So, I’m just coming back after losing 3 months of my life to a black cloud of depression. It’s an illness but unlike having a broken leg or something similar it’s invisible. No one can see your depression and it doesn’t always have an obvious cause. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain I think, which means your behaviour and responses are somewhat outside your control by the time you realise you are in a depression.
It’s important to talk about mental health because only by hearing about it, hearing the stories of people with mental health problems, can we hope to understand it.
So this is my story.. I fell off the planet into a ragged, black cloud at the end of November and I’m still looking to find my way out now. My brain shut down and fear and anxiety ruled all my decisions, even the most basic like brushing my teeth, so I did nothing except take that slow slide into stygian depths. I could see no way out. At this point things have improved to the point where I can see a pin prick of light in the far distance and I’m wading through molasses to get there. Much of the time I wear my fake happy face when I have no choice but to be face to face with any representative of humanity. One small problem though and I go crashing back. I can cope when everything is going as I think it should but when it isn’t, my thoughts are a pack of black hounds chasing me down and I cannot run fast enough to avoid or escape them. Forgive me if I get a bit wordy but it’s hard to describe depression and how it feels unless you’ve been there.
Anyway, a major bout of depression and anxiety hit me. I’d say it came from nowhere but in hindsight all the warning signs were there. If you’ve ever done those tests they give you at the doctors for depression and anxiety, my scores fell the tiniest bit short of being defined as a nervous breakdown. I was shaking and sweating and unable to form a coherent sentence. Getting out of bed was a major achievement and answering the phone or the door, walking to the moon would have been easier. Karen, my wife, made a doctor’s appointment for me as I lay hiding under the duvet.
I saw and spoke to the doctor and that was a major trauma. The shaking was chronic, in my left hand particularly, to the point where I had to ask the doctor to fold the prescription she gave me so I could put it in my pocket. When I got home my chest was pounding, I couldn’t speak and my shaking was so bad it was like I was having a fit. I sat in the dark in the living room and got lost in my head. I sat there revisiting recent conversations and arguments and occurrences and rewrote them in my head over and over again. That night I barely slept, maybe three hours of broken dozing until my alarm went off for the school run and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t face leaving the house or talking to people so I managed to tell Karen and then lay and stared at the ceiling, my brain still running at 90mph. Every conversation I’d had was rerun in a hundred different ways.
I managed to get out of bed the next day but again Karen had to do the school runs. I was useless and spaced out. I couldn’t stop shaking enough to draw, one of the things that usually makes me feel better. I couldn’t concentrate to read, another favourite pastime. I ended up sat in front of Netflix with some series rolling by episode after episode. I couldn’t tell you what it was or what happened, nothing stayed with me or went in. It was just lights dancing before my eyes. That was most of December and January. Just a blur. I know I was present for Christmas but there is little I could tell you about it.
The medication the doctor prescribed was increased in that time until I reached a dose that made a difference. One of the tablets had a side effect of helping me sleep so by the end of January I was managing up to 6 hours of solid sleep a night. Function slowly returned. I did school runs, usually sliding in at the last minute to avoid having to talk to anyone at the school gate. I started making family meals and forced myself out to go shopping. It’s very easy to become a shut in and build up the depression and anxiety even more if you continually avoid basic functions. I used the self service in the supermarket to avoid conversations as much as possible. I ate too much, comfort eating I guess, and put on weight I really didn’t need. My sleep was still poor but I was constantly drowsy during the day and would often fall asleep if I sat down.Having to deal with people would still leave me shaky and sweating with butterflies in my stomach but I was at least able to do it. Through the doctor I signed up to a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) group course. Being in a group is hard and uncomfortable, I don’t do well in that environment when I’m at my best, but it means I’m getting some useful help.
By the end of February I was in a position to start thinking about a gradual return to work and that’s where I am now.
If you see me and ask how I am I’ll tell you “I’m good” and I’ll probably be lying because most people don’t want to hear the truth. Maybe it reminds them of their own frailties.
Well that’s my story. Depression and anxiety aren’t a cause for shame or embarrassment, although that is often how we react. It’s an illness that can be managed. Most of the time. It really is okay not to feel okay.