Welcome to my brain. Welcome to my chronic depression
For Times Select writer Nico Gous, his mental illness is a battle over time, a fight against impatience, a war against self-doubt
Can a bus run me over already? Or a hijacker shoot me at the next traffic light? What is this thing we call life? Kill me now, because this existence is so boring and mundane.
If I die now at 29, eulogies might say I had a lot of potential. Let me die now instead of living to become another insignificant human among the seven billion on Earth without any everlasting achievements.
Welcome to my brain. Welcome to dysthymia, a form of chronic depression.
I was first diagnosed in April this year after knowing for years that something was wrong. It started when I was 15, when I starting sleeping for hours on end every afternoon. I lost interest in sports and schoolwork and only cared about drinking on weekends or researching random things on the Internet. A week before heading to university, the panic attacks started as anxiety took hold.
The downwards spiral often starts with something small.
I spill a bit of coffee or I struggle to find a quote in my notes when writing an article. Then I start beating myself up or feel embarrassed for something I did 10 years ago, or last week. Next, I castigate myself for every decision I’ve ever made and the people I’ve hurt. Then the defeating self-talk in the third person starts.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Nico?! Who are you kidding, you will never achieve anything! Fuck you!”
The tug of war between my brain and heart is never-ending. Rationally, my brain knows and understands that I cannot change the past. I like the person I’ve become, but I do not feel and believe it in my heart.
As one character says in Mario Puzo’s novel The Last Don: “I enjoy life from moment to moment. It’s the arc of life that gets me down.”
There is a video on YouTube where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is walking a dog on the beach and explaining the difference between weather and climate.
“My friend’s meandering represents the short fluctuations,” he says, making reference to the dog. “That’s weather. It’s almost impossible to predict what will attract his interest next. It’s not hard to know the range of its meandering will be because I am holding him on a leash … The average weather over the course of years reveals a pattern. I represent that pattern that long-term trend that is climate,” he says.
That has been my experience of trying to tame the black dog, a symbol of my depression. I have been impatient since receiving my diagnosis and having myself admitted to a psychiatric clinic. I wanted recovery to be a one-way street: Tick all the boxes and off you go.
Lacking patience and self-discipline I have stumbled repeatedly, calling friends, family and ex-girlfriends at ridiculous hours to confirm what I rationally knew to be true, but did not feel in my heart: That I am okay. That I am worthy.
It’s the cliché: You hurt the ones you love the most.
They want to empathise with how you can be fine one moment and despondent the next. They love you but don’t know how to support you when you’re erratic. They might give you facts or solutions, but it does not change the way you feel inside. Depression and anxiety are pervasive.
They say knowledge is power, and with my diagnosis I learnt how many of aspects of my life it has affected. I have to remind myself daily that I am recovering. Only patience and being kind to myself will help to reprogram the last 14 years of thinking patterns and autopilot responses.
I would not have gained this insight without professional help. Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you suspect you might be suffering from mental illness. You might manage to keep the dog on the leash every other day and enjoy life from moment to moment, but without help you might miss the climate change.