Have you ever gone for a long drive somewhere down the coast, or through a mountain range and you’ve turned the corner and you have found yourself driving through sea mist or low cloud?
It’s very disorientating, isn’t it?
One minute you have a clear view of where you are and where you are going, and the next minute you can only see a few meters in front of you.
A year ago I could tell you that depression, anxiety, stress and mental illness was something that was an important subject that people need to talk about.
What I didn’t realise a year ago is how hard it is to talk about such a subject.
Why do I think it’s harder than people realise? Because in many cases people don’t know the depth of the despair they are in. From my experience, life was carrying on a familiar journey. There were the expected bumps on the road and there was some great scenery.
What I didn’t expect was fog. Thinking about it now, maybe I did expect it but maybe I didn’t realise how disorientating it would be. At some point I had turned a corner and I was in the middle of a deep mist. I hadn’t changed direction. I hadn’t changed momentum. Life had just turned a bend.
I have heard it said “Talk to someone when life gets dark or foggy or grey.” In fact the sentiment is all over the internet. The problem with this thinking is you don’t know how deep you’re in until you’re right in the middle of it. The signs that you would usually use to orientate yourself are no longer legible. The fog is too thick.
So how do you tell when life is really getting to a low point? We have all felt tired. We have all felt despair and we have all felt frustrated with life. The difference is most times life is hiding behind the couch and shouts “surprise!” Then life resumes to normal viewing as if some cruel joke, or maybe even a cruel test that we had to go through to discover how weak we really are underneath all the masks and bravado.
That’s the problem with clouds, sometimes they’re just blots on a blue sky and while they may cover the sun you can see it’s only for a short time. Other times the clouds are dark and grey and you may be caught in a heavy shower. It may last days or it may last weeks. That’s a lot of time with no sun, isn’t it?
Someone once said to me “She died suddenly.” I thought this was an unusual saying, after all doesn’t everyone die suddenly? One minute you’re living, and the next minute you’re dead.
Living, living, living, living, living, dead. From experience for A1 type personalities like me, that’s how depression works. Fine, fine, fine, fine, lost.
The crazy thing is that you can’t even really call it ‘depression’ as everyone will feel it differently depending on their personality, but I wonder if there are just not enough words in the English language to explain this. I could do fifty things at once. I could do it all. I was funny and creative. I was adaptable and then all of a sudden… I wasn’t. Well sometimes I could be, but it just felt hard. Was I getting ill? Did my brain’s super computer have too many tabs open? Not having felt this way before for extended periods, how would I know?
Talking is important… absolutely. However I’m not sure it’s as important as having friends connect up and ask questions. “Hey, you’re looking tired. Are you okay?”
“You don’t seem your normal self. Is everything alright?”
“I haven’t heard from you for a while, what’s up?”
In a world of social media and personal branding it’s easy to hide behind “Ok” and “I’ll show you my highlight reel” -but the reality is fighting depression, anxiety and other mental illness starts with community.
It starts with whanau (family).
It starts with close friends.
It starts with people being observant enough to ask the question if something doesn’t look or feel right.
It starts with us being honest enough to admit we’re in need of support if we are starting to struggle.
What we need to remember, is often we don’t know we are lost until we look around.