As a child there was a little handheld game I played. The aim of the game was to put out fires in a tower block as Mickey Mouse. You’d be putting out one fire and whilst you weren’t looking, another would appear in a different window, and that’s what I can best equate my mental health to. I spent over a year of my life trying to put out something that I thought was the most important fire and whilst I devoted all of my time, and energy to that, a bigger fire was spreading elsewhere, and that fire was depression.
In hindsight it’s easy to argue that my mental health should have always been the most important fire and that I should have dropped the other shit much, much sooner but I didn’t and I suffered for it.
I could spend time discussing the specific situations, the events and the people, myself included, that brought me to where I was, and that brought me to my knees but there is little point. It serves me no benefit and to that end I won’t. I’ve learned along the way the difference between putting myself and my needs first and being selfish, whereas previously I thought the two were one and the same.
I’ve never been the most outwardly expressive person, or one to discuss my own feelings but it’s not something that I’ll drag myself for. I thought previously that I’d been at rock bottom, a setback here and a broken heart there, those events seemed insignificant to the marine trench I was sinking into. I’d spent months in depression, getting deeper down, and further into the darkness, gasping for air and reaching for the surface until I sunk to the lowest conceivable point.
In truth, no amount of long and fancy words or analogies can dress up the fact that I had reached a point in life where I was questioning my desire and will to continue onwards. Unless you’ve felt it I cannot begin to explain what it feels like to question in your head whether you would be better off underneath the train rather than than on it. It is not something easily forgotten.
Initially the conversation about my depression with the Doctor was entirely accidental, stumbled upon when asked why it had taken three months to renewing an expired prescription. I gave zero coherent or straight answers, and cried my way through almost the entire discussion, leaving the premises with nought more than a leaflet on group support. About six months later, having progressed in life, but not feeling much different, I returned to the Doctors this time armed with a list. I’d written out details of how I was feeling and save for one or two points I’d gotten it out all before 8:30am. I felt better for it, very much drained, but better and I knew that something was now going to happen about it.
The Doctor and I had a discussion about the whole spectrum of treatment options, including antidepressants. I refered myself to IAPT and after consultation agreed upon a three month course of online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is all about adjusting the habits of the mind, both consciously and sub-consciously. Some of the techniques I’ve learnt are very helpful and others I struggle to put into practise, overall I feel better as a result and I can cope a lot more when I do have a period of low mood.
After finishing the CBT, I felt better in myself but I noticed I didn’t completely feel right and I began to question myself. It felt as if someone had smashed a picture into a thousand jigsaw pieces, which I’d spent time putting back together one at a time (the jigsaw metaphor here being me and my psyche) only to find at the end that there was a piece missing. I wondered whether I was still broken, and if I could ever truly be fixed and what it was in life that I was lacking.
I think coming to accept that the black dog is part of my life is what completed the picture/puzzle. I learnt to acknowledge that this is me and my life at the moment, and that it’s perfectly okay. I’m not lacking anything, and fixing myself is still a work in progress but I’m not broken. Whereas before, and still on the odd days, my black dog is more of a wolf it is now more the when it’s a chihuahua.
Elaborate and unrelenting metaphors aside, I wish depression was far easier to talk about. Post diagnosis it took a week and a half of botched attempts and two pig shaped gingerbread biscuits to tell my Mum. And I tell my Mum E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G (even the stuff I probably shouldn’t). The moment I had chosen wasn’t the most ideal either, bawling my eyes out on a bench, with the entire footfall of the park going by at very close proximity because of some daft dinosaur exhibition. The fact that in general we consider that there isn’t really an ideal time to talk about mental health is a crisis in itself, in reality it should be one of the few things that we drop everything to give time for.
Society has come a long way and depression is less of a taboo than it has been previously but I think we’re not 100% there yet. It’s also true that I place a lot of stigma on the topic myself, I’d much rather tell my (very supportive) manager that I can’t come into work because I have severe gastroenteritis than it’s because I can’t face the world that day. I’m not at the point where it’s something I can discuss entirely openly over my morning drink and Honey Cheerios but it’s a point I’m working towards.
I can’t finish this post saying that life is a bed of roses, because it isn’t. I know that I’m a lot luckier than most, but sometimes I still struggle to see the flowers for the thorns.
Mental Health Awareness week runs 14th-20th of May. You can find more information out about mental health, including spotting the signs, and how to support someone with mental health problems here.