This is going to be the most difficult entry on this blog. I have to overcome a strong reluctance to label myself a “depressive”. I’m retired now, but when I was working, or hoping to work, I tried to hide my mental health problems in order to remain employable. Even now I fear that labelling myself “mentally ill” will result in discrimination.
Throughout my adult life I’ve suffered from long bouts of severe depression. The first bad breakdown that I can remember was when I was eleven, so that is exactly fifty years ago. The condition interfered with my education, wrecked my career and caused difficulties in my social relationships.
I’ve had other problems as well. I have several painful conditions, some of which are associated with depression. These include migraine, and joint hypermobility, both of which I’ve been diagnosed with. I’ve suffered from frequent dental infections throughout my adult life, at least partly caused by tooth grinding in my sleep.
I also have very poor physical stamina, and often suffer from extreme tiredness and muscular weakness. I have never sought a diagnosis of ME, and don’t think it would help me, but nor do I agree with doctors who have seen my physical symptoms as just another aspect of depression. I know that I’ve suffered extreme bouts of tiredness and weakness at times when I’ve been feeling very positive and well mentally, and there have been other times when I’ve felt that it was my lack of stamina that caused the depression, not the other way around. My pattern of migraine, and the pain I get in my joints have no obvious relationship to my pattern of depression either, so if there is a link between these conditions it is a complex one.
Currently I wake up on most mornings with neuralgia and sinus pain. My feet and ankles are very stiff when I first get out of bed, so I shuffle around like a cripple making my breakfast. Since 2006 I’ve been experiencing dental problems which are difficult to resolve.
I’ve never found anti-depressants effective and I no longer use them. I used to attribute my illness to damage caused by my childhood experiences, and so I sought help through psychotherapy. I’ve done gestalt, Freudian, and what I can only describe as eclectic therapy, but not CBT. Some of the therapy I did was helpful, some harmful, but overall I don’t think it made much difference to my cycle of illness.
My episodes of severe depression do not come out of the blue; they are just the extreme manifestation of what is a daily emotional struggle. Nowadays it takes the form of frequent, distracting “flashbacks”, and profound feelings of failure, guilt and loss.
It is in combatting these feelings that I’ve found Stoicism most useful. I practise the “mindfulness” advocated by the Stoic Week Handbook, and I find it helpful. But I’m not going to find it so easy to complete the Stoic Self Monitoring Sheet. I find that the negative thoughts that I have during the day are rather like dreams — if I don’t write them down, I forget them, and that seems quite healthy to me. I’m certainly not going to try to record each one. What I will do is maybe try to remember one each day, and how I dealt with it, for the record.
Finally, my scores on the questionnaires. I’ve already explained that I won’t give what I regard as nonsensical answers to questions, so I will not tick a box saying I “slightly agree” with something, for example. On that basis, for the “How Stoical Are You” quiz, I score 20 for Stoic attitudes and 28 for Stoic behaviours.
On the “Flourishing Scale” I score 54. Unfortunately, this is off the scale. Below 52 puts you in the “bottom 90%”. So presumably I’m in the “bottom 100%” which, in the rather contorted scoring system used, appears to mean very flourishing indeed (Hurrah!).
On the “Satisfaction with Life” scale I score 14, which counts as dissatisfied. That’s probably because I’m living in Canada (that’s a joke).
On the SPANE scale I scored 2. I didn’t answer the questions about whether I felt “pleasant” or “unpleasant” because I don’t recognise them as feelings, so I could not submit my score.