When I had clinical depression my daily life was dominated by a pervasive feeling of pointlessness. It was all-consuming, terrifying and nearly destroyed me, but I coped because I saw it simply as a symptom of an illness which I expected to completely disappear when I got better. Except it hasn’t.
While these days not every waking moment is punctuated with the feeling that we’re all just pointlessly spinning into the abyss, neither do I wake brimming with a deep sense of purpose each day, or, to be honest, any understanding of the point of my earthly existence. Was I naive to assume that once the mists of mental illness cleared my path through life would become clear and abundant with meaning?
Deciding whether or not there’s any point in going to the cinema/bowling/leaving the house at all doesn’t catapault me into an existential crisis anymore, and I can’t express how happy I am to no longer have that devil clinging to my back – but I suppose I’m a little disappointed that my brave new depression-free world isn’t as simple as I’d hoped. It turns out you actually have to work at creating meaning within your life, it doesn’t just gently drop into your lap like a whisp of dandelion fluff on a summer’s day.
I’m not religious but I’ve always envied the way faith provides comforting, iron-cast answers to the big questions – proffering meaning and purpose in the face of the worst kinds of abject cruelty and indiscriminate destruction existing in our world. One of my good friends from my University days is a devout Christian and she has mental grit and inner strength to rival a she-bear. But, alas, the God thing’s just never held water with me – so I have to place my faith elsewhere.
One thing I am getting to grips with pretty successfully in these halcyon days of better health is an ability to shake off any anxiety arising from these thoughts about why we’re all here and what on earth we’re doing. These moments of philosophical meandering rarely reach any sensible conclusion, and that’s alright. My life is pretty great in the present – and as long as I’m appreciating it in the here and now, moment to moment, it doesn’t really matter too much what it’s all about.
Is the way to avoid terminal angst over the meaning of life just to accept that there isn’t one – we’re all just floating in the void, and it’s time to get OK with that? Perhaps. Or maybe the key lies in just not caring too much either way. Now the black dog isn’t constantly snapping at my heels I can usually get through the day without some sort of hysterical crisis over what the point of my daily activities are, and maybe that’s enough for me.
I find myself dwelling on this a lot lately. As my anxiety has grown quieter I’ve been blessed with greater clarity of thought – and with clearer thinking comes a painful amount of honesty. I’m excruciatingly aware that I’m not nearly as interested in the world around me as I should be. The things that anxiety and exhaustion were physically preventing me from doing just don’t seem appealing even now the barriers have come down and I’m capable of being more active.
Go for a walk on a sunny day? I’d rather stay indoors. Spend time with my friends? Could do, but I’d rather watch something mindless on the TV by myself.
Diminished interest in life is a hallmark depression symptom, I know this. Only my apathy doesn’t feel like an illness, it feels like me. I don’t feel like mental illness aliens have hijacked my brain, it feels very much like I’m in the driving seat. I just don’t seem to want to shift beyond first gear.
Forcing yourself to repeatedly do something that you not only don’t want to do, but can’t see the point in doing, is the most un-natural thing. With depression even the simplest daily activities become challenging and meaningless. But just how much of my current idleness stems from mental illness, as opposed to plain laziness and dissatisfaction, is often unclear. When I’m having an existential crisis over the point in buying a bag of apples, I know that the spectre of depression looms nearby. When I don’t want to walk to the shop because…I don’t want to walk to the shop, it’s possible I just need slapping in the face with a wet kipper and sending on my way.
When not wanting to do things becomes a habit, you have to make a real effort to step out of your comfort zone. Einstein defined doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results as insanity. Well, Albert, I’ll give you gravity and the whole theory of relativity business, but I have to disagree with these pearls of wisdom. I’m not deluded enough to expect that repeatedly nailing a smile to my face and forcing myself out of the house will fix my problems, but it has to be a start.
It’s time to stop using my illness as a crutch every time I don’t want to engage with the outside world, and get back to a vague semblance of normal, active life. And who knows, if I keep pushing myself to go through the motions, perhaps one day I’ll actually enjoy interacting with society again.