This latest blog post is a complete shift away from the usual subject matter that has formulated my posts since I started blogging in 2011. I have been prompted to write about the once taboo subject of mental health; the reason for this will become clear in due course. Those of you who have read my book, Eyesight To The Blind, will be aware that mental health issues formed a big part of my earlier life, and for those of you who may be new readers I will give an extremely condensed summary of my experiences before I continue with the post.
For many, many years, no matter where I found myself in the world and in whatever capacity, I always felt that I didn’t belong; like I was in the completely wrong place. I also felt, for no apparent reason, the most excruciating emotional pain that made me feel as though I was the worst person in the world. This would normally be triggered by feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. In addition to that I would experience paranoia (although at the time I would have vociferously denied it) and could often withdraw into myself, especially if I felt that a group of people were excluding me. When I finally found out, by accident no less, that I had depression, which was in 1996, I estimated that I’d been living with this “thing” for around 28 years.
Now that I had a name for what I’d been experiencing I was able to go about the task of tackling it. Notice that I have not said that “I suffered” with depression; I will clarify in due course. I lived with this condition at a time when it was not understood and not spoken about. If you said you were depressed it meant that you were hacked-off because your team lost on Saturday. If you happened to persist with this notion of, “I’m depressed”, you would be ridiculed, told to man-up or pull yourself together; after all it’s only girls and sissies who get depression, isn’t it?
I initially went to my GP and asked for “happy pills”; he duly obliged, but I couldn’t stop drinking and we all know what happens when we combine the two. It’s not exactly a marriage made in heaven. After an experience that I never want a repeat of, I finally decided that enough was enough; I was simply tired of feeling awful. Plan “B” was to flush my pills down the toilet, grab depression by the scruff of the neck, look it square in the eyes and (apologies to any minors, religious people, or people of a nervous disposition who may be reading!) knee it in the bollocks. It worked a treat, I’d got to the point where I was recognising triggers, which is something you can’t do when you don’t know what you are experiencing. Whenever a trigger reared its head, I simply acted in the opposite way to what I’d always done; for example, if I was feeling excluded I made a point of interacting with people. However, I wasn’t quite out of the woods..
Around three years later, for a period of approximately two years, I had an experience in the workplace that caused me to be off work sick for a period of six months, with an acute stress related illness. This was my real turning point. I was full of hatred, anger and blame, but it was during that six-month period that I learned the root cause of the problem.. it was me.
I was defining myself by my illness and blaming the world for the way I felt. It was only when I realised that I was the only person who could change my life that my life actually changed. I realised that who I really am is something that goes way beyond my illness. I could have gone on blaming other people and circumstances for ever, but no matter what I perceived that others had done to me, no matter how much I hated and blamed, the only person hurting was me. Yes, I took certain actions, and I’d be happy to go into more detail if anybody reading this is interested; just contact me via the contact form below. But the reality is, that all along the solution was within me. I just had to experience what I now refer to as “my great adventure with depression”, in order to arrive in that awareness. Now to the whole point of this post.
I think it’s fantastic that there is now a much greater understanding and awareness of what is an awful illness. It’s amazing that more and more people are not afraid to talk about it. What is especially refreshing is that so many famous sports stars and actors, past and present, are going public and sharing their experiences. It proves that depression does not discriminate; it will make its home in anybody regardless of their status within society. The elephant in the room is most certainly becoming more visible.
The concern that I have is this. While it really is a great thing that so many are opening up about their experiences; especially with social media being so big now, it gives people a platform from which to share. I see so many negative posts being churned out. So many people it would seem, are defining themselves by their condition. This is why I never say that I “suffered” with depression; I always say “I lived with”, or “I experienced”. When we use “I” or “I am” in a sentence, we need to be very careful what words we use after because they really are defining. The mind is such a powerful thing; we ARE literally what we think. So, when we are constantly affirming that we are worthless, useless, inadequate, a victim etc, that is exactly what we will be. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is, but I suppose that everyone in their own time will make the natural transition in the way that I did. I just want to finish by saying two more things.
I’m not in any way trying to say that my experience is definitive. We are all unique (thankfully) and we all have our own pathway. I’m also not suggesting that the people tweeting and posting negative stuff are wrong. It is what it is, and we are all at different stages of our journey. In many cases they don’t know how to reach out in any other way. I’m simply trying to highlight how harmful it can be when we define ourselves by negatives.
Finally, I wasn’t going to mention any individuals, but I’m going to mention the ex-footballer, Dean Windass. He was an absolute beast in his day and still looks quite fearsome, but he is one of the many brave souls who are bearing all to the world. The reason I mention Dean is because he posts regular videos on twitter. Those videos are never rehearsed, they are completely raw; showing his humanness, and he always says how he feels but also he regularly sends out the message that if you are having a bad day; reach out to someone! These days there is always someone who will listen respectfully, so don’t suffer in silence!
Like Dean’s videos, I hope that this post has reached out to you, that it has made at least a modicum of sense and that you have been able to take something from it.
Don’t forget, if you want to ask any specific questions about how I dealt with and beat depression, just get in touch via the form below. Later people…