When I was three or four, my mum had a minor operation and had to stay in hospital overnight. I was fuzzy on the details, scared she wouldn’t come back, and afraid to tell my dad how much I missed her in case it hurt his feelings. So I ran upstairs and squeezed myself into the space underneath my chest of drawers so I could cry without him knowing.
I was always dysthymic growing up. Then, in 1999, when I was 20, I really fell into an abyss and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Since then, I’ve had all kinds of therapy.
I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, and NLP practitioners and done everything from hypnosis to CBT to dredging up sad memories and crying a lot. (A lot.) I’ve also tried herbs, relaxation, dietary changes, nine different anti-depressants, and acupuncture, among other things.
Years ago, when my doctor thought the only thing wrong with me was a light dusting of depression, I was referred to a service provided by… the council? I’m not sure, but it was in a room above the local library, which was all the enticement I needed. So once a month, on a Monday morning, I met with an increasingly pregnant dungarees-wearing woman who tried to entice me from my cocoon of illness back into the world.
The trouble was, everything she suggested sounded too scary.
I used to follow a blog written by a woman in her mid-twenties that was funny, moving, and finely-crafted. Then one day I clicked on her latest post and discovered that this blogger who was younger than me (!!) was telling me how to eat.
With no knowledge of my circumstances or tastes, and no qualifications in nutritional counselling, she’d decided to forgo her usual personal stories in favour of lecturing me and the rest of her readers about saturated fats. I can’t be the only one who clicked away thinking I’ve already heard of vegetables, thanks.
She may have been my first, but she certainly wasn’t my last.
In so much of what I see and read — from the newspaper giving advice on working two jobs to the blogger saying absolutely anyone can take up running — it’s assumed that I’m one of the “normal” people, too: able-bodied, independent, mentally and emotionally stable.
But my life stopped being “normal” when I was 19, and since then I’ve become less and less connected to the outside world and to what real life is like. I was shunted into this parallel universe where I’ve forgotten how it feels to have the stamina to walk to the nearest bus stop, or to not have a head full of cotton wool.