Seeing as this is the fifth week of sharing anonymous mental health experiences, that must mean that headspace is over a month old. Yay! Go us!
This weeks post focuses on something I’ve been struggling with recently – feeling happy when you’ve got depression. It is possible – just over a week ago I was walking home after seeing some old friends and suddenly felt happy and joyous for the first time in a quite a while – giving me a literal skip in my step. Maybe it was the playlist, maybe it was the fresh air, maybe it was having seen people. But it hasn’t lasted, and since leaving my job on Friday I’ve struggled with my brain simultaneously telling me I should be happy and then making me feel guilty when I wasn’t, till I spiralled down into a scary space of self-loathing and negative thoughts. I particularly love the last line – “I’ll just have to do the best I can”.
Coping with happiness
I have a memory. I don’t know how old I was, but I was still in a cot and it feels like my first memory.
In this memory I have just woken from an afternoon nap. From what I know of babies/small children (which isn’t a lot) it should have been a peaceful awakening, but this memory is far from peaceful.
I remember waking up and staring out of the bars to my prison of slumber and feeling trapped. I remember feeling hopeless and alone and scared. I remember feeling like I wanted to escape; like I wanted to break the bars and just run and run and run and never look back.
Now obviously the next 25ish years have jaded this memory and I’m sure that I’m applying much more significance to it than I could understand at the time; but the general feeling of being trapped will always stay with me.
I don’t want to say that this was my first brush with mental health issues but it might explain a few things.
As a neurodivergent person my childhood wasn’t easy but it wasn’t until I was 16/17 that years of trying to pass as neurotypical, psychological bullying and exclusion from my peers started to take its toll on me and I had my first mental health “breakdown”.
I had a privileged upbringing so I was promptly sent to therapy by my parents where I underwent CBT and given anti-depressant medication. I eventually “got better” and slowly stopped taking my medication (as per my therapist’s advice) but whether I was a paradigm of “good mental health” remains a mystery to me.
I was still sad and lonely and trapped, it’s just I’d stopped committing gratuitous felonies against my own body, which I thought meant I was “better”, whatever that means.
Fast forward a few years and I’d failed (the first year of) one degree, and was about to embark upon a second. I moved further away from my parents and into an unknown land of dragons, mythology, and people I didn’t know. I still thought I was “happy” or at the very least not depressed, but that first year was a prime example of what denial looks like.
After finding my feet however, something strange started to happen, I started to feel this odd sensation that felt alien to me. I’m going to call it happiness because that’s the closest word I can think of that fits. Before long I was a self-declared “perpetual happy machine” and it felt like the happiness-high was something that would last forever, a never-ending, perpetual, feedback loop of happiness. It transported me back to my school years, which I hated and continue to hate, but specifically back to an ill-fated trip in The Lake District with school. Most of that trip was a horrible mess of anxiety and falling out of a kayak with my wallet in my pocket (the fucking infamy of which was just stupid), but one things stands out to me. One night, unable to sleep, I decided to sit in the windowsill and gaze at the biggest full moon I’ve ever seen. I took the time to just sit, and wonder and exist. At the time it made the trip completely worth it, and although I’m not sure I still share the sentiment, being a “perpetual happy machine” definitely felt like I was just taking the time to gaze out the window at a glorious full moon and just take the time to exist in all of life’s shitty, mind-blowing, sad, unhappy, depressing, wonderful, fabulous, happy, ecstatic, formative, wish-it-had-never-happened, life-ness.
I finally graduated university and the pressure of finding a job, and keeping a job, and being neurodivergent, and finally realising I was transgender, hit me with the force of a bullet train, and after a year of wildly fluctuating moods, and a complete lack of energy, I finally told my psychiatrist (who I was seeing for ADHD). He told me that what I described was symptomatic of depression and suggested I go back on the anti-depressants.
Three years later and I’m still on anti-depressants, and although I’m also on hormone-replacement-therapy and 1000% more comfortable with my body than I ever have been, I’m still depressed. In fact 6 months ago, I upped my dose of anti-depressant because I felt like my mood had dipped again.
It took a long time to arrive at that decision because it felt so strange. I knew that in some ways I was happier with my life than ever before, but depression doesn’t care about what’s going on in your life, it’s only goal is to pour concrete around your whole being, and slowly watch it set until you’re immobile. It’s why it took me a year to realised that I was depressed and seek help. It’s why I still don’t understand why I’m depressed. It’s why I’m not sure if this is ever going to go away. It’s why I originally thought I was “better” but probably wasn’t.
It feels weird to say this and you might think it a contradiction, but you can be happy whilst you’re depressed.
And I’m not just talking occasionally either.
I’m happy more than I am sad, it’s just that my joy for life has been dulled by this shadow, by this fucking rain-cloud that’s hanging over me all the time. Yes I’m still much more pessimistic than I used to be, and yes, I still find myself travelling the same old paths of negative thought patterns, more often than not, but I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy.
As Antony said on his blog, “I just – I know who I am, and right now, I’m not who I am. And I’m lost. And I don’t know how to get back.”
That’s how I feel. I feel lost. I feel lonely. I feel certain malaise. I feel…. or rather I don’t feel.
It was fortuitous,
The timing of punk
The timing of acoustic northern melodies,
(Coz) I’d been committing gratuitous felonies
Against my skin, my own existence,
So drunk on executive dysfunction
I got out of bed and had a meltdown,
And in that moment of concrete floors
I let myself be blinded
By love and community, solidarity and compassion,
And they say blindness can heighten
The other senses
So my sense of self
Loathing was thrust
Into the spotlight of my vision,
But blinding lights are,
hard to stare at and being
blinded for 27 years by the crippling
despair of my
hasn’t heightened my,
sense of understanding of the world.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever not be depressed and there have been plenty of times recently when I’ve wondered if I’ll still be here in a few months, but I’m neurodivergent, and my Brian has always been an arsehole, so I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with it and do the best I can.
Thanks for reading this far! Sharing words and experiences is a great way to battle stigma, so do feel free to pass this on to a friend. But sometimes we need more thank good words – we need professional support. So, sacrificing my glorious ginger hair to raise money for the Cellar Trust, a local charity that supports people into work and provides help in a crisis. The more money raised, the more hair goes! You can donate now at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/antonyjcbutcher