One of the worst and perhaps least understood aspects of my condition is the recurring, and often debilitating, inability to perform everyday tasks. I recently read Marian Keyes’ The Mystery of Mercy Close and was very impressed with the way she laid her own experiences with depression bare. I did however feel that she sugar coated one aspect; the main character’s inability to maintain her personal hygiene. In the novel, Helen is very aware of how often she bathes and whether or not she has done so in the last twenty-four hours. When she hasn’t, she often relies upon people to press her into doing so. This is one area where my experience of depression does not match with Marian’s description.
I love showers. I find there is nothing better. Scorching water that’s just slightly too hot, that you leave running so long the whole room becomes a sauna; shower gels in a variety of flavours that leave your skin smelling and feeling great; shampoo, conditions, the feeling of freshly shaved legs against your pjs when you fall asleep at night. Taking a long shower is one of my favourite things to do, especially when I’m not in a good mood. Water washes away all manner of troubles.
You can imagine then how upsetting it is for me, to come back to my senses one day and discover, based on the state of my hair and the less than pleasant aroma emanating from my own body, that it has clearly been days since I last took a shower. Again.
This often happens when I am in my depressed cycles. It happened again today, when I realised that it was (to my shame) at least a week since I last took a shower. The very thought of this disgusts me and I find it a less than pleasant thing to admit to, however it fits with a pattern of behaviour I notice at times like this. For example, I also realised today that I neglected to post a blog last Sunday. I began writing it—a rather humorous anecdote about an ill-fated trip to Ikea for some new office furniture—but in the days between then and now I have somehow managed to forget to do it.
Showering is much the same. Unlike Helen, in Keyes’ novel, I am unaware for long stretches that I have forgotten to do common things like shower, eat, sleep, brush my teeth, leave the house, take my MEDs. The latter is particularly problematic, as failing to take my MEDs properly only makes everything worse. It is as if my mind crumbles and those parts that retain the information that tells me what I’m supposed to do in a day, are blowing away on the wind.
There are times when this condition of mine leaves me trapped in a loop. I sleep, I wake, I endure an indeterminate number of hours before once more falling asleep and repeating. What I do in my waking hours is extremely limited, firstly by my energy levels, which are almost non-existent, and secondly by the simple will to do things. I find it difficult at these times to do anything, even things I know to be very important, such as work, meeting deadlines, and keeping appointments.
I believe this is one of the hardest things for people who don’t suffer from any form of mental health illness to understand. It can appear to the outside observer to be laziness. I even berate myself on occasion for being ‘so lazy’, yet it is not always that I don’t wish to do things, but more that I find I can’t muster the impetous to do them even when I want to. Sometimes even when I desperately want to. It has taken me all day to manage to have a shower and write this (brief) post. Why? My mind is scattered. It is difficult to retain a thought for long enough to follow through on it, especially when it involves expending energy, which I have in very short supply.
People often try to ‘help’ when I’m like this, by insisting I ‘get out more’ or refuse to allow me my creature comforts (in my case DVDs) unless I get in the shower. Sometimes it works. Most often it just makes me feel worse.
The furniture I bought last week remains partially constructed in my office. The contents of my office are currently all over the house, making a terrible mess which is stressing me out no end. I can’t abide it. Yet I do not have the energy to finish putting that furniture together. I keep walking into the room, picking up a bit of shelf, staring at it vacantly for half and hour or so, then replacing it exactly where it was before and walking out again. As I recall, this happened once when I moved house. It took six months for me to unpack anything. I existed in a state of perpetual stress because every time I moved in my minuscule flat I fell over something, and yet I could not bring myself to do anything about it.
Since turning twenty-eight earlier this year I have found myself contemplating more and more the achievements I have made in life. As I approach thirty, I find I am deeply unsatisfied with what I have ‘achieved’. In fact, when I look back on where I was in my life ten years ago and compare it to now, I find that—with the exception of a University education I seem unable to complete at present—I have nothing to show for my time. I wonder how much more I would have to show for my time, had I not so often been hindered by this state of what I have come to see as ‘pause’. I feel as if someone has pressed a remote and paused me, while the rest of the world continues unobstructed. I still move, but so slowly that it is barely noticeable, so sluggishly that I am unable to think properly.
It took me all day today to have a shower, and write this post.
I count that as a win, it’s better than I’ve done for the last week, yet still it’s pathetic.
Here’s to better days, and managing to get more done.