Monday, 20 May 2013

Literature, describing depression - the cloud

Often, I get asked to describe what depression feels like, or if depression were a person, how would I describe it, what would it look like? I'm going to attempt to address this in a blog post for you this morning.

One of the best descriptions of depression I have ever come across comes from 'The Bell Jar', Sylvia Plaths part autobiographical novel and consequently, possibly my favourite novel of all time. I picked this novel up whilst on my 6 month leave from Sixth Form two years ago (due to my mental health problems) - and it was the first piece of literature I had read that completely captured what it was like to live as a depression sufferer. Sylvia Plath serves as a huge figure in my life, and I'm completely fascinated by her and her story. I also firmly believe it was this novel that introduced reading as a lifeline for my struggles and despair I was feeling. In that sense, studying a degree in English Literature this year most definitely feels right for me.

Some quotes from the novel that always stick out for me include:
"I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

"When it came right down to it, the sink of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at.”
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” 

The last quote is one that I more often associate with depression. A lot of people tend to personify their mental health problems, give them characterisation or names, perhaps to add a sense of belonging to a world that leaves you stuck in isolation. But I've never really seen my depression as a figure, as a person. I have never felt that it is worthy enough to be given a human status. Because no human status (or at least I hope) wouldn't want to inflict this intensity of pain onto another person. 

No, for me, it feels almost like a mist, a cloud, but a dark, black mist, 'moving dully along' the empty void in my head. It's always there, floating around, looking for the perfect time/place to settle. And when depression strikes, I feel it settling, almost like this cloud needs a rest from the hullabaloo and decides to take comfort on my brain. I'm sure other sufferers can empathise with me when I say that when depression strikes, in some circumstances you can feel it, the heaviness that your head feels, that lethargy and weakness. The cloud is like a 
vacuum, sucking up every possible emotion and using its remaining energy to suffocate you.

Sometimes, in extreme cases, you don't feel anything at all. You try to start planning, to start making an attempt to sort out your day but you become plagued by a numbness that only feels all too familiar. This time, the cloud had conducted a little electrical work and decided to pull out the plug which inevitably voids me of any emotion towards myself and/or other people. During the worst period of my depression, November 2010, my overdose was prompted on the basis that I didn't care about anyone, and they didn't care about me. Not even my boyfriend, the most important person in my life, could stop me from wanting to die. I was completely and utterly sensationalised by numbness and there seemed no other possible release. 

I'm still attempting to gain back enthusiasm for some of the activities and hobbies I loved to do before all of this. Piano-playing, writing poetry and music take a back seat when depressions around. The cloud, the omnipotent dark force, even without a voice seems to say no, it presses itself on your head so hard that it leaves no room for even remembering the things you used to enjoy. 

You can't seem to satisfy or please anybody, everything ends up being your fault when you fail to turn up for events you're too paranoid to attend, your brain is so numb you can't concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds, you isolate yourself further when you begin to become ashamed of yourself, believing you've gone 'insane'. The simplest of tasks become chores, the cloud learns how to control your breathing so even breathing becomes an effort, panic attacks all too familiar for you these days. Everytime you see a possible way out, an goal to reach, the cloud encompasses and smothers you so much that your vision is impaired and the goal is out of sight now. Unachievable. 

If there's anything I've learnt in the past few days it is that the bell jar can lift; “All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air ”. It has lifted before and it can lift again. Through treatment, medication, support, it can and it will lift, sometimes for short periods of time, sometimes for longer, sometimes you can relapse, sometimes you take steps back but let them be incentives to move forward and smash the bell jar and show it who's won. Let yourself be free.

It is an illness I still battle with everyday, I carry wounds and scars and memories that I never want to relive. But the jar has lifted, and I feel more open to that circulating air more than ever before. I've taken that dark force and shown it who is boss. And it's not easy, if it was I wouldn't still be fighting. But we all have strength inside of ourselves and sometimes unfortunately depression takes you to rock bottom before allowing us to find the strength. 

I would say that I regret the last few years of complete torture, but I don't think I do. That cloud is a beast but it's taught me a lot, it's shaped me into a warrior capable of fighting anything. And I'll keep trying to achieve my dreams, keep attempting to inspire, and keep pushing against the thoughts that the cloud wants me to believe. I quite honestly believe that these experiences can only make us stronger and we all have the capability to beat this. Each and every one of you. I believe in you.


  1. Oh my gosh Amy I identify SO much!!! The weirdest thing is I've recently read the Bell Jar and was BLOWN AWAY. Nearly all your feelings are familiar to me.

    I too have never been able to picture depression as anything else than a haze or wearing blinkers or lying underneath a suffocatingly heavy blanket.

    It barely ever feel happy, more platonic, I have often learnt to appreciate this after periods of utter mental torment- then platitude seems such a releif. After a while though, you realise you don't laugh except because you know you should, you have to force smiles to appeal to others, in short you do everything because you know that's the act you must perform to look 'normal'.

    I don't just want to laugh and mean it, but I'd also love to cry. Weep my heart out. I feel all this blackness but STILL I don't cry. That's when I feel more muffled than ever, at my most hopeless and defective.

    And lastly, I adore your determination to see the good that can come out of this evil- the person it can make you- invincible

    Stay strong, katie xxxx

  2. Thank you so much Katie for your wonderful comment. I'm really glad that you empathise with my descriptions of depression, if at all it is possible to be described at all.
    I totally agree about the appearing normal thing - to the point where now I have no idea if I am truly happy at all or if my whole life is just putting on a huge front. It's quite terrifying really.
    I will most definitely check out your blog! Thanks so much. Here for you anytime.

  3. Amy I can totally relate. although my depression is not as bad that i want to kill myself. Luckily the people that support me(family and friends)overwhelm me so much that they literally force it back down when my depression tries to take over. I get where you're going with the mist. i think (based on me and the people i've met with depression) its like that for most of us. the others just have it really bad and want to kill themselves constantly. The looking normal thing is definitely a general thing. I'm surprised at how good i've gotten at acting because of this. And lastly the front. Finally someone who understands. When i tell some people they don't even know me very well and i explain about the front they're confused about why i even put up a front. You're literally the only person i've met that understands it. Thanks very much for understanding. i know it sounds weird like what did you do to get thanks but you kinda helped me. so thanks, even if you don't get why i'm thanking you. And i'll definitely be reading more of your blog.