Trigger warning: self-harm, suicidal thoughts
I’d been meaning to try out a new illness ever since the crazy times I had on the Norovirus, so when I was offered a week’s trial of depression I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never tried a mental illness before and was curious to see how it compared to the physical kind.
As only 1 in 4 people have suffered with a mental health problem I was looking forward to being part of an elite group, and had many questions about the experience. Would my illness be apparent to those around me? Would it garner sympathy like a broken leg, or make people tactfully avoid me like when I have something contagious? How would I know when it was ready? Would there be a period of feeling a little under the weather before the onslaught, or was it lurking around a corner waiting to hit me full-force?
I felt it arrive sometime on a Sunday evening. I didn’t realise it straight away, but as the evening drew on I felt my attention drift and experienced something not dissimilar to a hangover: a feeling like a heavy fog had descended on my mind. While I was still able to function, everything I did — from reading to socialising to simply watching TV — felt distant and taxing, and held maybe a third of my usual focus. Curious as to how long this warm-up phase would last, I decided to go to bed and let the illness do its thing, intending to start afresh in the morning.
I began the day with a shower. While I was aware of water touching my skin, the sensations which usually accompanied a shower — the slowly rising temperature of a thousand water droplets tickling your skin; the scent of herbs and cucumber body lotion lifting into your nostrils and down the back of your throat; that feeling of calm as you massage a fragrant foam around your scalp then let the heated rain engulf you and feel your skin come away clean — were all absent. It was as if the volume in my body had been turned right down.
The hangover, which I assumed would have dissipated after a good night’s sleep, was still there. So was another post-party sensation: that feeling of having slept a rough couple of hours on a sofa and it catching up with you. I was exhausted. A cup of coffee, a jog and a bowl of porridge later, I felt slightly more alive and ready to begin the day. I thought about the things I needed to achieve:
- Clean the flat
- Meet friends
All pretty small jobs, and if I trucked through points 1 and 2 it would mean plenty of time for 3 and 4. As I was filling the sink I caught sight of my watch and realised it was somehow already midday. Conscious that I hadn’t started work yet I wondered how long the cleaning would take and my mind returned to the list. Point 1 now looked like this:
- Wash all the plates
- Wash all the cups
- Wash all the cutlery
- Clean all the counters
- Clean oven (optional)
- Clean bathroom
- Wash clothes
- Dry clothes
- Iron clothes
- Fold clothes
- Put clothes away
- Be aware that all of the above is ultimately futile because you’re just going to get it all dirty again eventually and have to repeat these steps ad infinitum
I quickly realised there wasn’t enough time to get all of this done so I abandoned the cleaning and made a mental note to get up earlier tomorrow and do it then. Made another coffee, booted up the computer and got to work. The internet was particularly distracting that day, and I seemed to spend most of my time switching between a dozen open tabs and doing a tiny bit of sporadic work in each one instead of knuckling down on a single project, but I got it all done eventually. Unfortunately it meant cancelling on my friends, and by the time I was finished I was so pooped I just collapsed straight into bed.
Priorities — By spending less time noticing the here-and-now I gained the ability to analyse things at a level I’d never felt necessary before. This was tremendously useful as it made me realise the futility of even attempting impossible tasks which, previously, I had naively thought wouldn’t take me that long at all.
It was just as well I gained yesterday’s insight into prioritising when I did, because today brought with it even more insurmountable challenges. After my copious amounts of sleep I was looking forward to waking up refreshed and having enough time to properly take this depression for a spin. From weight loss to connecting with my inner Trent Reznor, I’d heard some great things about depression and couldn’t wait to experience them for myself. My mind was still foggy, but that was just another reason to make some coffee.
Unfortunately getting out of bed proved strangely difficult: it’s not just that I was tired (which, weirdly, I was despite all the extra sleep), but the very idea of leaving the covers and facing the day called for the same courage needed to perform a skydive. Normally sleep was something I did to recharge; now it felt like my default state, and waking was unnatural. When I eventually managed to get out of bed it was 5pm.
I didn’t have enough time to do a full day’s work, let alone anything else. Showering, the dishes, cleaning the flat, friends, leisure time… these things would have to be pushed to tomorrow.
Interestingly, I had little trouble getting back to sleep at 1am.
Time Travel — (Sales pitch?) Instant, free boredom cure. Got time to kill and nothing to fill it with? Instead of wasting money and effort on expensive hobbies, just extend your sleeping abilities indefinitely! Miserable home life? Go to sleep the minute you get home from work and don’t wake up until your alarm tells you it’s time to catch the bus back again. If you have no weekend plans just sleep right on through until Monday!
Conscious that I was wasting valuable reviewing time, today I set an alarm and called in sick for work. As I wasn’t throwing up and all of my limbs worked I wasn’t too sure what to give as my reason, so just kept it vague. Finally I was able to take depression for a test drive! And it didn’t disappoint.
I started by bashing a keyboard and then smudged charcoal in a sketchbook but nothing particularly dark or brilliant came out. Each time I tried to identify what I was feeling, yet came up blank. Astoundingly blank. I had thought depression was meant to make you sad, but I just felt flat. Numb. And this is what gave me an idea…
Advanced Anaesthetic — Get depression and never have to buy aspirin again! It’s incredible. Say goodbye to sore ankles and distracting scrapes. With depression you’ll have to stick a knife in your arm to even have a chance at feeling something real. It also blows conventional painkillers out of the water with its ability to target and numb emotional feelings as well as physical. Whether you win the lottery or lose a parent, depression has you covered and will make sure you don’t feel a thing!
I did run into a small glitch: while the bulk of my feelings were extinguished without incident, it actually seemed to intensify guilt, regret, paranoia and anxiety. Hopefully this will be patched in a later release, although considering the overwhelming number of feelings it muted successfully this barely seems worth mentioning.
Although the transition from sane to depressed could have been a smoother ride, once I’d calibrated my mind to the constant fog I was finally able to utilise the more advanced features. If I’d been able to feel excitement I definitely would have, because this was where the practical benefits of depression really started to shine for me: instead of simply altering my perception, it now started to have a real impact on my life.
Normally I work from the office and keep a fairly 9-5 working schedule: this means negotiating rush hour traffic and incurring the cost of transport. Once I make it to the Bay, I’ll grab a coffee and a fresh breakfast. At lunch I’ll go out and buy a sandwich and another coffee. After work there’s a fair chance I’ll go to the pub with friends or colleagues, and possibly even eat dinner out, before travelling home again. This adds up. With depression I saved a lot of money: the first 3 days I worked from home and survived on the odd slice of bread, and today I declined an offer to go for drinks after work because I could barely keep my eyes open. Instead I went home and fell asleep in front of the TV. If I were to keep this up indefinitely the ramifications on my savings would be huge.
Save Money (and lose weight!) — Everyday life is full of expenditures which seem minor until you tally them up. Utility bills; food; transport; drinks; trips; birthday and Christmas presents; treating yourself to the latest DVDs and computer games… imagine the money you’d save if you could cut those outgoings by almost 100%. Well now you can!
Being wrapped up warm in bed with the lights off covers a lot of these bases, and this is a position you can maintain indefinitely. Even on the occasions when you leave the bed your costs remain fairly low: when everything’s lost its flavour there’s no sense paying for good food or quality entertainment.
Not that I’m being critical, and perhaps this is just me still getting to grips with depression, but I’ve been toying with the possibility that depression’s money-saving benefits aren’t as fiscally viable in the long-term as I’d first assumed. Finding everything bland and infinitely underwhelming is great at saving money on events, and being too tired to socialise definitely helps the purse strings… but I can’t seem to find a way to switch the fatigue or the head fog off, which is making it incredibly difficult to work. Normally if I really need to knuckle down and get something done I’ll find a quick fix or a workaround (usually dosing myself up with Lemsip or painkillers), but coffee isn’t enough and the pharmacy doesn’t seem to stock brain de-fogger.
On average I’m living a 6 hour day, with everything else mired in too much fog and tiredness to do anything more than curl up somewhere and stare into space. I have no social commitments and an immunity to pain. Free to do anything. Energy to do nothing.
Introspection —I feel this product could be quite beneficial for people who are at risk of stress due to overworking as it will undoubtedly force them to stop pursuing ambitious goals. When you see brushing your teeth and having a glass of water as notable achievements, chances are you won’t be accepting any high-pressure contracts.
I didn’t sleep last night; the depression showed me another of its strange abilities: improved memory. I’m sure this would be of amazing benefit to most, but unfortunately it’s reminded me that I’m a terrible human being. I’d evidently repressed a lot of these memories — of all the times I’ve hurt people, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been embarrassed, I’ve felt afraid — but now they’re clear as day and I can’t think about anything else.
I would actually quite like to go out today but I can’t. Not after everything I’ve done. I know they hate me and they’ve got good reason to. I don’t deserve them as friends.
Improved Memory — Perhaps could be given to criminals as an alternative to jail? Constantly forcing them to think about what they’ve done wrong.
I find myself looking at other people and thinking: how do they do it?
The tiredness, the giving up on the day because what’s the point, has stopped applying to just this day or the next. It’s turned its attention to the very idea of being alive. Living has become an activity I’m just not cut out for. A game I never asked to play yet am forbidden from quitting. I don’t enjoy it; I only partake because other people make me feel obligated. I try voicing these doubts but they’re shrugged off with “It’ll get better”: everyone likes this mandatory game no matter what, and if you disagree you’re just playing it wrong.
There might well be a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s at the far end of an insurmountable list of obstacles and To Do lists I’ll never complete. Looking at my calendar makes me feel constantly trapped, unable to relax because in two days I have to socialise or do something else human.
I’m not part of the world: I’m observing it from behind a screen with a head full of fog and screaming self-doubts and obsessive thoughts about unresolved conflicts, living constantly in the worst parts of my past or scenes of a terrifying imagined future.
What’s the point?
Monday, 1am / Summary
I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but I was online looking for support and someone said “Stop acting so miserable and just snap out of it.” I did so and immediately felt miles better.
Wow — what a ride! Can’t believe I still haven’t washed the dishes! Depression was like no illness I’ve ever had before. It was invisible even to myself at times; I’m still not entirely sure which of the symptoms were directly caused by depression and which were by-products of its overall effect on my perceptions. Talking about the illness was surprisingly challenging. Originally I’d looked forward to being part of the exclusive ‘1 in 4’ group, but had underestimated quite how obscure membership would make me: the more I became involved the less I fitted in with the general public. Quite rapidly I was bobbing somewhere between hipster and Illuminati: people either didn’t get me or didn’t believe I had an illness at all. This would never happen with the flu.
My final verdict is that depression is definitely a ‘long weekend’ illness: it can be slimming, cost-effective and insightful to experience for a few days, but still has some bugs to fix before it’s practical in the long run. Normally with illnesses the first few days are the worst and then things start to get better. With this it seems to be the other way around: I enjoyed the initial experience, but this is definitely something I would advise for short-term only. (Imagine if some people had to live like this every day of their lives!)
Images from Depression Comix — Check out the site for more brilliant illustrations depicting depression (and please consider donating if you’re able)