I read a very intelligent and pertinent article this morning by Andrew Solomon, written in the Guardian a few years ago. The link can be found here.
It identifies one of the key aspects of depression: loneliness. Solomon describes depression as “a disease of loneliness” and that “many untreated depressives lack friends because it saps the vitality that friendship requires and immures its victims in an impenetrable sheath, making it hard for them to speak or hear words of comfort”.
From my experience, depression (and anxiety for that matter), can have a huge impact on friendships and relationships. It can cause isolation and a feeling of loneliness, both literal and mental, that comes with the inevitable sapping of energy, hope, enthusiasm and passion associated with the illness, and a need to shut oneself away, as well as the formidable barriers that both depression and anxiety put up against forming relationships or intimacy.
Solomon theorises that many people “are desperate for love, but don’t know how to go about finding it, disabled by depression’s tidal pull toward seclusion”. I thinks its relevant to highlight the fact that its not always literal isolation or loneliness. You don’t need to be sat in a room on your own to feel desolate, or have no friends or family in the world. I love Solomon’s phrase “We are imprisoned even in crowded cities and at noisy parties”. Quite often you can be in a room of people, at the office, with a group of friends, at a party etc, and feel detached, unconnected, removed and in a deep well of sadness. Stephen fry in his blog on loneliness (link) states that “loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems…. it’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone”. How can an illness that makes you want/need to be alone, also make you hate and fear being alone? It doesn’t seem fair.
I guess everyone’s goal is to find love and happiness, but depression can make this impossibly difficult, due to the barriers you put up, the crippling anxiety rippling through the body, and the fact that the bubble of isolation and seclusion doesn’t want to give you up without a fight. Solomon describes depressions “universal bleakness and the bleaker reality of suffering without the cushion of love” and proffers the idea of the “authentic intimacy that comes with sharing your life’s challenges with someone who cares – who will be sad because you are sad, happy because you feel joy, worried if you are unwell, reassuring if you are hopeless”. Without this love or intimacy is can be a difficult road, as you can’t see an end, a goal, or a point, and this results in you being two steps back before you have even started.
Solomon ends by stating that “many of us are more alone than we need to be, living in gratuitous exile. Friendship is an impulse encoded deep within us, but it is also a skill, and skills can be both taught and learned”. For most people, friendships and love and relationships are as natural as breathing or eating, but for a large number of people with depression/anxiety, it can be a higher state, a Nirvana, that always seems out of grasp, but which at the end of the day, is the only thing that truly matters.