Mental illness isn’t something someone goes through alone. Like everything, it creates a ripple through the Universe. Someone who has a mental illness will, regardless of how well it is managed or treated, go through some dark times when the Beast raises its head and starts to shift in its slumber. And when this happens, it creates an impact on everyone.
For those lucky enough to have people love them and care for them, they will have some support. And those support people use up a lot of emotional and spiritual energy. This means they need love and support as well.
I’ve been affected by depression most of my life. When I was going through my dark patches, I just didn’t want to interact with anyone. When these events occurred after I met my wife, I was so incredibly lucky to have a wonderful woman who gave me my space to deal with what it was I was going through (or more accurately what I thought I was going through). I have no idea how she had the strength to deal with me.
We’d seen the mental health ads on television for some time. But for me, being a man, it wasn’t until the John Kirwan series came on that the power of it all exploded in my mind. John has been an amazing ambassador for mental health in this country. His book – “All Blacks Don’t Cry” is inspirational. I absolutely loved the ad when he scoffed at the “toughen up” advice we are so often given. The attitude of “toughen up” is at least in part the cause of many of our mental woes. It creates an expectation of people that they simply can’t live up to.
One of my other pivotal moments was reading a book called “Overcoming Depression“. In particular when it talked about the “barrier of hope” and the “barrier of will”. And how it is when you are in between these two that the real danger is faced. How, often, the descent is fast. You slip below the barrier of hope (you have no hope that life will ever be good again) and then slip below the “barrier of will” where you would take your own life, but just have no willpower to do so.
This book talked about how, on the way back up again, when you pass back through the barrier of will, but are still below the barrier of hope, you are at great risk of suicide. Because the journey back up again is always slow. This, together with thinking about the different “colours” of depression was really helpful to me. The colours being (in order of descent): blue, grey, black then white. I have spent a great deal of time in the grey, and fortunately have only spent brief periods in the black. I am extremely grateful I have never sunk into the white. The white is a place you don’t often return from.
Living with depression requires eternal vigilance. Despite being relatively happy, and being on long-term medication, the dark thoughts still arise.
- Wanting the whole world to just go away (often with the image of Trashcan Man from The Stand)
- Crossing a bridge and feeling an urge to leap off
- Urges to drive off the top of parking buildings or cliffs
- Disappearing into my own universe in a very SFF kind of way
All these things could be overwhelming, or disturbing. But I am amazingly grateful for the realisation that they are just thoughts. That they do not control me, and are just weird shit that happens. And the trick to deal with them is to simply observe them as they float by.
One of the funniest moments of my depression came when I was coming back up from my lowest point, when I had tried coming off my medication. I was at the point of no longer going into work, and realised I needed to do something. On the day I decided to go back into counselling and back on medication, I was at work getting a coffee when a colleague came up to get some water and said “Gee, David, I don’t know how you always manage to stay so cheerful”.
It was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard and just burst out laughing. The sheer power of the whole thing struck me. Here I was feeling as though I was at my blackest, but to the outside world I was really happy.
I am really lucky. My depression, my suffering has been nothing compared to huge numbers of people. At the time, of course, it consumed my entire world. And music is what got me through.
Anyway – that’s enough rambling for now. Not sure if this post is what I originally intended it to be, but it’ll do. It is dedicated to my wonderful wife – who has made me so incredibly happy.