I’ve only ever taken one shower with my clothes on.
I was alone at the time and can still remember the sensations as my t-shirt started clinging to me, my jeans growing heavy and cold on my legs. I was drunk, had just thrown up then crawled into the bath and turned the shower tap on. I lay there as the water fell on me and I cried. My wife had (rightly) just left me and gone back to Scotland, I was alone and in the early grips of the darkest days of my depression.
I’m not sure why I turned the shower on, perhaps a memory from a movie scene was my inspiration, yet looking back it all seems a bit emo-angsty and overly dramatic. At the time I think I was just hoping to feel something other than emptiness but it’s a hazy memory at best but I don’t think that should detract from the reason why I just shared that story in the first place.
I’ve shared a lot of things about me on this blog. Some would say too much at times but, as I’ve said before, this blog is not all of me. Even the most personal posts exclude some details; sometimes that is due to embarassment, sometimes to protect others, sometimes because it just didn’t feel right to share (or it would’ve detracted from what I was trying to write), sometimes because it’s can be hard to share things with complete honesty, and sometimes because I don’t really know the people reading it and, to be blunt, you haven’t earned my trust.
As an example, take that opening paragraph. There is much more to that story, much more to the before and after of that moment, but my point isn’t to lay out my life in fine detail its just to lay out the sense of a moment, just to give something to say ‘I’ve been there too’ to anyone who reads it, after all you don’t share a map when you come back from a holiday, just the best snapshots (do I win the worst analogy award for that??).
I’ve written about my depression in the past, in fact the 20 year anniversary of that post is later this year. When I wrote it I wasn’t even sure I would publish it but I’m glad I did, not just because it helped me process things but because it also helped a couple of other people who emailed me at the time to say thank you. Before that I hadn’t even thought about what I was sharing nor that it might actually be helpful to someone else.
And here’s the thing about mental health issues. Everyone has them. EVERYONE. Even if you don’t want to acknowledge it within yourself, there is probably something going on somewhere, a disquiet or unease, even just that low level feeling of ‘I’ve HAD IT with people today’. It may manifest itself in other ways, like my more recent feeling of being a bit stuck that sent me back to counselling. That wasn’t about depression, but was mostly definitely something that was affecting my mental health and I’m so glad I got some help with it. I spoke to my closest friends and family about it, and they were all supportive and, ultimately, it teased out some stories from them as well about their own mental health.
Everyone has mental health issues of some sort.
Many people can get through entire working days, weeks even, without anyone knowing what is really going on in their heads. Like many other kinds of illness mental health issues can be completely invisible. Ask any of the colleagues I worked with during that time in my life, 20 years ago, and I doubt they’d have known; I didn’t miss a days work and was my usual sarcastic self the entire time. They didn’t know about the lay-by on the way home I’d often stop at because I realised I was seriously considering crashing my car on purpose, they didn’t know about the late nights lying in the dark and wondering if anyone would really miss me if I was no longer around.
More recently I wrote about the loneliness of Sunday mornings and had a couple of people contact me to say I had struck a chord and that they felt that way too. They thanked me for sharing it, after all a problem shared is a problem halved (well, shared again at least) and, again, it struck me that sharing MORE is a good thing.
And that is one of the reasons I wrote about, and will continue to write about these things. The stigma around mental health is loosening but, as with most of these things, it’ll take time to change and I think the more people who share their own stories, the quicker it’ll happen.
As I get older and continue to figure out (and challenge) who I am, the further away those dark days of my depression seem. I’m lucky that these days my worst ‘down days’ are probably no more than a few hours of feeling maudlin. There is no real rhyme or reason to them, Sunday mornings excluded, but I’ve learned when to accept them and let myself wallow a little (but not too much).
Sometimes it’s ok to give in for a little bit, have a cry, eat some chocolate, hide from the world under a blanket, whatever works for you.
As I age I find my darker thoughts turning to my future. When will I be able to afford to retire? When I’m very old, if I’m still single, what happens if I fall and can’t get up? Will I find someone to share Sunday mornings with again? Do I really want to find someone to live with when I am old? Ohhh how my brain so easily picks up on the smallest thought, the tiniest concern, and quickly nurtures it until it grows large enough to block out the sun.
It turns out the black cloud is never all that far away.
Sharing these moments of my life on this blog, publically, is not something I do lightly. I’m aware they may be triggering for some people, I’m aware that some people will think less of me for doing so, but I’m also aware that sharing these thoughts, no matter how little they may relate to the lives of others means that now and then someone who does read them may feel a little less alone, a little less broken, a little more hopeful that they too can get through things.
When I started this blog I wrote about topical things, nonsense things, things that zipped by me on the ever growing internet. I spent time digging around in the Yahoo directories or reading other weblogs as I found them. I wrote about things I was doing, about events in my life, movies I’d watched. For a while it was more diary than blog, but for a long time now this is place where I write to think. I don’t publish all of it but sometimes when I’m in the midst of writing a post I’ll realise that maybe, just maybe, it might be beneficial to others to read that someone else is going through something similar.
We are all human, we all have foibles and faults. We all carry with us many demons of differing size and emotion. We are imperfect.
A few days after I took that shower I managed to summon up the courage to talk to my doctor. I told her I was feeling depressed, that my life seemed to be stuck behind a glass wall where the sounds and colours and connections were muted. A couple of weeks later I had my first counselling session.
To this day I’ve never taken another shower with my clothes on.