Closer to The Madding Crowd: When Relapse Hits.
Spoiler alert: in case you didn’t know, depression relapse sucks.
It throws off your entire sense of progress and recovery - whether you’ve been freed from its clutches for a month, a year, or over a decade.
It makes you question whether you have the capacity to function in everyday society; whether you’ll ever be worthy or loveable enough for others.
Relapse is immensely painful - more painful, perhaps, than the original incarnation of the illness itself. Having a taste of freedom and neurotypical normality, and then being slammed back into the prison of your mind, is nothing short of soul-shredding agony.
Sometimes, it’s a throwaway comment from a friend or acquaintance that burrows its way underneath the susurration of your blood. Sometimes, it’s the terror of feeling left out, or being unwanted by your loved ones, that perches itself on your shoulder, purring, in menacingly dulcet tones, all of those fears and triggers and past traumas that you thought you had hidden away so well. Sometimes, it’s the feeling that your very respiration and presence on this planet, imposes a burden onto others.
Oh, depression. My old friend. You’re the unwanted text from a long-deleted number at 1am. The skipped step on a staircase that makes your heart plummet to the pit of your stomach when your foot goes a beat too far. The Jehovah’s Witness knocking at my door, trying to compel me with cultish buzzwords and lies.
Depression is often described as the Black Dog ™ that haunts your side, pestering and draining you. I’ve always kinda resented this term because a) dogs are fucking awesome and do not deserve the association with the suckassery of this mental illness, and b) it implies it can be done away with, once and for all. Give the dog away. Put it up for adoption. Wait for it to eventually pass away. Depression isn’t so simple as the linear lifespan of a bullish animal; it can appear, as an inky blot, or stygian sun on the horizon, eventually growing and casting its lugubrious shadows across your mind. One can reach ‘depression remission’, so to speak, but life triggers and, hell, even just the maddening machinations of the human mind, can be enough to coax its parasitic grip back into your life once again.
Acknowledging my relapse was both shameful and exhausting. In a wave of intense immediacy, I remembered the emotions I had once fought so hard to overcome; I began to dread getting up, facing the day and presenting myself to the world and going to the shops and saying thank you to the barista and laughing at memes with my friends and all of the other banal, ingrained intricacies of being a human being. For in mere seconds, they could be back - and I’m terrified they mean to stay.
Suddenly, I could go back to being that girl who at once felt all-consuming indifference and numbness to the world, and a painful guilt so overbearing, it felt that there was no other way out. The girl who never left her bed, and wanted, so badly, to end the burden she was imposing upon others. The girl who would walk past a road, or a train track, and wince, chagrined, at the intrusive thoughts and wicked suggestions that suddenly manifested. Not only is the illness itself so terrifying, but it’s everything that comes with it - the claustrophobia of your living in own fleshy, human casing; your own imagination shrouded in a dark mist, so escaping reality became as dreadful as the real world itself; and, eventually, the seemingly logical conclusion that the world and your loved ones would just be so much better off without you.
There is always that seed of doubt during a relapse. What if you can’t do it again? What if you just don’t have the strength anymore? What if the pain becomes too much, that you have no choice but to stop trying?
In case this posts’s spoiler alert hadn’t already outlined this enough - depression sucks. Relapses, maybe even more so.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’ll be moments when our brain just isn’t on our sides. When we need the extra support and resources to pull ourselves out of the recesses. When we need to be proud of ourselves, for being incredibly mentally resilient people, even in the face of real life trauma and day-to-day responsibilities. When your brain is on fire, and the act of living becomes a terminal wound that no bandage can stop from bleeding, the fact that you choose to exist and fight on, is a noble act of bravery.
Relapses suck. But what sucks even harder, is not seeing how much stronger, more empathetic, and more resilient a human you’ll become from experiencing this pain.
Whilst I would never wish this pain or illness on anyone, I also almost feel for those who miss out on the growth in the aftermath of such a tumultuous, inner quest - because, my friends, that’s what’s in store if you can just keep going, day by day, finding the smallest bits of light in the crevasses of nothingness.
I may be sceptical towards the Black Dog™ analogy, but a wonderful friend of mine recently subverted this analogy in a brilliant way; the black dog, this time round, is different from your last morose pet. Call it a different breed, size, temperament, whatever. The “you” you are now, is not the “you” who experienced depression before. The illness may have the same clinical descriptor, but you can experience it differently - and use your knowledge and strength to adapt to your new visitor accordingly. So, go ahead, pet that dog, knowing full well that you have the weapons in your arsenal to tame it, and eventually give it away.
Relapses suck, but you’ve done this before, and you can do this again. You hold within you a courage and fortitude that most humans would envy, or gape in awe at. Even at your weakest, you are stronger than most others who have never experienced hardship, internal anguish, or mental displacement on such an intense level. And each day, you only grow in your own power.
And one day, you’ll be able to use that newfound strength to help others who feel vulnerable, too.