Depression is not a modern-day illness. It has existed as long as written history and probably for as long as humans were conscious of how they felt. Even from the time of Hippocrates, it was a recognised medical condition, one of the four “humours” of the human character. “Melancholia”, as it was described then, blighted the lives of many ancient Greeks. Likewise in Elizabethan England, the theatre-going public were aware of the self-destructive effects of this affliction.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a treatise on depression, and the play is rightly described as a “tragedy”. It is a tragedy that so many people suffer from depression, a suffering little understood by people who have never been in its thrall. When Hamlet speaks his famous speech on whether to continue living or not, he puts into words so eloquently how I feel when I am in the grip of this ever-devouring monster:
“…..To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
I must have been born with a latent capacity for and tendency towards depression. Like many illnesses that lie dormant until some trigger brings it to life, I can now trace my bouts of depression to have been set off by a series of traumatic childhood events. Perhaps I would have suffered from it even if circumstances had been different, because I believe it is a part of me I cannot change.
I have fought to keep it under some semblance of control ever since but found that it was something I had no option other than to endure. The times I tried to conquer it, it vanquished me. Accepting rather than fighting made for a more bearable life….but a mere half-life, a life of compromise and regret for the wasted years it has consumed from my youth, adulthood and a future that holds no anticipation, no joy, when the shadows take hold.
These black clouds engulf and suck out all pleasure from my life and made me powerless when they were present. Then as suddenly and for no apparent reason, they would lift and I would once again be able to lead a relatively normal life.
Having been brought up in an environment where only a “stiff upper lip” was acceptable and people did not recognise depression as a “proper” medical condition, I have always felt immense guilt for feeling incapable of coping, and being unable to get on with the business of living.
No-one chooses to have depression. The sooner the medical profession alters its unsympathetic attitude towards it and allocates greater priority in research to combat it, the more lives will be helped and saved.
The loss of many lives with so much left to contribute is heart-breaking – Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf are two who come to mind. Many doctors are unwilling to understand it, as it is not something tangible that can be transmitted or caught, or physically evident such as a broken limb. Depression chooses victims it can devour, who will have to dance to its tune – and it most definitely is not any kind of music anybody who had a choice would choose.
For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from bouts of depression that ranged in severity from a crippling inability to do anything to a milder, loss of interest in life. It was the absolute absence of anything that made life worth living that made these times so hard to bear…I felt so dead inside, a void without any feeling at all.
Every daily function was a real struggle during these periods. Prozac and other drugs provide limited relief but made me live long periods of time without sleeping at all. Living in a state of semi-wakefulness during those nights, never having the relief of falling asleep, was a torture in itself. The many times I tried to wean myself off them, the withdrawal symptoms were horrendous – a really hard “crash landing” that made life truly wretched.
Throughout my teenage years, I struggled to find life worth living. For no reason at all, I would feel so devastated I could not do anything to help myself feel otherwise. Little things other people could shrug off, dismiss and forget, would set off days of feeling unaccountably down and become triggers for black weeks of morbidity. Later, my depression made larger triggers like major family betrayal and conflict impossible to overcome.
People without depression are able to get over events and setbacks from which people with depression seem incapable of recovering.
When my father died some eight years ago, with a lot of issues between us unresolved, the hurt never went away and from this date, my depression worsened. The circumstances in which he died were made so cruel by my siblings, I found myself incapable of coping with the unpleasant realities of the dark side of human nature. The world became an enemy to be avoided because all trust was lost, and when time should have healed all wounds, my descent into deep depression meant that it could not.
When I am having a “good” day, I would be able to “get on” to a large degree, but on a “bad” day, I would be unable to face anyone or anything. For varying lengths of time, I might manage to keep even-keeled by keeping frantically busy with little time to think.
Intermittent bouts floored me, but when they left me, life would continue. However, my depression has deepened since my deep disillusionment with people and life.
I had always felt family should nurture and protect each other, not destroy simply in order to selfishly gain their objectives at all costs. Instead of feeling angry, I helplessly fell into a profound depression from which I never quite emerged. When depression takes hold, it is all I can do to struggle from day to day.
What makes it so much worse feeling this way, is knowing rationally that life should not be like this- that this complete lack of energy and motivation should not be part of any life.
On really bad days, I feel that my whole life is meaningless, that it is no point carrying on because whatever I faced in the future would feel this same way. Feeling a complete failure as a human being and all else besides, I sometimes cannot see the point of carrying on feeling this nothingness, this lack of connection with other living things. When one ceases to care about anything, one is tired of life and too tired to live. However, my long-ingrained sense of duty and conscience tells me that we owe it to the people who care about us not to hurt them. This we can only do when we are thinking rationally when not under the influence of depression.
I long for a magic pill that can do away with the demons, the heavy beast that sits on my chest. I long to make up the wasted years and live again. During my good days I search for a cure because I know that if we stop trying to help ourselves and others at the times when we are able, humanity might as well be dead as well.
Information about depression can be found at these websites: