Living in the Upside Down: My Story About Depression

“When everything feels like the movies, you bleed just to know you’re alive.”
I used to think that line from the 1998 Goo Goo Dolls song Iris was just a cool lyric until I figured out what it actually meant.

Being in the world when you’re under a cloud of depression is like living in the upside down from the Netflix show, Stranger Things. The upside down is a parallel universe where everything looks the same as your real world but it’s not. It’s slow. It’s full of cobwebs. It’s dark. It has eerie light particles floating through the air and there are creatures lurking in every corner. Horrible. Loathsome. Creatures.

The worst thing is you can’t find the door to the right side up. You just have to wait. Wait for it to pass. And hope that it passes quickly. Because nothing is going to work until the world has righted itself again.

Outwardly I’m a pretty confident person. I’m the one that that leads a group. I’m the one that helps get shit done. I’m the one that puts her neck on the line – sometimes, in an unguarded moment, without fear of consequence. On my strong days I reckon this is a good thing. Live your life with zero fucks.

But on my weak days…man oh man. I wonder what the fuck I’ve done as I stumble down to my upside down. Since starting this blog I wrestle with how much to share and how much to say. I’ve surprised myself with how much I can write about! But there’s something I haven’t written about, and I need to. I need to because I know that there are probably a whole bunch of people out there just like me that may take solace from hearing about my upside down.

A long time ago I went to see a naturopath counsellor type person to try and sort out my diet and anxiety (although I didn’t know it was anxiety at the time). She talked. I talked. And then as the session was coming to an end I unloaded all of the things I thought were wrong with me and how I just couldn’t see a way through it all and basically that I was broken. Her response was (and I can remember it verbatim, almost 15 years later), “I think there’s an easier way for you to be in this world, Kim”. Which is how she ended our session and I never saw her again. I fled to my car and wept for about an hour before I could drive home. She was right, but she’d only fuelled my fears even further. I was an alien. A freak that just couldn’t be happy. I needed help for sure. But at that stage of my life I even needed help getting help.

I can’t recall exactly when I first started taking anti depressants but it was sometime in 2001, I think. I’d just learned, surprisingly, that both of my parents were treating depression and that it was a common thread on both sides of the family – mostly untreated in the previous generations. It got me thinking that maybe there was a solution to my upside down.

People who live with depression describe it in many different ways – I guess because it takes many different forms and has just as many triggers. For me it feels like I’m seeing the world in slow motion and through a fog, even though the sun is shining hard. And I hate that fucking sun. I find joy in almost nothing and feel like I’m walking in cement shoes with a heavy hat that pushes my brow over my eyes. Literally, that’s a physical feeling that I get.

I have a lot of physical symptoms. I’m tired. I get dizzy. I get light sensitive and wear my beloved ray bans indoors and out. I have headaches, neck aches and heartaches. When I’m depressed I just can’t handle any level of badness or sadness in the world. Everything is unfair and everything hurts.

I have a general lethargy and I just can’t get my shit together. And yet I do. I’m a mother to a three year old. I have to function. I’m lucky. I’m a functioning depressive, I guess. I can put one heavy foot in front of the other; I can complete basic tasks that require little thought. I just can’t plan for the future. I can’t see the sun rising tomorrow. I just want to sleep.

I’m unable to make the simplest of decisions or find words to hold intelligent conversations. My poor husband manages during my bouts with depression by not making me make sense. He gets it. He lets me fumble around. Bless him.

My intelligent head tells me it will pass – and the fact that I know this is even more frustrating. I want it gone now. I want to get on with life. When I’m depressed I can’t keep up with myself, which usually results in a breakdown of some sort.

The divine, hilarious and fabulously controversial Catherine Deveny, who has also written about her depression, says when you don’t know what to do just do anything. It doesn’t matter. As long as you can put your focus into one thing and just get moving. She’s right. So while decision making is tough, making a start on just one thing is far better than sitting on your couch staring out the window waiting for the upside down to become right side up.

Good diet, fresh air and exercise all help alleviate depression but they don’t solve it. They don’t make it disappear. Depression is not a mind over matter illness. Anyone who has suffered from it knows that just thinking positive thoughts doesn’t right the world. You can Namaste all the fuck you want, those little serotonin enhancers aren’t getting joyous any quicker (maybe they do for some, but not for me).

What I’ve come to learn is that the key to managing my depression is to have a simple point of focus that I can return to without having to question it too much. A simple eating plan. A simple form of exercise. A simple commitment to writing (whether I publish or not) Simple things that I don’t have to think about too much. Just do.

Sure, I’ve deviated off my simple plan a bit with a chemical imbalance that makes you just want to eat and eat and eat but at least my extra calorie intake has been good, clean food made from scratch and made by me. I’ve also lumped my way through any form of exercise like a baby elephant because I have zero lightness in me.

But the point is – I’m still here. And I actually think that’s amazing. To have a focus when you’re in the upside down, reminds you that the light will return. And the movie will end and it will be all right.


MY 3 TIPS FOR LIVING WITH A BLACK DOG

Let it in
If you are diagnosed or acknowledge that you live with depression then own it. Depression is not a weakness. Depression is not a crime. Depression is an illness that has every right to be treated like any other illness…with whatever approach works best for you.

Treat it
Once you have owned it then be prepared for it.

Jen Nicholson, created this totally awesome “feel good” inspiration board. A doodle she did to remind herself what to do when she forgets what to do. Genius.

Decide on your action plan and have it ready. Just like you keep panadol in the cupboard for headaches have your depression kit at the ready. Talk to your GP, your counselor, your partner, your best friend from kindergarten, whoever has a clue about this stuff. Do not work it out on your own. Anti-depressants may help you. They may not. Exercise may help you. It may not. Diet changes may help you. They may not. What definitely won’t help you is staying silent about it. Say something. Do something. Anything. Be prepared.

Accept it
Having lived with depression for more than 15 years I no longer fight it. As I’ve gotten older (and I care less about what people think) I’ve started to tell people when I’m feeling unwell. My close friends understand completely and just let me be while it passes (and it always does). My work colleagues and clients don’t need to know details but I do my best to reschedule important things if I think my professional self (and the work I deliver) will be impacted. It’s not always easy but you wouldn’t ask a person with a broken leg in plaster to run a foot race. You’d wait until they had healed, right? People will understand…unless you’re a surgeon saving lives or some such selfless miracle worker.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU LIVE, LIKE OR LOVE SOMEONE WITH DEPRESSION

Be Kind and Let Them Be
Make sure they are safe and that all the basics are covered (food, shelter and love). Do not think you need to ‘cheer them up’. Asking someone who is suffering from a depressive episode to simply “buck up” and to look on the bright side is like a slap in the face. We’re not morons. If we could buck up, we would.

Be Affirmative and Take Action
Make decisions and encourage them to do things. Simple uncomplicated things. Walk along a beach. Get into nature where there are less likely to be triggers (unless the bush is a trigger, then avoid the bush!). Go to a movie that you think they’ll like (not Schindler’s List, obviously). Cook them a favourite meal. Do the laundry. Do small tasks around them without expecting anything in return; small simple gestures to let them know that they are not suffering alone. Avoid too much melancholy or reminiscing. Keep them present and accepting the here and now.

Be Helpful and Don’t Judge
If you need to, get an education on the illness to understand some of the ways it can manifest itself. Being better informed means you’ll be better able to accept and roll with the illness. It’s hard but letting it run its course is sometimes the only way through. Don’t judge it or think you have to solve it. Your job is to be kind and affirmative.

REACH OUT
Resources from wise and educated people are here:

22 thoughts on “Living in the Upside Down: My Story About Depression

  1. It’s beautiful to read Kim, as always; but this touches so deeply today and has given me a much needed boost of insight into what is happening with my head, heart, and wellbeing .
    Love this, and thank you ?X

  2. Thank you Kim, I have suffered from Depression for a number of years now and totally know where you are coming from. I have friends ask how can I suffer from Depression when I always look happy and confident, if they only knew how I felt when I am at home…. That is why I love, love, love this programme you get support from everyone. I have notice a change since starting this programme not only in weight wise but also in myself as a person. Thank you for sharing. As always I love your posts.
    xx

  3. Nicely written Kim. I think it is relevant for people who have bouts of sadness, anxiety or stress too. Focusing on doing something, no matter how small every day, and knowing it will pass. So many people suffer in silence. Love your work.

  4. Dear Kim,
    I don’t think you’re just brave for sharing this, I think you’re wonderfully inspiring and extremely giving of yourself. Your words came at just the right moment for me, as I too have been skirting around the upside down for the last two weeks. I feel like one giant organ whose only protection from the world is the tiniest sliver of skin, so when anything – and I mean something as small as not having rocket in the fridge! – happens, it’s cause for an emotional bleedout. I’m generally known as the outgoing life of the party type, so when I can’t ‘perform’ like I think I’m supposed to, I withdraw and mindfuck myself into a self-critical, self-loathing mess. It’s fun to be me. Having someone who I really admire as a fabulous and funny wordsmith, acknowledge their true feelings is incredibly valuable as it makes it oks that we’re not alone, that we’re not always our smiley, bubbly, envy-inducing Facebook or Instagram posts. We’re human. And we hurt. But thank god we’re not alone.
    So thank you lovely lady.

  5. Thank you so much, Kim. Both of my kids and my husband suffer from bouts of depression and it can be SO hard to know the right thing to do. You’ve given all of us some simple, clear and eminently useful information and tips- not a load of motherhood rubbish. Thank you for your honesty and courage….and your absolutely hysterical posts! xx

  6. I so appreciate this Kim, as someone who has experienced a long up and down battle with depression and anxiety and keeps at it each day. Love 28 as a program, it’s worked a gem on mental health. thanks again.

  7. Kim you are amazing. What I love the most is not only do you function but you make everyone else laugh along the way, even though you must feel like dying inside. That takes a special person. The thing that struck me the most is that you are completely right with what you said about not being able to keep up with yourself. Its so true, then comes the self loath for not keeping it together (being late all the time, forgetting things, taking forever to get any tiny task done) and then the spinning out of control. Kim please don’t ever be afraid to reach out to your 28 family. There are many out there I am sure who feel the same. Thanks for writing such a wonderful piece. Xxx

  8. Thankyou Kim, as a very private person who is still unable to open up (even) in this safe environment I have gained so much from your posts – it just helps so much when I read them. I admire your honesty and humour and poignant comments. Thankyou for your willingness to give so much to 28. I am very thankful and it is certainly one of the reasons I have stayed this long. Xx

  9. Beautifully written Kim. I have the most fabulous friiend who is struggling with her demons at the moment and I’m doing my best to do anything I can for her. Your advice on how to help her and have a greater understanding of what she is experiencing has helped me enormously. Thank you for your candor, courage and of course wonderfully written words. xxx

  10. Confronting and inspiring, you have shared such a deeply personal part of yourself in such a wonderful way.
    It is a beautiful piece, Kim. x

  11. Kim. Thank you. Perfect timing. It makes me feel guilty for all those times we pushed you into writing up the interview with Sam. Sorry.
    I have a wet face now. Biatch!

  12. Kim, you have conveyed the subject and experience of depression so beautifully, even though saying this might seem paradoxical. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with such heart, insight and sensitivity.

    Your ‘upside down’ analogy is eerily spot on, I feel. One description I tend to draw on is a quote by Shakespeare (what’s new!), particularly that of Lady Macbeth, when she’s in her darkest hour, and states: “Hell is murky.” I’ve never been formally diagnosed with depression but I know I’ve been to this murky upside down place, too, a number of times, quite recently even, a little while after my mother died. It was impossible to discern whether I’d become deeply cynical, depressed, or was having some kind of major existential upheaval, though I think depression is all of those things combined, and the indiscernible nature of my feelings covered me in even more darkness.

    I think what dragged me out of it, personally, was an admittance to myself that happiness wasn’t something I did all that well. This kind of thinking, though depressing to some, liberated me, and I felt a complete weight off my shoulders. I mean, I can turn ‘it’ on if I have to, even practice it with some effort, but happiness isn’t something that comes naturally to me. One of my favourite documentarians, Werner Herzog, puts it perfectly: “Happiness is a strange notion…it has never been a goal of mine, I do not think in these terms.”

    Like Herzog, I’m a real downer when it comes to the topic of happiness. This is purely my grim opinion, but the cynic in me (which forms one of many broken pieces or fragments of my being, all of which I’ve sought to nurture and address individually as they surface, rather than try to eliminate them), sees happiness as an elaborate form of denial, led by blind faith, and adorned with grandiose backdrops (and gestures to match) like “Christmas” and “New Years” (with the song ‘Celebrate’ playing in the background) – which are the times I’m at my lowest. Not that I’m not ‘happy’ for people who are ‘happy’, but I do believe that the “pursuit of happiness” can be a trap too, in that it could be seen as the ultimate avoidance of sadness.

    And, well, without a deep understanding of sadness, we’re all fucked. Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ portrays it beautifully by showing that the only way to appreciate joy (and I like that the film avoids the use of the word ‘happiness’) is to experience sadness. It absolutely sucks feeling broken, but I’m slowly learning that it’s probably better to break gently and evenly over time and to experience life’s blows as an emergent continuum of peaks and troughs. Experiencing pain like so enables me to digest it, to address each broken piece that emerges from that pain one by one, and if I’m lucky, to smooth the rough edges of some of those fragments before I turn inwards and become impenetrably sad. What would be worse, I think, is to live a charmed life, to feel ‘unbreakable’ all of your life, only to come to the end and shatter all at once (which is what I suspect will happen to Trump, and no one will give two shits either).

    I agree with your stance on 28 – it’s a focus and a constant, especially on days that feel like nothing else is. It’s the calm amongst the storm, especially since the ‘complete meal okonomiyaki’ was taken off the menu. Good riddance. 😛 You said it perfectly once, Kim, and I loosely quote from you directly: “The wagon keeps on coming round and you can jump back on anytime.” That stuck with me and I live by it as my go to 28 motto.☺

    I’ll come to a close by saying, and forgive my lengthy reply but thank you dearly for invoking these thoughts, that sadness is the precursor for joy, and some of the saddest people I know spread the most joy – think comedians, filmmakers, and children, who exercise joy and sadness everyday to balance and stabilise their feelings and emotions, and a certain someone called Kim Cowen a.k.a. 28 Blog Street.☺

    In the words of the Goo Goo Dolls, which I have to admit, is one of the best late 90’s songs (alongside The Verve’s 1997 song ‘Bittersweet Symphony’), “when everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.” Thank you, Kim, for letting us know who you are. Xxx

    P.S. Two reasons to be joyous are season wwo of ‘Stranger Things’, coming to Netflix Halloween of 2017. Then, Star Wars in December, which for me, saves Christmas. 😀

    • Beautiful words again, truly understand as I take my happy pills every day to help me get through the day. Yes I agree some days are worst than others. You must of known it is funny how life is reading your blog today, on a day I am very low still in bed arguing with my self to get out of bed 11:11 am. Just a bad morning need to get up and do my 28! Exercise but I just can’t today…..
      Your the best Kim love your blogs xx

  13. Pingback: Remember that time I quit 28…? | 28 Blog Street

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