‘The edge of madness’, ‘three steps from the asylum’ and plain old ‘bat-shit crazy’ are just some of the ways I’ve heard clinical depression described. Taking a stroll with the black dog is often summed up as an experience akin to losing one’s marbles. In an age of over-inflated political correctness and extreme liberalism, is this really acceptable? We’re not supposed to align mental illness with insanity…are we?
Except during my long walk with the black dog I’d say I regularly felt disconnected from reality. Completely insane, in fact. And, controversially, sometimes I even enjoyed the madness.
Feeling terrified all the time is bloody awful – but my experience of depression has been that the raw, visceral parts have been interspersed with pockets of feeling more disconnected than afraid, where the external world becomes more surreal than it is frightening. At the height of my ‘madness’ I can recall spending around an hour totally transfixed by an acute realisation of just how awesome doors are. Sixty entire minutes on the wonders of wall openings.
Sometimes having depression has felt like being off my face on drugs. Pretty much always in a very bad way, but occasionally my short-circuited brain chemistry did produce some strange and spectacular moments – like the woodland jog that felt like an ethereal trip through another world or the Central Line tube train that seemed as though it was rattling towards the centre of the earth while I looked on from behind an impenetrable glass wall. Don’t even get me started on my weird reactions to rainbows. And yes, doors.
I think this is one of the reasons why I’ve always been a bit disinterested in illegal substances. People take class A drugs to go on holiday from reality; I used to be able to do it all by myself.
Depression and anxiety are undeniably terrible things to endure. Mental illness is no joke. But i’d be lying if I said there hasn’t been any positive edge to my experience at all. The wild ups and downs of poor mental health coupled with the ever-present sense that you’re about to fall off the sanity cliff have been terrifying but it’s certainly never been boring. The creative well never ran dry while riding a wave of anxiety-induced adrenaline – I’ve produced some of my best writing and captured some of my favourite photographs while in the throes of what felt like insanity. I’m no Virginia Woolf but some of my best ideas and artistic endeavours have been borne from a dark place.
Make no mistake this is not advocacy for mood disorders – I wouldn’t wish mental illness on my worst enemy. Depression is a complex and dangerous condition; and certainly not worth going through just to experience a couple of epiphanies while staring at a leaf. I’m just grateful that for all the darkness and despair throughout my epic journey with this rightfully maligned beast, there have been occasional moments of wonder. Rare episodes of fantastical rapture that I can look back on from time to time, and realise – it wasn’t all bad.