Trigger warning: This blog post does include a reference to self harm (a very casual one with no details), but if that would trigger you please go and read something more relaxing like a manual telling you how to grow vegetables. I hear it is the perfect time to plant courgettes…
Depression is, technically, one illness named after one emotion. For me however, what depression feels like is different every day. Sometimes having depression is the experience I imagine most people picture depression to feel like, aka some days I am depressed/agonisingly sad. Over the course of any average week though, it is likely that depression will throw up some different negative emotions picked out of its sinister collection. One day the main emotion might be guilt, the next hopelessness, anxiety, anger or even intense pain to the point that I go a bit delirious and start laughing for no reason because I don’t know what else to do. For me, depression is not simply about being depressed, it is about being and feeling many different things and sometimes, in my experience, living with depression is about feeling nothing at all. Today is one of those days.
I think trying to explain what it feels like to be numb is one of the harder aspects of depression to express because…well…it doesn’t FEEL like anything…that is the point…
If I had to try to describe it I would say it’s like you turn into a robot or someone who is sleepwalking. I can walk, talk and carry out mechanical actions when instructed, but I am not really there, sort of the classic the lights are on but no-one’s home because the occupants have decided to go on a Mediterranean cruise for a few weeks (they went waterskiing and had ice-cream on the beach. It really was a wonderful holiday).
When I feel numb I am technically alive in that I am breathing, but there is no real life there, it is just a body on autopilot, a tin man who hasn’t yet been given a heart.
There is no passion, no want or desires. There aren’t even preferences, because when you don’t feel anything, everything in this world is the same so there isn’t anything to choose from.
For example, if you have taste buds, buying a tub of ice cream involves making a choice because all the flavours taste different and will therefore be experienced differently. The tub of vanilla will taste of vanilla, the chocolate of chocolate and the strawberry ice cream will taste of pistachios (there was a mix up at the factory).
If however, all the ice creams were to taste the same, there would be no choice to make, you cannot choose one thing over another when everything tastes of cardboard.
On these numb days, days like today, you could honestly walk up to me and give me the options of either a hug or a punch in the face and I would be indifferent to both of them. Logically I can see that it is nicer to have a hug than a punch in the face, so rationally I can understand that the hug should be my choice, but that choice has no feeling. I don’t want the hug nor do I dread the punch in the face, I just know the one to go for through the same logical process you might use to tick a box in an exam paper of non-verbal comprehension.
On the one hand you would think it might be nice to not feel anything, and you could say that it is better to feel nothing than to feel heart aching sadness. I do not agree.
When you are angry or sad, you get through that emotion by feeling it and living out the experience.
When you are angry you can ride that wave by shouting into a pillow to get the frustration out (be sure to apologise to the pillow later), and when you are sad you can cry until you run out of tears. I actually think that the feeling you get after a really good cry is almost worth all the crying it takes to get there.
When you are numb however, you can’t scream or cry it out because there is nothing there to get out. You can’t whip out some techniques you have used in therapy to calm down, there is no proactive action you can take, you just have to stand there staring into space (you can stare at a TV screen or a tree instead but it won’t make any difference because everything looks the same, like all of the ice cream tasted of cardboard). You just have to sit with it.
If I am feeling numb I often try to motivate some kind of feeling or life back into myself by looking at one of my lists of reasons to stay alive. Sounds a bit dramatic but these days suicidal thoughts are so frequent and loud that I have to have at least one list on me at all times to provide an answer to the question of “Why not just end it now?”.
I have lists on my phone, lists in my diary, on my wardrobe, lists of the people that I love and any possible goals or aspirations for the future.
For example I know that one day I want to be a writer, I want to go to Disneyland, I want to have a cat and a dog, I want to read all of the books I can get my hands on and I want to have a house with one of those bookshelves that has a ladder attached so that I can swing between F.Scott Fitzgerald, Harry Potter and the Bronte sisters like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
When I am numb however, the lack of desires, want or interest in anything makes these reasons that I hold as fundamental to my survival, redundant. They don’t mean anything. They are just empty words. It makes me sound like a terrible person and there are probably people out there who think I am a terrible person for what I am about to say but the truth is that on days like today, I even look at reasons like “You need to keep fighting for your Mum and Dad” and I feel nothing towards it or my parents.
I know logically that I love them more than anything and I know they are the most wonderful, caring and supportive parents in the world, but I don’t feel that love, I don’t feel that “I love you”, it is merely a factual statement. I can read the words “You need to keep fighting for your mum and dad who you love very much” but that’s all they are. Letters. Words. A variety of marks and symbols made out of ink on a page, words with no more weight, depth, significance or profound importance than a casual offhand comment someone might make about how much milk they like in their tea. “I love my family” should have far more passion in it than “just a splash of milk please” but again, I am numb, the feelings are on mute, everything is the same. Everything is cardboard.
Similarly, there are many reasons as to why I struggle with self harm. Sometimes I do it because I feel that I need to be punished, need to release some built up anxiety rushing through my veins, need to make an invisible pain visible so that I can understand it, and sometimes on numb days, I do it to try and get myself to feel something. ANYTHING, even if that feeling is unpleasant.
Today I self harmed to try and inspire the life back into me, shock the system from robot mode to human just as you might pinch someone to wake them from a dream. I thought that if I caused the body pain, my mind would come back to feel it and then maybe I could cry and feel better, but even though I could see the damage on my body I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like harming a very lifelike mannequin.
Today then, that is what depression feels like for me. It feels like nothing. I feel numb. Everything is cardboard. Today, I have no passion. All I have are these words, so that is what I am giving to you. I hope you find some meaning in them.
Take care everyone x