First off, let me just start off by saying there is nothing funny (in the comical sense) about depression, and the effect it can have on people. It can be so severe, so crippling, that some people can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and are so engulfed in the darkness that they make life altering, even life-ending decisions. Although it is improving, there is still such a stigma around mental illness in our society which is not conducive to helping those in need when they need it. The stigma needs to end so those affected feel supported when reaching out, or even as friends, family or colleagues, being aware of signs of depression so you can say, upfront, to someone “hey look, I’ve noticed [this] and [this] about you which are signs of depression… what can I do to help?” So, to that end;
I’d heard the ‘post O.E. blues’ mentioned before. I heard people casually drop in to discussion that they “struggled” upon moving back to Aotearoa after years living amazing lifestyles in incredible European cities. Heck, even as close as moving back from Australia.
But what I didn’t realise was that “struggled,” in a lot of cases, meant depression. I heard phrases like “I’m trying to get back to NZ life…” or “It took us a while to get used to being back,” “It took a loooooong time to come right once we moved back. About… two years I reckon.” But that was about it. A mention of difference in lifestyle but no mention of mental health.
So, a confession. Before I left, I naively thought that one could return from their O.E. (‘Overseas Experience’, an NZ/Australian ‘right of passage’) changed, of course, perhaps more ‘worldly’, but relatively similar to how one was before they left. That, and that you’d slot straight back in to the kiwi lifestyle.
Haha. Good one past Sarah.
Well, here I am, 6 months post arriving back in the country and still, the ‘dirty creature’s got me at a disadvantage from the inside‘. For the most part, depression is so incredibly lonely. But, you see, the funny thing about depression is, sometimes, when you’re in the depths of it you just have to laugh at yourself.
Or, I am, at least.
The first few months once you’ve returned back you manage to avoid the blues… kind of. Granted, when I finally got off that last plane, in to the terminal and in the arms of my awaiting Mama I did fully breakdown. I was emotional, tired, full-on ugly crying, heaving and just wanting to take my bloody boots off. But, you’re home. You’re catching up with friends and family, seeing old things, seeing new things, eating comfort foods of your past, trying new foods that have arrived since you left. It’s all a bit overwhelming. Your mind is occupied with all the going-ons so it doesn’t have the time to slow down and start playing tricks on you.
And then all of that settles down, and you’re left to your own devices.
Tim Finn was completely on-point when he wrote Dirty Creature; “Sneaking up from behind, binds my gags and wit, Dirty Creature’s got my head exactly where he wants it.”
Honestly, I didn’t see it coming.
I had never suffered from depression before and I’d always been careful not to use the word in a sentence to insinuate that something was “depressing” because I had no experience of it. But slowly I started to feel more and more like a zombie. I was my usual all-singing, all-dancing bouncy self in the classroom. Outside of it however, nothing.
It’s so bizzare, that feeling of nothing. That’s how it started. Slowly I stopped feeling what felt like, anything. Anything positive at least. I wasn’t chirpy, and most of all, *gasp*, I wasn’t cheeky… the absolute essence of my soul!
I walked around with what I thought was a look of ‘nothing-ness’ on my face, and I couldn’t change it. My colleagues noticed. So many of them reached out and said something, or asked if I was ok. And I answered honestly ‘Not really…’ Because when you’re in the grips of it, you need to be honest. There’s something about knowing that someone (or in my case, many people!) has got your back, that they’re there for you and they notice you’re not ok, and let you know. It feels like a safety net; like you’re not in this alone, there’s people who’ve got your back and they’re going to help you fight this! And all you fabulous folk – I truly love you for that. Thank you.
Well, this is about when the fun part began.
I broke a mug.
I broke a mug. I was doing the dishes, picked it up and went to put it in the drying rack and it slipped out of my hand and fell handle first into the other sink and broke. I picked it up and saw the handle had broken off. I closed my eyes, inhaled very, very deeply, and then started crying. And crying. And crying. I cried myself to sleep that night. All I could think was these eight things:
“That was my favourite mug.”
“A lovely student in my first class in Scotland got me that mug.”
“That was my favourite mug.”
“I used that mug in Scotland all the time!”
“That was my favourite mug.”
“I don’t have very many things and I just broke a bloody mug!”
“That was such a good mug, it had so much volume!”
“I loved that mug.”
“I can never get another mug like this, there’s not a TK Maxx in New Zealand.”
“IT WAS SUCH A BLOODY GOOD MUG!”
“IT HELD SO MUCH COFFEE!!!!!!”
“THAT WAS MY FAVOURITE MUG! I LOVED THAT MUG!”
What?! Completely irrational. I mean, it’s just a mug!
As well as thinking all of the above things, I was also completely bewildered with myself. I kept trying to remind myself… it’s just a mug!
I’d broken crockery before and never reacted like that. But I was completely consumed by the fact that the damned cup was broken and I couldn’t replace it. At that point in my life, it wasn’t just a mug. It represented the vessel to which my emotions about having to leave Scotland were carried in and now it was laying in the bottom of the sink all broken and sad. Much like I was feeling.
So the next morning I laughed as I told Stephanie about the mug. I held back tears, but I laughed through it because; it was just a bloody mug! But it was at that point I knew I had a problem – why was I so upset about it?!? So I told a lot of people about the mug. I laughed and smiled because, well… my reaction was ridiculous, and I knew it. I just couldn’t help it. A week later I was chatting away to my GP who, with a pensive look on his face interrupted me and said “It sounds like you could be depressed.”
To which I replied, “Yes, I’d agree with that. I know, and am aware, and have things in place to help me try and keep my mind healthy.”
But then a few days later it struck again, in potentially the most odd circumstance.
I was sitting at home on a Saturday night doing my usual nothing. I’ve always enjoyed, in fact, preferred listening and watching live music being played than I do just playing a record. I got the YouTube up and put on Slipknot’s 2009 Rock am Ring set and off I was, playing my air-bass guitar, bopping about and swinging my hips, ’cause there’s nothing more can get me dancing than that of nine grown men in masks and jumpsuits jumping around like lunatics. I had a glance at the screen and the bassist, Paul Gray, was in the shot, looking like he was having the time of his life. And then the sadness sunk in. I did the maths in my head… Oh dear god!! This was filmed just months before his untimely death! Oh no…. He died when his wife was 8 months pregnant with their first child! I look up again and in a moment on solidarity and teamwork, percussionist Chris Fehn is playing the chords on Paul’s bass as he strums them out. Oh no…. here it comes…
I don’t even know where it came from but a visceral noise escaped from my body. And then the tears started. And right behind all the irrational thoughts I was having about this musician that died 8 years ago, I thought to myself… You didn’t react this way at the time, look at you, you’re being ridiculous, stop it! But I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop. I mean, I could have stopped the video. I could have played something else. But I didn’t. I let the entire set play, and lost a tear every time Gray was in a shot on the screen, or someone looked like they were having fun. And at the time, I knew it was ridiculous. I was crying during songs titled things like ‘Pulse of the Maggots’ and ‘Heretic Anthem’. “How is this normal?” I was thinking. But I decided to go along for the ride because I clearly needed that cathartic experience to rid myself of whatever it was that was irking me.
I saw a Hedgehog out walking the dog one night and went back to see it a few minutes later and it had gone. I was engulfed in an overwhelming sadness. It physically gripped my body, and I went back inside, head down feeling defeated. What?! It was just a hedgehog! I cried at some other things too. But the aforementioned two were the most ridiculous.
So, you see, the funny thing about depression is, sometimes, when you’re in the depths of it you just have to laugh at yourself.
You laugh at yourself because you break a mug and you think the world is going to end.
You laugh at yourself because you’re crying to a video of a heavy metal band! (What!?)
You laugh at yourself because some of your reactions are absolutely ridiculous, and you know it, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
You get through it, and you laugh at yourself, throw your hands up in the air and say “I just… I dunno!”
So if you are about to come back, already back, have been back for years or even if you’re in the thick of it now, having a rough time, behold; you are not alone! A lot of people go through depression and it’s a normal part of life. I find the sad thing, however, is that it’s only once people are through it that they’re happy to talk about it in the past tense. So this is my attempt to show you, right from the middle of the storm, that actually… hey! Here I am, and you know what… I’m ok! All the things you’re trying to do to ward off the darkness, keep it up. It’ll work eventually. And just know, that those little irrational things that are happening…. yeah, it’s normal. Just go for the ride, and ask for help if you need it.
Because with the love and help of those around you, you will get through it.
With all that being said, my Dirty Creature and I have a few people to thank.
LW, you’re the bloody best. There’s nothing like a bit of fresh air and nature to shake the cobwebs off. That, teamed with our coffee dates pulled me back into reality. You’re the only one who I reached out to who dropped everything and drove the one and a half hours to come and see me. I needed it. Thank you. My colleagues; you lot inspire me every day. Thank you for your love and compassion. You’d think in our profession we’d run out of it at times. Alas, no. To those wonderful people around the world who messaged me, sent me the greatest memes to cheer me up and just generally kept me happy by talking to me, and telling me about your lives, thank you. To my gorgeous friend in Scotland who offered to go out, buy me a mug and post it over; thank you, you beautiful thing. And to my Mama – thank you for replacing it with an equal sized, massive tea cup!… Needless to say, I now have a new favourite cup.
But if that cup ever breaks… my god, look out world!