By Nancy, 80. Adelaide, SA
From the Editor: Trigger warning. The following series contains very candid, detailed, brave, and well-written accounts of what it is like to live with clinical depression. Though over the usual 1000-word limit, I have decided to publish the works in their entirety.
If you or someone you know live with mental illness, including depression, or are triggered by what you are about to read, please reach out. There is help for you.
Here are some useful resources:
Mensline Australia — call 1300 78 99 78 or chat online
In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
Childhood: The Dark Days
It is hard to imagine that a young child could suffer from depression, but sadly, they can and do. I was a child who did. It hurts me as I go back to those dark mornings when I would wake and start to sob uncontrollably. No one quite knew what to do for me. My mother did the only thing she knew how: She put me in her bed off the kitchen and ran down to the chook yard to kill a chicken to make soup. My sister would peer round the door and ask me what was wrong, but I could not answer her as I did not know myself; just that I felt bad. The soup, when it finally came, was delicious, but unfortunately, did not solve my problem.
What I so desperately needed was to be held and loved. A warm and loving arm around me. I craved it so badly, all my childhood I longed so much for love but our household was bereft of any warmth. Our mother was a hard and cold woman who was unable to show any of us any emotion whatsoever. Over the years, I heard her say when someone did something wrong that she wished she had drowned us at birth. It must be remembered that just because a woman has a baby it does not make her a mother. Our mother, in later years when the feminist movement was at its height, expressed the view that she had been born in the wrong era and if she could have her time again would never marry and certainly never have children. Sad to say, I never loved my mother and I doubt she loved me. Even though she looked after our physical needs, there was no affection.
Throughout my childhood, I was frequently unwell and my parents did take me to doctors, but no one was able to ascertain what was remotely wrong with me.
At the age of ten I had a complete breakdown and was off school for three months. As my illness continued with feelings of lethargy, tiredness and the inevitable sobbing, I was taken to the children’s hospital. I saw numerous doctors who were all looking for a physical cause, but of course, there wasn’t one. Eventually, a lumbar puncture was ordered and carried out. My eldest sister took me for this procedure and looked after me. My mother was nowhere to be seen. After months of tests and consultations it was concluded that maybe I had epilepsy. I was prescribed phenobarbital, which had the effect of reducing my anxiety and, consequently, I felt better. Yet the stigma remained that I had an illness. I felt terribly isolated and lonely.
My life has been a constant battle with depression. Most of the time I hid it for fear of ridicule or misunderstanding, as most people would comment that one should pull themselves out of it. I wish it were that easy. In later years, because of better knowledge of the condition, I have become more open and now, if I am not well, I do admit it. I am lucky to have a very understanding psychiatrist who looks after me well but has told me I will need medication for the rest of my life. That’s fine. Lots of people take medication for various illnesses, so I am no different.
It has been a long journey from childhood to old age and I would not wish my struggle on anyone. I just plead for more understanding and importantly, love.
This is for all those who do not understand depression and would like to know …
I open my eyes. It is dawn. The early morning light filters through the cracks in the shaded windows. I feel darkness and despair overcome me. I realize it is going to be a bad day. So many of these days have invaded my life. Will I have the strength to see another one through? My mind and body feel like I am in a deep dark pit covered in a suit of armor. I recognize I am morbidly depressed and have to find the strength to get up and fight my way through the coming day.
The plan I worked out years ago is to take it step by step. I cajole myself to sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. This is a major achievement because all I really want is to stay in bed and wallow in my illness. I must get up, as there is medication that needs to be taken. My feet sit on the floor and I take a few deep breaths. With a mighty effort, I stand. I feel overwhelmingly tired and fatigued. Can I do this? I know I have to. I shuffle down the hallway, reach the kitchen, switch on the kettle, then collapse at the dining table. I put my face in my hands and sob uncontrollably. I finally pull myself together and, drawing on all my strength, make a cup of tea and a piece of toast and take my medication.
I feel so helpless, so lost, and hopeless. It seems too much to bear another day feeling so wretched. There just doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel; just a long darkness. I take myself to the lounge and flop on the sofa. I stare at the walls. My despair overwhelms me and I just sit and stare, sit and stare. This is depression at its worst. The phone rings — it is my sister. When I tell her how bad I am she says she will call in later. I know I should make my bed and do the dishes but I cannot find the strength. Maybe later.
I continue staring into space. I know I need to shower and dress but I am too tired. So tired. My sister finds me like this. We have coffee and chat. She tries to get me to move and do something. I tell her I will after she leaves. She goes, but still I make no move.
Finally, I make an effort and put on some music. I have a CD of beautiful sounds of the forest and it soothes my tortured soul. I manage to tidy the kitchen and make a coffee. The afternoon drags on and time seems to go so slowly. At last, the afternoon turns into evening and the sun goes down. The darkness seeps in, matching my mood. I am still in my pajamas and unshowered.
Dinner is a frozen meal heated up. No dishes.
I settle down to watch the news but it is all depressing, matching my mood. I turn it off. I try the radio but I am restless. I decide to head for bed, where I know I will find sleep. Sleep is always enjoyable and an escape from my despair. I snuggle down and feel calm, as I know I do not have to make any more effort. Just rest and sleep. As I drift off the thought comes to me that maybe — just maybe — tomorrow may be a better day.
I can only hope.
Living With Depression
It came without warning. The night before, I had gone to bed early, as I was tired. Now that I had awoken, I realized very quickly that I was deeply depressed. That was it. No warning, nothin’. Here I was feeling in the depths of despair. I could not believe it was happening to me again. I have lost count of the many times in my life that I have woken up in the same state. I could not move. Mentally and physically I was unable to function. I knew I had to get down to the kitchen and at least take my medication. With an enormous effort I forced myself up and shuffled slowly down to the kitchen. I put on the kettle and made a piece of toast and when they were done, I was so exhausted I sank into a kitchen chair, put my hands on my face and just sobbed and sobbed. The utter desolation I felt, the blackness of despair crowding in around me, the frustration at how I was feeling were followed by self pity and desperation at finding myself in this state once again. I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to face this again. I told myself it just was not fair, but then life is not always fair. I settled in my recliner chair. Thoughts of taking my own life ran wild within my brain, but I had never had the courage to do it. My Catholic upbringing had done its job well. The nuns brainwashing of hell and damnation was firmly entrenched in my psyche. If I was to do it the only way to go would be to take a whole lot of pills and just go to sleep peacefully, but I did not know what to take or how many so I never tried. I did feel that the time was coming when one more bout of this and I would attempt it.
My daughter arrived an hour later and found me in a state and sobbing uncontrollably. She immediately rang the psychiatrist who felt I should go into hospital again. I didn’t want to go, as I felt by going I was a failure and should have been able to avoid this situation. I should have known better. It doesn’t work like that. We have no control over it. It is an illness, like any other. I capitulated and said I would go. With extreme tiredness and sadness, I walked up to my bedroom, and with tears rolling down my cheeks, tried to think of what I would need to take.
A Dark Day
after a dark day
evening closes in
a gloomy day
with dark clouds in the sky
and in my mind.
I woke in a dark pit
I struggled to climb out
On the radio
It helped get me through.
The struggle was hard
Coffee, friends helped
But at the end of the day
I was no better
The dark clouds
The Morning After
Last night I went to sleep
Hoping today would be a better day
But as I open my eyes
And view the morning light
Streaming through the curtains
I realize the miracle I had hoped for
Has not happened
I am still in my dark pit
Of loneliness and despair
There is another day to face
Of darkness and the desperation
How long before relief comes
To relieve my tortured soul
Hope is my constant companion.
The Eternal Struggle
It is early morning when I awaken. The room is in darkness. I struggle through my pain to get out of bed to draw back the curtains. I manage and gaze out at a dreary day. The sky is overcast. The day looks dull and depressing, matching my mood and my ever-present pain.
I force myself to walk to the kitchen where some relief is at hand. The radio and kettle go on simultaneously and toast goes in the toaster. I am not hungry but must eat before my pain medication.
Pain is my silent intruder, always by my side and unable to alleviate completely. My torment can only be appreciated by a fellow sufferer. No one else really understands.
Other works by Nancy: