After I woke up on Monday to the news that Robin Williams had passed away and I learnt of the circumstances, I said I hoped that his legacy involved a re-think of our response to mental health. I’m pleased that a number of other people have shared a similar viewpoint. Amongst them is a friend who has shared of his personal experience:
More of us suffer from depression than we realise. It’s been taboo, so we keep it quiet. Because of that, healthy people don’t understand much about it and say things that make sufferers feel worse. Sufferers make themselves feel worse, looking for logical explanations for the symptoms they have to deal with. It’s not deliberate, of course, it’s a function of lack of knowledge and understanding.
Will you please join me and piss all over this taboo right now, while it’s a topical issue? I’ll continue where I’ve already seen many folk leading the way in the last couple of days.
Sufferers need to stop hiding our symptoms and putting more pressure on by pretending nothing is wrong. Non-sufferers need to realise that competent people don’t suddenly become unreliable, unless there’s something wrong.
I have lived with depression for much longer than it’s been diagnosed. I have seen a number of counsellors. One helped and, because I was working and could afford it, I saw him weekly for several months. Since I haven’t been able to work so much, I haven’t been able to afford private counselling. So at a very difficult time, when emotional trauma kept kicking me, I was referred to ‘crisis’ counselling by the NHS and, after 6 sessions, I was closer to suicide that at any time before. The Samaritans picked up the pieces and helped me put myself back together again.
For 3 years since diagnosis I’ve been on anti-depressants. They are useful. They have their place. Because depression causes/is caused by (who knows? but they’re associated) chemical imbalance in the brain, often (but not always) precipitated by an emotional trauma of some kind, some drugs help to stabilise our feelings while we wait for the inner strength to tackle the root cause. If the root cause is emotional trauma and we can learn to deal with it, we can often make a good recovery and return to a life that is pretty normal.
Maybe sometimes there’s no initial trauma that kicks it off. Or maybe the trauma is so great, the patient’s mind refuses to remember it and it stays hidden, rotting away beneath the conscious level, undermining our physical and emotional strength. This must be a hell for those who suffer it. Because there is no way of learning to cope with it, of managing past it. the chemical imbalance is constant and maybe incurable.
In my case, I’ve maybe just got a grasp on the original causes and have them under some kind of control. It doesn’t usually make me cry to talk about them like it used to. I don’t get tremors or anxiety attacks, much. I can finish most sentences I start, without deteriorating into an incoherent stammering, mumbling fool. That’s quite important to avoid in my work.
I still don’t have the confidence to make decisions, sometimes even relatively unimportant ones. I was maybe always a little OCD, but now it’s excessive and extreme. I therefore don’t always trust others to do what they promise to do. That puts pressures on relationships with friends and partners. Imagine what it would do to relations with peers and team members who report to you.
That’s why this illness can be so debilitating. Once confident, decisive, supportive leaders become no longer fit for purpose, very quickly. In time I’m making more decisions, but often turning to loved ones seeking support and guidance.
No one with depression wants sympathy. Simple acceptance of our condition, even some understanding of it’s debilitating impact, would be terrific. Please.
From a friend, who in many ways could have been anyone of us.