Every Dog That Barks
I think I’ve got worse at being depressed.
Back in my late-teens and early-twenties and late-early-twenties, I was a boss at it. I had my process down to a tee. I would feel intense feelings, tell all my friends, write several blogs about it, rinse and repeat. Sometimes I wouldn’t even rinse; I would just repeat the dirty process over and over again.
I had reasons. “I’m depressed because of X and Y.” Not the early noughties Coldplay album X&Y. I wouldn’t say the letters. X would be something like “intense feelings of loneliness” and Y would be something like “the Coldplay album X&Y”. Terrible album.
And once I was done with my little depression tantrum, I would calm down. None of the problems I’d moaned about were ever solved, but I’d be left semi-satisfied that at least people knew.
I viewed my depressive episodes like charity campaigns designed to raise awareness. Once enough people realised the scale of the problem then real change could happen.
It wasn’t the healthiest process, but I’ll be damned if you tell me it wasn’t a process.
Then somewhere in my early-mid-twenties or maybe mid-mid-twenties that process broke down. I got more self-conscious about the burden being depressed puts on others.
People don’t like to admit that depression is burdensome. I dunno why. It so clearly is an absolute faff to deal with. I think it’s because if we admitted that trying to perk up someone devoid of joy isn’t as fun as say, playing FIFA or ‘not perking up someone devoid of joy’, then the depressed person will feel even worse.
They might think, I’m a burden, everyone would be better off without me. That’s flawed logic. Just because you’re a burden when you’re depressed, doesn’t mean you’re not far more of a burden when you’re gone. Having a dead friend is one of the biggest faffs there is.
There is one caveat that contradicts my burden thing. Sometimes when someone tells me about how bad they’ve got it and it’s genuinely terrible, I feel grateful I haven’t got it as bad as them. Then if I do say something that helps them, that feels great. So maybe it’s not a burden. Does that contradict what I just wrote. Maybe. But I’ll be damned if I’m deleting anything.
It’s at least sometimes annoying. I think dealing with a depressed person is like watching an artsy film — it’s challenging, you know it can be an enriching experience that helps you grow, but you need to be in the mood for it. It’s a lot of effort. Sometimes you just want to watch Happy Gilmore.
And I was pulling slow-paced black and white films out my ass every day and forcing people to endure them. There’d be an incoherent narrative that inexplicably jumped between timelines, an unlikeable protagonist, and no resolution at the end.
I would blather on, blissfully unaware at how genuinely annoying it is to listen to. Until one day it occurred to me that maybe it takes a toll on people.
I also don’t think it helped. The evidence that it wasn’t helping was that I was still depressed. I’d feel a momentary relief that I’d got it out, but it wasn’t enough. Even if moaning about it works to some extent, eventually you end up back home, by yourself, with no one to moan to. Then you really have to face your demons.
By that point, the demons are right up for a scrap. All that time I was spending telling the same story to all my friends, really honing what I didn’t like about myself, it’s like it was giving them more ammunition.
I realised I was making “being depressed” my identity. Everything I saw was through the that lens. It confined me. Every experience would be bounded by my depression. I couldn’t be happy cos I was depressed. If something good happened, I’d remember that I’m a depressed person and then search for a reason to be unhappy about it.
So, as I got to my early-late-twenties, I tried reigning it in a bit. I tried not to identify with every bad thought I had. I tried to watch the thoughts and not panic. When the thought, “I’m an ugly piece of shit that no one will ever love” came to me, I’d say to myself, “Oh, I’m having irrational views about my appearance, how very curious.”
I found the thoughts subsided after a while and I was able to get on with things. I realised how much time I was wasting getting worked up about everything. It’s like that Winston Churchill quote, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”
The dogs were barking less for a while, and I felt less of a burden. I had a serotonin boost from feeling like a big strong boy that could look after himself.
But recently, I’ve found myself identifying with these thoughts again.
I was at the Edinburgh Fringe a few months ago and I remember being in my room and saying to myself, “It’s too much pressure” repeatedly, like I just needed to get the thought out of my brain. To be fair, it’s not uncommon for anyone participating in that festival to feel that way, so I was able to rationalise that feeling.
But I’ve not slowed down since then. I’ve been so busy with work. A lot of good stuff has happened – I recorded my show, have done loads of gigs and writing work – but, I’ll have these thoughts constantly bubbling to the surface, “What if I’m not good enough for all this stuff?” or, “What if I don’t make the most of it?” or, “What if it leads nowhere?”
Like I said, it’s good stuff that’s happening, so it feels like I’m humble bragging and I feel a bit ashamed by getting overwhelmed with it. So, I go back to my techniques. I watch the thoughts. “Oh, you feel completely inadequate and a fraud who will soon be found out and eventually end up destitute, how very curious.”
Those pesky dogs are barking again. It’s difficult to know which ones to ignore. Maybe you do need to throw stones at some of them? Or at the very least campaign for a nation-wide ban on the most lethal ones.
I don’t have a fucking clue, really. I think how to talk about mental health is a complicated thing. For some people that struggle to talk about it, they need the encouragement to talk to anyone. A friend once told me about a family member that broke down in their taxi every night. Emotionally, I mean. If it was the car breaking down that much at some point you’ve got to look into getting a replacement. A faulty vehicle that your livelihood depends upon is only gonna add to your depression. But this was someone who was a bit old-school, who suffered in silence, and clearly needed to realise it was okay to open up.
Maybe it’s just about how you talk about your feelings. I think before I took a very narcissistic approach to talking about feeling down. Like it was the only thing that mattered in the world. I wasn’t trying to resolve anything; I was just trying to elicit sympathy.
And I was oblivious of how other people felt. I rarely asked how other people were because I was so wrapped up in my own stuff. I think it pushed people away.
Maybe rather than not talking about how you feel, the answer is to talk about it with an awareness that we’re all troubled, all going through stuff. It’s okay to throw stones at some of those barking dogs, as long as you help people smash up their dogs too. Metaphorically.
I definitely feel better for writing this. I feel lighter.
Anyway, I’ve talked a lot about myself here.
How are you?
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