(no headline – on purpose !)
I had two articles I was supposed for this issue. The first one I promised my editor was a piece on public “intellectual” Jordan B. Peterson and why I think he is a charlatan at best and a proto fascist at worst. The problem is, I lied to my editor when I told him last Wednesday that I had the research done and was about to start to write. I never did the research.
The second one was to be a criticism of the University of Agder’s mental health services. The problem is, I have no idea how bad or good they are, because I have never used them, nor did I do the research needed to write the article I originally planned.
When I was finally able to sit down to write, the second article turned into this. Because I am suffering from severe depression and I want to explain what that does to a person and why we are not getting the help we severely need.
I do not see myself as lazy. Once I finally start working, I get lost in my work. I rarely stop to even eat because I forget myself.
But I have huge problems starting. I have huge problems doing most things these days. Last week, I slept for almost a week. Almost literally. I woke up every now and then, but when I was not able to motivate myself to get out of bed, I went back to sleep. I was only able to get out of bed to eat and to visit the toilet, but I was only able to do that once it was too painful to continue to ignore my hunger and the call of nature. Sometimes I stayed up for a few hours, but I was tired, so fucking tired, so I went back to sleep.
This week was better, because I had more energy, and I had specific things to do that I wanted to do and that were not too hard for me to do. You have bad days and good days. Bad weeks and sometimes even good weeks. I have even had good years in the decade I have suffered with severe depressions.
Depression saps you of energy. Your energy threshold is drastically lowered. You develop coping mechanisms to deal with this. You zone out more, you sleep longer. You have less energy to be social, to exercise, to eat healthy, to pay the bills. All of this contribute to your deteriorating energy levels. And the list of things you need to do racks up, and thus you find yourself in the double-bind of having more to do with less energy to do it with. As you should be able to see, this easily turns into an evil circle that is hard to break.
Especially considering that you might not even be conscious of the mechanisms behind this. Everyone has experienced being more tired than usual; everyone has had bad days – even bad weeks. I have been dealing with this on-and-off for a decade now, and even though I am intimately familiar with the signs and symptoms of my depression, it still snuck up on me this time around. Because it is hard to know the difference between being “normal tired”, and the insidious and ever-creeping-nearer tired of severe depression. Especially when you have been healthy for a long time.
Soon enough, though, you find yourself in a state of a chronic lack of energy, in a state where few things are fun to do and where everything tastes like plain oatmeal. But you did not notice, because its approach is so slow that it is almost impossible to tell even if you know what to look for.
And now that you have been taken, it is almost impossible to escape. Because not only are you without the energy and motivation to do something about it, you have a long list of things you now need to do in order to get healthy. And that is in addition to all the things you should have been doing and have not been able to do.
… and why You Are not Getting Help
Your family cannot and will not help you with this. Neither will nor can your friends. This is not because they do not care, nor is it for lack of offers of help. It is because they do not understand.
And I do not mean this in the “emo” sense, but in the sense that they have no clue about what you are going through and what it is doing to you. They will tell you to relax more. They will tell you to work on your discipline, to exercise more – all of which are harder to do when you are already suffering from depression. Sometimes they will tell you to “do that thing that you like – that’ll cheer you up!” What they fail to understand is that you no longer like that thing. Because as mentioned, most of everything look, feel and taste bleak and bland. I used to love apple cake, but right now it just tastes of fucking oatmeal! You eat things and do things more out of habit than anything. Your hobbies are not fun anymore. They are something to distract yourself with. Something that makes the time pass.
It is very hard for someone to understand what this does to you, if they have no experience with this on some level. That is why your family or friends cannot help you. Because without such an understanding, the help can backfire, be more of a burden than actual help. Getting an endless list of tips is tiresome. You agree with them, you intellectually acknowledge that “yeah, if I could do those things they would help”.
But you cannot do those things, and you cannot explain why you cannot do those things without either seeming like you do not want any help or like you are lazy. So, you say “yes, I will do those things”, and when you are not able to, you are accused of lying to their faces. And the guilt and confusion resulting from this only contributes further to your deteriorating mental health.
I no longer have any contact with my parents or siblings because of this. For all their burning need and wish to help, they often ended up contributing to my depression rather than lessening its burden. They did a lot that helped a lot, but more often than not, what they tried to do did not help me. And over time, their confusion and annoyance made their help turn toxic; I got blamed for the symptoms of my depression. My own mother – who is a general practitioner – accused me of lying about my depression in order to deceive them. I had been trying to explain that it is hard to seek out help when you do not have the energy to do so, but that did not make sense to her, because “all the people I have seen at my office have been eager to get help”. Yes, mother, the people who show up at your clinic would, by definition, be healthy enough to get themselves there – or at least have people around them that brought them. The people too sick to show up and without a support network would not have been able to show up at all. But you do need professional help. You have little to no energy, and your life is falling apart around you.
You need a therapist.
So, you wait for a good day and muster what little energy you have and go to your doctor to get a referral to a therapist. You explain to the doctor what you are going through and take several tests. Then, after a waiting period of up to several weeks, you go to meet with the therapist. And you must yet again explain what you have been going through and take several more tests. You might then be referred to someone else – that specific therapist might not be suited for you. So, you wait a few more weeks and do it all-over again.
And this is assuming you even have the money for it. If you have gotten to this point, you might have racked up some debt because you have not been able to work, and you have not been paying your bills (even if you initially had the money for it). Maybe you are lucky and have parents who can pay it for you, if not you have to go to NAV (the state) for help.
So, you go to them and explain yourself. You must then fill out several applications and chase down paperwork you have never even heard of before. Then you get an appointment with a councillor. You get more paperwork. You then get assign to your actual councillor, and you get more things to do. You have to work hard to get help for your depression, all the while being in a state where you are likely not able to do that work. You have to explain yourself again and again. Defend your pain again and again. Constantly met with a confusing mixture of sympathetic scrutiny and scepticism when you are ill equipped to meet it.
It seems insane to me, that the people with mental illnesses who are weakened and embarrassed and sick, are also the ones expected to work the hardest to get help. Even in a system as good as the Norwegian one, I feel like the system meant to help the ones in pain is not designed with us in mind. I feel like I must be healthy in order to have the right to be sick.
And of course, all of this is assuming you even know who to talk with and what to ask for in the first place.
Written by Emil Olai