The answer is ‘time’. Time is an often ignored factor of depression, and one which after a bit of research, I discover is a significant aspect of the illness for many people. This can manifest itself as time dragging by, and finding yourself in a constant state of detachment, or conversely as time rattling by at 100 miles an hour, and you finding yourself bewildered as to where it has gone.
This article by Carolyn Gregoire on the Huffington Post website makes reference to various studies into depression and time, which conclude that “people with depression reported a slower subjective experience of time – they often felt as though time was slowly dragging by” and also posits the idea that “depression may cause a slowing down of the individual’s internal clock”. Its certainly true that at times it feels as though you are in a bubble standing still and everything around you is racing by, a bit like those adverts that show someone standing still facing the camera, and the world around them is a blur, speeding in every direction.
With depression you can get into a cycle of doing the same thing every day, unable to partake in anything that constitutes variety or excitement, which can further this sense of time standing still. By not focussing on the moment, it can feel like you are drifting along, disconnected from people and everything that is going on around you. The study of Mindfulness attempts to reconnect you to the present moment, and encourage an awareness of everything that is going on around (and inside) you. I’ve attempted Mindfulness before, but failed to maintain it, as it requires a lot of dedication. It’s something I intend to give a second chance to.
The contrasting effect of ‘time’ on depression, is the perception that every moment can appear to be rushing by, and hurriedly disappearing, like sand falling through an hour glass. Carolyn in her Huffington Post article remarks that “people with depression, a disorder characterized by obsessive negative thoughts and rumination, may struggle to give their full attention to the present moment. This can make it difficult to get absorbed in an activity, entering that ‘flow’ state of consciousness that can make you feel as if time is flying by”.
One of the running features of my depression is that at age 29, I can no longer pin hope on the idea that “i’ll grow out of it”, and the negative effects of the illness on the brain mean that I mourn and fester on the fact that I’m getting older, and how much I have missed out on because of my disorder. Career, relationships, achieving a semblance of happiness…the list goes on. While the typical response to this is, “think of all you have, all you have achieved”, as mentioned in a previous blog, the mind is not able to accept this as a valid reason for positive thinking. As I approach a big milestone, I question my life even more, berate myself for all I haven’t achieved, both personally and professionally. The more years that go by, the more convinced you become that you will never get better, and that causes a level of hopelessness and sadness that is impossible to put into words. Little things can spark a deep well of emotion, such as someone celebrating an 18th birthday (you question all you have done since you were 18, and wish you could go back and start again), or seeing a photo of yourself as a child (everything was ahead of you then, so much promise and potential). At age 18 I had hoped that I would get better, that there was “plenty of time”, and it would “sort itself” out. A decade down the line that viewpoint can’t help but get eroded away.
The great irony is that they say ‘time a great healer’ but sadly the reverse is true for depression. Time only acts a catalyst for more reflection, which for a depressive mind leads on to rumination and obsession, and consequently an inability to see any hope. I’ve always thought of depression as like being in a tunnel. You can see where you came from, and you can see where you are going, but in your present moment you are surrounded by darkness. The ultimate goal of depression is to focus on that light at the end of the tunnel, but that is a skill I have not learnt….yet.