Last week I had what I would describe as a depressive episode. My mood was incredibly low and it kept getting worse. I was aware I was struggling, and I was aware that when my wife was at work I was beginning to withdraw from my usual interactions and I was avoiding going out if I didn’t absolutely have to. I know the score – I know what happens when depression seeps through your pores and begins to suffocate the life within. But I didn’t ‘reach out’, I didn’t ‘talk about it’, I didn’t proudly don my SickNotWeak, EndTheStigma, KeepTalkingMentalHealth hashtags and garner support from my online community of mental health warriors.
On this occasion my depressive episode was entirely circumstantial but I was afraid that people would think I was being dramatic to feel as bad as I did over something so small. Except it wasn’t small – not to me!
I was very aware that I should be reaching out – or at least if I was supporting others I would strongly encourage them to reach out – but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what I would say. I thought of all the people I might call. Were it a ‘real’ crisis, I told myself, of course I would call someone. And yet, for a fleeting moment the thought of ending it all crossed my mind. It was the most fleeting thought and I batted it away as though it was of little or no significance, but as I say – I know the score! That is a bad sign for anybody, but that wasn’t crisis enough for me. I wasn’t really going to do anything stupid. I didn’t really want to end my life. I wasn’t really all that depressed – I’d just hit a few bumps in the road and I’d be back on a smooth track in no time.
Were it not for my wife’s ability to read me like a book I would not have told anybody at the time how I was really feeling. I would have put on my bravest face and nobody I came across would have known that all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep til the darkness had gone. My bravest face is good, but not good enough to fool my wife.
At what point should I have reached out? And how? What on earth would I say? I am not a great phone person. I am all for text, email, Facebook messenger – anything but a phone call. That said, instead of reaching out I kept telling myself ‘this will pass’ which is true enough – it has more or less passed, but I suffered alone and I carried on sinking.
When I am telling myself for the third time that I’ll be okay, this will pass, I’m just being stupid – this is when I should be asking for support: I’ve told myself it will pass twice already, and I’m still not okay – it hasn’t passed, and maybe it’s not just me being stupid? If I haven’t managed to stop the downward spiral by now I clearly need a helping hand.
If all I can cope with is a text conversation then I should send a text – I know who I can trust – so I need to start trusting! (If you’re not sure who can trust, maybe write a list while you’re okay and refer to it when you’re beginning to struggle). I did think about texting people a few times, but each time I put it off because I had no idea what to say. In the clear(er) light of day, it seems very obvious and straightforward: Do you have a few minutes to chat with me (by text, obviously!!) I’m really struggling at the moment, seems like a pretty good place to start.
Isolation is one of the weapons that depression uses against us. Catching ourselves early enough, before we believe the lie that we are comfortable in our isolation, is one of the key ways in which we can fight back and help to prevent the spiralling of despair and hopelessness. I can (and regularly do) talk about mental health til the cows come home – when I’m doing ok! But when I’m struggling I shut down, withdraw and I don’t talk until I’m okay again. And once I’m okay again I get back to my advocacy, raising awareness and trying to destigmatise mental illness.
As a mental health advocate, I spend a fair portion of my time raising awareness, fighting alongside others to end the stigma, telling people they are not alone, there is always help, it’s time to talk and time to listen, you would think I’d know better. One might hope, perhaps that I would put my money where my mouth is. And yet I couldn’t. A small, proud, part of me, was reluctant to admit that I was struggling. I feel I should be a strong beacon of light to shine for others that there is hope and there is a way out. How can I do this if I’m low? What hope will people get from me? Perhaps the hope that it is normal to have downs even when we are managing symptoms by and large? Perhaps, the hope that nobody is perfect.
Sticking a spanner in the works of this depressive vortex would take every ounce of energy I could muster, but it is something I need to start practicing, not just preaching! Struggling with my mental health does not make me a fraud – it makes me human. Pretending I am superhuman is what makes me a fraud.
I hope what I’ve learned this week helps others to reach out when they need to:
If it matters to me, then it matters.
I don’t have to be desperately suicidal to deserve help.
If my usual coping strategies aren’t working it is time to reach out and ask for support.
Don’t over-think the act of getting help. Just get help!
Isolating myself is NEVER a good sign.
I am a brave and beautiful warrior but I am still only human.