This week we saw the arrival of Blue Monday; a name given to a day in January (typically the third Monday of the month) reported to be the most depressing day of the year. What started out as a PR stunt in 2005, was trending social media all day on Monday 16th January 2017. Yet many mental health charities criticised Blue Monday and Mind spokesman Stephen Buckley reportedly said: “Blue Monday contributes to damaging misconceptions about depression and trivialises an illness that can be life threatening”.
I disagree. Depression is typically talked about on couches behind closed doors but #BlueMonday provides us with an opportunity to talk about it publicly. And the more we talk about it, the more likely it is that we can get rid of mental health stigma.
I wrote a letter to ‘depression’ a few months ago and the process of writing it was cathartic. But. It is something so personal to me that I genuinely haven’t been able to muster the courage to put it out there. I suspect it may be a bit much for people. It certainly doesn’t fall under ‘a light hearted read’ so I’m not sure anyone will even want to read it and if you don’t, I wouldn’t blame you… there were many times where I sure as hell didn’t want this to be my story. I’m still bottling it slightly by remaining anonymous (to most) but Blue Monday has brought me to the conclusion that sharing my story could play a part in helping someone else in theirs.
According to Brené Brown, you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability. So here I go. This is me walking through vulnerability and this is what I have to say.
We first met when I was around 7 years old. No one formally introduced us and you never told me your name. I didn’t understand what you were but I did understand that after years of late night arguments, my Dad left and in the silence that followed, you moved in. I certainly didn’t invite you, I don’t think anyone did but you came anyway, manifesting yourself as an unwanted house guest in my mind. You’ve always overstayed your welcome, you’ve never cleaned up after yourself and you show up without an invite time and time again.
As life moved on, you seemed to disappear. Little did I know, you were just hiding waiting for the right time to make your perfect entrance. Within three years my Dad had returned to the family home, forgiven for his unfaithful actions for the ‘sake of the children’. Without any warning or time to adjust, I was moved to a new home in the country with the rest of my family. I had no time to say any goodbyes but they were spared from the gossip and judgement of the other adults around them. Living close to my Grandma, adopting my dog and spending time in nature did me the world of good. Although it turned out to be fleeting, I got my first glimpse into how good life could be.
A few years into our new life in the country, my Dad was up to his old tricks again. And it seemed that being my ‘father’s daughter’ i.e. sounding like, looking like and behaving like my Dad was going to be my downfall. When I was around 12 years old, the mind games started. Then came the physical abuse and as that escalated, the relationship with my mother deteriorated. I only had to look at my Mum in a certain way to push her buttons and soon the life I once knew was nothing but a distant memory.
After waiting patiently in the wings, you seized your chance and reappeared. I still didn’t know your name but this time, you were more familiar. And that in itself was strangely comforting to me.
Life went from bad to worse and at the age of 14, I started to fight back. Something I’m not proud of. We returned to London and my Mum’s family joined in what had become the daily battle. Targeting both me and my Dad but mostly me because Dad was still ‘working late’. Not only did I have ‘being tall’ to deal with, I had all this as well. I didn’t know where to turn; I had a restraining order out against my mum’s mother, I’d been skipping school and my home had become a war zone.
At 15 I was sexually attacked and when I got home, no-one even asked why I was late or whether I was OK. I received yet another beating because I was out past my curfew AGAIN. These toxic relationships continued for years and everywhere I turned for help, I was met with dead ends. I was among the company of master manipulators and I was seriously out of my depth. I wasn’t being heard, I wasn’t being loved and I felt like I was all alone but you, depression, you were there for me every time.At 30, I decided that loving my family from a distance was the only way forward for me. I chose to forgive them, I held my head high and I walked away. I’m aware that the psychological trauma I’ve endured in my life might seem severe to many but you have to understand that this was all I knew, this WAS my normal. I’ve invested a lot in counselling, psychotherapy & alternative therapies over the years. Although, whenever I’ve been offered anti-depressants, I’ve politely declined, always viewing them as my rock bottom. I’ve managed to muddle through.
Growing up I’d learned that dogs were safe. People were not. My dog had a leading role in my childhood, she was my best friend and I don’t believe I ever fully recovered from having to say goodbye. Over 10 years ago, I adopted three dogs who have played a huge part in my healing process; bringing unconditional love back into my life once again. The eldest passed away in October 2015. I was so overwhelmed with grief that I didn’t even notice that you were back.
That’s the thing about you depression, you creep around masquerading as guilt, loss or sadness and by the time I suspected it was you, I was hit with the loss of my next dog 11 months later. You saw your opportunity and you ran with it, leading me straight into your signature quicksand where the more I tried to get out, the more I sunk in.
I’m in my late 30’s now and I’m known for being an inspiring, resourceful and empathic human being. The truth is; I’m just like everyone else; trying to do the best I can with what I’ve got. But depression, you’re only making my life so much harder by sticking around. Like many before you, you’ve taken advantage when I’m at my most vulnerable and you’re only ever out for yourself. But I’ve made it this far and because of that, I simply cannot let you stay. Every time you’ve returned, you’ve got stronger and as you get stronger, I get weaker. So once again, I’ve had to call in some back up.
I felt that I was temporarily out of my depth. So I asked for professional help in the hope that someone would hear me. After speaking to my doctor, he kindly referred me onto a psychotherapist. I like her a lot and she’s strong enough to handle my somewhat detached approach to therapy. I feel that she’s got my back.
Only time will tell whether this is a low point, a high point or a turning point in my life. But depression, my narcissistic old friend, you need to know that this is your final encore. People are finally hearing me and helping me to heal myself. So make the most of your last few moments in the spotlight because I promise you; this is the last time you’ll perform on my stage.
An Anonymous Tall Girl
I recently read a short poem which really struck a chord with me. This feels like the place to share it.
‘She is a beautiful piece of broken pottery, put back together by her own hands. And a critical world judges her cracks, while missing the beauty of how she made herself whole again’.
I hope that my words have made a difference to someone. If you or someone you know has experienced depression or my story has resonated with you, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.