“Possibly the scariest moment in my depression, perhaps the moment that I felt most fearful, perhaps because it seemed to stand for so much about what I think of as being fundamental to my being, was believing that I’d forgotten how to play. I’d sit with my daughter and have no idea. That terrified me. That really hurt.
A couple of weeks (a month or more?) ago, I drew a picture of Totoro on our bathroom wall using my daughter’s bath crayons. I drew it at night to surprise her in the morning. I had so much FUN.
This week I have played. I love my family SO MUCH.”
I wrote that four weeks ago.
Things had come to a head and while, in many ways, the worst of my depression had lifted – the despairing, weak, utterly numb times – I was pinballing between bouts of frustrated anger and weeping fragility. Always on the verge of one or the other. I had become a person that I no longer really recognised as the me that I believed myself to be.
My GP had just signed me off work for two weeks. I sought help and was guided to the list of reading material I mentioned in my previous post (some of it pictured above). I finally began to DO something about my illness.
When I was first diagnosed in 2012 – already two years into my illness – I didn’t really do anything. My then GP left the ball in my court… which was frustrating. Having finally recognised that there might be a real problem, having finally taken a step toward help, he asked me “What do you want to do?”
And I was clueless. Wasn’t that what he was meant to tell ME?
Later I realised he was basically giving me a chance to ask for time off.
Instead, we moved house. Moved most of the way up the length of England.
And that was better. We were (and ARE) both happier for it. But still my depression persisted, entering its third year. Still I remained never far from tears or anger, still the black dog kept barking in my head.
I saw a new GP who was more help (and a lovely man to boot). And this time I knew what I wanted… and after a manic, rambling explanation after which he could diagnose me without another word, I asked for time off.
It helped. I relaxed, actively. Conciously. But still I didn’t really do anything about my problem. Coincidentally at that time I had a surge of interest and enthusiasm in my writing. Documentary ideas I had submitted with friends to BBC Radio 4 had made the short list. And that little boost combined with a little relaxation and space from my day job seemed enough to make the future bright.
But then I went back to work and ran myself into the ground writing and rewriting through the night to give ourselves the best shot of getting a commission. Too little sleep, too much instant coffee, too much stress tweaking and re-tweaking the proposals based on more and more notes, until I was ragged. And my wife could see it. I was barely present in my life. Focussed on ‘writing’ but unable to actually concentrate enough to really WRITE. Ideas, sure. Words on the page? Forget it. My eyes and mind slid off the computer screen like mercury.
And then I hit a wall.
And I went back to see the doctor who gave me another two weeks off,and this time I did something about it, which is where we came in up top.
That first week off was a dream. I’m sure in part out of relief – I was so pent up before hand – but also because it balanced out so perfectly. My wife, who works so hard and does so much in looking after both my daughter and me when I begin to fray, put her own stuff on the back burner, made sure I had time and space to seek out the reading that I needed to do. To talk to advisors by phone. Do begin a course of Mindfullness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) involving daily meditation.
But I didn’t push myself. I couldn’t. And this time I knew it. I took my time.
The reading was a huge breakthrough. Just scraping the surface of understanding what my brain was doing helped to flip the switch, shift perspective so I began to see my own thought processes, recognise what were obviously symptoms. Laugh at myself for not recognising them earlier and for ever thinking I could take on as much as I did and NOT have it come down on me like a tonne of bricks.
In the course of seven years we had moved seven times. Two of those moves were from one end of the country to the other pretty much. I’d worked six different jobs, one of which a specialist dvd shop I set up from scratch then closed when the recession hit six months in. Another a second hand bookshop that I took on and kept going for two years before closing again, due to recession and changes in the market. We got married. We had a baby (a beautiful magnificent little girl). I ended up working in a service station where I hit my lowest ebb. Then moved on to work for Waitrose (hardly inspiring, but a step up from the services). Somewhere in there I wrote and published a story that was overtly expressed my emotional state at the time. I knew it. I wasn’t hiding it. And yet, though it was OBVIOUSLY about a man suffering depression, I somehow didn’t recognise THAT.
I guess I thought that it would pass. But it didn’t.
But still, that first week… a dream… I slept well. I became aware that I was dreaming in my sleep once more (I have no memory that I was dreaming for many months before). Reading was empowering. I began to own and own UP to my illness. Meditation helped a lot.
And I played. I played A LOT. Without thinking. Without effort. I was silly. And I had fun. And I made my daughter and my wife laugh.
And though the second week was wobblier, as I knew to expect it would, and there was a genuine bump in the road in week three, still I recognised them. They did not cause a full on relapse. They were a shower not a storm.
That week was so important – and it felt so LONG – because I achieved practical goals and enjoyed experiential living once again. I felt things again. I LIVED.
Frighteningly, appallingly, I think I’d begun to accept that depression was just how I was going to be from now on. That things had changed and this was life and I’d just somehow escaped it for the time before. The idea of accepting that as a way of life, with just a shrug… sickens me. It seems so foolish. Because I know that another way is possible now.
I had it for a week.
I’m not out of the woods just yet. Depression will be with me all my life, but I’m learning how to weather the storm when it comes. I carry a mental sowester to throw on when it starts to rain.
The weeks since that first one – I’ve now gone back to work – have had their ups and downs. But they’ve been far more UP, far more more consistent. And nowhere near so DOWN.
I no longer simply HOPE I will feel better. I KNOW I can.