I've lived with depression for many years – since my teens at the very least. And it's not as a result of anything. No childhood trauma, no lack of love. It's worsened by stress, but not caused by it, and no amount of tree hugging or walking barefoot in the grass, or eating clean will cure it. It just is. I have had counselling and CBT, I take medication, and I run. And together they help me manage it.
Depression comes in waves. I can feel when it's coming on, the slide down. It's sometimes triggered by something small like a squabble on social media, or not being able to do something I should be able to do perfectly well, or actually nothing specific at all. And I know it's on its way, and I know I need just to ride it out, keep doing what I'm doing, until I feel the start of the climb up.
When I'm low, all the colour seeps out and it feels like the world has become black and white. Sounds are muffled and my brain fogs. I'm very good at putting a mask on, and I can work and function perfectly well. Before I was first formally diagnosed I assumed that I couldn't be clinically depressed, because I got out of bed, kept myself clean and tidy, and went to work every day where I met my deadlines perfectly adequately. After all, everyone knows that people with depression can't get out of bed.
The day that the gym being closed unexpectedly left me sobbing, curled up in a ball on the floor in the corner behind my bed, should have told me something was wrong. It took a wonderful and kind friend who made me go to the doctor, and a gentle GP and patient counsellor, to make me realise that not only was there something wrong but that it could be faced up to, and it could even be fixed. Or at least managed.
I am now in a slightly more complicated world, seven months on after losing my beloved Tim. Tim understood depression. He understood that it couldn't be fixed, but that it could be contained with care and the wave surfed. He would hold me while I cried, hug me when I just felt melancholy, and then make me laugh at the ridiculousness of it all at just the right moment. And now he's gone. And so I live with depression and grief.
Whereas depression is a world without colour, and smells and tastes of mud, grief is a different thing. It is greeny-yellow, and tastes bitter. It is sharper-edged than depression. And while both come in waves, grief waves I can't see coming. They crash in out of nowhere, sweep me off my feet, and leave me breathless and gasping. They are triggered by the smallest things – while I can put my big girl pants on and be 'brave' for a birthday or an anniversary, I can't prepare myself for opening a box and finding the piece of paper that he left on my desk with yellow roses, celebrating the anniversary of our first kiss. Or the realisation that now a load of washing contains only my clothes, not both of ours. Or seeing the half-made Airfix model or the half-read book.
Some days they are both there, and I can visualise the colours, intertwining but separate. I know the difference between the two. Those days are hard.
I feel that I should be able to wrap this up with a neat conclusion. An answer. A solution. Something bright and hopeful. But really, like so many things in this year of firsts, it is what it is. I'm not brave. I'm not wonderful or amazing. I am just me, dealing with each day as I can. One foot in front of the other and one breath at a time.