The further into my recovery from the last bout of depression I get, the clearer things are starting to become. As the mixture of worthlessness, fear and despair continues to unravel I find myself recognising not only the changes mentally, but also the changes in my behaviour.
When I was a child I had an irrational fear of getting onto a downward escalator. I’d do it, but only after I’d stood at the top for a good several seconds, watching in trepidation as the staircase moved by itself. According to my Mother I witnessed a young woman with a pram have an accident on one when I was very little and ever since, I’ve been hesitant to get on one.
Last Tuesday, while on my way to work, I arrived at the Station as another train disgorged it’s passengers. The staircase that I usually walk down was flooded with 100’s of commuters arriving in the suburb for their day at work. Without thinking about it, and without hesitation I stepped on the escalator and it wasn’t until I reached the bottom I realised what I’d done.
There was a moment of “oh shit, what did I do and how did I do it,” before I reached the next set of escalators. Next to them was an empty staircase. Usually I’d chose the stairs, but that day I just went with it. No flashes of my dead mangled body being chewed up by stair tread, no flashes of my blood flooding across the white tiles. I didn’t even do what I used to do and stand there watching the steps roll away. I just got on.
It doesn’t sound like much to anyone, but to me it was a sign of vast improvement. Downward escalators ranks up there with clowns in my “Oh my God I’m going to die and it’s going to be horrible and painful and I’m going to do it right now,” moments. Frankly, medication or not I’m never going to hug a clown. You can blame a birthday party in Year 6 for that. Parents of the birthday boy got us a video to watch. It had a clown on the cover and apparently they’d never heard of Stephen King. Want to traumatise a room full of 12 years old for life, make them watch IT alone in a dark room.
Anyway, I digress. The more I thought about it the more I came to realise that in the last couple of years, since this current infestation of depression came to be, I’ve been avoiding wherever possible downward escalators. I realised that what I thought was my first panic attack actually wasn’t. The first one I had was almost a year earlier when I couldn’t bring myself to get on a downward escalator at Wynyard Station (pictured above) and walked around the block in order to avoid it.
Since then, I’ve done exactly that. I’ve walked around shopping centres and train stations and anywhere else I’ve come across downward escalators to find the stairs. I don’t do elevators unless I have to for the same reason. Every time I walk into one I’m convinced it’s going to breakdown and I’m going to suffocate. My office has the smallest elevators known to man, and I only go up three floors, but it’s only recently I’ve noticed I don’t hold my breath when I’m in it. Nor do I wait to get a lift that has only 1 or 2 people in it.
When I reached the platform on Tuesday morning I was feeling so immensely happy I broke another rule, again without thought. I’ve noticed at the Station that some carriages are always super crowded while others, usually towards the end of the train are practically empty. I developed the habit in any train station of standing at the top of the stairs. It was basically an escape route. If anything went horrifically wrong – as my brain liked to envision – I was right there, able to run.
It’s also why I sit at the doors of a train. No fighting the crowds, I’m right there if I have to escape.
Mascot Train Station, is underground, and I maintained the habit of standing at the stairs, even if it meant I had to wait for a train or two to go so the carriage was empty enough for me to get in. Tuesday, while patting myself on the back I walked the length of the platform, as far from escape as possible because I kept thinking that the last carriage would be empty and I was running late.
It didn’t even cross my mind that monsters would arrive at the end of the platform closest to the tunnel, or that if there was a fire or a flood or anything else I wouldn’t be able to get out. To be honest. I didn’t even think of any of the 100 worse case scenarios that previously would have meant I’d be late and I’d have to waite for an empty carriage rather than walk to one.
And do you know what happened as I stood at the furthest point on the platform from the stairs? Nothing. Not a bloody thing. No Zombie apocalypse, no floods, no serial killers, no fires, no anything. I just stood surrounded by other people and read my book and waited for the train to arrive.
I know that none of this is important in the grand scheme of life. If I ever become a super successful novelist it’s not going to be because I can use an escalator without almost wetting myself. Sidenote: I’ve used it every day since without fear. It won’t be because I walked an extra 100 feet or so to the end of the platform and didn’t get eaten by a demonic spider in the shape of a clown. But it will be because I learnt to ignore my fear.
Escalator, elevator, underground train station. Things most of the population take for granted and don’t even consider. For me, as most things were particularly towards the end, they were horror objects even Stephen King couldn’t create.
When the enemy you fight against is your own brain, it makes the little things the hardest to escape from, but in the end, when the little things become moments of personal triumph and then fade into situations that you no longer think about, it’s proof that you made the right decision when you walked into the doctors surgery nearly 9 weeks before, broken and asking for help.
After spending years walking around places to find staircases to just be “normal,” and do things that are normal is a blessing. I sat down today to write this blog partly to crow my delight in public but also to leave behind a smidge of data on the internet in the hope that someone going through the same sort of things might stumble upon it and think “I wonder if I could get help too.”
You can. All you need do is ask for it. It takes time, but nowhere near as much as you fear. I still have moments where I’m down or miserable but I’ve learnt they’re just normal too. The problem with depression and anxiety is that you think by feeling that way all the time it’s the normal way to be. It isn’t. It’s okay to be happy, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to have emotions. They’re what make us human. But when your brain is playing silly buggers and you find yourself putting yourself out to avoid situations that trigger fear because it becomes all encompassing, ask for help.
Riding the spirals of depression isn’t all there is. And those things you thought you could never do may just surprise you in the end.