Funny old thing depression. I’ve had it for a long time, starting out when I was a kid, around 12 or 13 years old. I remember those days, I would lie in bed at night, hoping I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, and feeling disappointed when I did wake up, and then all my teenage angst and anxiety came rushing back into my head like a tsunami. No one in the family appeared to notice, or if they did, they didn’t need to do anything about it. I was a bright kid full of curiosity. At 13 my hunger for words was intense. I read anything I could get my hands on, books my parents had lying around, weird books like Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’, ‘The Age of Reason’ by Jean Paul Sartre, as well as potboiler scribes like Harold Robbins and Agatha Christie, but I had no one to talk to about the stuff I read. At that age, I was a loner at school, standing on my own in the corner a lot of the time. At home, my parents were both intelligent people, and my mother was a bookworm, but they didn’t rate me as a person worthy of any serious conversation.
I wonder, in general, do adult people understand that children suffer from this debilitating disease just as much as they do? Or is childhood depression not the same as adult depression? Perhaps there is less interest because the child suicide figures are low. According to the Office of National Statistics 100 children between the ages of 10 – 14 killed themselves in the past decade, so that’s nearly ten a year, (almost one child a month in the UK) not many perhaps in the larger scheme of things, but still far too many. The depressed child reaches adulthood, and with a bit of luck his or her depression eases, and life takes over. Or not. In my case, the melancholy (oh such a poetic phrase) wore on, and on. There was a period when my natural joyousness took hold, and I found much to relish in my young life – friendships, work, outings; social life, travel, but at the back of it all was this lingering thread of anhedonia.
Sexuality had a large part to play in my mental agony. Mine was never fixed, or comfortable. For some people, the realisation that one is gay, or bisexual or transgendered, (or whatever), is a moment of liberation, freedom from the oppressive weight of sexual and emotional confusion. When I ‘discovered I was gay’ through an encounter with a best friend, it merely added to the sense of doom and, convinced that I was to go through life as a social outcast, I rejected this part of myself too. A lot of kids, feeling unaccepted, and suffering depression, make it their careers to be rejects, rebels, antisocial cynics, radical outsiders, it’s a form of defence against the world that doesn’t care about you or your feelings.
Once, I met and fell in love with a photographer. I revelled in his artistic nature, imagining that in him, I had found a twin of myself. In my desire for honesty, I informed my new lover of my ambiguous sexuality. This thoughtful and sensitive young man listened, empathised, and even confessed to some fleeting homoerotic impulses of his own, but then again he quietly distanced himself from me, and the relationship floundered. I’d like to say it was a salutary lesson but instead it reinforced my poor self-image.
Like a Faustian shadow, the deadly curse of depression returned to haunt me, again and again. I fell victim to its attack in my early to mid 20’s when my sense of self-worth hit rock bottom. Following that joyful interlude backpacking overseas with girlfriends I had returned to live in Ireland, where I had always felt unwanted. It was that reconnection that laid me low. There was no room for me at the inn, and I was reminded of my outsider status. It felt like psychological imprisonment after a brief spell of freedom.
Since those days, I’ve journeyed much further along and have had dark days, bright days, in between days. I still struggle with occasional feelings of futility and despair, but I have much better coping mechanisms. So fortunate too in that I have met beautiful people along life’s path, (as well as some Tasmanian devils!). These beautiful ones have acted like angels, teaching me and helping me to discover the root causes of anxieties and fears, and patiently encouraging me to change my thoughts about myself. Depression that begins in childhood is not something that vanishes overnight, you can’t simply flip a switch and turn from darkness to light, but the sun will come up again in your life if you allow it. The key to overcoming the weak points is letting go and accepting yourself as a vulnerable, sometimes depressed human being, who is nevertheless worth loving. Take care of that person, and you may find that depression lifts of its own accord. Lasting change requires persistence, but it will happen.
Another secret is to trust in your higher power, or superconscious nature. Meditate long, and often. Get in touch with God, or Universal Spirit, or your inner self, whichever works for you. Activity like this will strengthen your mind and take the sting of darkness from your soul. Often, I like to discuss my issues with the most inspiring teacher and healer that I know, Jesus of Nazareth. There are many fine healing passages in the New Testament, and the great news is you can talk to him anywhere, on the street, on the bus or on the train. He listens.
There are so many ways in which to heal the mind. Louise Hay, an inspiring teacher, and writer, and founder of Hay Publishing is searchable on YouTube. Tune into her affirmations and meditation videos. This lady had a very rough beginning but is still going strong, age 90, spreading her message of healing throughout the world.
American motivational speaker and teacher Wayne Dyer, overcame a brutal childhood to reach the pinnacle of success in his field. Toward the end of his life, he spoke lovingly of Lao Tzu, the author of Tao Te Ching, a beautiful book of ancient Chinese wisdom, and a healing balm for the soul.
I know it is not always possible to read, or listen and absorb when you are feeling low, but if nothing else, always remember this:
“No matter how bad things get or how sucky your life is, putting on clean socks and underwear will always make you feel better”.
Brad Fitzpatrick – Life lesson # 42
Image is from the CAM Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal – Painter António Pedro (1909-1966). Courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões
You can read excerpts from her novel here on New London Writers
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