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Depression is a Sponge

Nikki talks about her most recent battle with depression, how it arrives at her doorstep and overstays its welcome sometimes.

I’ve never written about my depression before. When I’m well, I forget how bad it feels. So this time I wrote my journey into Unwell while I remembered it, in the hope that someone who reads it might:

  1. Know they are not alone

  2. Better understand the struggle of a loved one

  3. Realise that mental illness is an Actual Real Thing

From age 18-23, I lived in a giant black well. I put on 25kg because I ate my feelings. There were weeks when I was treading water, and weeks when I was bottom feeding and suicidal. I held a job… barely. I managed to finish my thesis and get a Master’s degree. Which is a big achievement for a non-suicidal person, let alone while you are holding on to life by a thread.

My journey out of that well is a separate story. For now, we shall fast forward to the present.

These days I have occasional mild depression - for a day or two, maybe a week. It’s a little like PMS, sometimes I mistake one for the other. It’s not obvious unless you know me well; I’ve become practised at appearing confident, like I have it all together.

I might be treading water in my head but on the outside I’m a functioning member of society. I have learned to breathe and let it pass, because it usually does. I know what my triggers are and what I need to do to fight my way out.

Every couple of years, it does not pass. It overstays like the most unwelcome visitor, a lecherous giant thing. A fog, a shadow. I don’t see it coming - it creeps up behind me and slugs me over the head with a baseball bat. And it latches like a leach.

In May, I lost a friend. (That’s a whole other blog). Aside from that, since the beginning of the year, I have been grappling with an internal conflict about whether or not to have another baby (that’s a blog already written by many other people). So I was already off-balance, and the loss of my friend was the baseball bat.

A trigger can be anything – real or perceived loss, real or potential change. Whatever causes inner or external conflict, or makes you ask yourself The Big Questions.

The trigger itself is only the catalyst, because the problem then becomes about everything. I turn into an absorbent sponge that soaks up negativity and sadness from the environment. Bigger and bigger the sponge gets, and crushes my chest with its weight. It pushes other people away from me, squashes them into the corners of the room. They’re calling to me and I can’t hear them or feel their love, because there’s a wall of sad sop-filled negative sponge between us. Somewhere in there, I’m still me, but I’m a smaller, less visible version. I take up less space in the world.

I know that depressed people appear not to be paying attention. It’s because that they cannot focus on what you’re saying. You are muffled and hidden by the sponge, you see, and their thoughts are yelling at them, “YOU SUCK! NO ONE LOVES YOU! YOU SHOULD DIE! YOU’RE ALL ALONE!” And if they appear not to care about your feelings, they do so as a coping mechanism. Their feelings are so big and crushing that if they let other people’s feelings in, they might die from the weight of all the feelings. What appears to be self-absorption is in fact self-preservation.

On Saturday 27 May, I woke up and wanted to not be alive. I didn’t mean that I was going to kill myself, I just wanted to disappear. It has been years since I woke up like that, and it frightened me. There was negative self-talk in my head, nothing but static behind it. White noise - loud, I couldn’t think clearly. Putting my socks on made me cry. Performing basic tasks was like walking through mud. I could not parent my son – my husband had to do everything, and I felt like the worst wife and mother. I couldn’t eat - I was too busy thinking to eat. Or clean. Or shower. I just moved around slowly, and sometimes I stayed still. I was more quiet than usual - my self-hate shouted all the other thoughts down, so I didn’t have much to say. Therefore I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, because I had no conversation to offer except for an anxious self-absorbed monologue. People can only listen to that for so long before they want to talk about something else.

I saw a friend for lunch. She asked me what I needed her to do. I said – nothing. I just wanted to see I face I loved. I just wanted to hear your voice. It doesn’t matter what you say, just be with me.

Be patient, that sponge is heavy now. But it will shrink. Please, everybody stay in the room.

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