. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by it. It doesn’t make me weak nor does it define me. It makes me human.
Kindness always matters but when you’re in the midst of depression, a simple act of kindness can make a huge difference. I once replied to a friend’s text message saying I was ‘in a dark place’ and 45 minutes later she knocked on my front door with arms full of candles and a big smile saying ‘these might help to brighten things up’. It was so thoughtful and unexpected and I’ll never forget it.
So if you know someone who might be struggling, think about what one small thing you can do to brighten up their day. It may only take you five minutes but they’ll remember it for a lifetime.
If you're in crisis and need urgent help, visit Mind.org.uk for advice on getting help in a crisis for emergency support options. If you're not in the UK, please google mental health emergency support followed by the town or country you live in to see what options are available.
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