First posted by Time To Change
There are three things everyone should know about depression:
1) Depression is not the same as feeling depressed. Feeling depressed – like feeling sad or grumpy – is a mood. Depression is an illness.
2) Depression is not a choice, any more than other illnesses or diseases are. Nobody would decide to have depression.
3) Anyone can experience depression. You can’t look round and spot the kind of person who ‘gets’ it.
A friend once said to me – when I told her I was taking antidepressants – “oh Paul, but you’re not the type”.
So what ‘type’ is meant to have depression? Is it a lifestyle choice for a particular breed of moping miseryguts?
No, of course it isn’t. The whole notion of ‘choosing’ to have depression is preposterous. But that idea is – incredibly – still widely held, and kept alive by phrases like ‘What have they got to be depressed about?’, ‘Everyone’s sad sometimes – get over it’, and ‘Man up’. People who say these things have no idea what they are talking about.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health problem – depression being one of the most common – in any one year. Unless you know a remarkably small number of people, this means that several people you know either have, or have had, a problem with their mental health. Think you can spot them?
Men are not always great at talking about how they feel. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I didn’t want to talk about it either. I kept it hidden and obviously managed to do so very effectively. A family who ran a local sandwich shop called me ‘Smiler’ because I was ‘always smiling’. They only saw me for five minutes a day, when I was buying something for lunch, at my best time of day. They weren’t to know I would be walking back to my desk wishing I didn’t exist.
I thought that if I told people about my illness they would draw certain conclusions about me – that I couldn’t do my job as well as I used to, for example. I didn’t want them to know I had to take tablets because I was too stressed to cope with everything life was throwing at me. They might think I was weak.
Actually, I’d been coping incredibly well for months and years, balancing a busy job with a hectic and demanding family life, as a father of two young children getting a pitiful amount of sleep. It gradually caught up with me.
Dr Tim Cantopher, in his brilliant book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, describes stress-related depression as a blown fuse. You overload your body and brain until something inside goes bang. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and treatment to repair that damage.
The ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness persist. Some comments, like my friend’s, are not meant maliciously. It’s just a case of people not understanding depression because they haven’t been through it themselves. Others delight in their ignorance and enjoy belittling those who are courageous enough to talk openly about their experiences.
This playground bully mentality festers among the male population – that desire to show how tough you are, how strong you are, how brave you are. You want to see those qualities? Look at someone who’s gone through depression – that’s what they need to get through each day.
You could be young or old, black or white, gay or straight, big or small; a boxer, footballer, actor, rock star, plumber, joiner, journalist, manager, truck driver, artist, fisherman, builder, pub landlord – whatever. Depression isn’t picky.
Let’s not be ‘strong, silent types’. Let’s show our strength and courage by standing up to this crippling illness and fighting the stigma.
First posted by the Mental Health Foundation
There was a time – not long ago – when I felt it would be easier if I didn’t exist.
I was never suicidal, but I did wish the world would stop turning and let me get off, because I wasn’t enjoying the ride. I was worn out – a grey, washed-out, spent force before I’d reached my mid-thirties.
For a while, I wasn’t really living. I was a zombie, drifting about on some kind of invisible treadmill with a brain full of anger, worry, frustration, hopelessness and self-loathing.
Everything had become too much for me and I couldn’t cope any more. Life had become too serious. As a father of two young children, juggling multiple responsibilities, I wasn’t getting the rest that I now know I needed, and there seemed to be no end to the stress and pressure.
On hindsight, the first warning sign of trouble ahead – before the dizziness, headaches and dark moods – was that I wasn’t looking forward to anything any more. Instead, I was dreading everything. All the things I could have been enjoying were another source of anxiety.
It’s hard to admit that you can’t cope, and I soldiered on for a few months before I eventually realised that I had to do something, and went to see my GP. He went through a checklist of pretty much everything I was feeling at the time, and told me I had depression.
We take a lot of pride in being ‘strong’, but when it comes to protecting your mental health, the strongest thing you can do is admit you need help and to go and get it. Professional support and advice will help you to get better. ‘Manning up’ will get you nowhere.
Depression, take a good look at these shoes. Why? Because they are going to kick your backside so hard you’ll never want to come back.
They may just be a pair of running shoes, but there is something special about them. They are the shoes I’ll be wearing as I train for the Jane Tomlinson Run For All 10K in York this August, and on the day itself.
Not the most remarkable sporting feat you’ve ever heard of, I know, but this is more than just a run for me. This is personal.
I’ve done the York 10K twice before.
In 2009, before stress and depression entered my life, I trained well and enjoyed the event. I surprised myself by finishing in under an hour.
In 2010, I felt nothing, like I was running on autopilot, and when I found my time was slightly slower than the year before, depression mocked me and told me it wasn’t good enough. I had failed, and I lost what was left of my enthusiasm for running – and most other things. I just couldn’t see the point.
When I eventually returned to running at the end of last year, I vowed to get my own back on depression. Not only would I do the 10K again, I would take the opportunity to raise money that would help other people with depression.
The Blurt Foundation’s online mentoring scheme is a fantastic, free, confidential resource for people with depression. You’re assigned a mentor who understands depression because they’ve experienced it themselves.
When I need extra support and want to blurt something out, I turn to my mentor, who gets what I’m chuntering on about and helps me put it into perspective and to think things through. It has helped me to cope and ride the storm.
So, sporting my Blurt ‘Run it out’ T-shirt and wearing my new running shoes, I am aiming to raise £1,000 towards the mentoring scheme and to take my vengeance on depression.
Depression walked all over me and trampled my self-esteem under its big, black boots. This is payback time.
Every time I make the effort to go running, it’s a mental victory for me over my shadowy nemesis. Every step I run is a kick up his posterior. Every pound I raise will be a punch in his vile mouth. I am going to hit depression where it hurts, over and over and over again – just like it did to me.
- If you’d like to sponsor me, here’s how to do it: http://blurtitout.org/give/paul-brook/
- This blog was first posted by the Blurt Foundation.
First published by York One&Other
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and, with The Apprentice back on the telly, now seems a good time to talk about stress.
No doubt the candidates vying for the dubious honour of a most-likely temporary and thankless job with Lord Sugar will be telling the business tycoon how they ‘go the extra mile’ and are ‘passionate’ about something or other.
For however long they stay in the competition, they will put themselves through all kinds of stress, trying to prove themselves.
These candidates, along with conscientious or ambitious people up and down the land, will be constantly battling to meet and exceed expectations and targets, to make money, or to impress and please people. If it works, I’m pleased for them. But for many of us, one extra mile leads to another, and another, and those extra miles amount to a steaming mound of stress.
I’m cynical about these extra miles for a good reason. I’m one of those people who has always ‘gone the extra mile’, and it made me successful – perhaps seemingly invincible – for a while, but the extra miles became some kind of marathon effort to prove myself to… well, to myself. I felt that if I didn’t excel in every situation and please everyone then I was failing to meet my own punishing, perfectionist standards.
Yes, some stress is necessary in most jobs and helps to get the job done, but if it goes on and on unchecked and unbroken, that stress will get you. It will stop being your catalyst and become your nemesis. It can turn into anxiety and depression.
And once you’re in the mire of depression, there are no extra miles, because everything is too much effort. Goodbye energy. Farewell motivation.
Depression is not like most natural hunters, which prey on the weak. It targets the strong and brings them down. People who have coped with everything suddenly can’t cope with anything.
So here is my warning for Mental Health Awareness Week. Don’t let stress take over you. Don’t give depression a chance. Trust me – you don’t want it in your life. And you are not invincible. Nobody is.
Keep an eye on your stress levels. Be kind to yourself. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you’re feeling run down, frequently getting ill, getting regular headaches or interrupted sleep, give yourself a break.
Those who always go the extra mile often win medals, but they can also end up with a booby prize that hangs around their necks for years to come. By all means go that extra mile when it’s really necessary, but remember that it isn’t ALWAYS necessary. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is perfectly adequate.
“Having children will change your life,” people told me before I became a dad.
It was hard to appreciate exactly what they meant until it happened, but the other day a train went past as I was walking into town and I had a barely controllable urge to point at it and shout “Look! Train!”
Having children makes you see the world through different eyes. Fatherhood has given me – a born worrier at the best of times – new things to worry about (I’ve never driven so carefully as the day I drove home with my baby daughter in the back of the car), but also magical moments to savour and celebrate. There’s something uniquely wonderful about sharing your child’s little achievements, like taking their first steps, counting to five for the first time, learning to read…
Here are five small examples of how life is never the same once you’re a parent:
You get excited about vehicles – and might even wave at them
Young children – especially little boys – love vehicles, especially trains, tractors and diggers. These modes of transport may not excite you personally, but once you get in the habit of pointing them out, it’s difficult to stop, even if you’re on your own.
The ultimate vehicular excitement is if someone in that vehicle – it could be a passing boat or train – waves at your child or, if it’s a car, honks their horn. My kids watched cars passing under a bridge when we were out on a walk, and when one of the drivers saw them and honked his horn, they squealed with delight. It’s hard not to share that thrill.
You become obsessed with poo and wee
Your children will, at some stage, develop a fascination with poo and wee. They will probably make up songs about them. Poo and wee are hilarious. Fact.
They’re not the only ones who are obsessed with poo and wee, though. You probably reach the obsessive stage before they do, and you’ll soon find yourselves discussing what was in your child’s nappy – “It looked like chicken korma!” – or how many times they’ve used their potty. You won’t just discuss it between yourselves; you’ll chat in detail about poo and wee with other parents, or even non-parents, quite possibly while eating tea.
You’ll develop an in-built toilet tracker
You’re planning a trip out. What is the single most important thing you need to know if you have young children? Where the toilets are. Because the poo and wee obsession carries over into a very practical need to know the location of every toilet in the vicinity.
At some point in your outing, you will hear the alarming phrase “Daddy, I really need a wee!” and your toilet-locating reflex will kick in. You will never hear a child say “I think I will need a wee in ten minutes so I’m just warning you”. The need for the toilet will be a full-on, red-alert emergency and the bit of your brain that says “Marks and Spencer, top of the escalator, turn right” is all that can save you from disaster.
You will have to sing in front of people
Children like learning songs and, until they become painfully self-conscious, will enjoy performing their songs to you. You don’t get away with just listening, though. You will often be required to sing songs to them, either for their amusement or so they can learn the words.
There is no humiliation filter, though. They will inevitably want you to sing in front of other people. I had to perform “We represent the Lollipop Guild” in the style of Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz in front of two friends from work. They’d only popped in for a coffee.
You will become soppy
The way you love your children will change you forever. It has made me become a soppy fool. I suddenly see everyone as someone’s child, who needs love and encouragement.
I’d never cried at a film or TV programme before I had children (except ET when I was six). Recently, I’ve cried at two episodes of The Ghost Whisperer, and I even get a lump in my throat watching wildlife documentaries. Why are there always baby elephants getting lost and looking for their mum and dad?
Dealing with depression has taught me – among many other things – to try not to take things personally. But there’s one thing I really do take personally, and that’s depression itself.
Depression is a cruel, malicious bully, and its most devastating weapon is that it knows you better than you know yourself. It knows how to hurt you. It is merciless and relentless.
Bullies can cause terrible damage to your mental health, and their words and actions can stay festering in your head for years. Depression is a particularly effective and nasty bully because it’s inside your head, pulling the strings. There is no escape from it. It attacks you with your own thoughts.
It’s not just a mental bully. It gets physical too – headaches, nausea and all manner of other ailments that add up to more things to worry about and cope with.
What I really resent about depression, though, is how it can affect your relationships with those closest to you. When you’ve been used to carrying on and dealing with everything that life throws at you, it’s a mean twist that you can feel like a burden to the people who love you.
That feeling of helplessness breeds further frustration and anger, making you irritable. This irritability is blended with a feeling of deadening detachment, an intolerance of noise, an inability to concentrate, hopelessness and drowsiness – a toxic blend that turns you into a drifting, zombie-like presence in your own home, sleepwalking through each day and staring at the ceiling at night.
And, to add guilt to the mix, you’re not the only one having to deal with what’s going on in your head. Your black cloud rains on your loved ones too – and depression makes sure you’re painfully aware of how hard it is for them. You’re used to being the strong person who’s always there for your partner (my wonderful wife, Jane, in my case) and children, then suddenly there’s a grinding, long-lasting problem for them to deal with every day. And not only can you not help them with it; you know that the problem is you.
Jolly stuff, eh?
There is some good news. Depression doesn’t have to win. You can beat it, and one way you can do that is to treat it like a bully and expose it. Bullies – and depression – lose some of their power if their oppressive, intimidating, secretive tactics are brought out into the open. Tell someone about it.
I’ve found counselling invaluable in driving my depression out into the daylight. Now I see each bit of progress I have made, am making, and will make as a satisfying kick in depression’s nether regions.
Don’t get mad – get even. Many of us have been through this soul-destroying illness. The more of us who talk about it, the more we can learn from each other and the more we can kick depression where it hurts.
I hate depression, but instead of dwelling on that hate and being led by it, I am now able – with the support of family, friends and anyone who reads my blog – to tackle it head on, and give myself the best possible chance of leaving it fully behind me. Forever.
First published by York One & Other.
When Darth Vader warns Luke Skywalker “You underestimate the power of the dark side!” in Return of the Jedi, he could very easily be talking about depression.
Until you have experienced it for yourself, or supported someone who has, it is very easy to underestimate. You can’t fully appreciate its insidious power – the way it takes possession of your head, your thoughts, your moods and your character.
It isn’t a sulk. It isn’t a strop. It isn’t the same as feeling fed up, nor is it the same as feeling a bit down. Depression is an illness – a debilitating and often long-lasting illness that torments the people it affects and those who love them.
It rots your confidence. It dissolves your self-esteem. It whips up rage inside you and turns it inwards. It clouds your memory, erodes your concentration and deprives you of sleep. It makes you anxious, irritable, vague, indecisive and susceptible to other illnesses. It makes it impossible to enjoy anything.
Considering that depression affects one in four people, it’s a remarkably misunderstood illness, loaded with stigma. It can be seen as a weakness or a character flaw, or bring shame and guilt. Phrases like ‘Cheer up,’ ‘Snap out of it,’ ‘Could be worse’ and ‘Man up’ are about as helpful to someone with depression as a punch in the face.
I was diagnosed with depression in early 2010, following a prolonged period of stress the year before. I was, as I told the doctor, completely frazzled. Since then, I have been taking antidepressants. I’ve had two rounds of counselling and, following a particularly severe bout of depression in autumn 2011, I had to have some time off work. I’m recovering well now, and trying to come off the medication.
It’s easy for me to share that with you now, but when I first had to cope with depression, I didn’t want to tell anyone. The ‘secret’ only ever came out when the time felt right with people I trusted. I carried on in that way for more than a year, until one day I decided to write a blog post about it.
People were surprised – shocked even – because depression is an invisible illness, and they only really saw me at my best times of day. I’d carried on as before, keeping it hidden.
But more importantly than that, friends and strangers alike supported me in my recovery and surprised me in return with their own experiences of it. I’ve carried on writing about it and found more and more people are fighting the same battles.
That, to me, is the main reason that the stigma of depression needs to be lifted. By feeling able to share their problems with other people, people living with depression can relieve themselves of part of the burden, and learn from what others have been through. You find that, far from being a weakness, depression is the end result of being strong for too long, and your body deciding it has had enough. It’s a physical illness as well as a mental one.
The antidepressants take the edge off the symptoms, the counselling certainly helps you to understand and handle the triggers, but support from other people is what makes the difference.
- If what I’ve described sounds familiar, talk to someone. Start with your GP – it’s less daunting than it seems. There’s lots of extra help on the internet, from organisations like Mind, the Blurt Foundation and SANE. And I highly recommend Dr Tim Cantopher’s book, Depressive Illness: The Curse of The Strong.
Have you ever stopped and wondered if a tortoise is speaking directly to you?
I was watching Kung Fu Panda with my wife and children at the weekend. I hadn’t planned to – there was shopping to do, and the sun was shining outside – but I was enjoying it and surrendered.
A line spoken by a wise old tortoise made me sit up and pay attention.
“You are too concerned with what was and what will be. There is a saying: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
The tortoise’s words might as well have been parcelled up in a brightly coloured package addressed to me and delivered by the tortoise himself.
“He’s right!” I thought. I spend so much time getting stressed about things that have happened or making plans for the future that I don’t stop to savour what’s happening in the here and now.
Some other wise words – this time from John Lennon – have also sprung out at me recently:
“Life is just what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
He’s right too.
Sometimes life isn’t about doing great things, or making bold plans. It’s about doing things with no obvious purpose – not things you need to do, or that will achieve something.
I’m used to aiming high and aspiring to achieve lofty ambitions. I’ve forgotten how to relax and to do things simply because I enjoy doing them. My mind is often somewhere else.
I’ve always thought about life in terms of what I will – or should be – when I grow up; about how I can inspire my children and be a role model to them.
I spend a lot of time setting myself challenges, tackling them and trying to prove myself, but actually my greatest challenge is to take off the self-imposed pressure, get off the achievement treadmill and do more things purely for pleasure.
For example, I enjoy doing jigsaws, but I never do them, because there’s no real point. I don’t get anywhere in life by doing a jigsaw.
But things like jigsaws do have a point. Doing something you enjoy is vital for your mental wellbeing.
I devote so much thought and time to having a healthy, balanced diet and enough exercise, yet I don’t give my body and brain enough of what they need most – a break; some trivial fun.
Sometimes life is about ignoring the shopping that needs doing, turning a blind eye to the sunny day outside (even though you feel you ought to take advantage of the good weather), and just sitting inside watching Kung Fu Panda together.
No striving. No achieving. No doing what you feel you ought to be doing. Just being.
Have you ever felt like screaming and smashing something – not just once, but constantly? Ever woken up with a tense feeling in your stomach that won’t go away?
Well, in the space of one or two days, that’s how I felt when I reduced my dose of Citalopram – the antidepressant that has been my constant companion in varying doses for three years – from 20mg to 10mg.
This was meant to be the final push to glorious recovery from depression. It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era – my arrival in the Promised Land. While I don’t have a problem with taking the pills, I’d much prefer it if I didn’t have to.
I’d been well, or ‘stable’ if you like, for nine months when I went to see my doctor at the end of February. Last July, reducing my dose from 30mg to 20mg made no difference and this gave me great cause for optimism.
I’ve known from the moment I was prescribed antidepressants that coming off them is something you have to do gradually. I hadn’t appreciated quite how gradually. It’s astonishing how much difference 10mg of medication can make – or perhaps more precisely, it’s astonishing the effect of reducing your medication by 10mg can have.
Just one day after I’d lowered my dose, something happened that annoyed and upset me. I won’t go into that here. In the grand scheme of things, it was quite trivial. In the context of someone on the rollercoaster recovery from depression reducing his medication, it was massive.
I couldn’t break the black mood that descended. I didn’t even want to think anything positive. I was overcome with fury – possessed by it. My demonic old nemesis, Paul Brookes (a.k.a. Depression), had scuttled out from under his rock and was knocking on my door. In fact, he was threatening to beat it down.
I lived in this state of continuous tension, anger, skull-crushing headaches and distraction for ten days, before conceding that I would have to speak to my doctor again and increase the dose. I knew I was in trouble when I started to lose my memory again. During those nine months of feeling well, it had begun to return, and my thinking was much sharper.
Strangely, going back up to 20mg again has been a relief. It hasn’t felt like defeat or failure, and that’s how I know that this glitch is nothing more diabolical. I haven’t gone back to that kind of destructive thinking.
Although the experience has knocked my confidence and thrown me off course, depression has not returned, but the withdrawal felt like it had, with a vengeance. Later this spring, I’ll be going back to my doctor and we’ll try an even more gradual reduction.
It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. You first have to get used to keeping your balance with the stabilisers on, then you might feel ready to try riding your bike without them. Some people master cycling straight away. Others take their time. They might sway all over the place, need extra help and support, or even fall off.
Ultimately, though, the bike’s still there, and most of us learn how to ride it.
When my wife and I took our two children for a winter walk recently, I fully expected them to moan that it was boring; that they were cold; that they were hungry.
Surprisingly, none of that happened. In fact, they had a great time, exploring paths and enjoying the sights and sounds of our local countryside. It reminded me that, for small children, every outing, every place or activity brings new and potentially exciting and fascinating experiences.
The most memorable moment was then they were standing on a bridge over a road, waiting for cars to come under it. One driver looked up, saw their excited faces and honked his horn. It was quite possibly the most thrilling thing that had ever happened to them.
In contrast, for someone with depression, every day, every outing, every place or activity is a source of overwhelming worry, fear, stress, dread, anxiety and tiredness.
Thankfully, I am now experiencing the world in a more childlike way. It is like my senses are reawakening after being numbed and lost in freezing fog for three years.
Depression had drained the colour from my life, deadening my memory, blackening my moods and draining my energy and enthusiasm. I go out now and look up at the trees and sky, rather than staring blankly ahead or at the floor. Like my children, I’m enjoying exploring the world around me and taking in new experiences.
I’m also rediscovering pleasures that had become lost and forgotten – music, for example. It’s not that I never listened to music during my depression, but some of the music I enjoyed most a few years ago somehow lost its appeal in those dark times.
I’d skip half the tracks on CDs or on my iPod because I just couldn’t be bothered to listen to them. I’m now getting a lot of pleasure from digging out music that I haven’t listened to for ages, like my collection of 50s American rock ’n’ roll, which has been sadly neglected for a long time but which is now a fresh delight.
One musical moment in particular filled me with a feeling I haven’t had for a long time.
Before I got my first CD player in the mid-90s – one of those personal CD players that nobody has any more – I’d built up a sizeable collection of cassettes, including a small number of Elvis Presley tapes. There was a poor-quality live recording, a greatest hits compilation and a couple of movie soundtracks.
The ability to play CDs opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I bought a CD called Elvis 56 with my birthday money. This collection of songs recorded in 1956 came with a nice booklet of photographs of Elvis looking cool and moody, and held great promise. I put the disk in my CD player and took it to bed with me that night.
What I heard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It made me shiver. It was magic. I was hooked. The impact of those songs – Anyway You Want Me; I Was The One; I Want You, I Need You, I Love You; Anyplace is Paradise – stayed with me. I needed more Elvis CDs, and it didn’t stop there. I watched the movies, bought the box sets, read the books, even began impersonating Elvis at karaoke.
I put a CD of Elvis’s 1956 recordings in my car last week and there was that feeling again – a feeling that makes you just sit back, take a deep breath and go ‘wow’.
So, in life beyond depression, feelings like joy, excitement and anticipation can return, however long and however deep they’ve been buried. Perhaps my prolonged hibernation is over at last.