I have lived with the violence of depression all my life. At 67 I can state categorically that my depression has always been about my occluded self, hidden or buried many many years ago, as far back as my childhood.
What was depression but my hidden self screaming to get out? I had no idea then that it would take the journey of lifetime to discover who I am and to begin to set myself free and learn to live more peaceably with myself.
Suggestions for dealing with depression range from regular exercise and eating well, to positive thinking and self affirming behaviour, to medication and counselling. Dishonourable mention must go to those who advocate pulling your socks up, which is almost guaranteed to incite violence, against the well meaning advisor or taking your own life. With the exception of quality counselling, and I would always recommend person centred counselling and interviewing counsellors to find one that suits you, almost all other advice tends to be aimed at treating the symptoms and not the cause.
Almost everyone I have ever encountered who suffers from depression has also had an acute sensitivity to injustice. Certainly in my case hyper-sensitivity to injustice has dominated my life. For me it stemmed from early childhood and abuse, but upbringing may not necessarily be the (only) trigger, it may well have been socially triggered by ones community and growing environment, schooling, church, groups and clubs, and a general sense of alienation, of not belonging. Later in life it might be triggered by bad relationships, job losses or unhappiness at work, poverty, ill health, moving, child birth (post natal depression), in fact all kinds of things which for some reason we are unable to deal with or resolve the inner conflict that arises. More generally, it may be an overwhelming sense of living in an unjust world which is full of hypocrisy and inhumanity, in which life is treated as a cheap commodity which is casually expendable and subject to horrific abuse.
There is an expression, ‘An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all’ and once sensitised to injustice, injustice to others can bear down in an unmanageable way along with a terrible sense of futility or impotence to do anything about it.
In fact feeling futile and impotent is a key part of the experience of depression because depression is a merciless adversary and if your experience of depression is aligned with a hypersensitivity to injustice, somewhere, lurking inside, is likely a terror of addressing injustice because addressing injustice risks exposure to the very forces with give rise to it. Therein lies a terrible dilemma, a fear that is closely linked to cowardice, facing it is to face shame and humiliation, and if you are a shame based person, as I was, I don’t think mentally or emotionally there is a worse enemy in life.
I would like make this very clear, the fear of shame is a huge human problem in a world which is terrified of being vulnerable and which tends to punish or ridicule mistakes and errors and, if nowhere else, the place we intimately learn this is in school, where the over riding emphasis is on getting things right and of being penalised for errors or mistakes. Coming out of school, as I did, and being learning phobic, was, for me, all about the fear of failure, being risk averse and fearing shame and humiliation
But here’s the thing, no one ever learnt a damned thing without making mistakes and getting things wrong. If you observe very young children, what you will quickly notice is they learn by trial and error, it’s innate and it is fabulous to watch because children are fearless learners. Learning to walk is a prodigious feat. Just think about what it takes to balance ones entire body on those two unsure little feet, yet every able bodied child will achieve it, the majority between 9 and 12 months old and certainly by 18 months. I don’t know if anyone has ever counted the number of times the average child falls over or plonks down on its bottom, before finally achieving this remarkable feat of fearless learning. If you want to achieve a fairly comparable feat as an adult, try learning to surf. It is impossible to achieve without spending a lot of time involuntarily immersed in sea water that behaves like a bucking bronco. Waves, the very thing you want to conquer, repeatedly send you arse over tit in the most ungainly fashion and which have absolutely no respect for your dignity. Why would anyone learn to walk or surf? Again, watch a child, it’s fun. On two feet the world is much more readily accessible and far more speedily than crawling.
Depression is the occlusion of our fundamental self, a soul in hiding. Depression is violence and deep inside, at its root, is anger. For many, probably most, it involves a deeply ingrained sense of self loathing.
My journey through depression involved learning to be vulnerable again, learning to cry again, learning to be present to my weaknesses and failings and, above all, learning to deal with shame, shame that I learnt from a very young age and learnt to hide and to hide from. I learnt to be present to myself and I re-awoke to feelings and fears I had suppressed and repressed. My journey back to life began at 33. Part of my personal anger was having spent 11 years , from 5 to 16 in an institution that I detested every single day and still, inside, I carry resentment for those 11 wasted years of my life, which could have been spent exploring rather than stifling in classrooms to be spat out at the end into a factory.
I am no longer hidden from myself. At last I know who I am, the good the bad and the ugly and at 67 I have never felt more alive. I have tasted the deep abiding joy of life that all my life was simmering and yearning to be let free. It’s been a long and painful journey, a journey I can now respect and be thankful for. Am I free? No. But I now know how to better assert my freedom to be me and to assert myself in a world which is both repressive and oppressive, not least, in the UK, from a government which has no respect for me or any of us. What I am today, they cannot take away from me, try as they might. They have not undertaken the journey I have, it’s easy to see through them, they are more repressed than any of us. They are dismal failures at life. Anyone with any self awareness can see it, but they cannot steal who we are.
It is oft said that they don’t get it, and it’s true, they don’t. They don’t have a clue and I am not remotely depressed about that. I am here to fight for life and that means fighting them, because we are better than them and each and every one of us deserves better as a matter of right and entitlement. Let David Cameron (remember him, yesterdays man?) suck on that.
KOG. 14 May 2018.