This is why I resent my illness.
I’ve always been a little bit nervous, I’ve always been a little bit shy. No-one would ever have called me the life and soul of the party. (Or, if they did, you can be sure it wasn’t a very good party.) But I used to be able to cope.
I used to be able to function, and at quite a high level, too. As recently as 2003 I was still coping with my job, even though it was pretty demanding. It usually felt like I was trying to do 17 different things at once, but I liked the variety, and I seemed to thrive on the stress.
Looking back, I can see that the signs of my illness were always there, in the background.
One of my earliest memories is of a large cardboard box that I used to like to sit in. I’d close the lid over me and just feel safe in a way I never did anywhere else. Well, of course, the inevitable happened – I got bigger, and the box got more and more battered. Eventually my parents decided enough was enough and threw it away.
I cried, of course – that’s normal. Then I stopped crying, and lay down on the floor and refused to move, or eat, except when my dad stood over me and ordered me to do those things – again that’s pretty normal. What was less normal, I think, is that I kept it up for days, long enough that my mum (so she told me later) had a quiet word with the doctor when she met him in the butcher’s one afternoon. My memory of that time – the peculiar flat blankness of things – makes me think that this was my earliest experience of depression.
This was before I started school. I know that’s pretty young to be depressed, and of course I’m basing this on hazy memories that I’m interpreting with the “benefit” of hindsight, so who knows what the truth of the situation was. But I’d honestly have to say that my feelings when I’m depressed now and my feelings then are more similar than they are different.
But I recovered from it. I lived most of my childhood in a normal state.
I mean, sure, there was the way I used to burst into tears at parties, not because I was spoilt like the other parents thought, but because being in a room where everyone else was happy made me feel so lonely, and so sad. Oh, and there was that time the police had to bring me home because I was playing with my toy car in the middle of the road where all the real cars wanted to be. And, of course, there was the time my behaviour got so weird I had to be sedated, and I spent a couple of weeks in hospital, and a couple of months locked out of normal school, and a couple of years seeing a child psychologist.
So, maybe not entirely normal, actually.
But I got through it. Weird things happened from time to time, but I was still, basically, me. I got through school, and got my exams. I got through Uni, and got my degree. I got a job, and I got good at it. Then I got a better job, and I got good at that one too. Then I got an even better job, and I was even quite good at that. I fell into that familiar bleak, blank state sometimes, but after a few weeks I always started to feel better, and I picked myself right back up.
But 2003 was different. I started to fall again, but this time I fell longer, and further, and deeper than I’d ever fallen before. I still feel like I’m falling now, nearly five years later. I’ve had better times and worse times, of course. I pick myself up as best I can. I even got back into work for a few weeks in 2006.
But the difference is, now I don’t cope.
I used to be a calm, efficient, organised person. Now I’m the person who spent a whole day and night this week panicking because a letter from the DWP landed on the doormat. I used to be the person my friends and family turned to in a crisis, for practical help, and for a shoulder to cry on. Now the slightest stress makes me fall apart, and I spend all my time so obsessed with my own emotional state I can’t help anyone else.
Everything I knew about myself has been turned upside down. Everything that used to make me who I was has been ripped out. Everything I used to value about myself has been taken away.
This is why I resent my illness.