It is an early summer evening. The weather is musty; the parching weather of last year hasn’t arrived yet, a coal tit bleeps proudly near the window meaning that both cats must be indoors. I’m in the rocking chair in front of the lit fire, with the dog at my feet, like an image from a 1930s children story. And I am reading.
I’m not reading social media. I’m not reading beer blogs. I’m not casually looking up the name of The Housemartins song I’ve had stuck in my head all day (though it was almost certainly Happy Hour.) I’m reading a book.
I haven’t read a book for a long time.
Something that isn’t stressed enough about the effects of depression is the way it removes all the enjoyment in your personality. The characteristics that defined your character previously are taken from you one by one. Some are more obvious to friends and peers, usually because they involve socialising. They involve your lack of attendance at family gatherings or team sports. You are reminded of these throughout. You are made aware that there is something unusual pertaining to your behaviour. You are made to feel personally guilty about your change in habits.
These constant reminders secure your memory of them. You remember that they used to be parts of you. Yet it is the solo tasks that one could only notice personally that become forgotten yet could be considered the most worrying. Reading is a solitary task undertaken in private quarters. People question your lack of attendance at Saturday beer festivals or Monday night 6-a-side but nobody notices the little solitary moments of pleasure.
Those proclivities become the forgotten personality traits – they become so irrelevant that you accept them as part of your past or even lose your memory of them. I used to read, I used to read a lot. Just like I used to enjoy video games. Just like I used to love model railways. And those elements are just as important as the fact that I used to enjoy Saturday pub crawls. Just like I used to enjoy playing football. Just like I used to enjoy Sunday family time.
Trait by trait your own personal Islands of Personality, that your foundation was based on, crumble into the void. As the sufferer you tend not to notice, not until the inevitable criticism comes – “He doesn’t help himself; he’s stopped doing the things he enjoyed. He says he's depressed but that’s because he doesn't do anything anymore. If he just started playing football again…”
Of course, these commentators are naïve; some are even well meaning. Mostly, they are blissfully unaware of the damage those comments cause. Losing yourself to this illness is one thing but having that criticised is quite the other.
To recover from the bottom the focus has to be on the most important parts of life. At the pinnacle that is life itself. Getting from one day to the next without taking your own life puts little importance on the unread books in the corner. Every treatment, every useless piece of self care hedonism, every blog I have written focuses on the survival techniques that will make you see light at the end and encourage positive thought.
Nothing, however, prepares you for the emptiness that depression brings. Nothing makes big enough reference to the loneliness that comes from having no awareness of self; to be the same being externally but to have nothing left inside. Nothing helps with the fear on the days you realise that nothing you do gives you enjoyment anymore. Occasionally a book may be picked up, the prologue read, before being replaced and forgotten. There is nothing.
There are no milestones and timescales with depression. With one step comes the next. Eventually simple pleasures come back to the fore. Some involve new discoveries, whether it be rambling or history chasing or keeping chickens
But some of them were always there, just lying dormant whilst the blackness clouded them. It took a long time. It wasn't planned or placed as a goal to reach. It just so happened that on an evening in May 2019 I picked up a book, one that had been lying around the home waiting for me to read, as recommended years previously by somebody for being my sort of yarn. The television show my friend had been recommending to me for 6 years was being, as the kids say, binge watched. The games console was powered up again. Finally there was some enjoyment in leisure.
The advice is often poor, talking of positive thinking, meditation and keeping active, as if those seemingly simple tasks are an option when you struggle to get out of bed at all. There isn’t the understanding of the mindset that takes over. There is too much talk of quick fixes and easy solutions. It doesn’t work like that.
There are still many days when the mind returns to the darkest place it was; where it was in that period where there only seemed to be one option. Years of trying to find your way out of that place seem futile at times. You wonder whether you’ll ever return to the person that you once were. Truthfully you can never be the same. You can only keep going in the hope that some light comes back, that one day you pick up the book and enjoy it once more. Progression isn’t easy but every little victory is worth something.
If you do need somebody to talk to then my e-mails and DMs are always available.