The Creature - Reflections On My Recovery From Depression & Anxiety
I can see it, sat across the room looking steadily at me. It’s black, the kind of absolute black that absorbs all light into it and stops it dead. No light can escape from it. Deep, dark, bottomless pit black. It’s tongue lolls out of it’s mouth and I can see the poison slowly drip, drip, dripping from its fangs. Suddenly it lunges at me and grips onto me with it’s sharp claws; I scream and scream but there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the pain. I huddle alone and whimper miserably to myself as those long, serrated claws ravage my mind. They get in deep and pull up everything they can find to the surface for me to view. It’s poison spreads out across my mind and I can feel the acid burn scorching away all the hopeful saplings that I have cultivated over the last few weeks that I have been attending therapy for. The creature is furious with me for trying to eradicate it from my mind. You see it’s been squatting there for ten years now, slowly feeding me it’s poisonous words until I can no longer get myself out of bed in the morning, until going to work or socialising is no longer possible. This black, ulcerated, smoking, reeking wretch of a creature is my depression and anxiety, and it is refusing to leave me alone and let my saplings flourish into healthy, happy trees that will protect me with their cooling, gentle shade.
After some time the sobbing ceases and I can breathe again. The creature’s always there but it’s back across the room, having a snooze now that it’s sucked out all the goodness my brain has to offer. I go to the bathroom and see what visible effects the creature has had on me this time. My lips are swollen and my eyes are so puffy that I can’t open one of them properly. My nose is dripping with snot and I look exhausted. I can still feel the gouges that the creature left behind. A token of it’s love and affection it tells me. You don’t want to lose me do you? Who are you if you’re not your mental illness? You need me I tell you, YOU NEED ME!
Well, fuck that.
Depression and anxiety have been squatters in my mind for a long old time now, and I’m fucking fed up with having them here. They don’t pay any rent, they smell like shit, and they treat me like shit too. They’re the worst kind of flat mate, the one who steals your things and then somehow blames them not having washed any of their dishes on you, as if it’s all your fault. And they’ve been telling you this for so long that you now wholeheartedly believe them. Of course it’s my fault, I’m not good enough, I’m a failure, it’s always my fault somehow.
Not good enough. That’s me. If you come closer and look into my eyes you can see the spectre of a diseased tree that is called “not good enough”. It frequently bears fruit for me to harvest, and hungrily soaks up the fertiliser that I unintentionally spread across it’s roots. The creature opens my mouth and forces me to eat the fruit. It’s very dutiful really, makes sure I get my five a day. God forbid I stop feeding myself on the refrain that I’m a no good, fraudulent failure who never has and never will achieve anything.
I’ve been in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for five weeks now and my therapist and I have shone a light on this diseased tree that once existed solely in the dark recesses of my mind. Now I can finally see it for what it is, and I don’t want it so firmly rooted in my mind anymore. I don’t want it there at all, not one shrunken root, not even one withered, dead leaf. No. Get the fuck out tree, you’re not welcome here anymore. Only fine green, healthy oaks here please! Ha! If only it were that easy! The creature is a sneaky fucker and it won’t let me go without a fight.
In order to survive I have created a set of rules for myself that I MUST live by, for to break any of them will mean I have failed and am therefore not good enough. That might make some kind of sense I suppose, except that these rules are completely nonsensical and useless. They’re not things like “Don’t spend all your money on pay day because you need to pay your rent and eat food”, or “Wash your body regularly or you’ll start smelling like a sewer rat”. No, these rules are things like “You must listen to podcasts on the way to work because you have loads of things to listen to and you’re really far behind and must spend your time productively” and “You must watch youtube videos in a certain way to ensure that you’ve seen everything everyone you’ve ever subscribed to has ever uploaded” and “You must walk up the stairs to your fourth floor flat instead of taking the lift because you don’t exercise enough and taking the lift means that you’re lazy”. I have lists of films I want to watch and shows I want to see; I have a backlog of feminist articles that I want to read and a yearly reading target of 40 books. Everything I do in my spare time has to be working towards something, I can’t waste time because time wasters are lazy losers and you don’t want to be like them do you? No? Better get walking up those stairs then.
Upon discovering that I have been living my life to this utterly ludicrous code, in my leisure time I have finally just started doing what I bloody well want to do instead of what I’ve told myself that I must do if I want to prove myself to be good enough. It’s unbelievably freeing, and my mood has improved vastly as a result. I’m writing this for Christ’s sake! I never write! I’m no good at writing. Oh, shit. That was the creature again wasn’t it? Bear with whilst I get out a fire extinguisher and douse it until it shuts up. Oh good, that’s better. Fucking thing. Where was I? Oh yes, freeing myself of my so called rules. Whilst this revelation has been ground breaking (or creature taming as it were) as I said before the creature is a sneaky beast and is now trying ever more stealthy tactics to keep me locked where I am.
For example, I’ve suddenly found myself wanting to do exercise again, so for the past three days in a row I’ve been doing yoga. It’s been wonderful. However I decided that I should challenge myself to do some yoga every day for the month of July. “There’s nothing wrong with that”, the creature whispered. “Challenging yourself is good, and you’ll feel amazing when you get to the end of the month and find you’ve achieved your goal. That you are, in fact, worthy”. Drip, drip, drip goes the poison, right back into my ear. My saplings shrink away from it’s corrosive touch. “Yes,” I think, “A challenge is a great idea!” Of course it’s not a good idea, not at this stage in my recovery anyway. It’s just another way for the creature to trip me up. Another way for me to add fertiliser to the “not good enough” tree. Any exercise I manage to do is an achievement. It does not need to be part of some overarching goal, but instead can just be something that I enjoy as part of a daily routine. And if I’m too busy to do it or don’t feel up to it then that’s fine too. I’m not a failure. I am good enough.
“You hear me?” I shout at the creature. “I AM GOOD ENOUGH! Do you hear that? Do you? Well suck it up buttercup, I have an antidote to your poison and I’m not going to stop beating you back until you wink out of existence and leave me the hell alone. You fucking got that?”
The creature still sits across the room from me, meeting the fury of my eyes with a steady gaze. It doesn’t look so black anymore though. It’s got flecks of grey in it’s patchy fur coat. I grin wickedly. I’m winning. I will win.
Article by Jo Walshe