RHYS SAGE | FEATURES
Trigger warning: Contains discussion on depression and mental illness.
I was 18 when I was first diagnosed with depression. I mean you go to a psychologist and they turn around and say, “yes you are in fact depressed.” At that point in my life the diagnosis was reactive depression (also known as situational depression).
Reactive depression is not really a formal diagnosis, more so it describes depression that arises from a significant stressor or event within an individual’s life. It mimics the symptoms of major depressive disorder and is pretty much a label for when people get depressed because something traumatic has happened in their life. A whole lot of fun right.
Recently though, the diagnosis of a full depressive disorder has been the talk of the town. The question of antidepressants has sat in the middle of my mind. I’ve looked back at all this life I’ve lived.
Most people know someone with a form of clinical depression or at least have a basic understanding about what depression is. Which honestly is nice. I don’t want to have to explain it to people. But there’s this feeling that I should, that I need to explain it—explain myself.
It’s never good and it’s never bad. That’s how I explain it. It’s like watching the world through a set of rose-coloured glasses, ones that you don’t even realise you’re wearing until you take them off. I stop sleeping, I stop feeling motivated, I stop doing the things I like, I just stop feeling I guess. Well not stop feeling, I just kind of feel this emptiness. Empty is not a nice feeling, but I don’t even know this is how I’m feeling at the time, all I have are these retrospective thoughts. And the worst part is that I go through everyday like I’m sleepwalking—going through the motions and nothing else.
These rose-coloured glasses throw the world into shades of red. It makes red roses out of white roses. It distorts everything—like the funhouse mirrors this issue is about. When you look back at those times it’s hard to see what I saw then, because it feels like there’s nothing there. Like maybe I’m just gaslighting myself.
But it’s insidious and those thoughts will eat you up and make you feel so very small. They had already eaten through me when I was 18. It fucks with your head and stops you thinking straight. It twisted my thoughts all throughout my teen years. The first time I stopped eating I was 15. It wasn’t an intentional decision but I just stopped. I would only eat a small amount when I was at the dinner table with my family, mostly to keep up appearances. At the time I thought nothing was wrong, I just felt confused, I couldn’t understand what was happening.
Some part of me thinks that it was a form of avoidance. When you can’t deal with your feelings the hunger is easier to understand and to name—it’s the way our thoughts are arranged. The part of us that makes us eat anything when we’re starved. Hunger swallows all our other thoughts and just does what we need to, to survive.
I still feel weird talking about it. Because I’ve always had to be the stable child not letting myself explode because everyone else’s wants and needs eclipsed mine. I wrote letters to no one in particular and then threw out the book because I felt foolish for giving myself space to express my thoughts. I wasn’t ready to admit or accept any of it—I was scared. I was a child.
I let this linger, I couldn’t even really talk about everything when I was 18 at the psychologist’s office. I let it sleep until I was in a cabin in the woods and the rain fell so softly for 3 days straight. I was writing and I was alone. So very alone.
And there it was.
Fragments of my life on paper. It was like I was only allowed to be truthful when I was writing. Because when I was writing I wasn’t me—I was just the author, the actor, and the director of this story. I realised when I’d finished putting the 100 hundred pages together that I felt so, so very alone. In the space of a year after school I had stopped talking to all of my friends and the people I loved and I couldn’t remember what I had done to fill the time. There was nothing there. It was just empty.
People say that sadness is the opposite of happiness but for me it isn’t. Emptiness is. With happiness and sadness there is something there so deep that we dwell in them, there’s something there for us to hold onto. But for me that emptiness is nothing. Complete and utter nothing.
I guess I should have just tried to be happy. It would have been so much easier.
That seems to be the way some people treat it. Like I’m not trying hard enough, like I’m lazy, like if I just push harder and harder I could find the other side. Whenever I think of how hard I have to try, I guess it has always just felt like it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how strong I try to be, it doesn’t matter how fast I run. It reminds me of a quote by the Red Queen in Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking-Glass. The line goes, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
And honestly, it does feel like that. I’ve tried as hard as I can and yet here I stand in the same place as yesterday, as a year ago, as that first time I walked into the psychologist’s office. How can so much have moved and changed and grown but I’m still the same.
I’m writing about this now because I never got the chance to before—it’s kind of selfish. But there’s also this part of me that’s writing it to a younger version of myself, the one who was too scared to admit this reality. I’m writing it to anyone who’s ever felt those feelings and lived that life. Because I’m so proud that we’ve survived and that even if we aren’t perfectly okay at least we aren’t alone with this. I just don’t want people to feel like they're alone. Sometimes I think people seem to forget how isolating it is. How lonely it can be.
In some ways I understand the Red Queen. She just needs it to go the way she can see it in her head – the way she wants it to be. I think that’s all that’s holding her together at that moment, a shallow attempt to feel in control and to feel okay. If it were ever that easy everyone would have what they need—they would feel connected.
I think the Red Queen just didn’t want to be alone – I think she just wanted a friend but couldn’t figure out why.