No one can say how much depression is a genetically determined condition and how much it is a response to lived experience. Whilst genetics cannot be ruled out, lived experience is something that must be ruled in because depression, like poverty, is a whole lot more than just a personal weakness, problem or failing.
If mental health becomes divorced from any social context, the only thing that’s going to happen is that we’ll become sicker.
I have lived with depression since puberty, before that I have no way to tell because prior to puberty I was a dependent child and had no sense of discrete existential existence, so, for me, the vast empty loneliness of depression came with puberty (and awakening to a discrete existential existence), yet it took a further 8 – 10 years to realise it was an issue that not everyone experiences as a relentless life crippling problem.
Accompanying my experience of depression was a tightly controlled yet incoherent rage, which took even more years to recognise and acknowledge. When I did finally recognise it I was astonished to perceive its persistence and intense presence throughout my life. When something is as strong as that rage, which threatened to consume me, then, with no means of expression or resolution, denial is pretty much all you’ve got.
What has impressed me throughout my emerging life is how little, in general, I knew myself, something that has taken years of therapy to change and reveal so much that was hidden from me by, pain, grief, fear, rage, shame and guilt, amongst other intense feelings that have suppressed and oppressed my sense of myself.
As I’ve learnt to recognise, acknowledge and accept mental illness, I have also discovered that the mind is kind in its way. Living with trauma, in whatever shape or form it takes, our minds have to do something with it in order to protect itself and our existence. Our minds create walls, or compartments, in order to enable our survival. Unfortunately, those walls and that hidden self can also become life threatening because the natural body/mind state is to heal itself, of which protecting itself is only a part of the whole. Just as with a broken limb, we protect it, but we protect it to recover. The mind is no different, but at a much more complex level.
I spent years battling with various medications, in which some, like Ativan , were so addictive that, without proper help, withdrawal was life threatening. I eventually reached a place where I was more afraid of medication than I was of the depression and I made a positive decision to stop all medication with the help of a brilliant therapist. It took me years to get to that place and I am by no means suggesting everyone should stop medication, this is about my choice, not a general discourse on meds.
Depression is, though, a social dis-ease, everyone I have ever known who suffers from depression has had an acutely sensitive shit-detector. Exposure to lies and deception feels like living with my skin off, such that the kind of bullshit that politicians dish out is enraging, yet can be crippling. In fact my reaction to political deceit is exactly the same as my reaction to advertising in the modern consumer world and it was my intense sensitivity to bullshit that led to giving my television a one-off flying lesson from a first storey window in my London flat over 20 years ago (it didn’t survive the landing).
The problem isn’t the lies and deceit so much as my inability to hold them to account, therein lies the root cause of my life times battle with depression. The following will serve to explain.
My older brother and I were put into a children’s home whilst our mother recovered from one of her periodic nervous breakdowns when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were subject to vicious cruelty and hatred every day for no reason that was apparent to us. When we were finally taken home we swore we would return one day and burn that ‘home’ to the ground. We didn’t, not least because we had no idea where it was. The point is that we were defenceless in the face of unremitting hatred and hostility from a group of adults who enjoyed their cruelty and the only way we could survive was to suck it up and keep our heads down no matter what they did to us. That alone is a recipe for depression in a situation where our flight or fight instinct was utterly useless to protect ourselves from the real and present actual danger from adult brutes.
We were also subject to sexual abuse after we returned home, and again, it is not just that I was subject to a sexual predator at an age when I had no understanding of what it was about or why, but that ‘he’ insisted it was ‘our’ secret and thus I had no way out other than the suppression of myself, my feelings and identity because my sense of being was entirely dependent on just surviving abuse. Surviving abuse creates in the victim a hyper sensitivity and hyper awareness of others and, for me personally, adults in particular. This has led to a lifetimes battle not just with depression but intense social phobia which I battle with to this day despite years of therapy.
Everything I know and understand about my life today includes, firstly, learning through hindsight and unpacking the secret layers of abuse, fear, shame, self blame and self hatred and it is my job as an adult to learn from and face the legacy of the past in the present, a lifetime of effort in which I have been enormously successful, yet acknowledge at 68 that I still have far to go.
Those who know me will be familiar with an oft used expression of mine, ‘I am not a democracy’. If you have made it this far, you now know why that expression is so meaningful to me. I have taken back my right to self determination, my right to my own thoughts and feelings and self expression. And you also now know why I chose write a letter a day to number 10 when David Cameron began the Tory reign of terror, attacking and punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
I am enraged by injustice, unsurprisingly, and a government that has set out to abuse the ordinary people of Britain simply for self serving ideological reasons and financial gain and to serve the interests of an entire class of those for whom power and greed are gods, is intolerable.
Instead of the past dictating my present in hopeless depression and despair, it informs my present in which I now have the strength and awareness to fight back and to challenge the abuse being heaped on the lives of the most vulnerable people in Britain. I was a victim of abuse at a time when I had no means to protect or defend myself, now I fight, and that is right and I not only have the means to defend myself but to speak out against oppression and abuse, as is my personal and human right and the personal and human right of every victim of Tory brutality. We have lost too many to this systemic cruelty and that is why I can never give up because I would be betraying myself and everything I have battled to achieve. I’m 68 now and I am glad I am still angry, still ablaze. It’s good. The world we’re living in needs angry people.
Tories – who the hell do they think they are?
Keith Ordinary Guy