It does not take much to set off my depression. A small obstruction along the walk of life should usually mean nothing at all. When I am feeling good about myself, that’s when I am at my most vulnerable. Because my depression, my Black Dog is always there, lurking somewhere within me, ready to pounce if something suddenly hits.
My depression is hard to explain, especially to someone of sound mind. It is not so much an outer body experience. More an inner body experience. When I am in a good place, I know and can see the bad place. When the good place disappears, I end up in the bad one. Yet for most of the time, life goes on.
Because I have had this shit for so long, the Black Dog is, if not a friend, a reassuring presence. I know where I am with my illness and in some ways I would not want to be without it. Not that I want to spend the rest of my life trapped in a whirlpool of hopelessness. It’s just that I know my depression well and, so far, I have usually managed to cope and thus survive.
But, I hear you ask, wouldn’t you like to be rid of the Black Dog once and for all? Sadly, that’s not a question I can answer because a cure, or whatever you want to call it, is not available. I don’t have the resources of, say, whichever one of Ant and Dec got into trouble last year and went into rehab and was able to stay as long as he wanted and needed to. I can ask my GP to arrange therapy, in the knowledge that I will, depending on which GP I see – always assuming I can get an appointment: no given in my local surgery – will take an age to come to fruition. After my meltdown of 2017, I had to wait over a year for therapy. All my GP could do was double my medication.
I know that if I had been in even worse mental health, I might have been sectioned, but bad though I was, I wasn’t that bad. As countless mental health professionals have told me over the years, I am far from alone. Thousands, maybe millions, hover between mild and severe mental illness and there is next to nothing for us. When I hear politicians say they regard mental health as an equal priority to physical health, I do not believe them.
The system, such as it is, assumes that those of us who are quite ill – my diagnosis is severe clinical depression – won’t do anything too catastrophic, like self-harm or worse commit suicide. The odd counselling session or more and more drugs will suffice. And in a way that’s true. Somehow, I have made it through childhood and adulthood and I am still standing. Society, or rather the politicians who decide these things, think that mere survival is enough.
So, it’s okay to have low self-esteem, feel low, have no energy, no purpose in life other than make it to a natural end. In other words, the best we can get is the bare minimum.
I’m resigned to the likelihood, the near certainty, that things will not get better. Depression is an illness, not feeling a bit down or fed up. I’m lucky to be here but can’t help feeling that things could have been so much better.