The recent string of high profile suicides has gotten a lot of people talking. They illustrate that mental health, like war, is an indeterminate killer. It doesn't care who you are or how successful you've been, if it grabs hold of you the battles you have to fight are the same.
Some might have access to better support networks, doctors and medication but, ultimately, the war is won or lost on the inside.
Patrick Rhone wrote such a perfectly emotive description of depression, calling it the three hundred pound guy wanting a piggyback, always there, demanding it and when he doesn't get it he gets abusive, telling you how useless you are, how worthless as a human being. Sometimes you manage to keep a bit of distance between you, others he's right there, right on top of you, crushing you, making everything an effort and seemingly impossible.
I have a three hundred pound guy, lots of people do. Luckily I've managed to keep mine at a distance lately but that wasn't always the case. Sometimes he was right there, in my face, yelling at me and stopping me from functioning.
I struggled as a kid. I was shy, nervous, introvert, never really sure of myself and these traits have never left. I can manage them to a degree but they're always hanging over me, part of me. They set me on a path that I try to leave but sometimes get drawn back to.
In my lates teens/early twenties there were three distinct occasions when I seriously considered ending it all but a combination of guilt and fear stopped me. Guilt that I would be taking "the cowards way out" as it was seen in those days and leaving others behind to deal with the consequences. Fear that if it didn't work it would, no doubt, be incredibly painful and potentially leave me in a far worse position than I already was.
I was manic depressive (the term bipolar wasn't really well known at the time) up and flying one minute, the life and soul of the party, down the next. Really down, crashing through the floor down.
I was an insomniac (cause or symptom?) and would spend long hours through the night just walking, alone with my thoughts which is often the worst place to be. I didn't seek help and wasn't on medication. I should have but I was living alone, not registered with a local doctor and didn't know where to turn.
Meeting my wife meant I could put some distance between myself and the three hundred pound guy. She saved me from him, and myself, but he never went away completely. He still watches from a distance, writing the odd note, sending an occasional text. When times are tough he invites himself round just to remind me that I'm useless.
My depression stems from my sense (or perceived lack) of self worth - it's the same for many - but I can usually hold this in check. Still, I've never found my professional calling and often feel like I've not lived up to my potential, that I'm a failure as a worker, a husband and father. The three hundred pound guy knows this and uses it against me when he gets an opening:
- when I suffered from intense migraines and stress and was on medication that made me worse leading to a break down in our kitchen and I just couldn't explain why
- when I was made redundant, out of work for six months and just couldn't see a route back
- discovering in my forties that I was an unwanted child (which explained a lot looking back) and shook me in a way that it shouldn't have at that age
- when I couldn't speak and it felt like part of me was missing, I felt isolated because I couldn't engage in even the simplest of conversations
Even now, as I type this, I feel him peeking over my shoulder because he knows I'm not really happy at work and feel wasted in what I'm doing with no obvious path forward. He's just biding his time, waiting for the next opportunity.
But you know what? I'm not a victim or a sufferer.
Everyone who hasn't lost the war, who is still battling, is a survivor.
I'm a survivor and I hold on to that, use it as a source of strength knowing that I've come through the darkness and am still here, still keeping the three hundred pound guy at bay.
Like a lot of others, I don't really talk about depression and mental health much. I should. We all should. We all must.
As Patrick says we need to be proud to be survivors not ashamed that we've had to fight the war. We need to show those who are struggling that they are not alone, that there are others dealing with the same shit they are, that it is possible to keep fighting and come out the other side. And if we all do this we in turn will know that we are not alone. We can be a beacon but even beacons need tending.
"I’m a mental illness survivor. And, no matter who or where or how you are, I need you with me on this."
I'm owning it and won't hide it any longer. I'll be proud to be a survivor.