I was first diagnosed with depression when I was sixteen. Clumsily, by a doctor who may as well have been doing a sudoku during the consultation. I went in to complain about not sleeping, which I had already self-diagnosed was caused by the medical anomalies of thinking too much and having complex sexual fantasies set in the speech & drama costume room. Next thing I know I’m being threatened with questions like “Have you ever felt sad?” and “Do you worry all the time?’ I said I had and did, but denied any suicidal thoughts. According to Super-Scientific-Checklist-Beard that was enough to be charged with depression. I slumped in the musty beige seat, pale, acne annoyed and flat-haired as Dr Grumps sneezed out a prescription for anti-depressants and reached for the pamphlet ‘Buck Up Dickhead.’
I remember wandering out into the small town main street as a marked man. “YOU HAVE DEPRESSION!” The filthy neon billboard loomed down from above. I stared at a girl in the distance walking away – a girl from my class. I was different now. Separated. An invisible grey shroud kept me encased in glass. I sighed and thought about my after school routine of frozen coke and CD shopping. The cold spring wind barged past my halfway legs. A reflection turned clockwise in my glasses as a car gruffed past. I was alone.
I threw the tablets in the bin. I was cranky at Dr Pillock’s emotionally careless handling of my precious self and got Dr Reality to give me a second opinion. I probably didn’t have depression, but the thought that I could was enough to evoke all the symptoms. I wasn’t exactly high-fiving with schoolmates over this truth nugget, but quietly self-checking as I passed off this viscous circle with the lunchtime basketball.
A decade later I would escort myself into my local G.P and ask to go on mood enhancing medication. After my relationship’s two year anniversary was brutally marred by an inexplicably ferocious beating of the doldrums, I was treating it like a spiritual emergency. Something was clearly wrong. After ten years of writing my ups and downs off as ‘sensitive me’ I had to bite the carob bullet and admit that there was a distinctly alien presence behind my eyes. A black substance creeping through my veins. A first degree soul deficiency. This shit was chemical, and with my girlfriend weeping on her bed, oh-so fucking personal. (cue Alien montage with Justin in pharmaceutically sponsored robot suit.)
Nobody really wants to talk about mental illness, let’s face it. It scares everyone, and well it should. A broken leg is kind of cute and you can write your name on the cast. A broken mind is mysterious and bottomless and the thing of disturbing art and newspaper tragedies. We’re conditioned to hear the words ‘anti-depressants’ and assume the taker is some white eyed zombie pinned to the bed and talking backwards, or radiating twisted suicide frequencies and eying off your house as a site for a potential freak-out. Young people taking anti-depressants is very, very common. Despite repeated advertising campaigns, nobody’s very willing to name check mental illness with the same matter-of-factness as migraines or PMS.
After three months I’m planning to go off mine (correctly, tapering dosage) as quite frankly I miss crying and am unnerved by the numbing of my ‘sad reflexes.’ But I find the more I talk about the whole thing, and the more people thank me for bringing it up, the more connected to the world I feel and along with laughter, acceptance is damn good medicine.