I had picked up the phone to help a worried parent, listening as a distressed mother recounted how depression had taken a stranglehold on her son. She had ended the conversation in the hope that just getting him to the phone would make a difference.
I heard the echo of footsteps receding and the shuffling of the receiver as she passed the phone to her son.
A full and painful silence followed - a silence which was far more than the mere absence of words. Talking to this stifled young man and feeling for his response was like trying to speak down a wind tunnel.
But I said one thing that sunk in.
The young man on the other end of the phone had finished school and had dropped out of uni. His days must have felt lengthy, empty - and meaningless.
Sylvia Plath describes this state in her novel The Bell Jar:
“I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes... I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.”
" I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air ."
My faltering and painfully extended conversation with the depressed young man stayed with me as I left work, haunting my sleep and tempering my morning.
It was a strange sensation of re-feeling some of the worst of my own struggles with the black dog.
In my 20s, I had suffered from debilitating depression. Although to some extent it seemed to come out of nowhere, there were triggers.
I had finished my master's degree and had come back from an extended European trip with my classmates. I had no money, no job, no prospects and a relationship I valued had ended.
The feeling was one of emptiness and shame. A black terror that descended without warning and was threatening and ever-present, despite my attempts to distract myself with visits from friends or outings. It was a vortex into which I expected to fall at any moment.
It also felt like it was inside me.
It was hard to escape and I knew I couldn't do it alone.
Fortunately, I found a good therapist and recovered enough to start to enjoy life and reach out to others. Eventually I came to a place where I could experience joy, explore my creativity, create fullfilling relationships, and make good decisions for my own future. It wasn't easy, but the journey taught me to be more compassionate and understanding towards others struggling with mental health issues.
Depression is not a joke.
Nor is it the same thing as feeling sad or melancholy. It is a serious state of being unable to enjoy life, to connect, plan, relax or create.
People who are depressed struggle to find meaning in life and to understand their purpose. They often feel isolated and alone. Their pain makes them feel like they would be a burden to others - a quality of depression and the depressed state which means that depressed people are unlikely to seek help. Sometimes people with depression can feel ashamed and can lash out at those closest to them. They can also be irritable and angry, rather than allowing their vulnerability to come to the surface.
Depression can destroy relationships - and take away hope .
Telling a depressed person to pull their socks up or get out of bed is like telling someone with cancer that everything will be OK.
It just doesn't work.
Here is some information on what to look out for in young people:
Changes to feelings or emotions:
feeling unhappy, moody and irritable/snappy for more than two weeks. Some people also have feelings of emptiness or numbness
no longer enjoying things that used to be enjoyable
feeling worthless or guilty a lot of the time
feeling like everything has become ‘too hard’.
Changes to thoughts:
negative thoughts about themselves, the world and the future
having a hard time concentrating and making decisions, or remembering things
having thoughts of death or suicide.
feeling tired most of the time
low energy and motivation
having trouble sleeping (getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking up in the morning)
loss of interest in food or eating too much, leading to weight loss or gain
aches and pains that can’t be explained.
If you think you might be depressed or you are worried about someone else, please get in touch.