As of September, I officially have recurrent depression. I say officially because I only forced myself to go to see the doctor then but I’ve known for months, if not longer, that the depression has come back. I don’t think that it ever went away, actually, not completely.
I made the decision to stop taking the anti-depressants the first time when my brain had reached a point where it was able to cope, when it felt as if the chemicals were a bit more balanced than they had been for the previous couple of years. I was feeling better but not cured. The shadows retreated to the fringes of my mind, hovering around the corners and occasionally blurring the edges of my vision. I was able to generally make them stay at the edges for most of the time, especially at work, but this effort was frankly bloody exhausting. Some days were easier than others; I could go for weeks feeling ok and then have a bad run of days where the murkiness would increase and feel like it was intruding further, as if someone has dialled up the ‘vignette’ function in my brain.
This time around much of the experience is different to the first time. Last time there were long periods of me alternating between silent sobbing and staring into space, unable to muster enthusiasm for anything and terrified of being around people I didn’t know (and most of the people I did). One of the only things that I could concentrate on was reading, where the characters in well-loved books felt more familiar and safe than people in real life. It sounds cheesy but books sustained me.
When I stopped taking the tablets, convinced that my brain was rebalanced, it became clear to me that although I was acting ‘normally’, things weren’t quite right. I found it easier to interact with people, which was lucky as my job was in customer services, and I was no longer hiding away from the world, but my old friends, the ones who had always been there for me – books – had gone from being a source of comfort to one of anxiety.
I’ve never been a great book blogger, partly because there are much better writers out there and partly because, even when I was blogging more regularly, I never had a particularly high output of reviews and posts, but I did receive books from publishers and authors for review occasionally. Whereas these were once a cause of excitement – I don’t know any keen reader who wouldn’t like to be sent free books – they became a bit of a problem for me. I couldn’t read them but I also didn’t want to admit that anything was wrong so I just kept accepting them with promises to review them soon – because I believed that I really would. Wherever I’ve lived has always been filled with bookcases stacked with novels three books deep, piles of cookbooks and academic doorstops everywhere, and the stack on my bedside table constantly threatens to tumble down in the night and flatten me, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt anything other than safe in my paper fort.
Now, most of the stories and the characters were too much for me. If I could concentrate on the page long enough to read more than a chapter, narratives worried me. I couldn’t cope with any tension, or the idea that the stories might not turn out the way I’d imagined. When A God in Ruins came out, the sequel to one of my favourite books of the last few years, Mr Mouse bought it for me and we both thought that it would be the one that changed things. After all, I’d been looking forward to it for months. I made it four chapters in before the fact that Teddy’s life wasn’t going to be as I’d decided it would be made me cry and I abandoned it.
It was when I couldn’t bear to try even the books that I’d always found the most comforting – when I started worrying about Cassandra injuring herself in the sink, about Jane not going back to Rochester, about Poirot not being able to tell numerous assembled groups of suspects who’dunnit – that I knew I had to get help again, so after weeks of trying to get up the courage, I made myself an appointment with the doctor.
I’ve now been taking anti-depressants again for just over three months and am feeling more balanced and even than I have in a long time. I knew that the pills had started to work when Mr Mouse and I went away for a week, and I sped through one of the books I’d taken with me in a day in front of the fire. I’d had the proof of Cuckoo’s Calling for about two years but hadn’t been able to pick it up before; now, I just wanted to get my hands on the sequel as quickly as possible, and have since bought and devoured the third in the series. I’m feeling slightly bereft as my brain is still firmly in the world of those books and I can’t quite shake myself out of it yet, but I’ll get there, and I’ll find another world to immerse myself in.
I can’t say that I’m going to become blogger of the year – it still isn’t easy for me to concentrate long enough to write many reviews, and I still have almost no confidence in my writing, which makes it harder to overcome the anxiety – but I’m going to try to not let the poor blog expire completely. And if that doesn’t go to plan, and I never review anything again, then I’ll try my best not to worry about it. I have a second blog, about pretty, shiny things, which is much easier for me to write because, conversely, it’s about things that matter less than books.
I’m building a new TBR pile, full of books that I really want to read and I’m actually looking forward to curling up with them at Christmas. If I don’t enjoy one, I’ll move on to the next until I find something I enjoy, which I
know hope I will. I think I took reading, and the comfort I get from it, for granted until recently, which isn’t a mistake I’ll be making again.