Do you feel profoundly disinterested in the world around you, in the squalid details of your own pointless life? Do you feel that life is nothing but misery and suffering and that it would have been better if you’d never been born? Do you feel as though consciousness is a cancer, a terrible parasite that gets into your head and never moves out and devours those cosy little twins, delusion and hope? Do you feel that your fellow humans are nothing but insects, termites, maggots who stink at both ends, and that, horrifyingly, you are no different? Have you lost interest in the nonsense that you used to use to distract yourself from this horror? Do you feel you are being suffocated and crushed by the very air around you?
I was sat having a crap this morning before taking my son to school, and thought that maybe when I got back I’d write (yet another) bit about my own experiences of ‘depression’ – then I found the above chunk floating around in my drafts and thought it’d serve as a fitting intro. So here we are.
I’m not ‘depressed’ today – which is nice. Not sure why. Probably something to do with the psychedelic horrorshow I treated myself to a few nights ago. I go into these experiences hoping I’m going to come out clutching some grand, revealed sacred truths that are going to allow me to see the universal oneness of all things, the underlying meaning to ‘it all’ – but I never do. At best, I come out the other end with a renewed appreciation for the colour of the sea and the sky – at worst, with a brain like a chewed toffee, vague nausea and a renewed appreciation for how far down into the bedroom of nonsensical flim-flam the well of my mind is sunk. But I always come out feeling like my mind’s been ‘reset’ – that the bits and pieces flung into space by the neural IED have landed in some happier, more efficient order. Less ‘depressed’.
I’ve been hospitalised with ‘depression’ – first ‘diagnosed’ in my teens, but experienced since I was about twelve – once; treated for it many times – sometimes with some degree of success. The greatest success, with prescribed pharmaceuticals, has been with Citalopram. Reading up on it a while ago, I discovered that the drug seems to have a rapid effect on the amygdala, dampening down the brain’s fear response (1). This made some kind of intuitive sense to me, as I had a noticeable reduction in ‘depressive’ symptoms almost instantaneously – way too soon to be explained by the intended re-balancing of the brain’s available serotonin content they’re supposed to elicit.
So is ‘my depression’ all about fear? Probably. That probably has something to do with it. I grew up with a pathologically volatile, emotionally labile father who seemed to not be able to prevent himself from constantly hitting and humiliating me. Nothing spectacular, as far as these things go. but I think I was always inclined to be somewhat over sensitive, and the constant feeling that I was trying to keep this brooding psychological time bomb from blowing up in my face served to amp that up even further. I grew up constantly tilting over the brink of someone else’s meltdown, fists constantly clenched and teeth gritted against the next blast of withering rage. He was always telling me that the world was a place bristling with hostility, violence – that everyone and everything was always trying to get close to me only to better position itself to rip me apart or at the very least smack me in the mouth. It reached its peak when he went through a phase of threatening to kill me, my mother and the sister with the guns that – pre-Dunblane – he legally owned; but he didn’t manage to muster the courage to do anything more than threaten it and then moved hundreds of miles away to make someone else’s life a living hell.
I stopped being afraid of HIM then. I wasn’t consciously afraid of anything. I took risks. I took drugs. I threw myself into passionate, toxic relationships and drunken confrontations with people who were much better at heart and nose breaking than I was. I did the next thirty odd years of my stupid life and ended up here.
I can’t see my ‘depression’ as an illness – though it’s had the same chronic, deleterious impact that any other life long illness would. I think it’s a character flaw. I think I started growing wrong at an early age and, without any meaningful correctives when they would have made a difference, carried on growing wrong until it was too late to change. There’s a chasm inside me that nothing’s ever going to fill. I think it was hollowed out initially by the slow, corrosive drip of fear, until it became what it is today. A character flaw – a WEAKNESS, if you will. I can cope with that. I don’t see how calling it illness rather than weakness provides any kind of advantage – I’m no more ashamed of my weakness than I would be if it was illness, and I do the ‘decent’ thing by fighting to overcome it with whatever changeable resources I can muster, as ultimately futile as I know that is.
I think probably a lot of people with ‘depression’ aren’t ‘ill’. They’re flawed. And there should be no shame in that. Sometimes medication works – sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes scrambling your circuits with psychedelics can be like a blast of WD-40 into a seized engine – sometimes it can be like pouring a bottle of Coke into your laptop. Sometimes it’s all about a wholly justified fear that you don’t have the equipment to understand or deal with.
Sometimes it’s all just a load of old bollocks.