I'm a survivor
I'm gonna make it
I will survive (yeah)
Keep on surviving
- Destiny's Child
A year ago to the day, in response to a piece from Patrick Rhone, I wrote how I was a mental health survivor. Not a sufferer, but a survivor. I hadn't succumbed to my past problems and was still here, still surviving.
I was writing about my problems in the past tense. The irony was, however, that I was in denial and currently suffering with further issues.
I suppose I had actually been on a downward slope since certain events in 2014 (which I won't go in to here) but things started taking a definite turn for the worse during my extended sick leave for whooping cough and a subsequent throat issue. I alluded to it in the post last year but never truly accepted it.
It took about a year but I finally admitted to myself and my family that I was depressed; it was very much like the stories some people tell of coming out as gay. They're anxious about telling their loved ones as they don't know what the response will be but once they say "I'm gay" their family responds "we know, we've just been waiting for you to realise!"
My wife said pretty much the same thing as she recognised a pattern of behaviour that I probably/obviously couldn't see for myself - or wasn't prepared to. Disinterest, lethargy, becoming withdrawn whilst saying that I felt isolated from and by others.
But, like an addict, I had to realise I had a problem and want to do something about it rather than have her trying to force it from the outside. There's part of me that rebels against being told what to do and trying to get me to seek help before I was ready would likely have only pushed me even deeper.
Strangely, there is an addictive quality to depression, the sense that you are on your own and no one else understands what you're going through. It seems counter-intuitive but it becomes an entrenched position, you against the world; it's familiar and, in that sense, almost comforting but not necessarily recognised for what it is.
During a period of manic depression in my early twenties (it wasn't called bi-polar disorder back then) the depressive episodes fuelled a particularly creative period in which I wrote much of my old poetry; I needed that intense state of mind to write and losing it in happier times caused the poems to dry up.
It is likely this addictiveness that meant I took so long to admit needing help. Still, better late than never, I sought medical assistance towards the end of 2018.
While not against medication, I didn't want to be just put on pills and forgotten about so a course of therapy was agreed upon. Unfortunately, the therapy offered was purely phone based and the logistics of fitting it in around work were too complicated considering I couldn't afford any more time off after my previous long term absence.
It may seem odd to prioritise work over treatment but it was at the point where there would have been a financial impact and I have more to consider than just myself.
Fortunately, separate tests conducted by the doctor found that I have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Some symptoms of this deficiency include fatigue, forgetfulness and mood changes - I had been experiencing all of these along with the onset of anxiety, something I'd not really had before, especially in crowded places. It was most surprising, however, to discover this deficiency can also cause depression. Needless to say, I was immediately advised to start taking a supplement.
While taking B12 doesn't treat the underlying clinical depression it has definitely helped in reducing its hold over me. The bad days are less frequent and not as bad. I've taken some other steps to reduce the impact of particular triggers and things have been improving over the past few months. That I have returned to the blog is testament to that.
So, I keep on surviving.
As I said before, I don't talk about mental health as much as I should. Hell, I didn't even want to admit to myself that I had a problem. I think there is as much a personal stigma attached to it as a public one; to accept that you are broken is an incredibly hard thing to do.
But that stops right here, right now.
Part of what I want to do with the blog this time around is to further explore my depression and the reasons for it. Not to dwell on it but to acknowledge it in the hope that gaining a true understanding may help release me.
In doing so, I hope it also helps the wider conversation and, perhaps, encourages others to speak out or, at least, admit to themselves they might have a problem.
I'm not fishing for compliments or seeking sympathy. Maybe I'm seeking empathy.
I'm just one voice but it's a voice that will no longer remain silent. I'm under no illusion that I alone can fix this but if enough voices join in chorus it starts to make a difference.
And that will do for me.