I was going to write yesterday. I had a whole day at home, a whole day to myself – I was looking forward to getting stuck in to a few hours of tapping away, but I didn’t…
It’s been a bit of a funny old week. I had some annual leave to use before April, so I took those days to visit family, see some friends and babysit my new born nephew so that my sister in law could have a full night’s sleep. I went to therapy, I did some housework – all pretty normal stuff… but on my final day off, yesterday, I crashed.
It sounds bizarre to get to the end of 6 days off of work and claim to be exhausted, but I really was. A migraine had decided to pay a visit on Tuesday and knocked me off kilter a bit. My head still felt heavy, my eyes felt sore – thanks to my fibro, even the bones in my fingers ached.
And I just felt so, so, sad.
I had no real reason to, but then depression doesn’t need a reason, all it needs it for the defences to slip a little. Some visualisation may help here – I found this writing on my phone last week, I remember writing it not all that long ago…
I think of my depression as a physical entity. A dark, thick, slow oozing, tar like substance – and yes, sometimes it does have a face. It lives in my mind; it lives in all of our minds, even yours. And it waits… its very good at waiting.
Sometimes, a lot of the time, it doesn’t do anything. In some people’s minds it’s just this tiny speck. Perhaps it oozes a little at a job loss or when getting divorced or when someone dies… but it recedes eventually. On its little exploration, perhaps it’s realised that the mind of its host is intact; serotonin, dopamine – all of the brain chemicals are strong, working as they should. Synapses are functioning, thoughts are being processed and words are being heard, taken in and acknowledged. It gets back into its place and there it remains, licking any wounds – no dark corners or cracks to find a new home in.
But for some of us… on a brief venture out, perhaps it sees something else. Perhaps it spots a couple of broken synapses, a crack here or there, perhaps the serotonin pot is low. So, it oozes and seeps a little further…
And once it’s gotten into the cracks, once it has left its black sticky mess, it’s there for good. Sure, medication helps, it replenishes the pot of serotonin, the synapses start rebuilding and working… but there are still traces of black, even if it has receded for now…
It’s got the lie of the land though, it knows the weak spots. A few broken nights’ sleep, a stressful period of time, a hurtful comment, a bad memory… It’s not so much venturing out anymore but oozing through old paths, finding familiar routes.
So, after a busy few days, days that were really lovely but threw my routine out of order, my mind was tired. Depression had snuck out of its hiding place and was seeping its way down familiar paths. The heavy feeling in the back of my head is, for me, always a giveaway that it is up to its old tricks.
But I knew something, and I knew something very important.
There was a reason for this.
When depression first came along and knocked me off of my feet completely, I had no idea why. I was in a happy relationship, I was building my home, I had a job that I wouldn’t say I exactly loved, but it wasn’t terrible, I had friends, I had (and have) a lovely family – but it happened anyway.
Years later and I have spent countless hours unpicking why with various therapists and I have a pretty good idea of the ‘reasons’ behind its emergence, but it’s not always black and white. I have got to the point where I accept it as something that will never fully go away though – which, may sound defeatist, but I would rather hold that acceptance and know it to be true than feel devastated every time I feel my head heavy and laden with black tar.
I knew yesterday that I had overdone it. Heck, I knew the day before that I was pushing it – so, it should have really come as no surprise. But it is still a horrible feeling; it’s horrible in its familiarity, and also in the various unknowns – how long is it going to stick around for? How much is it going to affect me this time? Will it bring any of its friends along for the ride – my anxiety, or uncomfortable feelings over food, or the guilt that washes over me so ferociously that it feels like drowning? It’s horrible in how it makes me feel muted, washed out, like I am living in greyscale whilst everyone around me is in full bloom. It is horrible in how it affects my words – the consumption of them becoming harder as I lose focus and the production of them feeling like a confusing tangle, boring and inefficient and worthless.
There are words that remain in my mind on these days though, they are like a little glimmering reminder and they came from a friend of mine about three years ago when I was struggling through a rough few days. I can’t remember how exactly he constructed them, the exact forms they took on that original journey into my consciousness, but the gist of it goes something like this…
When we fall, on these bad days, we don’t fall all of the way down.
We have climbed such a great mountain; this long and winding and twisting path, full of rocks and steep in places has been hard and has at times felt insurmountable – but we have done it, and we have reached the peak. The good days are at the peak – the moments where you look at your family or friends or your children or your spouse and the love feels like it’s going to overwhelm you, those brief moments where the wind catches in your hair or you look up at the stars blanketing our world and it all feels so magnificent, the days when you get home from work – exhausted but happy and you realise how far you have come. These moments (and many more) exist and every time they happen they bolster us and they push that tar back a little, perhaps they even manage to erase a little speck here or there.
And so we don’t fall all the way down to the bottom of the mountain, we fall just off the top and we land on a ledge.
Sometimes that ledge feels like a further drop than others – sometimes it takes us a few hours to scramble back up whereas sometimes it might take a few days, but we always do it because we know that we can.
Yesterday, the ledge I landed on wasn’t far from the top. By the time night fell I was sitting back on top of my mountain – tired and a little shaky from my tumble, but not too damaged. From here I can see the view in front of me, a few clouds and shady areas are dotted across the landscape but right now the weather is fine and I know that the sun beating down upon my back is recharging me and giving me the strength to carry on this path that I have chosen, because we all know that once you conquer one mountain, the next one looks so very tempting.
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