For the past six months I’ve been living with the dark clouds of depression. Crying, sad, melancholy depression. Angry, irritable, short-tempered depression. Pessimistic, hopeless, giving-up depression. Trying to stay afloat during a pandemic, has been a battle unlike anything I’ve faced before.
The storm clouds rolled in last September (read the blog). With coronavirus case numbers increasing, and a second wave undoubtedly on the way, Phil and I chose to start shielding again. Staying in to stay safe. For 27 long long weeks, over Autumn and Winter, we’ve once again only left our house to exercise and walk the dogs. For 27 cold and dark weeks, we’ve rarely venturing further than our village boundary. For 27 never-ending weeks, we’ve only chatted in person to our neighbours and doctors! There’s been no shopping, no strolls with family, no Christmas bubbles. No day trips, no exercising with friends, no parks. No catch-ups in gardens, no car rides, no adventures. And thankfully, it has thus far worked- we have managed to avoid the virus. But a year of complete isolation and no social contact, boredom and monotony, frustration and lack of control, has battered my mental health. A year of living alongside a virus that could kill me, feeling like a prisoner in my own home, limited serotonin-inducing sunlight, has whacked my mood. A year of continual stress, has wrecked my well-being. Although I’m thankful to shielding for keeping me safe, the pay-off has been to my mental stability. For the first time in my life, I’ve developed depression.
I always assumed that depression would be constant, non-stop, continuous. But for the past six months, my low mood has ebbed and flowed. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Consequently it feels like I’ve been living a double life- like I have two sides and faces. Some day or hours or moments I feel almost normal. Almost like the old me. I’ll smile and chat and laugh. I’ll cook dinner, play tug with the pup, chat with family over Whatsapp. I’ll make plans for the summer, concentrate on a photobook, maybe do an hour of gardening. In those moments I feel semi-happy. And I probably look kinda normal to everyone on Zoom. Yet later that same day or maybe the next, the other side of me takes over. The other face. The second half of my double-life.
One tiny obstacle will flick a switch in me, and my whole mood will instantly dive down. Plunge. The flood gates open, and unhappiness pours in, filling me. Sadness and sorrow and sadness and sorrow. It’s overwhelming, overpowering, crushing, unbearable. It feels like my heart is breaking, or my world is falling apart. And the only way to purge those feelings, is to cry and cry and cry. Everything seems too tough and too difficult and too much. All the good moments of earlier that day are forgotten, all the positives of my life dismissed. I can’t see or feel or think of anything else except how utterly sad I am, how fed up I am, how much I want to press reset.
But my depression isn’t just about sadness. There are many facets to low mood. There’s the angry and irritable Sarah, who shouts and swears and bangs doors. The littlest grievance will trigger waves of red- mainly directed at my poor husband. The exhausted Sarah, who is always tired. Although I’m sleeping more than normal, I don’t remember the last time I awoke refreshed. The unmotivated Sarah, who can’t rally enthusiasm for her previously loved hobbies. Not sowing seeds, not avidly watching all the cycling races, not playing games. The ‘head-in-the-sand’ Sarah who has exhausted all of her mental resources and strength, so wants to hide from the world. Ignoring problems with my breathing and saturations and mental health. The fuzzy-brained Sarah who finds it difficult to concentrate and focus. Struggling to read books, struggling to write blogs, struggling to deal with paperwork. The fragile Sarah whose resilience is at an all time low. The tiniest setback or smallest bump in the road, will trigger a disproportional response. The ‘self-care is hard work’ Sarah, who spends more time in pyjamas than clothes, and doesn’t clean her teeth until lunchtime. It is not just about the tears.
And so for the last six months, I’ve tried to calm the raging storm, tried to disperse the grey clouds, tried to recover my mental health. But it’s been difficult. Many of my normal sources of happiness and joy, have been unavailable due to shielding. Having never experienced low mood before, I’ve no tried-and-tested strategies up my sleeve. And I’ve kinda felt ashamed to admit I’m struggling, admit I’m not coping, admit that my normal strong armor has been dented. So I’ve floundered around trying to solve it. Meditation, writing a diary, positive affirmations. Identifying the good, daily sunshine, walking. I even did a three week ‘Talking Spaces’ course over Zoom- but within weeks of it finishing, I’d forgotten everything taught! So for the past few months, I’ve been ignoring it, just trying to get through each day. Doing whatever I can to pass the time and cheer me- binge-watching box sets, eating chocolate, writing big job-lists for Phil! 😉 But I know I need to address it, know I need to help myself, know I need support to come out the other side. So I’m hopeful that the gold-standard combination of CBT and anti-depressant pills, plus spring sunshine and the end of shielding, will calm the storm clouds swirling around me. I’m hopeful that the old me will emerge again soon.
I remember watching friends go through depression in the past, and wondering why they couldn’t just ‘snap out of it’ or think more positively or stop dwelling on the bad. But now I have faced that gale myself, been battered by those rains, lost myself in those swirling winds… only now do I understand and appreciate how difficult it can be to recover. But I will. 2021 is the year of hope. There is much fun to come. 🙂