Have you ever been stalked by an issue. Found your attention repeatedly drawn to a subject. Everything you see, read, hear, seems to be conspiring to get you to focus on it. It won’t let you ignore it. You can’t get away from it.
This past week the subject of depression keeps cropping up in various shapes and forms.
Here are a few of the things which have drawn my attention to it:
I read an article about Hikikomori – a condition where people withdraw from the world, stay in their room, refusing to go out, don’t socialise. They just want to be left alone.
I listened to the podcast conversation between Rory from A Guy Called Bloke and K9 Doodlepip and Henry from Bottomless Coffee 007, wherein Rory mentioned becoming a recluse during a period in his life, and spoke about figuring out who you are, mental health, and how depression often accompanies a search for personal identity.
A few days ago I read a very interesting blog post by Ashley from Mental Health at Home, wherein she spoke of her personal experience of depression, and how it affected her concept of her identity. She asked others to share their own experiences of depression, anxiety and identity with her.
This focusing of attention on depression could be because I have been reading a book which discusses the condition, and I’ve been crawling through the chapter which focuses solely upon it.
One particularly statement made about it at the beginning of that chapter caused a slight spark to go off inside of my mind.
“At one time, this strange affliction was ascribed to demons that allegedly took possession of the victim.”– Aaron T. Beck, CH.5 The Paradoxes of Depression, from Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders
It reminded me of a terrifying hypnagogic dream (aka. sleep paralysis. A dream which occurs when you’re half-asleep half-awake, and which can seem very real because it includes elements from your real environment as well as subconscious imagery) I had during a time when I was deeply depressed and suicidal.
A quick synopsis of the dream: I was asleep in the dream. An old lady broke into my home. She woke me up and tricked me into summoning a demon into my body. I managed to exorcise the demon before it took complete control.
[If you put ‘sleep paralysis‘ into Google’s search bar it offers up the suggestion – sleep paralysis demon. You can read more about that type of dream in this article: The Demon on Your Chest and Other Terrifying Tales of Sleep Paralysis via Live Science]
[If you’d like to read a longer version of my dream and a bit of the personal story around it you can find it here: Graven – A Hypnagogic Nightmare]
That dream scared the crap out of me, which is exactly what I needed from it and why I had it. It was how I saved myself. I made a pact with myself at the time to never kill myself, to live no matter how much I wanted to die.
I don’t believe in demons, didn’t then, don’t now. However I do think that what we repress, suppress, hide inside, don’t understand, fear, deny, want to get rid of, kill, the darkness within, shame, guilt, insecurity, anger unexpressed and turned inwards, can become a demon for us which can possess us.
For me that demon was the identity given to me by others.
From an early age I was led to believe that I was a threat to the safety and sanctity of others. I was told over and over in a million different ways that anything bad which happened was my fault. That I was a brat. Evil. A monster. Cursed. Something bad to be feared and hated.
My mother was very ill during her pregnancy, and almost died shortly after giving birth to me. She told me that the nurses in the hospital forced her to see her baby after a week of her refusing to do so. I don’t think they were aware of post-natal depression at the time, but even if they were my mother would have never accepted that diagnosis for herself.
The hospital had given her a pamphlet which told her to ignore your baby when it cries and it’ll stop doing it. She said that when I cried as a baby she wanted to throw me out of the window. She hated it when I stopped crying because others held me.
She also repeatedly informed me as I was growing up that my father had never wanted to have children and she had had to keep her pregnancy hidden from him until it was too late to stop it.
Why did she have a baby at all? Apparently the baby was supposed to make my parents less selfish. Or at least that was my mother’s favourite tale to tell about my origin story. I failed my mission.
My father did nothing to make me believe that he wanted me, and did plenty to confirm my mother’s stories about him and his view of my existence.
After my father’s death his mistress told me that he had been very happy about my birth but my mother had accused him of being disgusting for holding me as a baby, and so he’d decided to stay away from me.
This mistress was the one I overheard when I was a teen telling my father what a brat I was and that he should disown me. I was being a brat because I kept having to go on outings with her and my father and be all smiley happy about it while my mother made my life hell because of this mistress. But that’s by the by.
My father’s family hated me because my birth ruined their inheritance plans. I was viewed as an obstacle, a nuisance standing between greedy needy people and their pot of gold. He actually over the years often gave them more than he gave me because he didn’t want to spoil me, but that’s also by the by.
When I was a few months old I almost drowned in the pool because the nanny had left me to float on my own while she answered the telephone. She was fired. And my mother took over caring for me, deciding to starve me because the nanny had made me fat.
Sometime after that my father got blood poisoning from a cut in his leg getting infected, almost died, and during his recuperation he suffered from delusions – one of which was telling everyone my mother had tried to poison him and he wanted her locked up in an insane asylum.
His family were happy to go along with it and get rid of her (and me too).
I had German measles at the time and was sent to stay with the housekeeper’s mother. She happened to be a little old lady like the one in my hypnagogic dream, and she scared me. She was the type of Italian who used spells and curses, not dissimilar to my paternal great-grandmother who toasted my birth with a glass of freshly squeezed chicken blood.
I don’t remember anything of that time. I don’t know how it affected me. I don’t really know which parts of the stories I was told are true and which are fabricated. Everyone in my early environment made stuff up, exaggerated, over-dramatised – it was like living in a soap opera or a K drama which you couldn’t switch off, fast-forward through, or ever get a break from.
But I do recall vividly that by the time that I was 6 years old I suffered from intense anxiety.
I was painfully shy, and constantly terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing – which was pretty much everything I said or did.
The sword of Damocles was always hanging over my head… but it would probably miss me and cut someone else’s head off which was what really frightened me.
Growing up I was a soul seeking safety in a land of psychological explosions.
My parents were both narcissists. They had hair-trigger tempers, anything could set them off and the tantrums made the walls and floor shudder and shake. When they weren’t screaming and shouting, they were boiling and bubbling, ticking time-bombs about to go off.
There was sometimes a small possibility that you could defuse them, but it often wiped you out to do it. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily… life is but a dream.
I cam to perceive everything about me as being a threat to them – my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my body, my things. Since they were a threat to them, they became a threat for me too since my survival depended upon not being a threat.
Many of the people around them were needy, greedy, selfish, manipulative, after something, usually sucking up to my father to get on his good side and get him to give them what he had which they wanted. He knew it and used it. It made him hate people. He pointed this out to me again and again, showed me what to watch for and told me to trust no one.
I definitely couldn’t trust him.
My mother hated people too. Was angry, bitter and disappointed all the time. She had dreams of a life and a self which she thought she had once had and which she wanted back, but it was always just out of her reach due to everyone else’s fault, particularly mine – if only she hadn’t had me.
I definitely couldn’t trust her.
Depression didn’t kick in until I was in my early teens and realised that the world outside of my family and their social circle wasn’t any better. There was no place to escape to. There was no greener grass. No one to ever trust.
I definitely couldn’t trust myself.
I think the depression was always with me, but what kept it from kicking in sooner was the hope that once I was old enough I’d be able to get away and find a place where I felt welcome, loved, liked, safe.
Also when I was about 6, I started this ritual of packing this small green plastic suitcase, which had those happy psyched 70’s flower stickers on it, with food and drink (usually pizza & fanta) and walking to the big wrought iron gate of my parents’ property and staring out at the dirt road leading away from it.
I knew that was as far as I could go. If I went further I’d only be captured and returned.
I definitely couldn’t trust others. Especially adults.
Adults didn’t listen to children, adults thought children were lying brats who shouldn’t say anything bad about their parents. Your parents are wonderful, you’re a very lucky child – repeat this until it becomes true. Plaster a smile on your face and pretend what they want you to pretend. Or else.
But once I was a teen I realised that no such place existed in the world… it was game over.
Every now and then, the depression would lift and I’d grab onto the hope again. But my anxiety had increased with age and it tended to help me ruin things for myself, self-sabotage, screw up opportunities, friendships, and myself even further.
See, I definitely couldn’t trust myself… unless it was in a negative way. I definitely could rely on myself to eff everything up.
I was trying to remember if anyone ever noticed my anxiety and depression… as more than just an inconvenience for them, as more than just yet more proof that I was the problem.
My child psychologist godfather had plenty of chances to notice it. He was with us on that Greek cruise when my father decided I’d been kidnapped (I’d gone for a walk with my godfather’s partner who was Greek on the tiny island where we were docked, we’d told my father and my godfather what we were doing but they weren’t listening) and all hell broke loose. The hell did not stop once I showed up safe and sound – why would it as that wasn’t the real reason for it.
I couldn’t tell him directly but indirectly I did. But he was too in awe of my parents, he was also too easily manipulated and messed with by them, and he really didn’t seem to have the slightest clue about children.
One of my father’s friends noticed. He gave me a note which told me to believe in myself and never give up on myself. It’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.
I didn’t think my mother had noticed, other than to tell me to stop sulking or being shy because it was bothering her, ruining her narrative about herself, but…
When I fell in love for the first time and was the happiest I’d ever been in my life. My mother had a tantrum (she had many about the whole me being in love thing because she loved me and didn’t want me to get hurt) and demanded to have an audience alone with my partner because she was the expert on me and he had to honour that.
She took him to dinner and then proceeded to tell him about everything which was wrong with me, what a terrible burden I was, how awful I was, especially these “black moods” I had which were dreadful. Poor her how she suffered in her love for me – my partner should run, get away while he could.
A psychic had told her that my black moods were most likely caused by some dark entity and she should stay away from me when I was in one as it could be toxic, infectius and contagious.
What my mother failed to see was that my black moods were usually caused by my mother having one of her tantrums. But no one asked me about my black moods… except for my partner when he told me what my mother had told him.
He was so angry at her behaviour, and so protective of me – that floored me, no one had ever been protective of me like that.
I was also surprised by the information that my mother had noticed my black moods. Of course she typically misunderstood them, and of course they had nothing to do with her, nothing was ever her fault, she was all goodness and light.
And of course she had to try to ruin my happiness while pretending it was all for my own good.
Being genuinely happy around my parents was a threat to them and thus to your happiness because they’d have to take it away from you, they wanted it for themselves, if they couldn’t have it then you couldn’t either, they’d have to destroy it.
But you did have to pretend to be happy… as otherwise it would reflect badly on them. They were the perfect parents. They were wonderful parents and I was lucky to have them as my parents – repeat this affirmation until you believe it, and then keep repeating it until they feel safe that it is true. You mission is to make them believe their own lies and then you can all live happily ever after in nightmareland.
Around my parents I could not love anything without their permission. Without them taking it away from me and making it theirs. Without them trying to destroy it because it didn’t inspire love in them as it had in me – this shit doesn’t work! It’s shit!
They were jealous, envious, covetous… and competitive.
If I had something I was good at, they had to do it better and show me that I was bad at it. If I had a hobby, they had to do it too and then take it over and away from me.
If I had a passion, suddenly it was their passion too… and soon enough they’d either be telling me why it was a shitty passion to have and only idiots were passionate about that or they’d be accusing me of having stolen their passion from them, copied them and wasn’t I a loser for doing that.
If someone liked me, they’d compete for that person’s affections. If that person didn’t immediately love them, feel blessed by their attention, discard me for them, then they would be degraded, downgraded, criticised, found to be faulty and flawed, until I had to discard them or else… my parents would keep going and going like psychotic energiser bunnies until someone who had cared for me and for whom I cared was ruined and destroyed.
And that’s why you can’t have anything nice, feel nice, or be nice…
These days all of that is mostly behind me. It’s wonderful and I am indeed lucky.
I can trust now… it’s not easy but it’s getting easier.
Blogging has helped with my depression and anxiety. Telling my stories has been healing. Sharing myself as I am has been very liberating.
You’ve all helped me feel more welcome, loved, liked, safe here on Earth.
As for identity… what works most for me is to not think about it, but just to be it. Be me and discover who me is as I go. Don’t try to grasp who you are, just let who you are be free to be and maybe surprise you or just remind you of yourself.
I don’t view my anxiety and depression as an illness, probably because they’ve been with me for so long… if I viewed them that way, I’d have to view myself as an illness.
And frankly I’m fed up of looking at myself as a problem to be fixed, cured, deleted, etc.
I view them more as strange allies who have helped me explore the darkness within… and find a lot of lightness there.
Time for a quote I’m sure you all know well…
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thank you for listening, reading, and most of all being you!
Featured image is Rex II by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis