By the age of 7 I knew there were tears in not just my eyes but my tummy too. I was sad from school and things that even now feel like razor blades self harm if dwell on them. I did not understand what they meant.
By the age of 14 I knew these tears meant I was depressed but had no outlet for them. Turned away if talked to family and a school guidance teacher that did not understand the wounds bullies leave behind.
By the age of 21 I knew I was an outsider looking in on the world and felt I did not belong. The music that helped so much in my teens now felt like they sang of a life I would never know and forbidden entry to.
By the age of 28 I knew therapy was a must and began to admit openly I had depression. A scary label but it would not define me as a person and would not let the stigma scar me as memories had before it.
By the age of 35 I knew the image inside my head was wrong, I was not an unloveable ogre or Martian that observed earthly activities. Depression still lingered but it was never going to make me take my own life.
I am approaching 39 with optimism. The tears in my tummy are still there but no longer sting as they did. The ogre is vanquished forever to be replaced by a rag doll, made from parts of my story and sewn in love.
Today is World Health Day, which this year focuses on depression. It does not mean someone is crazy and should be locked up. Nor does it mean walking on eggshells around them. Talking is good, listen never judge.
Depression can leave you feeling like you’re sat lost on a wooden boat in the middle of the sea. Rowing every direction but forward as you fear the unknown that lies ahead and the pains from the past although distant still leave a bitter sting. Every wave that hits the boat makes it feel like it will soon break into hundred pieces, leaving you stranded with cuts from clinging on to the driftwood and fearing that you will never be rescued, becoming just another one that was lost and drowned at sea.
It is at that moment that you should pause, not stop to give up but pause. Let the tears fall from your eyes like rain to a forest for you’re not a robot or desert. It does not matter if you did not pack flares to show your light to others because it is within you. Listen for the birds for they are wise and are your friends and are there even when you cannot see them or think that there are none. Shut your eyes and count to five, repeat this three times, and now look to see the land you never saw before.
As you and your boat head to the land do not expect it to be heaven or hell, take each moment as it comes and tackle any of your problems as they occur before they suffocate. As you reach the shore, make a note place your boat somewhere that it can remind you of your journey to get there. Now as you land, take that first step on the beach feel the grains with your hands and feet, you are like those grains; a small grain in a big world, but also each one matters just as you do to others.
10 years ago the lyrics of this song and many others by Tori Amos haunted my ears and tears would fall from my eyes when I heard her sing as each one felt like I could have written them myself. Lines such as “I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again” made me think of my mother who I then called ‘she who must be obeyed’, as I was frightened of her, nothing I did was right if did do not do things her way but now know she is a narcissist and need to carry on being me regardless; “I hear my voice and it’s been here, silent all these years” as I started having counselling to try make some semblance of why I felt my life was painted in monochrome and saw myself more like Princess Fiona the ogre from Shrek than the princess, through a journey that was just as rocky as any shore with no lighthouse in sight, not realising I am the lighthouse; and “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts, what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts” not realising how powerful they are and what a gift they can be to inspire others. Now life I see as multicoloured and multi-sensory, grateful for the special people that make me laugh and smile for being in it and the importance of living mindfully. Today is Tori’s birthday, so a timely reminder to myself of all I have overcome and remind others not to give up, making that first stepping stone today is possible as things do change for the better.
When the world feels claustrophobically overwhelming, trying to be gentle with ourselves can be the last thing on our minds. That is when we need to stop, look at the sky, catching the RAIN falling in our hands and remember the following:
R – Relax, take that time out away from what is hurting us, even if it is a five-ten minute tea or coffee break. With every sip think of a beach and feel the grains of sand under our feet that at times may feel like quicksand dragging us down but keep walking on and let the sea’s rhythm match our heart.
A – Accept that this moment maybe feeling like it may be the end, there is nowhere to go or friends to turn to; but there are, just stop on the beach and listen out for the birds singing as they are nature’s messengers carrying messages filled with love, peace, hope and light from friends near and far.
I – Investigate the forest that lies up from the beach. At first it can seem like we have got ourselves lost but to move forward we need to clear the trees that block our path; cut from the root so remove the source of the pain. There maybe false starts to dead ends while doing this but it happens to us all.
N – Nothing lasts forever, so when we see daylight as the forest clears and the storm ends pick up the red shoes that sit at the side of the river and dance. Then take the first step on the stepping stones on the river and follow whether they lead but do not look back as cannot ever be changed.
This week is Depression Awarenesses Week, which this year is focusing on #whatyoudontsee. As open as I am with acknowledging I have depression on social media it is not as look at me but more a listen to me not judge or mute me.
By writing about my experiences it helps give them a voice of their own that can be heard by others and thereby lose the power they try have over me. Another reason is the stigma many of us with depression (and other mental health illnesses) still suffer from and it is about time that this taboo was shattered for good. A final reason is not everyone has a voice or able to talk about depression, so I am trying to open doors in order that people feel welcomed not judge or mocked.
To anyone reading this that thinks that depression is abnormal, consider this; if I asked everyone of my friends to make a cake I would have a variety of cakes with no two being exactly the same, each one is representative of the individual that made the cake but none of them would be abnormal. In the same respect we are all shaped by our experiences, traditions and beliefs. Imagine wearing our neighbour’s underwear every day as we both live in the same neighbourhood or feeling the odd one out at family gatherings despite sharing genes. Equally, we may share the same experiences but how they impact upon us varies, and sometimes we cannot “just get over it” as the trauma is still deep even decades after the event(s) may have occurred.
When the black dog calls, it is like a dog barking constantly at me from the garden until I give in and let him in. Then he licks my face all over till it is wet, but in reality these are my tears. In the past I would sit in silence for days as not even my favourite music that got me through my teenage years would bring me comfort. However, now I get out my pen to write or put on my walking boots armed with my camera to go for a walk, sometimes take a piece of clay to make my feelings 3D, other times I go to one of the many musical instruments I play to let them become a song and also cooking or baking as help me focus on the present moment, especially making bread by hand. So for me finding coping mechanisms like these as well as loyal, loving and trusting friends is what helps so I do not give up and remembering there are stars shining and ringing even when it looks pitch black outside.
Today sees the start of depression awareness week 2015. It is incredible how one word can scare us; a diagnosis that suddenly makes us seem different to others and/or not normal any more (or so we/others are tend to believe).
Just because we cannot physically see it, and unless we or someone we are close to does, it may seem unreal but it does not take away from the hidden torture, pain and tears it brings. Some self harm just to give these feelings a life, I choose to use creativity.
Someone with depression for example is unlikely to deliberately hurt others but may push someone away as cannot understand how we feel. Equally, not everyone spends every minute crying or want the pity of others, we just want to be accepted as we all do.
I have been depressed since I was a child; on the tummy of a Care Bear I saw with a cloud and rain, that’s how my own felt. From my teens to my twenties of hidden tears till reaching breaking point. My thirties are the happiest I have ever been.
My closest friends have helped me learn to smile; one told me recently to keep smiling and we all believe in you. Depression is part of me, but does not define me. It is a label or box like any other, which belong to foods not humans! So this week be grateful for all that makes up our lives.