My life, designed by me.
Can you visualize what depression looks like in your head? Given my vivid imagination I have an image in my mind that I regard as my mental barometer. She looks like me but she is thin and dressed in black (perhaps that is more cliché than imaginative, however, moving on). She is surly and does not smile. I can visualise her easily when I want to connect with my mental well being and really get a sense of how I am going.
When I am going really well, she is asleep. She sleeps soundly, a serene expression upon her childlike, surly features. When I check on her and she is sleeping restlessly, frowning and trying to find a comfortable position, this is my red flag that things are not as well as they could be and that I need to address my life and how I am treating myself.
Then there are times like now. When she is fully awake and I can visualize her sitting with her knees pulled up, one arm looped around them and the other is flicking a cigarette lighter. I visualize that my brain is as vulnerable as dry tinder, unprotected and just metres away from her and her tiny yet powerful flame. I can see, like an outsider looking in on the scene, that all she needs to do to wreak havoc is carelessly toss that lighter into the dry tinder and stand back to watch her handiwork. I imagine she has a small smirk on her face at this time. As though she is taunting me. Keep going, she encourages. Keep doing what you are doing and let me play again.
Changes in her demeanour prompt me to take more notice of the tangible signs, outside her imaginary world and in my real one. I start projects or tasks and don’t finish them. I start sleeping less. I start rationalising why I can’t find the time to do things that are purely for me. My brain starts throwing out random thoughts that are irrational and designed to cause anxiety. Lots of ‘what ifs’ and worse case scenarios. Unhealthy patterns creep in. Spending all day doing things without really achieving anything. Lack of focus, inability to concentrate. Uncertainty about what I am doing. Second and third guessing. Small signs that I did not know until diagnosed with depression were signs of a larger picture of dysfunction.
I am grateful though. I am grateful that I can visualize the depression and take steps to send her back to her restful slumber. She reminds me, her piercing eyes boring into mine, that I am not looking after myself. I will always be grateful for the ability to have that sense of awareness now about my mental health. If I know what my warning signs are I can act.
Understanding the complexity and nuances and extreme individuality of depression has been a gift. To learn that there are some aspects that I can control, patterns that I can change in my life that will ensure my little depression barometer remains asleep, is sublime. I know many, many other people are not so lucky. I wish they were.
Knowing first hand how mental illness can alter your perception of yourself and others and how inescapably horrifying it is to no longer be yourself makes me appreciate every day that I am me again.
I have woken up today with the aim of replacing the dysfunctional patterns that have crept their way insidiously back into my life with the healthy and nurturing patterns that I had developed and allowed to slip. To gently take the lighter from the surly girl’s pale hands and reassure her that she can go back to sleep. So I can find myself again.