My good friend, Siobhan, asked me if I would write something for her on the issue of mental health, and my own perceptions on it. My first reaction was "hell, what do I know about mental health?".
But when I thought about it, I realised that Siobhan herself had battled her own personal war with mental health issues, and came out the other side of it. So I knew how it had affected her and her family. And it suddenly dawned on me that I had fought my own demons in the past, and I too came out the far side. so much so that I had forgotten that I had even gone through it when Siobhan mentioned the possibility of me writing something for her.
When people hear about mental health issues, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious. Brain damage or brain malfunction of some kind that affects the cognitive ability of the person concerned. It seldom occurs to someone that one of the most debilitating mental conditions is depression!
Depression as an illness, unfortunately, still carries a huge stigma in society. How often have you heard someone say to a person who is depressed "Pull yourself together. Things could be worse." However, if you could "pull yourself together", you wouldn't have a problem, would you? If you could "pull yourself together", you wouldn't be suffering from depression. You'd just be having a bad day. And we all have them! Always be thankful that when you're having a bad day, you can make a conscious decision to "pull yourself together", and move on.
So why, you might ask, am I putting so much emphasis on that little phrase? "Pull yourself together". It's quite simple. For many years, I couldn't "pull myself together". Yet, during that time, it was all I ever heard. "Pull yourself together". It became three little words that I learned to detest. It was almost two years and an attempted suicide, before a doctor finally agreed that there was an issue to be dealt with. What was the answer? Pills. More pills and counselling. The pills were supposed to make me feel better. But in 1997, it was still trial and error when it came to prescribing the right pill for a person. Basically, you were put on a pill, the effects of which would take about six weeks to kick in. And then it was another three weeks before they could tell if they were working. If they did, great! If they didn't, back to the drawing board and start the procedure all over again. And as for the counselling. That was a complete joke. The counselling was supposed to establish what was causing the depression in the first place, and find a way to deal with it. I already knew what was causing my depression. I just couldn't figure out a way to deal with it. So presumably, the counsellor would help me to deal with the issues causing my depression.
No! I went to one counselling session. Now, I'm the type of person who gives everyone a chance to prove themselves, and I went to that counselling session with no preconceived ideas of how it would go. Bearing in mind, that my doctor had written to the counsellor beforehand, outlining my condition, and the causes behind why I was feeling the way I did, the counsellor should have had a pretty good idea of how I would present, and the symptoms I was displaying. What did the counsellor do? He spent an hour trying to convince me that the reason that I was depressed was because my parents had abused me as a child. Now, I don't know much, but what I do know is that I had two parents who both loved me and my brothers dearly, and such an allegation by this muppet with a degree was not going to be entertained by me! So I came away from that one session, even more depressed than when I went in. Had I not been as ill as I was, it might have occurred to me to take his name and report him to his governing body.
However, when you're in that state of depression, logical thought does not flow freely. My suicidal episode just shows clearly that when a person gets to that stage, any form of logical thought goes out the window. My biggest fear is to die in a fire. Yet, when I decided to end it all, I decided that I was going to do it by throwing a gallon of petrol over myself and just setting it alight. I was found sitting in my garage, with the full can of petrol beside me, having my last cigarette, before carrying out the deed. Now, why would anyone choose such a way to exit this world, especially when it's you're biggest fear, if you were thinking rationally?
For that reason, if you hear about someone committing suicide, and nowadays, most of us know someone who has, don't condemn them for taking an easy way out. When a person gets to that stage, they are not thinking rationally. It's like something else takes over, almost as if the brain goes into autopilot, and it just seems like a good idea at the time.
So all this may seem like a bit of a waffle. But I think people need to hear what it's like from someone who has been there. I don't care how many degrees a doctor, counsellor, or psychiatrist may have, if they haven't suffered with depression, they cannot understand what it feels like, or how debilitating a condition it is.
You can't properly describe it to a person who has never had it. It's like having a permanent cloud hanging over you. Imagine the feeling you have when you lose a loved one. Then imagine that feeling ten times worse. If you can imagine that, you might have just the slightest idea of what depression is. Now imagine what it's like to live with that feeling every day of your life, without seeing the possibility of relief. That is what depression is like.
But the worst part of it is that you don't look ill. You don't have a rash. You don't have your arm in a sling. You're not laid up in bed with a fever. So, on the face of it, to the rest of the world, you're ok. There are no physical symptoms. And you put on a brave face to the world. The only people who know there is anything wrong are your close family members. And they only know because they are the ones on the receiving end of your mood swings. You don't want anyone else to know. Because you don't want anyone else to think you're "crazy", or "mad". Yeah, two more labels that are attached to those suffering with depression.
Unfortunately, depression is becoming more and more prevalent in today's society. And more prevalent in young people. The cause of most depression in young people is down to the schoolyard bully. Bullying is something I get really mad about. If there were no bullies, there would be far fewer cases of teenage depression and teenage suicide. The sooner they make bullying amongst teenagers a serious criminal offence, the better. And there are still too many schools and too many teachers who do not take it seriously enough. In many schools, a student is likely to be punished more severely for not handing in an assignment, than for bullying a fellow student. And all too often, the victim of bullying is treated worse than the perpetrators.
So remember, depression does not need to be the end of the world. You can turn it into the start of a new chapter in your life, which is what happened with me. I got myself out of a depressing and humiliating situation, and went through my own hell doing it, but found myself in a new and fulfilling relationship, with someone who knows and understands what I went through and supported me when I came out the other side of it. And I'm happier now than I ever have been before. If I can do it, anyone can. As I said, find a reason to laugh every day, and find something to be happy about every day. Before you know it, you too will forget what it is to be depressed!