As my friends will tell you, I am a fairly open and direct person. Indeed, one of them once said of me, “In the years that I’ve known Mike, one of the things that I’ve learnt is that, if you’re a bit worried about the answer, it’s probably best not to ask him the question”. I took that as a compliment. Consequently, I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’ve had mental health problems. They weren’t my fault and I saw no reason not to talk about them.
Like the many others, the conditions of my early childhood sowed the seeds for the periods of depression that I would experience over the years; always in response to traumatic situations. The first, I now realise, took place when I was 19, then 34, 43 and 57. The third of these led to a breakdown during which I lost all memory of nearly 3 weeks of my life. In writing this, it occurs to me I’m currently in the longest depression free period of my life. Fortunately, apart from the bout that led to the breakdown when I had about 5 weeks off work, I’ve never been incapacitated for long. Indeed, during the last one, I continued to work despite what I was experiencing.
At this time, I had just left a job, suddenly and not by choice, and became self employed as consultant to the voluntary sector. I recognised the symptoms immediately and went to see my GP who prescribed antidepressants. Now although these worked for me, they took two weeks to kick in and, during that time, I received a phone call offering me some work helping a community group to bid for many millions of pounds from the New Deal for Communities Fund. Despite my condition I must have done a good job and, against the odds it seems, the group got the money. Yet I remember one Sunday afternoon meeting when I had to drag myself off the sofa and drive to Luton to run a workshop. I was visibly shaking throughout the journey and that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach yet, as soon as I stood up to speak, these went; only to reappear when I left and drove back.
Now, there are a number of problems with depression, one of which is that it seems to have a more open ended timescale to physical illnesses. When, for example, I have a bout of flu, I know that I’ll feel lousy for a couple of days, after which I’ll get better; so 5 days maximum. The scary thing for me about depression is that it has its own timescale during which you can feel as if you’re sliding down into a dark hole without the means to prevent this happening and that isn’t pleasant. The other is with the acknowledgement that it’s a condition that I’m vulnerable to; vulnerability being something I find really difficult. Another matter is that it brings to a complete halt your ability to actually do anything other than just exist; even eating. Indeed, I once described it as the best diet plan that anyone could have. During the breakdown, my appetite vanished such that I lost about 1½ stones in less than a month.
Well, now I live a more contented and fulfilling life free from many of the worries created during that childhood. The result is that I am less prone to the circumstances that trigger the condition. Also I recognise the symptoms that can create it and try to step aside from these. I’m not daft enough to think that I might not experience bouts of depression in the future and just hope that I’ve learned to cope. After all, aren’t I the one who tells others that I can cope with whatever life throws at me?