There are many unbearable aspects to depression, and sometimes it seems that the words available just won’t do – awful, terrible, crushing. There are many more. This can be particularly hard with recurrent depression, as each time it is freshly grim, something you had previously forgotten, and it never helps when people say – You, will get over this, remember, you did last time. Because no, I don’t remember, and how does that guarantee I will this time?
But, when I consider what is worst about depression, a little voice speaks out, and says – the boredom. And perhaps it’s not the worst part, but it’s usually the longest, and it’s very hard to tolerate. A better way to put it might be that I am the most boring person I know when depressed, I am blighted by this illness. Perhaps when I am very depressed I am actually less boring, because I don’t speak much, but at no point when ill have I been interesting. Sometimes I ponder the beauty of nineteenth century melancholia, but it’s probably about as convincing as the romanticism of consumption, and requires a filter of art to create its impression.
What is it, though, that’s so boring about being depressed? Lack of energy is an obvious contributor, and if you can’t get out of bed to do stuff, you won’t have much to think about, or enjoy. I know it’s cliched, but I do feel like I’m walking in treacle at such times, and a long internal debate about whether to do one’s teeth or not is, frankly, uninteresting. And this brings me on to what may be one of the most boring things about being depressed – for me, at least – which is rumination. This is a horrible word , but it does, in my view, really capture the experience, which is like a cerebral chewing of the cud with no useful outcome. I worry about physical health symptoms and medical mistakes, going round and round, until the only relief is giving in and believing the worst. There is no room left for other thoughts during this process, and my life is reduced like a disgusting sauce to these unpleasant contemplations alone. This is of course horrifically boring and difficult for anyone who knows and loves you, and they may start to wonder – Is this the person I knew? Have they changed irrevocably?
I don’t read when I’m depressed; in fact, I don’t do much of anything, and I think what many (including health professionals) don’t realise is that the road to recovery is long and uphill. Just because you feel a bit better, and see some hope for the future, doesn’t mean that you are better, and this can be one of the most dull and boring times of all. It is one of the main reasons why I always try to go back to work more quickly than perhaps I should – somehow I think this would help me bypass the aching tedium of this time, which it doesn’t of course. It just makes things more difficult. I don’t really know what would help – maybe the only real possibility would be more acknowledgement of this state. I might at this point be technically ‘euthymic’, but I am not yet recovered from the depressive episode I have experienced, and unfortunately the International Classification of Diseases doesn’t seem to describe this well. What could it be called? Post-depression? Lingering impairment? Both are probably true, but I don’t think they’ll catch on.
I wonder, though, if more could be done, in terms of encouraging activity, rather than advising people to rest. By this, I mean easy, tedious and repetitive activity, rather than anything too challenging. It goes almost without saying that physical exercise should be encouraged, but how to stimulate the brain? I got through my last post-depression period by playing cards on my iPad – it got gradually easier, and I was able to accomplish more. But I had to motivate myself to do this – imagine if I could have been sent a small daily task to do on my phone, that would get gradually easier or harder, depending how I did. As well as stimulating, it would also be a good measure of improvement, with the proviso that people can only be compared against themselves – no competition here. And you’d have to have a wide range of options. I love sudokus but hate crosswords, for example. This is exactly the kind of automated system, requiring little actual face to face contact, that ought to be popular, and would give you a feeling of achievement – unless you couldn’t do it, which would be a red flag. What I’d much prefer, of course, would be to see a kind and thoughtful occupational therapist – they are a group of professionals who do fantastic work – but that’s simply not realistic for the post-depressed.
Some of the most utterly boring and tedious times I have ever spent have been on psychiatric wards, and it is one of the main reasons I fear ever being admitted again. Every minute stretches, there is no sense of any beyond. Obviously most people who are in-patients are not going to engage with much activity, but surely it can be better than this. At least in your own home you can move between things you know, but the blankness of a hospital ward is intolerable if just left to your own devices for much of the time. More occupational therapists would make all the difference in the world.
Ultimately, I think boredom is an integral part of the experience of depression, probably connected to the lack of energy. It is the opposite of mania, of excitement, great achievement and self-belief, when time flies. I think it is worth asking about, particularly when getting better. It is one of those things, like pain, that is hard to recall afterwards. But it is a risk factor when you don’t quite believe in recovery.