Home > depression, mental health > … so begins another weary day

… so begins another weary day

Hello and welcome to my latest blog. This one is more personal than the previous efforts, which has lead to my not knowing quite how to start it, but we’ll see how it goes…

Just over 10 years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. This followed a mental breakdown that lead to my being a quivering wreck who couldn’t cope with the simple things in life, such as catching the train to work and talking to people. The breakdown itself was a reaction to an ever growing problem that had been building up for a couple of years, but that problem in itself had been fed by my until then undiagnosed mental health issues.

Being diagnosed was a good thing, after all you don’t know how to deal with a problem if you don’t know what it is. However, my initial reaction was, if not completely hostile, somewhat confused. Although the clues to my illness over the previous few years now became apparent to me, I had difficulty accepting my new label. To put it bluntly, I had been told I was mental, and that’s bad, right?

Well, no. As I learned more about depression, I began to realise that ignorance is very far from bliss and it can only foster the sort of preconceptions and prejudice that I myself held about mental illness. And I’m an enlightened guy, probably among the most liberal kind of yogurt knitting, latte sipping Guardian readers, if you will. I learned that just as a broken leg needed care and fixing, the same goes for a broken mind. Or a broken brain to be more precise, my problem eventually being pinpointed as suffering from a chemical imbalance. To this end I’ve been on medication for the last 10 years, several different kinds as it’s difficult to say what will benefit a person most and finding the right meds is essentially a question of trial and error, subject to the whims of brain chemistry and all that medical malarkey. But I think we’ve found the right one for now – a heavy dose of venlafaxine a day keeps the madness away. Ahem.

But it doesn’t cure the depression. In some cases meds are used to help people get on an even keel while they sort out the problems that may have caused their illness. Much depression is caused by life events and is known as reactive depression – a very real issue but something that can hopefully be nullified with the help of anti-depressants and other methods. As time progressed it became clearer that mine wasn’t a reactive depression, but longer term, possibly lifelong. The imbalance in my brain wasn’t caused by the traumatic events I went through, they merely exacerbated it. My depression is and has been part of me for a long time. The meds just help me to cope with it.

By the time this conclusion was reached I was a lot more accepting of my illness and wasn’t as upset as I could have been. If anything, it explained a lot about my behaviour in the years before being diagnosed. In particular I remember my partner being increasingly frustrated as I experienced more and more frequently ‘moods’ where I would in essence shut down and become unresponsive. It also explained the suicidal ideation that had at times become an everyday part of my life, the problems I had experienced at university, the… well, it explained a hell of a lot.

One of the psychologists I saw laid it out using a simple graph (bear with me, I’m no mathematician). Take a horizontal line as the X axis, this line is 0, or ‘normality’, the base line for most people’s mental well being; neutrality. A vertical line cuts through the X axis, this is the Y axis which goes up to +10 above X, and -10 below X. Most people will start at 0 and then draw a line along the X axis, sometimes moving up, sometimes dipping under. My psychologist told me that instead of starting at 0, my base line is in fact at -2 or -3. In order to even be ‘normal’ I have to bloody work at it!

So how has my life been over the last 10 years? After nearly 5 months off following my initial breakdown I returned to work and things gradually returned to a kind of normality. There have been several relapses that have occasioned further periods off work, but in the main I find that work helps me in the sense that it provides a structure and a distraction. I can wake up of a morning feeling like hell but I drag myself into work, sit there quietly for a while, and find myself being taken over by the daily goings on. Then I go home knackered, too tired to take much notice of the black dog nipping at my head.

I also have a good support network of people who understand when I go wrong and don’t judge but try to help, or know well enough to leave me alone. My mother, friends and work colleagues have been wonderful, and the help I’ve received from professionals has been in the main top notch. My GP takes the time to listen to me and has referred me for several lengthy periods of therapy, and my consultant’s team has also looked after me. I’ve turned up several times without appts only to be seen straightaway with no complaint – I’ve also taken myself of to the mental health unit a few times when in crisis and been brought back from the brink. But maybe this will change with the current decimation of the NHS by the government: my consultant has already told me she will no longer be able to look after me thereby ending a 10 year relationship – I’ll have to get another referral from my GP and can he justify the cost? See, I had to get a bit of politics in there.

And the times when it gets too bad to cope with? I retreat into myself, cutting off links with the outside world. My flat becomes my sanctuary and I wrap the depression around me like a malevolent duvet. Anxiety is my constant companion and I find it hard to even contemplate a bus journey further than a few miles from my sanctuary – it’s like there’s an invisible cord tying me to the flat. This has lead to plenty of missed events, the worst being my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009 when, a couple of hours after arriving, I went to Waverly train station and bought a ticket back home for the following day. I then returned to the flat I had rented and collapsed until it was time to catch the train. And I bloody love Edinburgh and the Fringe, and had a group of good friends in the city who could have helped me if only I had let them. But I shut them out. It’s what I do.

Things have been particularly bad over the past two years and I’ve even had the ‘medication’ of work taken from me for reasons I may well write about at a later date – those very same reasons have also served to make things much worse for me at times. In these circumstances the internet has become a lifeline for me. It allows me to stay in touch with friends and the outside world, although when I’m really bad I find it difficult even to type a few words on a message board or Twitter. It’s also allowing me to express myself through this blog, which begs the question…

Why am I writing this for all to see? Well, I find that writing helps me, be it about political stuff (see previous blogs), or more personal goings on like my illness. I think it provides some of the structure/distraction I miss from work, and a sense of achievement when I finish a piece. I’m also no longer ashamed of my illness – why should I be?

Stephen Fry once said that he felt sorry for depressives who don’t suffer from bipolar as they don’t get the amazing highs that such as he can experience. That’s me, that is. I’m unipolar, I just get the bad stuff. Fry also said that if there was an off switch for his illness he probably wouldn’t flick it, and I sort of understand that. Despite the problems it causes, my depression feels part of me. Learning about it has helped me to become a lot more understanding of people, and not just fellow sufferers. The truth is I’ve adapted to it, I’ve had to. And if I have to take pills for the rest of my life, so what? A close friend takes dozens of pills and has a daily injection of tinzaparin to stop fatal blood clots. We do what we have to do. I’m still bloody good at my job, reasonably intelligent, have bloody good friends, and a nicely dark sense of humour. My illness shows no signs of going away, but I can do things to try and lessen its impact. This year I have made a major life decision and taken voluntary redundancy. Not sure what will happen next, but hopefully it will be the push I need to move me on to the next stage of life – that may be the more prosaic move into an advocacy role in my housing career, or it may be the dream of being a ‘proper’ writer. Who knows?

My name is Andy and I have depression – it’s part of me, but it doesn’t define me. Not all the time, least ways…

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  1. Jan
    March 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

    A very well written piece Andy, very open and honest. I hope better things come along for you soon, in your career. X X

  2. Jill
    March 7, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    A wonderful piece of writing Andy, and alot of things you say resonate personally with me. Hope you keep that black dog at bay, and wish you all the very best for the future. xxx

  3. Mary
    March 7, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    You know that your such a talented writer:-) & that I will always wish for better days for you.

  4. September 15, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Really good blog. I don’t know if you are actually envious of bipolar people, but I can tell you some of the disadvantages of experiencing mania/hypomania. I’ve only had hypo (low-level) mania but it still means one can be irrational and become a bit over-confident, Which leads to making unrealistic plans and then when you can’t fulfil them, the depression come-down can be horrendous.

    My mental health issues are mainly centred around my self-esteem and for me therapy has helped me be a lot more realistic and rational with regards to myself. In cases where the depression is endogenous obviously this is not the answer but more treatments are being discovered all the time

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