Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: I've torn my nails to shreds from depression

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Having been depressed before, I believe I will feel normal again, but in the meantime, it’s bloody rough going

People say Williams 'lost his battle' with mental illness, as though he wasn't trying hard enough. Photo / AP
People say Williams 'lost his battle' with mental illness, as though he wasn't trying hard enough. Photo / AP

I had last week off because I'm ill. I was going to say mentally ill, but I prefer just ill. It doesn't sound like I could just think my way out of it.

This is my life now. I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is take my pills. They don't work yet. It may take a couple of weeks, the doctor says. I hope it's soon. I've torn my fingernails to painful shreds so it even hurts to type this. When did I even do that?

Life has been a bit of a blur, what with the lack of eating and sleeping. I have a thigh gap, for the first time in my life, but it's not like I care. I no longer wear eye makeup, because well, it is only going to come off, even though I can only have secret cries because I don't want to upset the children.

The car is good for a cry when I'm driving on my own and I quite like leaning on walls when I am at home alone.

Despite my best efforts, my 9-year-old daughter keeps saying, "Are you okay, Mum? Are you okay?" over and over. I thought I was doing well putting on a show of normality, still cooking fish fingers and making the beds, but she knows.

Spotty the dog is dying of cancer, though - I give him his pills before mine, wrapped in a slice of Chesdale cheese - so I tell her that is why I'm sad. And sorry, I'm aware this will be an annoying column to all those readers who think newspapers should only be full of politics, crime and austere facts. You people can look away now, or go and clean your car with a toothbrush. Because although everyone says that there is no longer a stigma about talking about mental illness these days, there is. I feel a bit trepidatious writing this, and you know how much I overshare. But I figure there might be some other people out there, like me, who are also just waiting for the pills to work - thousands of them, actually. And like me, they might be putting on a show of being okay most of the time.

The other thing is that last week, after Robin Williams died, there was a debate online about what depression is. And it seems you have to have depression in the "right" way (can't get out of bed, totally incapacitated, feeling nothing rather than the second order emotion of feeling sad). If you are managing to still do the online grocery shopping you can't be depressed; it's just middle-class brattism or executive sulking.

When someone says people grieve in their own way, it means someone is grieving like a dick. Actually depression comes in different guises. My psychiatrist says I have major depression with a mixed affective state. I have put up what's called a manic defence, which means instead of lying in bed all day, I am agitated and with hypomania, reduced need for food and sleep; this is a futile attempt not to feel the desolation. If I stop, the darkness closes in.

"Action is the antidote to despair," Joan Baez said, although she might not have been talking about folding washing. I have given up all the work stuff I used to do - university, being on the school board, all that - but I will keep writing this column with my ragged fingernails, as long as the editor will let me.

I've been depressed before and come out of it, so I'm holding on to my belief that I will feel normal again one of these days and won't wake up every night crying. But the discussion around the death of Robin Williams was framed as if he had "lost his battle" with depression, as if depression was a fight you could win if you just tried hard enough. I sometimes think the opposite is true.

When I've been depressed before, I've come out of it only after I have stopped trying to fight it; stopped trying to numb myself with negronis; stopped fighting the aching truth of my circumstances, stopped intellectually trying to understand it. Look into the abyss. Lean in to the pain, welcome the hurt, loss is just change. You cannot make someone love you, cause others to change, expect the world to be fair or control what others say and do. Man, it's just so bloody painful, though.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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- NZ Herald

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