Donna Williams: What I’ve learned from my journey through depression (with BSL translation)

Posted on June 5, 2014

Depression sneaks up on you. You don’t know you’re depressed. At least, not until you start to wonder why everything seems so bleak. Even then, depression is such a negative word. You’re not depressed. It’s just a bad patch. Things will pick up. You’re tougher than this. Pull yourself together, woman.

To watch this article in BSL, click play below:

Even once you get past the denial, getting help is not easy. First, you have to want to seek help. Next, get an appointment with a GP, look them in the eye and tell them that you think life is pointless.

Next, accept whatever help is offered. Make sure they offer you counselling. Take the pills, ask about side effects and say thank you. If you’re really, really lucky, these services will be accessible.

Then hang in there while the pills kick in. Get ready for some mood swings. Ready the hard hat and chocolate. Think positive thoughts.

Avoid alcohol – a small drink is fine, any more than that and you’re looking at a comedown that you really don’t need. And unfortunately, possible blackouts. Anti-depressants and alcohol don’t mix.

If this seems like the voice of experience, it is.

I’ve been depressed, on and off, through most of my adult life. There it is. I said it.

I mentioned it in a blog last year about my deaf identity but I didn’t go into details. Well, here come some details.

My twenties can be charted, by depressive patches. A line moving up and down with my mental state in slow motion over the years – that’s another thing about depression. It doesn’t come on overnight; nor does it go away as quickly. Bad patches can be weeks in the onset, weeks – or months – in the doldrums and weeks coming out.

Stepping out into the light again after a bad patch can be magical, it’s remarkably freeing to know one can feel that bad and still come out the other side.

What got to me most while I was in the doldrums was the pointlessness of it all. Nothing really matters. We’ll all be dead in a few years. The life of the universe is measured in billions of years, on the scale of which we are a gnat’s blink. It’s just one pointless day after another. I can’t even see a point to getting up. Who really cares? Some days, I only got out of bed because my cat needed feeding.

Research shows that pets can help people with depression; I can testify to that. You might be feeling like your life is worth slightly less than the bed you’re lying on, but that cat doesn’t give a damn. It still needs food and attention and grooming and come here, kitty, give me a cuddle. I loved that bloody cat.

And going back to the inner monologue of depression, of life being pointless, I do realise how self-centred it looks. A lot of whiny crap. That’s another trick that depression uses – first it makes you think that life is worthless, then when you catch yourself thinking all these thoughts, it berates you for thinking them. Get over yourself, already. You can’t win.

I have in the past contemplated suicide. What stopped me? Partly, who would tell my parents? It would kill them. Partly, the brain is hard-wired for self-preservation. Even when you see the bus and it impulsively occurs to you how easy it would be to just step out, there’s a part of your sub-conscious that will scream at you not to do it.

That’s why I wince inwardly when I see comments that people who commit suicide are selfish. I know that in order to commit that final act, they had to be in such a bad place that they were able to override that mental switch.

Also, while depression is selfish in some ways – it’s your mind turned in on itself in a negative kamikaze death spiral, every little perceived mistake you make magnified and used to beat you into believing that you’re a worthless idiot, it manages to make itself look selfless.

Some people contemplating suicide genuinely think that they’re doing the world a favour. Everybody and everything – including yourself – would be better off. It makes complete and total sense. And when one really believes that the world would only be improved by their absence, they’re not thinking of the poor souls who have to clean up the mess. Or rather, they are, after all, it’s for the best.

And that’s the danger of clinical depression. It’s the ability of your mind to betray you to the point that any of the above makes any kind of sense.

I recently turned 30, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined, if anything it was something of a revelation.

I have a list I wrote while I was at uni, and which ended up tucked behind my graduation certificate. It was a list of things I wanted to do in my 20’s and among them was ‘travel’, ‘be published’, ‘get an MA’, ‘write a book’, ‘write a play’. I realised, that even while I’ve been up and down with depression, I’ve actually achieved most of the things on that list.

Imagine what I could do with my 30s if I was to give myself a chance. Be honest and kind to myself, don’t beat myself up for getting into depressive patches, but instead help myself out of them. Lavish attention on my cats. Take pills if I need them. Accept help if offered. I’m going to be open about the depression, by which I don’t mean I’m going to start writing emo Facebook statuses, but I won’t hide it either.

Currently, I’m at the best point I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. I’m feeling positive despite a rollercoaster start to the year, and yes, I’m taking anti-depressants. I started taking them not long after my 30th birthday in November.

I’d like to apologise once again to everyone who came for my lateness, I outdid myself. Thanks for your patience! And thanks, for the continuous supply of alcohol which ensured that by 2am, I was literally seeing double. I also found this hysterically funny. Asked if I’d like another shot by two blurry figures signing in perfect tandem, I laughed as if I’d been told the funniest joke in the world and fell off my chair.

My inner stream of consciousness revelled in the absurdity: Look at the state of me, giggling on the floor. Life is real, earnest, and incredibly stupid. I’m incredibly stupid. I was two hours late for my own bloody party, I’m so pissed I can’t see and now I’m a cackling madwoman. And none of it really matters. Life is bloody ridiculous. And all we can do is laugh at it and try make it better, because heck knows, we’ve all got to put up with this random, unfair, absurd existence. We crawled out of the oceans, climbed out of the trees, learned how to make tools, and for what? So I can lie here, laughing? Oh evolution, indeed.

It was hysterical.

It was a release. A much-needed one, so to everyone who came to my party, waited, and bought me a drink, thank you. It was the best birthday present you could’ve given me.

Armed with new confidence, and knowing that winter, rarely a good time for me, was coming, I went to the GP and told them I could use some help.

I passed on the group therapy they offered; on my own it would be useless and with an interpreter or lipspeaker, it would be weird. I wonder how many deaf people are put off therapy for similar reasons, and it’s been clear for a long time that more mental health services for deaf people are sorely needed. However, I accepted the offer of anti-depressants gratefully and discussed treatment options.

Because depression is not just a mental health issue; it’s chemicals in the brain. It used to be a point of pride that I hadn’t ‘needed’ anti-depressants for several years, but the truth is that acknowledging that one can use a bit of help, medical or otherwise, is not a sign of weakness.

It’s a sign that one has acknowledged that there’s an issue and that they want to deal with it, and they’re prepared to accept help to do so. Actually, put like that, it’s the smartest thing to do. Why didn’t I do it before?

That’s the power of depression and denial.

Why am I writing this now? It’s a question I’ve contemplated a lot lately.

Partly to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the issues surrounding deafness and mental health, and making services accessible for deaf patients.

Partly for myself. I used be afraid of what people would think if they knew what was going on in my head, what they would think if they saw how weak I was. But once this is out there, everyone will know. And I won’t have to worry about it ever again. It makes a kind of sense.

Free yourself from fear by doing the thing that scares you most.

I’m taking anti-depressants, and reading about mindfulness and for the first time in a long while, I’m feeling bright and positive about the future. My depression is under control, and I may sometimes need help to keep it that way. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness.

You don’t know how good that feels to write.

Now I have to get on with my new list for my 30’s. I want to see if I can write that book.

If you need help, you might benefit from finding out more about Sign Health’s BSL Healthy Minds:

Donna Williams is a Contributing Editor for Limping Chicken. She is a Deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgrad student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. She tweets as@DeafFirefly

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