I feel myself coming awake.
It’s a morning like every other - or so I think.
In the split second I pass from sleep to consciousness even before I open my eyes, I realise today is different.
My “visitor” is back.
The only clue he gave was the dreams which racked my brain moments before I woke.
They come back to me. Violent, distressing, morbid, painful, vivid. My chest pounds - oh God please not again. Anything but this. The flu, a cold, measles, anything but this.
I want to roll over and disappear but the sounds outside tell me that whether I like it or not another day is here.
He shows up unannounced, uninvited and unwanted. All I can do is deal with him and hope he makes a swift departure. No other visitor is as unwelcome as this one.
He has dumped himself in his usual position and I am terrified. Sitting like a two-tonne lump of lead on my chest there is no mistaking him.
He is back and will play with me like a cat toying with a terrified mouse. He will play with my thoughts, manipulating, distorting and darkening them. He will steal my feelings and leave me empty.
I can’t move for him. I can’t acknowledge anything or anyone but him. I want the world to end and take me with it rather than face what he is going to put me though. I know there is nothing I can do. He is not going anywhere fast.
I know he will demand my constant attention. He will stop me doing everything. He will wipe out all hope, expectation, joy and anticipation. He will sap every ounce of energy as he clings to me like a fungus on the side of a tree.
He doesn’t make me sad he demands far more than that. In an hour I shall feel dead, numb, hopeless, worthless, useless. My face will flush in waves of panic and self-disgust. My teeth, gums, lips and fingers will tingle, my chest and stomach will burn and twist.
I can’t bring myself to move. Any sensation of being with myself is simply unbearable. I feel my 13-year-old fat all over me like a slug clinging to my bones.
I dread getting out of bed. I cannot bear seeing myself in the mirror. I hate every inch of what looks back at me and wish I was not here. My palms ache, tingle and sweat - there is nothing I can do not to notice them burning, itching and nagging me to pick at them.
The more I resist, the more they pester me to tear at them and in the end I do. Violently. They bleed and throb.
I need to be alone to deal with how bad this is going to be. I have already been asked what is wrong. My soulless “nothing” reply is a survival trick.
I climb out of the bed, exhausted, head pounding. In as much as I am able, I wash, so at least I can feel clean. In seconds I feel dirty again.
All bets are off. This visitor will not let me exercise, eat properly, read, listen to music, watch a film or do any of the things which make me happy. If I try he will throw a massive, steaming, stinking cow pat of guilt in my face. So I won’t bother.
He is cunning and clever and won’t let anyone else notice him. He is here for me and me alone and demands my undivided attention. If anyone spots him he will fend them off and let me take the blame.
He hides behind a smile, an overcompensating cheer and an ability to make everyone laugh. But he is there feeding on me.
I sit in front of the doctor. I dread speaking.
“Can you give me my regular pills, please.”
If he agrees I know my visitor will shrink just a little. He will be just a little less powerful and I shall least live be able to live with him.
“What is this all about?”
“What is upsetting you?”
“It’s all in your mind.”
“You can’t just take pills.”
“Depression is just a name to cover up another problem.”
“Have you been to counselling?”
I am able to answer none of these things. All I know is that I have suffered a severe and (albeit temporary) crash in brain chemistry. Nothing about this is “mental” - it is devastatingly and powerfully physical.
He looks at the computer screen and without looking back at me…
“Any thoughts of self-harm, suicide, irrational feelings?”
“No” (who am I kidding, all of the above)
I can’t explain. I did not invite this monster in, nor did something give him the OK to just take over. But he did - unannounced and unwanted.
“I’ll give you a month of these, but then you’ll have to come back.”
I know nothing has brought this on. It just happened. I cant justify it with a death, a separation, a failure, an attack, an accident, a disease or any beautifully tragic backstory. I have no reason to feel this dreadful.
The doctor tries to tweeze all of the above out of me, as do the well-meaning friends - “sorry to hear you’re feeling low”…..”come on what’s the matter?”…
I would be able to cope with feeling sad, hysterical, distraught or inconsolable. But this doesn’t even come close. It is indescribable, crippling, debilitating, numbing.
My appetite swerves and courses in dips of persistent nausea followed by cravings for sugar, cakes, biscuits - I give in and within 10 minutes feel 100 times worse, if that were possible.
Pounding heart, blind panic, face burning, fierce heat.
My head is throbbing again with guilt, disgust, failure, total and utter hopelessness and the only way I can numb it is to promise myself I’ll starve tomorrow and exercise more than I ever have.
But the cycle just repeats itself.
I have educated myself to know the signs and the causes - a chemical plunge in brain noradrenaline and serotonin.
There is never a rational and convenient emotional cause to fit snugly into a tick box to keep the GP happy.
I know the treatments available and which work best for me. I visit my doctor armed with information and a well-rehearsed defence if he tries to brush me off with “stop being so silly” - believe me, that has happened.
This monster will never go away, it’s a bit like herpes - I am stuck with it for life …. but I can now deal with it.
Depression is not just the blues or even a deep sadness. It is far blacker and more dangerous than that.
People kill themselves when they are depressed, they rarely do so when they are sad.
I have one thing to thank my friend for, he has somehow made me more focussed, honed and violently driven to succeed.
Knowing he could pop in at any moment has led me to abstinence when it comes to any artificial high, alcohol being the worst - a glass of wine would be an open invitation so I stick to water.
Today will not be like yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. I shall have to grit my teeth and face my foe head on while hoping he doesn’t hang around too long.