What the water feels like to the fishes

Goldfish Depression sneaks up on me around this time of year. Most years I spend these late months down, though some more so than others. There’s something about the slow dying of the light that brings out the noonday demon, bleaching colour from the day and bringing sharp edges to the night.

Though that’s too poetic, really, for the drab reality. Sleepless nights followed by nights of too much sleep, leaving me drained and exhausted regardless. Headaches that don’t leave, restlessness without cause, and sadness that turns up unexpectedly mid-sentence and refuses to dissipate. Most of all, a thin veil that descends between me and the world, dulling joy and blunting emotions, making it hard to participate through the feeling of awful apart-ness, as though I’m watching life on a screen and not participating. In the summer I take on dozens of projects, safe in the boundless energy the light brings. In winter, I count spoons and mete out activity in careful, measured portions, for fear of failing to cope. Without Grant, I would struggle to eat well or sleep at all.

For some people – I’m one of them – depression is just a fact of life. I don’t remember a time before depression. I guess I was 11 when I had my first full-blown episode; I know I was 12 when I was first diagnosed. I know what it’s like to be happy, but I don’t know what it’s like not to have to hoard it, guard it, trace its contours for as long as I possess it. To not know with certainty that it is fleeting, and must pass.

That is one of the cruellest things about this illness. It perpetuates itself in the knowledge of itself. Depression is itself depressing. And terribly boring, too. So many depressives – myself included – develop other problems in part to cope with the bleakness of the dark mornings, but also because they are at least something that can be controlled, and that brings an upside, a dramatic, vivid illustration of the pain we’re in, and something else to focus on. Perhaps it’s taboo to suggest that anorexia, alcoholism, self-injury and so forth have benefits, but it’s true; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so seductive. I recall vividly a psychiatrist telling me that if they could bottle and prescribe the psychological effects of self-harm without the messy reality, it would be the most effective antidepressant ever – and one of the most addictive.

So in the down times I cope not only with the depression itself but also with the desperate animal-in-trap desire to hurt myself, something counterproductive, self-destructive but also self-preservative, something that – if I could control it and mitigate its down sides – would be the best possible way of dealing with the depression. That, I think, makes it harder – to know, intimately, that there is an easy option, and still not to take it.

But then, this too shall pass. The most powerful knowledge I have is that this will pass. It must pass. The blackness is not permanent; the sun will rise again. What I fear most is forgetting that such sadness is temporary. That way lies madness.

This post was imported from my Tumblr as part of a big reorganisation of my online self in January 2012.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm an operations specialist, analytics nerd, recovering journalist, consultant, writer, game designer, company founder, and highly efficient pedant.

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