From Lisa

Dear You

Thank you so much for opening this letter. You probably won’t be reading much (if anything) at the moment. So I need to grab your attention.

I want to tell you something. I have been where you are, or my own version of it. Depression (or whatever you prefer to call how you are feeling at the moment) is different for each of us. And there are different sorts. But that really doesn’t matter. What makes you and me similar is the utter awfulness of our experience. The weariness, even exhaustion, and yet inability to sleep. Lying awake for hour after endless hour, either alone or next to a partner who you can’t tell about the darkness of your thoughts. How pointless everything seems, especially in the mornings. How things you used to look forward to seem trivial and too much effort. How worried you are about things you used not to worry about, and even more worried over things that were worrying you already. And how loathsome and undeserving you feel, in every possible way.

Let me tell you a secret. When I was last ill, not all that long ago, I wanted to be dead. I even felt jealous of people with terminal illnesses like cancer because they had a reason for staying in bed and dying and people wouldn’t think badly of them for it. And yet at the same time, I didn’t really believe I was ill. I went along with my psychiatrist and GP because I thought I must, and I didn’t have the energy to argue with them. But inside, I was convinced I was a lazy, work-shy, cowardly, incompetent, self-obsessed waste of space.

Now let’s talk about you. You are a wonderful person, with many fabulous and interesting things that make you who you are. It is just that you have lost sight of these for a little while. From my experience of the Big-D (and I’ve had it a number of times, each different in its own vile way), the special things that make you who you are will come back. It is just that the strength, patience and hope you need to wait for them to come back is exactly what depression takes away from you. So right now everything may feel impossible. I truly know that feeling.

Depression is an illness. It can actually be seen in the brain. It may get better on its own. But depending on how severe it is, that can take ages. However bad things seem right now, if you don’t seek help they could get worse. You may have already found that it helps to talk to a friend, or call a helpline. If not, however hard it feels, please think hard about giving this a try.

Your GP can help you very much. He/she will help you decide if you need medication and/or a talking therapy, or a referral to more specialist services. If you are prescribed them, the new antidepressant medications work with your body to help you heal. Yes, they have side-effects. But so do antibiotics and you would probably take those if you had a serious infection. People and websites who tell you that taking antidepressants is a sign of weakness honestly don’t know what they are talking about. Please don’t take advice from anyone who isn’t a qualified doctor. If you are prescribed medication, I hope you will consider taking it as it tells you, including avoiding the things it says you should avoid while you are on it. And if you are referred for a talking therapy, or a group, please give yourself a chance, however anxious you are, and give serious consideration to going along.

I could write pages and pages about how you WILL get better. But your concentration is probably not be great right now. Plus there are other lovely letters here that I hope you will also read. I just want to end with this. You will have good days and bad days. Slowly, you will notice that there are more good ones than bad ones. You will rejoice again in small things, like washing your face, a walk round the block, or the smile of a stranger. You will find things to do that give you a sense of achievement. I did jigsaw puzzles and very bad knitting. You can choose your own. Just make the tasks small and achievable. And relish what you have achieved.

Most of all, learn how to talk about how you are feeling. Bottling things up is rarely a good idea. And be kind to yourself. From my experience, this is the hardest thing of all. Learning to be kind to ourselves can be a lifelong project. But if you aren’t kind to yourself, it will be much harder to be kind to other people. So for that reason, it is really worth it.

Thank you and well done for reading this. It was a huge step. I wish you good luck on the rest of your journey. And please know this: you are not alone.

With my loving kindness for your gradual recovery,