Shine a light into the darkness

Depression is like a slippery serpent, slinking about in the shadows. It slithers into your mind, where it feasts on – and feeds – your fears, doubts, worries and anger. And once it’s got hold of you, it makes you jive to its sinister tunes.

You could look at it as a vampire. Not the young, sexy kind of vampire you might be used to seeing in the movies, but the evil, vicious sort that’s too busy eating away at your confidence and self-esteem to pause for a pout.

Whether you see it as a serpent, a vampire, a bully or – as many do – a black dog or a dark cloud, depression is an invisible illness that relishes the dark.

Because you often have no outward symptoms of depression, it’s not the kind of illness where someone will come up to you in the kitchen at work and say ‘Oh dear, you don’t look well’. There are no spots or swellings to give the game away.

This is perhaps why depression can end up feeling like a dirty secret. Nobody will know about it if you don’t tell them. And the cruel thing about this illness is that it makes you feel ashamed of it. If you admit to it, terrible things might happen to you. The doctor might PUT YOU ON TABLETS. Oh the shame. You might even get SIGNED OFF WORK. How humiliating.

Both of these things have happened to me. Both have been necessary, and both have helped me. Nobody has given me any stick for it. In fact, the more people I talk to about my depression, the more I realise how common it is, and how many people – old and young, male and female – have experienced it at some point in their lives.

I didn’t talk about my depression for a long time, because I didn’t really want to admit I’d got it. I gradually told a few more of my friends, and the encouraging thing was that they were all so supportive and understanding. Nobody came out with those classic lines ‘Well you look OK to me’ or ‘Pull yourself together’.

The big change for me, though, was when I wrote my first blog about depression. I’d previously written about light-hearted stuff, like going on holiday and bird watching, but something compelled me to write about this hidden scourge of my life. I took a deep breath, posted the link on Twitter and Facebook, where I knew my friends and colleagues would see it, and then sat and wondered whether I’d done the right thing.

Well, I needn’t have worried. The response was overwhelming – humbling, even. And it has been the same whenever I’ve posted anything about depression. There are loads of people out there who are experiencing the same thing, supporting and encouraging each other.

Don’t let your depression trap you in a dark corner. Shine a bright light on it – expose it for the snivelling little viper that it really is. It really won’t like it.

My first step to confronting depression was to admit to myself that I needed some help. My second step was to get that help. And my third was to ‘come out’ about it – to write openly and honestly about what was happening to me. It’s actually quite therapeutic.

Does this mean I’m cheerfully shouting out about my illness from the rooftops? No – it’s much easier for me to write about it than to talk about it. Not long ago, when someone asked me on the phone why I’d been off work, I told him I wouldn’t bore him with the details, and swiftly moved on. But that was because I didn’t know him very well and felt it was none of his business.

Many people do know about my depression, including you. And I’m happy about that. Keeping a secret can be stressful – and let’s face it, there are enough stresses in life without creating more of them for yourself. This is one secret you should share.

I wrote this blog for the Time to Talk campaign from Time to Change, which is encouraging people to talk about mental health. Join thousands of others, like me, who have pledged to do just that.


42 Comments on “Shine a light into the darkness”

  1. Jan says:

    Nice one Paul. This post gave me a few goosebumps. I think of it like oil – like any liquid, it seeps into the lower parts first where you don’t notice it whilst it gradually fills up the rest of the space until all of a sudden you are drowning in a dark sticky fluid that clings on to anything, dulling your thoughts, your movements, and your light. I have huge compassion for seabirds who have been caught in oil slicks – they are a symbol of how depression affects me.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Beautifully written.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Sheila Herd says:

    Strangely I recently wrote about how I bottled up http://prozacwithdrawal.blogspot.com/2012/01/postnatal-depression-1994-back-story.html the first time it happened to me. No internet, I felt so alone with it. Wish blogs/internet access had been around back then!

  4. Excellent post, Paul. Keep shining that light. From John at Tydimind.

  5. irenefitz says:

    All the best with the blog Paul. I can identify with my own feelings. Maybe you’d be interested in my new blog which has also been inspired by the Time to Think campaign. http://lifeinpinkpyjamas.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/hello-world/

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thank you very much. I find blogging really fruitful and I hope you do too! I read your blog and I like it very much. Maybe you’ll be able to upgrade the PJs some time soon :)

  6. KittyKatt says:

    Very well written Paul and only to familliar. Little steps, of which this is a good one. Take care and keep writing

  7. A serpent it is. And a dangerous one, too.

  8. sandysview says:

    I had depression, Anxiety & panic attacks for 6 years. I got in a better place in my head and decided to come off the pills, I felt I should read about the side effects of doing so. Shame I didnt read about them when I started taking them. Many of the physical manifestations and mental stuff I had been going through making wish I would have a heart attack or catch cancer and die because I hadnt the courage to kill myself, where side effects of the pills. My depression was bought on by the poisonous actions of a colleague destroying my already fragile confidence. I had a breakdown and spent the next 6 years wanting quietly to die. I got some confidence back through taking little steps. I had some stumbles but got off the pills and now I’m a bit hyper on occasion. I took up writing down stuff because it was nice to do so after feeling for so long that there was no point doing anything at all. Its nice to articulate your thoughts and you do so very well. People think that people with depression are taking the piss or are blobs in a dark room. It’s a silent stalker and I have many friends with daily battles. I’m lucky. I have come out the other side and Mostly I am in a good place now. Thank you for letting me comment on your excellent blog. If anyone reads this please just know that depression neednt be permanent and it comes in many disguises but there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Cheers

  9. Matt says:

    Thank you for your blog Paul, I’d not heard of the Time to Talk campaign until now, Its an issue very poignant to myself and my mother. Writing about it and becoming honest with the difficulties some of us face is remarkably helpful, having a community to share with makes it even more so. If you’d like to read my blog here is the link http://klofrd.wordpress.com/

  10. Roy Wallace says:

    Thanks so much Paul, so well written and such a help!!
    Roy

  11. katyia7 says:

    taking it out on other people will make it worse

  12. Hi Dippyman,
    Your blog is great; and so true. I spent a long time understanding that what I had was depression and then coming to terms with that (and the medication). Just like you said, I’m now in the third stage of ‘coming out’.
    First I told my employer. This was really hard, but worth while from an administrative perspective. I’m sad to report that this wasn’t a positive experience. I was told not to tell anyone else in the team. It made me feel like I had something to be ashamed of.
    Secondly I came out to my wider family and friends. Everyone was so supportive. It really showed me how much I have in my life.
    Most recently I came out on Facebook; and the response was overwhelming. The comments and the ‘like’ tally where multiple. I also received a couple of messages from distant friends asking where I sourced a councillor etc.
    I’m now in a place where I actually feel it’s really important to tell other people. When I get down I can tell people, and the spells are much shorter. I also get the space I sometimes need. Plus people check in on me if they’ve not heard from me for a while.
    So yes, it’s good to talk and it’s definitely time to change :-)
    X

  13. Erincea says:

    Hi Paul

    Good to see your post and read your, and other people’s, experiences. Following a couple of really bad periods of depression & anxiety last year, I’ve also started blog, recording how I work towards recovery and try to figure out what is a sustainable lifestyle.

    My own experience of depression is of a black pit; I describe it here – http://www.erincea.com/the-black-pit .

    I’ve come out to friends, family and, because of how badly I was affected, work. I’m keeping this blog semi-anonymous tho to protect family members. Very well done to you for your openness and promoting the Time To Talk campaign.

    Erincea

  14. Paul,

    Spot on, I’m in the ‘coming out’ phase at the moment, and reading this has made me think that it is about time I was more open about my depression to EVERYONE, not just a select few!

    Excellent writing.

    Gav

  15. gerryjen says:

    Hi Paul,
    Break a leg or get cancer and nobody tells you to “pull yourself together” … But depression…. It’s an illness not a crime. Its not contagious and it’s treatable and curable. I have had both Cancer and a badly broken leg (6 years later and as I write this I’m in a cast after more surgery)
    But when I was on crutches I did not feel ashamed, nobody thought I should give up the crutches and ‘pull myself together’. When I had cancer nobody…. oh in fact some people did say I should not be taking that poison. I have a feeling they were trying to get rid of me.
    So why should we be ashamed to be on the dreaded TABLETS!!! Some of us might come off them, some of us may not. Keep them monitored and all I’d advise is do not get them initially from a GP. Let him/her repeat the script but, if you can, talk to someone for more than the 5.5 mins the GP allows. I know a GP who NEVER refers patients to a psychiatrist because of the stigma it brings. I kid you not! (But remember free advice is worth every penny you pay for it.)
    All medication and treatment has side effects, Some are not great, scars, mutilation, skin problems, etc. But well monitored medication may be just worth the side-effects.
    Anyway Paul i do hope one day we might be made less ashamed.
    Take it easy
    Ger
    BTW I posted a link on Facebook.

  16. Anna Morris says:

    Brilliant, really well written!
    I tried to write something similar, you put it better. My blog is the only place I’m completely open about my depression, a blog hardly anyone reads. Yet I’m scared to promote it because if colleagues see it as a Catholic Youth Worker it may be inappropriate and I think family and friends would judge me for publishing something so personal….

  17. elephantphone says:

    Paul,
    Good post. I remember way back in the sixth-form, talking to a girl I quite liked and telling her I was depressed, big mistake, she backed right off! (Can’t even remember her name now!).
    I’ve had the ‘pull yourself together’ treatment from at least one GP, he told me “there isn’t a shred of evidence that talking therapy helps” needless to say I don’t go to him any more!

    keep up the good work

    Lozzair

  18. Harry Fenton says:

    Your wrote of your reluctance to TALK, as different from writing, about depression and of not speaking to someone you didn’t now very well. Now, isn’t that about not knowing what kind of reaction you’ll get, about the risk of running the gauntlet of people who think they know the answer to your depression? You know tthe stuff as well as anyone, I’m sure: “Pull yourself together …” “EVERYBODY feels a bit down every now and then – you just have to pick yourself up … ” As if it’s our fault we feel so bad! Sure makes us feel better about ourselves hearing others telling us it’s our fault we feel depressed, that we must be inadequate for not being able to do exactly that! And then there are the people who think they have the cure for it …. that might be some weird Chinese medicine, vitamins, a special diet and …. Jesus! So, it isn’t knowing there are others like us that is particularly helpful (when I’m very very depressed I couldn’t care less about other peoples’ problems cos I’m too busy trying to survive mine!) – what helps is in knowing people we can talk to who DO understand what we are going through, who can relate to how we feel because they’ve been there as well, and who won’t say stupid stuff! Brothers and sisters in depression!

  19. uncaringmachine says:

    I’ve always had a sense of depression, but lately it has been hitting me like a bulldozer, pushing me into a really negative direction. I don’t want to do anything anymore. I leave work early because I don’t want to be there, just to come home, where I don’t want to be. There is so much wrong right now…..but you are right, talking to someone, who actually doesn’t mind LISTENING, really does help. I just wish there were more people like that around.

  20. It s a very humbling journey to say the least, but one that I am so grateful that God has put me on, and one I know will produce kingdom fruit.

  21. […] only superpowers you need are hope and, if you feel up to it, openness. Talk to someone about it. Bring it out of the dark, and like me, you will discover there are countless other people who have been through it and are […]


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