If they handed out an Olympic Gold for worrying, I’d get it.
I’ve skirted around the void of depression many times, when my anxiety has gnawed away at me like some flesh-eating bacteria, so close to the bone that I’ve felt like it was all too much.
Unlike many people out there who wax lyrical about alternative methods to “cure” depression, medication has been my saviour, the only treatment that has worked consistently for me and allowed me to function relatively normally. Exercise helps, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own.
But even medication isn’t an antidote, and so sometimes I get caught out when the black dog begins to circle.
In the first weeks after we moved to the suburb we live in now, which is close to the Harbour Bridge, a young man took his life by jumping off it. It was an event that affected me viscerally at the time because we were fighting to stay alive in a zone of wall to wall fear for our son Kurt. That poor boy’s death became personal to me. I was angry with him, visualised myself shaking him and promising him that with time he would feel better, I cried for him and couldn’t get him out of my head or imagine that level of despair. I catastrophized his death and convinced myself that it was a sign.
Suicide is becoming more and more common, not just in middle-aged men where it has always been prevalent, but in our young, who on the surface should have everything to live for.
When you’ve found yourself close to the level of negativity where you give up hope and question your reason for being, no amount of ‘but look at what you’ve got to live for’ talk can help. Whenever I move into a bad period of anxiety like I did recently, I always end up sitting with the doctor, tears of shame streaming down my cheeks at being so miserable when my life is near perfect.
But there are a multitude of triggers of depression and anxiety, many of which the experts have yet to understand.
I read many articles about suicide, not because I’m some weirdo but because it’s one of the main themes of the book I’m writing. What has stuck with me are the number of articles from survivors and how, so often, their attempt has been enough to change their outlook. It’s only afterwards that they can see through the clouds of despair, acknowledge that there is some hope, that they are loved, and that some simple changes and support in their life could provide a very different outlook.
When you are immersed in that thick, obscure soup, you think that nothing will ever change and it is the overwhelming fear of failure and letting people down that prevents you from embracing what life has to offer.
But the patterns of our lives twist and undulate constantly – something you realise with middle age but the young person with depression will find hard to see. For example, twelve years ago, I would never have believed that I would be living in Australia now, doing a job I enjoy, and that the kids would have survived my unique brand of parenting. The bi-product of a divorce, I might also be quite surprised to see that my marriage has endured all the dramas I’ve thrown at it, and I would never have believed that parenting could hold so many challenges or shape me so indelibly.
Three years ago, if someone had told me that things with Kurt would eventually get easier, I wouldn’t have believed them. Back then I saddled myself with blame for his behaviour, held myself personally accountable that my little boy wasn’t happy in his own skin. I now see that he has to take some responsibility too.
And here we are, making baby steps towards some light.
One of the best bits about life is its unpredictability; that nothing has to stay the same. Each day we grow, develop and begin to understand more and more deeply why we were put here. This short period on earth can be a difficult tenancy but we are the landlords of our destiny and if things don’t go to plan, it’s reassuring to know that we can move on. If only everyone was given a second opportunity to realise that.