Everyone understands physical sickness and injury.
Everyone understands physical sickness and injury. When someone’s body is damaged to the point it can’t function effectively or they find themselves struggling to eat, sneezing, etc.
It is a tangible thing that people can understand and relate to. Poor health is easy for most people to recognise.
Mental Health however is a different matter with depression being among the most common ailments.Even well meaning people who know you well may well dismiss your change in mood as “he’s not himself recently” or “mate, you need to get it together” as though as you’re just acting up out of choice and you can just snap out of it in a heartbeat.
Depression isn’t just a case of waking up and not feeling particularly up for it that day – that’s just having a bad day, and some people have a lot more than others. People who make statements like “I’m so depressed Britain didn’t win the Eurovision song contest” aren’t depressed either. They’re just mildly annoyed about something (in the example I’ve given not even something worth getting annoyed about.)
I don’t want to make this article all about me. There are plenty of egotistical bloggers out there to moan about their woes until their hearts content.
However I feel giving you an insight into my own experiences may add a more human layer to my point.
It Could Happen to Anyone
Life stopped being fun when I was about twenty. I had things reasonably well off really. I’d just moved back in with my parents after sharing a house with mates for a few months and was working full time at the local supermarket.
I didn’t bother with university, not many people I know did. I was five years into a relationship and was thinking of getting engaged and emigrating to Norway (long story).
Of course, it all went wrong. My mum was diagnosed with cancer in early 2009 and passed away later that year. Within a few months of the diagnosis my girlfriend and I broke up. It was a combination of things. Suffice to say I perhaps wasn’t in the best frame of mind to contemplate my long term future.
For the first year or so afterwards I was fine. I released my first book, lost a lot of weight and generally tried to move forward with my life.
Unfortunately that’s how the problem began. I could cope with bad stuff happening to me, that’s part of life and I think we’re all sub-consciously wired to be ready for it to some extent, it was the nothing that got to me.
Depression can affect people of any age, but as a man in his early twenties I can tell you it’s a despairing feeling watching the world move around you. Your friends get new jobs, form new relationships, buy houses, have children etc.
It’s hard to be the one who sits there doing nothing. Maybe I could have done more to change it, I don’t claim to be blameless, but that was how it went.
For years my life followed the same pattern.39 hours a week doing the same repetitive, badly paid, unappreciated job – putting DVD’s into white sleeves at the local shop.
My personal life never seemed to change, I had a lot of friends and we went out a lot but despite a few brief relationships nothing really happened to change my status as “just about eligible” bachelor.
There are a lot of people in this situation and they get along just fine. A lot more don’t though – and those are just the ones you actually notice. Usually they’re the ones who let the inertia (or whatever is driving their depression) drive them to near breaking point.
I know a lot of great people who’ve been driven to despair by how terrible they perceive their world to be. On a rational level of course you know there are people far worse off than you in this country, not counting the fact that we’re probably among the luckiest 10 per cent of human beings ever to live.
But it doesn’t make it better.
I was waking up each morning and wishing I wasn’t. The days ticked by and I couldn’t feel any change of direction or anything improving. That’s when the drinking started – self-medication is a frequent sign of depression.
I didn’t even notice I was upping my intake at first, I’d be lying if I made any claim to ever being a really responsible drinker. Soon though it got out of control. It started off as a few extra at the pub, then a few before and after the pub, then a crate of lager a night at home. I’d probably have drank myself to death by now if I actually liked any alcohol beside beer.
This went on from late 2010 until mid-2013. For some people it lasts even longer, it even drives some to bring it to an end themselves. I came close a few times – when it looked like I’d screwed up even worse than usual and annoyed a friend or failed to show for work.
It wasn’t as though my life was completely miserable either – I got to travel a fair bit and wrote a few books, two life long ambitions. Even so, it was still there. I was looking at my book sales and thinking about my next trip and I’d just think “This is ok, but what is my end game?”
It felt like I was sleepwalking.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
I got lucky, somehow. I woke up one morning and decided it was time to put an end to it. I decided to stop thinking about how great it would be to be a journalist and to actually go for it. Eight hours later I’d be accepted at the local University to study it.
I still have periods where I just don’t feel up to anything, and every now and then I drink a little too much – though nothing like what I used to. But I feel happier now I have a focus. I want to get this degree, and it gives me something to wake up in the morning for.
I’m lucky though. I know plenty of people who can’t seem to find something to set their sights on, people who have had far harder and difficult lives than I could even comprehend. I have worked with people with all manner of drink and drug dependencies brought on by depression.
This is why I support Mental Health month. I’m quite lucky in that I can express myself quite well (and vocally after a few pints). There are many more people out there who feel alone and don’t feel able to talk about their problems. These are people who are afraid to tell people why they’re down in case they’re mocked and ridiculed.
Society needs to accept that depression isn’t weakness, it’s an allergic reaction to the world around you.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.