Depressed people can be fucking infuriating. They don’t turn up when they said they would. They think the worst of you, of everyone, of themselves. They’re entrenched, often bitter, often afraid of perfectly normal things. They lash out. They can be provocative, spiky, defensive. They are flaky and they let you down and then get angry with you for it. They don’t do the things that might help them: they drink, they don’t exercise, they don’t eat any good food. They don’t take their medicine and they complain about it when they do. They can see nothing beyond their own suffering, they are selfish. All they seem to want is to bundle up in a room on their own and wallow in it, while outside it is sunny and might lift their spirits if they just got off their arse.
Depressed people are wankers, are a pain to be around. The thing is, they know it.
But depression isn’t sadness, or stress, or worry. It isn’t a process like profound grief, which is a deep place we all walk through, slowly or quickly, at some point in our lives. Depression is a stasis, a stillness, a stuckness. It is the norm of the depressed brain: the low point to which the swinging pendulum always returns. It is being the pendulum, unable to swing yourself, reliant on and resistant to the help of others to move you. It is inertia, which physics defines as: “The tendency of a body to resist acceleration.” Depression is not a decision. It is a hole you cannot get out of, or even see the top of, without help.
Tolkien wrote about depression when he wrote about the ring. The inexorable draw to one’s own end – an experience so scarring that anyone who has experienced it directly is rendered permanently vulnerable to it and marked by it for the rest of their lives. Rowling wrote about it with the Dementors, who outnumber you, hovering over you, making everything but their sucking faces withdraw, go colourless, go small. She wrote about it with Azkaban, where the Dementors drag you, the inescapable prison whose purpose is suffering and incapacity. Hans Christian Andersen wrote about it in The Snow Queen, when a shard of the devil’s looking glass goes into Kai’s eye and destroys his ability to see any good in the world, and results in his being lost.
I have lost three friends to depression.
So spend a moment today, thinking about how it feels to look out on the world muffled in black, to have that cloying warp wrap around your own head and push into you with every breath. To not see the sunshine or the lovely cat, or the caring partner, but something ominous and twisted. To have no pleasure in food, or sex, or friends, or sleep, or in yourself, and no hope of it either; no memory of there ever having been pleasure, or of ever having been worth anything. To have a brain which is not simply hanging still, but which resists acceleration. Think about how it feels if being dead is the most appealing idea in your head, not because you choose to think those thoughts, but because the meat – the meat – of your poor little monkey brain has gone wrong.
If you have never experienced it, you won’t be able to imagine it. But you have a depressed friend. We all do. Read this, and then go and see them. Don’t text them or email them. They won’t respond. Take them some hot soup, or a bunch of flowers. Give them a squeeze. Don’t tell them it will be alright (they will counter you with an endless list of why it can never, has never been alright), just tell them you love them. Help them to get qualified help. Do their washing-up and brush their hair. And tell them they are not a wanker, they are unwell.
Because depressed people stigmatise themselves more than anyone else does. And everyone else stigmatises them a lot.