Depression is often summarised as a lack of energy, appetite, and motivation. Living with depression for years, I’ve experienced all of these. But there’s one side of the illness that’s hardly mentioned: confusion.
Some describe it as an out of body experience, where a person is physically there, but mentally somewhere else. I have a habit of daydreaming and can often switch off for long periods of time. I’ve never thought this could be a small sign of mental illness. Since I’ve started taking medication, I’ve noticed this happening more and more:
The sound of the alarm woke me, and I slowly peeled my eyes open, panic struck me. ‘Where the hell am I?!’ I felt frightened and confused, battling to free myself out of the duvet I was bundled up in, my heart was racing as I scanned the room, desperately trying to piece together clues that would give me an indication of where I was and how I got here; ‘Where was I last night? Why don’t I remember?’ I opened the door and took the stairs to my right, hoping something would jolt my memory. I entered a living room and everything looked foreign to me. Standing there, swaying on the spot, trying to remember where I was and what I was doing last night that led me here. I didn’t recognise any of it.
A pug appeared from the kitchen – my pug. Wait – was this my house? I felt a rush in my head as it all came back to me: of course it was my house. I woke up in my own bed, in my bedroom, and here I was in the living room. There was pictures of my relatives on the sideboard, why did they look like nobody to me? My heart slowed so suddenly I felt like I could faint, and all at once I had to fight back tears for feeling so stupid to forget what my own house looked like.
I left for work later on, and as I climbed into my car, a scary thought popped into my head; ‘Do I know how to drive?’ I’d been driving for two and a half years, but this morning felt like the first time I’d held a car key. I let my mind wander as I drove to work, interrupted by brief shocks in my heart as I thought ‘Where am I going?’ I shouldn’t have driven today, I was a danger to myself.
The working day passed in a blur. I felt shame for forgetting everything – even my own name when I signed for a parcel. I’d be in the middle of a mundane task, something I’ve done so often I could do it with my eyes closed, but then I’d disappear into my own head, ‘What am I even doing? Do I know how to do this? Where was I?’ My productivity slows down and eventually stops, and as I come back down to Earth I look at the half finished task in front of me with total confusion, as though I’ve woken up in a strange place, ‘What is this? What is going on?’.
Throughout my entire life I’ve frequently forgotten names, faces, directions, and instructions. It took forever to pass my driving test because every lesson was like starting from square one. I could have visited a place ten times before but still rely heavily on a sat nav to get me there. Once my sat nav failed and I drove the wrong way, I flew into such a panic that I cried and vowed never to drive that route again. I feel like a baby in an adults world; the only one who doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing or where she’s going.
I’m confused, hopeless, forgetful, and I doubt myself. But I’ve learned to be patient, and not critical. After all, if it’s a symptom of a mental illness I can’t help or didn’t ask for, or a side effect of medication prescribed to make the illness more manageable, it’s not a personal flaw, it’s a work in progress.