Sink or Swim

I have been thinking again about my depression, and since I have been on the tablets for a couple of months and have been attending counselling sessions, I seem to be able to think about it in a more rational way. I have therefore decided to try to examine the way that my depression has affected me.

I have always been prone to depression, although I referred to it a ‘cynicism’ and was terribly proud of it. You see, a cynic (as far as I am concerned) is someone who rejects blind optimism and reacts to the world in a more realistic manner. He (or she, obviously) recognises that the world is in a bad way, and that any change is likely to be for the worse, rather than for the better. I would call my cynicism ‘realism’ and quote the old cliché that ‘a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist’. This mindset served me well – or so I thought – from my mid teen years until my early thirties.

This current cycle of depression probably started about two years ago. I was trying to get work as a supply teacher but I was being messed around by a couple of agencies and not getting any work. I was therefore not getting paid. I was struggling to get my Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit sorted (the main reason that I tend to side with benefit fraudsters – if they can get money from that system, they deserve it!) and as a result I was very short of money. Fortunately, I was flat-sharing with a very good friend who was willing to loan me the money to survive. Unfortunately, that situation played host to a horde of other issues that weighed heavily on my mind and caused me to slip further into the depressive cycle. My mood swings – usually from depressed to angry to self-obsessed to manic – were, understandably, placing a heavy burden on my friendships.

When I eventually got a new job (and a new girlfriend – the lovely Lauren who is now my fiancée), my mood began to improve, but it wasn’t long before the depression started impacting on my work life. I have always been terrified of failure, so much so that it often prevents me from trying. My cynicism rises to the fore and tells me that I am so likely to fail, there is no use even attempting things because the feeling of failure will be terrible. It tells me that there is nothing worse than failure, that one failure eradicates the total number of previous successes in my life. If I fail once, I fail completely. Of course, logically I know that this is utter bullshit. I know that failure is part of being human. We all fail occasionally, just like we all need help occasionally, but in my depression I cannot see that. I refuse to ask for help, or admit I need help, or even admit I find something difficult, because that is an admission of failure and I would rather be accused of laziness than incompetence. Even though I got a decent degree (a 2:1 in English and Education) I still feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m waiting for someone to burst into the classroom and denounce me as a fake, an imposter. I feel like I don’t belong, like a kid playing at being a teacher. My subject knowledge is good (it’s the one thing I feel confident in), but I don’t believe I am able to pass that knowledge on to the children in my care. I don’t feel that I deserve to be there. That obviously has an effect on me. When I am observed by a member of management, I automatically assume I’m going to fail, so the standard of my teaching drops. I know that my teaching is far better when there is no observation happening, but obviously that is a subjective view, and therefore useless. Without observation, it cannot be proved.

This turned out to be too much for my mind to cope with. I collapsed at home a couple of times, had panic attacks, constant dizziness and weakness, was exhausted all the time. My joints ached, I had chronic headaches and felt nauseated. I spent several nights sitting in the dark, in tears, holding a knife to my wrists, desperately trying to think of reasons not to end it all. After a whole bunch of tests it was decided that I had suffered what the medical profession no longer refers to as a nervous breakdown (apparently it’s a ‘medically unhelpful’ term). They tend to use the terms ‘stress-related disorders’ or ‘neurasthenia’. So that was it. I was ‘stressed’. My depression had finally broken me.

I was a failure.

Well, not quite. I finally realised that my depression was a thing. It was an illness that I could recognise and accept. It wasn’t just cynicism, or ‘feeling down’, or ‘being a miserable sod’. When I accepted that I had depression, it was a turning point for me. It was surprisingly liberating. I’m still depressed, but I can acknowledge that the depressive thought processes are a symptom, rather than an accurate portrayal of the world and my place in it. However, I still – for the moment – see myself in the black and white terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

This is essentially the whole basis of my depression. I would love to be a writer, but my depression tells me I will fail, that I will be judged harshly, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. Because of this, I never seem able to complete a piece of writing. Whenever I read over what I have written, it fails to live up to my own standards, and therefore it cannot live up to anyone else’s standards either, so it gets buried on my hard drive with every other piece of writing. I am desperately trying to break this vicious cycle, to get writing and keep writing, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show anyone else. I hope I can get over this hurdle. I enjoy writing and exercising my imagination, and I would love for my writing to bring pleasure to others. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s quite enough whining for now!


24 responses to “Sink or Swim

  1. Sounds hauntingly familiar, as I’m sure you’re aware. Pretty much all of it. It’s been surprising how many people have admitted to similar issues, privately or publicly. I think it’s important for people like us to talk about these things openly. People draw strength from knowing that others are the same way.

    The ‘fake’ thing is often how I feel, it’s apparently something that creative people feel often, though it’s not acknowledged as a genuine syndrome.

    Being afraid of being shit or a failure holds me back a lot too, but I do get it done – most of the time. Criticism is devastating but at least it’s out there. Try forgetting about the audience for the time it takes to get something done and out there, just so you can do something. I’ll happily do read throughs for you and Salome is a wonderful editor.

    Anything you need bro.

    In a weird way I feel that this whole business has made us closer again. We used to be such close friends and you helped me massively through my parent’s break up. Then living together kind of ballsed all that up, I suspect through our mutual, incipient brain issues.

    It’s nice to be talking again.

    • Thank you. I really appreciate that. I’m really glad we’re back on friendly terms again. I suspect that part of the problem when we lived together was seeing too much of ourselves in each other!

      The writing thing is weird as well. I have the ideas but just get lost writing them down because I get too tied up in the ‘failure’ thing. Any plot I come up with isn’t good enough, or is too derivative, or too rambling. My characters are too stereotyped, or too bland, or not individual enough. I feel confident in the technical stuff (I’m pretty good at that!) but the creative stuff never meets my expectations.

      I’ll keep plugging away at it. Maybe at some point I’ll have something I feel confident showing someone else.

  2. As someone who both writes and has dealt with depression for over half my life, I can sympathize. It can be managed, but dealing with the fundamental ways in which it changes your thought processes can remain challenging.

    If you can, try not writing for an audience for a while. Don’t read over anything. Just write. It doesn’t have to be anything but writing for the sake of writing. Sometimes it helps.

    Best of luck in working through this.

    • Thanks a lot for the advice. Writing without reading over it is very difficult for me! I have a deep-seated need to review what I’ve done. I’ll try to take your advice on board – not sure how well I’ll manage though!!

      • I understand the need. I gave up writing for most of my adult life because I couldn’t deal with the sense of it never being good enough. For me, and I know there’s so much individual variation here, it only worked when I promised myself I would just write for myself.

        Once it was finished, it became a whole different matter…

      • Yeah, that’s pretty much where I am at the moment. Nothing I write is good enough, or at least that’s how it feels. Trying to just write for myself is tricky too. I don’t know why. Maybe I feel I’ll let things slide a little if I’m writing just for me, and so my standards become even tighter to compensate.

        I’m just a bloody idiot sometimes!

      • The bloody idiot bit is depression speaking. At least I assume it is, because that’s what it tends to sound like.

        Writing can feel like such treacherous work when you’re also dealing with depression. It may get easier if you find the right combination of things to keep you a bit more up. Coping with that continual sense of “I am/have/will fail” can be so tricky.

        In any case, you’re not alone. Keep up the good fight.

  3. I’ve felt like that before too, not as deeply and not for a long time in those extremes, but that’s because I’m emotionally dead. However I do feel like it’s only a matter of time before someone reveals me to be a fraud, I didn’t think anyone else felt like a fraud in doing what they do but apparently I’m not the only one. It’s the darnedest thing, you as a teacher and me as a makeup artist and illustrator, always moments away from being denounced as fakes. Pah! Well seen as how it’s not just me I can therefore conclusively state it’s a figment of my imagination and not going to happen.

    As for the writing thing, obviously just go for it, it’s never going to be up to the ridiculously impossibly high standard that you’ve set yourself but it’s going to be hundred times better that what many people could do. And, as is life with everything, there will be people who think bah I could do better than that, and there will be people who think oh my god this man’s writing has changed my life.

    C’est la vie mon ami.

    Yes! I defy you with my French! Now write summat!

  4. Hey Jon

    I think the Fake thing and not feeling good enough is something we all feel. As you know I am at university and in my 3rd year. My first two years I spent all the time worrying that I was about to be denounced as stupid and not good enough. It really didn’t help when people would tell me I was clever, because I so obviously wasn’t. I don’t feel that way any more, I don’t have time! My writing is never good enough. Its so bad sometimes I don’t want to start. I am not doing my dissertation at the moment because I know I wont do it well enough.

    Good luck. x

    • It’s really good hearing so many people saying “that’s exactly how I feel”. It makes me feel like I’m not alone, that other people understand. And it’s not just friends, but strangers too. It’s something nice about the internet, something I’d not really experienced before. It’s brought me back in touch with good people that I thought I’d drifted away from forever, and put me in touch with new, likeminded people.

      The whole feeling like a fake thing is so hard to get past. It permeates everything i do, to the point that I am not always sure which feelings are real and which are fake myself any more. Am I doing what I’m doing because it is what is expected of me? Am I just playing a role? Or is this me? This feeling of confusion feeds the depression and vice versa. It’s a vicious cycle that I’m desperately trying to break.

      • Perhaps that is the difference between depressive thinking and non-depressive thinking (hope like fuck this terminology is ok!). Although it was at the back of my mind for two years that I was a fake and not as good as everyone else it did not dominate my thoughts, I just thought fuck ’em, I’ll show ’em. It only reared its ugly head once in a while and then I beat it down. I guess with depression you can’t beat the beastly thoughts away.

      • Perhaps. Maybe it’s more that you are not able to distinguish between depressive and normal thought processes. Suicide is a rational and logical choice – when you’re depressed. It isn’t, but you can’t see that. The ‘normal’ thoughts are the ones that are suppressed and the depressive ones dominate to the point that you assume that they are the normal ones.

  5. That is a great post mate. I’ll add to the chorus of ‘I feel fake too’, in business most of the drive and energy comes from confidence. I had a great business mentor four years ago, who recognised where my confidence was failing and helped drill down into specifics. I addressed some core issues (mostly my ignorance) and this helped no end.

    I’d also helpfully point out that as you’re publishing to a blog you are already a writer. Let other people judge your ability… from the comments you’ve got so far you’re developing quite an audience!

    Will be reading you’re previous post so prepare for devil’s advocate arguments!

  6. Thank you so much for writing honestly about what you are going through. The past year has been much of the same for me, wondering whether your brain is broken and what to do about it. Knowing you and Grim are out there, also trying to deal with the same stupid emotions, having good days and bad days, makes me feel a little less alone.

    Much as I get frustrated by the online world, you two have really made twitter and fb and all the rest bearable, so I know someone is out there, also trying to find a way out of this brain mess.

    Your writing is superb, please don’t stop, I really love reading your blog. Expressing this stuff is scary and giant and you are doing it really well.

    Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing!! xx

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