It sneaks up on me every year: the sound of Noddy Holder; the sharp smell of mince pies; the tacky tinsel in the office. It’s the yearly “I can’t believe where this year has gone” or ‘I’ve not got anything in yet for Christmas” chats arriving like clockwork, along with the final few weeks of Strictly and my once a year purchase of the Radio Times.
Sadly too does my apparently annual December depressive episode. I am in the middle of it now – or I hope I am and it is not going to last too much longer or reappear again before the end of the month. This is the third year I have been hit between the eyes by a sudden, seemingly un-triggered visit from my darkness – my unshakeable companion – as the decorations go up and Michael Buble releases his latest album.
In response to the question I often get asked – how does it feel when you are feeling depressed? – I talk – as I have before on this blog – about seeing the world through sunglasses or going for a swim with your socks on. Everything feels that little bit harder; there is a darkness hanging over me; my body feels heavier than normal; my eyes are being pushed closed; a weight pressing down on me as I go about my business; tired; less patient; less keen to see people, let alone talk to them; nervy; edgy; less confident; more insecure; more questioning of myself and of the love and support of those around me. It is one of the great cruelties of depression and/or anxiety that it leads you to feel more alone, more isolated, more vulnerable, even if – as with me – you have the most wonderful, warm, loving support around you.
My extraordinary wife – the incomparable Dr J – hugs me that bit tighter during these episodes; holds me that bit longer; tells me she loves me a little more often. It helps but it doesn’t take away the doubts and the feelings of loneliness that depression brings. I have learnt now that nothing really does and the key is to remind yourself over and over that it will pass. It does pass. It does go – often as quickly as it arrived.
There is no good time to have an episode but there is something mean – something unconscionably unkind – about it landing in the build up to the happiest time of year.
I am very lucky that alongside my wonderful wife I have Miss J in my life – a beacon of joy, smiles, love and innocent wonder – helping to lift the mood every day and especially this time of year as her Santa-related excitement hits the roof. But it is hard to see her so happy and so full of life and energy whilst you are working hard to put on a happy face – as the song goes – when inside you are dying a little.
As ever, when in the middle of tough times, I try to reconnect or further connect with the things that make me happy – that help me build up my resilience. This has been a week full of music, podcasts, reading and family time. I am trying to make some time for some exercise, even though my motivation is low – and for some me time – time for me and my writing (hence this blog post) – time for me to just be still; quiet; in the moment. This all helps but in the end the only thing that ultimately helps the darkness lift is time and patience.
This time last year after a very tough December I decided that I needed to move from counselling help – which had helped me the previous December – to psychiatrist help. This time last year I got a formal diagnosis of depression and attachment disorder and built a much deeper understanding of what was happening upstairs and why. I have spent nearly twelve months taking an anti-depressant, despite my doubts and months of resistance. I don’t regret it for a second. I look back on a year that has contained some downs – some very difficult days and times – but fewer and less prolonged than the year before. The help I received last Christmas and get each day from my little white tablet has helped and continues to help.
There is no miracle cure. There is no perfect time of year. There is no complete avoidance of the darkness that lives within me but I try to stay positive; try to be kind to myself, especially in the tough times; try to be honest with folk around me as to what is going on and why I am being quiet or sad or seem distant; try to focus on my small interventions that I know help to keep me well; try to remember that it will pass and try to look forward and not back, whilst not falling into the trap of planning my life away or worrying about pitfalls that are yet to come.
If there is one consolation in this time of year it is the impossibility of avoiding Mr Holder and his like – the songs that try to put a smile on our faces. Until now I haven’t realised that there was perhaps some deeper advice contained within………
So here it is, Merry Xmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun
I try to look to the future; look forward not back; to remember that along with the dark nights and repeats of Vicar of Dibley, my darkness will pass. It will go. It will feel better soon. It will feel better soon.