Stress, depression and Star Wars

When I was a boy, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. And, as I have found out in the past week, that urge hasn’t quite gone away.

I’ve been rehearsing for a panto version of the Three Musketeers, involving proper sword fights, and my inner child has been prompting me to make lightsaber noises every time I pick up my sword.

Unfortunately for me, this isn’t the only fighting I’ve been doing. Like the hero from Star Wars, I have been fighting dark and very personal forces. No Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine for me, though. Instead, I have been under attack from their sinister real-life counterparts, stress and depression, for the last two years.

Like Darth Vader in the first Star Wars film, stress came wading in first. I’d been working hard, taking on too much and putting too much pressure on myself. There was a lot going on away from work too, not least adjusting to life as a worn-out parent with two young children, and my return to the village pantomime after two years away.

So stress bashed away at me like a battering ram for several months and, almost without me noticing at first, the shadowy figure of depression crept in, whispering morale-crushing phrases like ‘You’re not good enough’ and gnawing away at my self-esteem like some kind of rabid, saber-toothed phantom menace.

It took three months of daily headaches and a catalogue of persistent, pesky little illnesses and ailments to make me realise that something wasn’t right. I hadn’t looked forward to anything for  some time, and my worries were squeezing the joy out of my life. I had no physical or mental energy. In Star Wars terms, this was perhaps my equivalent moment to when Luke realises Darth Vader is his father. The Dark Side of the Force was calling from inside my own head, but I wasn’t really that keen to become its slave, so I went to see my doctor, who has since become the Obi Wan Kenobi of my depression experience, giving me the advice (and medication) I need.

Depression wasn’t ready to give up that easily, though. The tablets alone weren’t putting it in its rightful place. When a kind therapist friend generously gave her time to help me, I realised counselling could be a powerful ally, so my doctor referred me to a counsellor – counsellor Yoda, if you like. Begun this fightback had.

The counselling tackled the negative beliefs I held about myself and all manner of other things that helped to start getting my mind into better shape. My Jedi training was making me a useful warrior against the Dark Side.

My Rebel Alliance – my wife, friends and colleagues, counsellor and doctor, church and faith - has given me the best possible chance of taking on the Dark Side and winning. It keeps attempting to strike back, and it will be a while before I can wave goodbye to my antidepressants and enjoy my first beer since April 2010, but the Force is strong in this one.

The Dark Side’s powers are weakening. Soon, I will be the master.

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16 Comments on “Stress, depression and Star Wars”

  1. Stephen Hunt says:

    To my shame, I wasn’t aware you’d been going through this – but then, that’s one of the devils of the disease, there’s seldom anything obvious that stands out to people around you.

    And there is of course the horrible way it sneaks up on you. Before my career change earlier this year, I was experiencing the same. I don’t know where or when, but somehow whenever faced with any kind of challenge, my inner voice saying “I can do this” changed to “I can’t do this”, even when I knew that I could. Fortunately, I was able to recognise what was dragging me down and take steps to change them. Fortunately for you, you seem to have been able to identify what is affecting you and draw on a good support network around you as you set about tackling it.

    From my perspective, I would say you shouldn’t doubt yourself so much. You’re a pair of hands I’d trust in any circumstances. But of course it’s what goes on in your head that’s the important thing. I hope that you can find a way to trust your own hands, and wits, and smarts, and that you’ll be able to kick the ass of this depression.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thank you sir – very much. Hope you are OK too. And there is no reason why you would be aware, because I’ve been keeping it to myself, by and large. I decided writing about it might help the recovery and get it off my chest.
      Cheers
      Paul

      • Stephen Hunt says:

        I’m doing ok – and expect to be doing better once I’ve got the next stage of my career under way. I have to say, the build-up to doing the skydive, and the help I got towards doing that from Heather Carter, the therapist who offered to help me overcome my fear of heights, certainly played a part in that. To that end, I suggest keep at the writing, and I hope it helps you along the way. And I’ll be glad to help any way I can.

        S.

      • paulbrook76 says:

        That’s good news. I think writing will work better for me than jumping out of planes. : )

  2. Mhairi says:

    Very well done for writing that – can’t have been easy. I’m glad that faith and church and ‘stuff’ has kept you going – while I was reading the first bit the thought that was wandering around my mind was about how being a Christian had made a difference!
    I’ve also found that writing stuff down (even if people can’t see it) makes a massive difference to how you’re feeling… My blog doesn’t appear to have been used since about 2007 or so, but actually has a few private posts that I wrote at times like when Dad died. (That’s wonderful sentence structure there… sorry!) Just writing them down made me feel a lot better about life.

    I won’t be able to come to rehearsal without hearing lightsaber noises now. Please do them? You ARE playing the silly sidekick… (aren’t you?)

  3. Gary says:

    I heard a little Native American story. Which is something like… inside the heart of everyone there are two wolves fighting. One is good and one is evil. They fight to the death.

    Which one will win? The one you feed the most.

    May the force be with you my friend.

  4. David Rose says:

    Paul.
    Like many I never realised and like many I have been on that same ‘Millennium Falcon’ myself and I can identify with everything you have said. That nasty little bugger creeps up on you and before you know it it is too late and had taken hold. It is right what people say, there is little physical or outwards signs of the illness and there is still a huge stigma attached to it.
    I have been lucky I think I have come out of my ‘black time’ but I am also aware that at times there is that little black cloud that just hovers sometimes and just threatening. Both my wife and my daughter have suffered in the same way, so at least we all know how each other has felt or is feeling.
    You will no doubt feel much better having ‘fessed up. It is amazing how cathartic just writing or opening up about it can be. It goes a long way to lifting that black weight and it is also amazing how many others have very similar experiences. So don’t keep it all to yourself and DO talk about it. You will be astonished how much better that can make you feel…. But be careful waving that sodding light sabre around please!!

  5. Peter Mayhew says:

    I went through something similar when I was 17: pressure of A levels and puberty etc. Couldn’t stop crying for days on end. At school: imagine that. The thing that got me through it, for life I hope, was realizing, thanks to some wonderful teachers at school, that if worrying about something ruins my life then I’ve lost perspective. That even goes for things like jobs, family etc : I’m no use to anyone if I’m a jibbering wreck; anything’s better than that. Protecting my own integrity (“knowing my limits”) has become something I’m now very sensitive to: I can detect stress early and take action to reduce it: stepping away from things; making sure I can find time to do the things I find meaningful and enjoyable; telling people about it because friends and the people around you will always step in and help if only they know it’s going on. Those are the things that help me through those times. Plus of course, consolations like music, art, literature, irony and especially comedy; plus knowning that it’s actually perfectly normal to go through stages like that. In retrospect it’s been an enormously positive thing in my life. Anyway, glad to hear you are surviving. let me know if you ever want to pour it out over a cuppa/pint.

  6. Gary says:

    Hi mate
    Is there anything I can do to help?
    Gary

  7. Eva says:

    Hi Paul

    Well, what can I say! Well done for this blog. How amazing is this? Just bloody brilliant! I trust you are well on the way to a more peaceful inner self and I wish you all the very best. You are , after all, THE Lord (I’m sure all sorts will go through people’s mind upon reading this these last two words!) :)

    Anyway, you know where I’m at, so I hope your wisdom, the ability to keep putting things in perspective and your strength are all equally contagious. May I put my order in now please?

    Eva x

  8. [...] summer and autumn, both at work and at home. As I wrote in my first blog on depression – Stress, depression and Star Wars – I’d been putting too much pressure on myself. I wanted to be the perfect dad, despite [...]


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