Thursday, 12 February 2009

Depression diaries #2: turning the black dog into a friendly family pet

I'm unsure at what age I began to suffer from depression, but it was certainly there by the time I was five. My first memory of it was of lying in bed one night, sobbing uncontrollably because I felt so guilty and worthless about some trivial kid thing I'd done. I already had those repetitive thoughts that travel around and around in your head and will not be switched off, day or night.

This was before depression, and particularly depression amongst children, was widely recognised. I made a few attempts at getting help as a kid, but they weren't successful. (I don't like to reflect on this much - obviously, it wasn't a happy time.) Eventually, at age 19, I got a diagnosis and began treatment. For those who have suffered a major depressive episode, it's usual for more episodes to follow, becoming increasingly frequent and severe over time. Luckily for me, my mental health has moved in the opposite direction, stabilising as I've got older. I've bucked the trend, and that's how I plan to continue!

Sometimes I look at my own daughter, who's seven years old, and I feel a terrible fear that she'll experience what I did. Depression runs through both sides of her family, and she's a lot like I was at the same age - excruciatingly sensitive and far too thoughtful for her own good.

But when I look back at my own history, I realise that depression itself is not so much the problem: the distressing thing is struggling through it feeling that you're isolated and you can't tell anyone. And that's something that will never happen to my daughter. In our family - hopeless hippies that we are - talking about our feelings is the order of the day.

That possibly sounds more dumb than it actually is. It's not like we confront each other with torrents of inner pain, stage interventions into one another's behaviour or read self-help books. Rather, we agree that's OK to talk about stuff that upsets us, whether big or small. And there's no embarrassment about being empathetic either - crying while watching the news is a very commonplace activity in our home! And between times (lest you think we're the most morbid family on the planet) there's a great deal of laughter, piss-taking and general absurdity, all of which helps keep our own worries in perspective.

Being sensitive - oversensitive, even - is part of being human, and it's a lot more manageable when the people around you are understanding and supportive. After all, no one learns coping skills by brooding alone. My family and I have found ourselves towards the emotional end of the interesting spectrum that is humankind. With open communication, a philosophical outlook and a bit of humour, it's not such a bad place to be. If the black dog comes for my girl, it won't be an Alsatian but a Chihuahua.

Depression diaries #1: silly excuses


Hugh said...

Personally, I prefer alsatians to chihuahuas any day...

Anna said...

And I'd take a nice harmless budgie over either.