My depression got better for a while. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I crashed and burnt. Somehow it sneaked up on me and I didn’t realise what was happening until all the indicators were already present: irritability and impatience with my children; anxiety; exhaustion; confusion; a lack of enjoyment and a lack of motivation. Those are the symptoms but it’s their effects that I notice first. I’m falling asleep putting the girls to bed. I spend a lot of time telling my children not to do things and feeling annoyed. No housework gets done because I’m in bed by 8.30 pm. We are late for school nearly every day. Life feels just too hard.
I’ve been trying to understand depression and where it comes from. Mind have some information on their website and I did some Google searches, but it’s usually quite vague about the causes of depression: emotional trauma, anger, illness – what I want to know is how depression works, and how to stop it. There’s a lot of advice about ways to help yourself – mindfulness, exercise, building relationships – but without knowing how they work, it’s hard to believe it will really change anything.
I tried my library. I found ‘Smashing Depression’ by Terence Watts. I am too tired to smash anything. I borrowed ‘Beat Depression Fast’ by Alexandra Massey because it had some friendly-looking line drawings in it. The trouble with books about overcoming depression is that there’s a confirmation bias at play. They are written by people who have experienced depression (and should therefore know better than to suggest anything as energetic as ‘smashing’). There are no books, for balance, called ‘I tried to overcome depression but I still feel like shit’. What if some people can get better and go on to write books, and other people don’t get better and languish in bed feeling too tired to even watch TV? And what if I’m not in the first group?
Finally, rambling around the internet, I found a website by a company called ‘Uncommon Knowledge’. They argue that people are depressed because anxiety and stress stop them sleeping properly. Depressed people have lots of REM sleep, with dreams, and not enough good sleep. Their brain gets too tired and they can’t function properly and they can’t recover. They say this is based on some new scientific evidence and there’s a very nice monochrome flow chart.
I really can’t comment on the science behind their argument. It could be bollocks for all I know. I’m slightly dubious about anyone who presents new and little-known scientific discoveries as a lead-in to selling an online course. But the validity of the science is irrelevant for my purposes*. It gives me a story to hang my recovery on. It links up all the good practice suggested to help recover from depression, all the things I know I should do like practising mindfulness and getting more sleep and avoiding having made-up arguments in my head with people about things which don’t really matter, and it gives me enough explanation as to why it might work to get me started and keep me going.
I’m not really sure whether I’ll ever get better forever, even if Alexandra Massey says I can. I’ve experienced melancholy and periods of misery and feelings of overwhelming futility on and off all my life. It’s possible that I’m more prone to depression than some people. But I also have a lot of really good bits, where I’m amazing and funny and happy and the world is good. If there are things I can do to coax my brain into spending more time dancing and less time in the pit of despair, I’ll give them a go.
*I’m not a monster. I believe good science is important. But just now I need a narrative more than I need accuracy.