This is a weird post to write, but I think it’s important so I’m sitting down to write it in the hope that it helps someone else.
I’ve lived with depression for a few years now. In reality it’s probably been more than a few years, but a few years ago a Doctor told me that I had depression, so that’s where the ‘official’ timeline started. I’ve spoken about having depression before, and I genuinely thought that I was ok with things, I thought that I understood my depression; how to manage it, how to spot the signs that I wasn’t doing too well and needed a break, etc.
Now, I’m in the USA on the trip of a lifetime, and it turns out I wasn’t actually ‘ok’ with the whole depression thing at all. The last few weeks have been incredible, mind-alteringly, life changingly brilliant, and I’ve felt like someone without depression. Even when I got snotty-gunky-gross sick, I was still pretty happy, just miffed that I was in New York being snotty-gunky-gross sick. There was a little part of me that thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe it wasn’t depression at all! It was stress, burnout, a series of unfortunate events that were making me sad – I probably don’t have this weird lifelong mental health thing at all, how brilliant!‘ That little part grew without me even realising it, until I woke up earlier this week with the familiar feeling of numbness. That heavy blanket feeling that makes getting out of bed too difficult.
Unsurprisingly to just about everyone else in the world, it turns out that just because you go on an adventure to explore a subject you’re passionate about, depression doesn’t just go away. Even when you’re not stressed, worried or under pressure, that whole depression thing – it’s still a thing. That realisation surprised me.
I’m aware this sounds really naive, but I think it’s important to talk about. The issue of burnout and stress in relation to the PhD process is talked about so much, but it’s not always stress that makes life difficult for people. Some of us are living with the knowledge that at some point we’ll be right in the middle of a brilliant week, and the heavy blanket feeling will return with little or no warning.
All of that said, I’m still feeling pretty lucky to be lugging my heavy blanket around Washington DC rather than Aberdeen. Travelling has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and so I’m going to spend my weekend exploring new places around DC. That is potentially the most privileged form of self-care I’ve ever planned, but I’m here and me and my heavy blanket are determined to make the most of it, gently.