I kept wanting to return to my December 2020 post on my recent experience of severe depression. When I wrote the previous post I could finally see a chink of light at the end of all this mess, like I could finally touch my feet at the bottom of the pool without drowning. That hope made me think I might be able to write a “I made it out” post not too long down the line.
I’m still off work sick. And although I am much much better than I was I still go through low points and struggle day to day.
In this post I want to describe not widely discussed symptoms of depression and my progress so far. Following this I want to write some separate posts on how I’ve occupied myself, therapy and things I wish someone had told me throughout my experience so far.
I think most people understand the behavioural and emotional symptoms of depression to some extent. But what I’ve found most people struggle to understand is the cognitive dysfunction that comes along with depression.
I’m at a point where I have overcome much of the despair, sadness, hopelessness, loss of motivation etc that are widely understood as characteristics of depression and other mood disorders. What remains and continues to impact my mood is the loss of ability to problem solve, remember and recall things, concentrate on tasks, or make decisions. Tasks that I would have found easy or routine before I broke down now feel difficult and take a long time. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to navigate online articles or various software UI as before I would feel overwhelmed immediately.
As indication of how far I’ve come, in August 2020 I was sent the picture below of a board game and the effort of me trying to comprehend the image made me feel completely overwhelmed and I vomited (and no doubt cried). Then this January I had a go at playing a game of it, and since then have built up the ability to play boardgames again (although with planning and pacing to my day).
Any task where I have to do something new (learn) is immeasurably difficult. Any task where I have to make decisions and judgements throughout is likely to go wrong. Holding pieces of information in my head can feel impossible. Until recently I had to take breaks even when doing washing up or laundry or otherwise end up feeling burnt out and risk my mood plummeting.
I’ve gone from someone who is accomplished at multitasking, complex problem solving, and creative and lateral thing to someone who … can’t. On top of the trauma of completely breaking down, the underlying depression and anxiety, wrestling with suicidal urges and the sorrow of the pandemic, I have been grieving for my past self. I had lost all independence or ability to do pretty much anything for myself. Where I had lost all motivation for living I had also lost cognitive function to be able to live.
Over the past eleven months I have built myself up from being almost catatonic to -> being able to eat and move to -> managing medication and building wellbeing routines to -> enjoying elements of life again and rebuilding my confidence and resilience.
The ground that I’m on now feels incredibly hard earned and shaky. I am terrified of going backwards. Even though I know I’ve made it some way through this time what if there’s a next time and I don’t make it? But when these thoughts surface I remind myself I’m still here. And I remind myself of the huge amount of courage and perseverance it took to be here. And I remind myself to feel proud in the face of it all.