Imagine we live in a world where people feel safe to not only invest in their mental health but to talk openly about it to their loved ones and colleagues.
I have depression. I manage my depression. It’s part of my biology.
I want to live in this environment. An environment where I can openly talk about my depression and how I manage it. An environment where we don’t suffer in silence, as I did, but where we openly talk about it and seek treatment.
When most people learn that I have depression, they are shocked. They say surely not me. You see, I’ve got a great life. I’m in my thirties (just), married, two kids, house and great career – I’m a Partner at EY. What they fail to realise is that depression doesn’t discriminate. There does not need to be any external triggers. My depression, it’s largely biological.
I – like most people – felt that surely I don’t have depression, and that if I did then I could manage it. Besides, there were no triggers. Four years ago I concluded that something was not right. I saw my GP, completed a questionnaire with my wife and it confirmed that I have depression. Again, no triggers, no reason to be depressed. My life was great. My GP then referred me to a psychiatrist.
The symptoms that caused me to reach this conclusion were:
· Being in a constant state of fog, a grey cloud above me that I could not remove.
· An inability to concentrate. I could not process information no matter how hard I willed myself.
· An overactive conscious, an inner critic that punishes irrational thoughts about guilt and failed perfection.
· A repressed unacceptable image of myself. Even though I knew my life was great.
· Lack of motivation – when I awoke, I spent all of my time thinking about doing something instead of actually doing it. It was not from a lack of sleep. I wanted to be active, be productive, but just dozed.
· I became pessimistic and increasingly anxious. Not a great combination.
· Finally, wine. I never drank much. Just 1-2 glasses on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. It only required one glass to numb it. The issue is that you can’t selectively numb depression – everything, including the positives become numb. So instead of bathing my kids, I sat at the kitchen bench.
So over the past four years I have embarked on a process to both critically understand myself, and understand depression. My starting point was a statement I made to my Psychiatrist in the initial weeks. “The lack of vitality is irritating and frustrating as I know I shouldn’t be this way. That’s what gets to me. The utter nonsense of it all. It’s just a numbing land of depression.” I did not want to feel this way.
Treating and managing my depression has not resulted in any secret, magical lists that I can share. There is no golden ticket. The most important aspect has been my relationship with my Doctor. Treating it is in the middle of this important two circle venn. He has not provided me with the answers, but the necessary guidance, patience and expertise as I’ve worked through it. Eighteen months in, we realised I needed medication to help me through it.
How I manage it is actually quite simple. The challenge is it requires discipline:
· An objective, critical and deep self-analysis. This was brutally hard and confronting. I needed medication to help get there.
· Learning and diligently attending to my natural anti-depressants. For me, this is positive self-talk (Stoicism has been key), at least 8 hours of sleep, exercise, eating well, having a clear daily routine and structure, sheep herding and continuing to work with my psychiatrist no matter how good I feel.
· Recognising that action precedes motivation.
· Understanding that the circumstances of our lives matter less towards our happiness than the sense of control we feel over our lives.
How do I know I can manage it? September 15 last year was a gift. It gave me empirical evidence that I can effectively manage my depression. This gift? I had a stroke. The stroke was triggered by injury and was not health related. I’m fortunate that I’m in good health and I’ve every test under the sun confirming this. We will never know what caused my stroke. Likely, it was from a childhood bike accident and then triggered by something as innocuous as somersaults. This is a life event that would have given me a valid reason to become depressed. I had a stroke, random in nature, and where I’d never know the exact cause. I’m now deaf in my right ear and I had to learn to walk, speak and write again. I chose to be positive, see it as an obstacle and one where the process of recovery – whilst difficult – be an enjoyable process. This attitude, as well as attending to my natural anti-depressants meant that I’ve recovered full of vitality.
Depression, as with any mental illness carries a stigma. Untreated, one can mount a fair case for this. However, when treated this stigma is unfair. It’s this stigma that silences many of us. You choose to suffer in silence. Unfortunately you do not seek professional help to treat and manage it. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s not ok to not do anything about it.
Next time you’re suffering, think of me. Think of me with my Kelpies, herding sheep, enjoying life. Realise mental illnesses are treatable. Be vulnerable. Be honest. It’s not going to be simple, but it’s worth it.