A match for the Dark Side

There is a scene towards the end of Return of the Jedi where the evil Emperor stands over a stricken Luke Skywalker and ferociously zaps him with lightning from his finger tips.

“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side,” he goads Skywalker, as our young hero writhes around on the floor in agony.

But the vicious villain is wrong. He is ultimately overthrown, and all because of Luke’s faith that there is still some good hidden away inside his father, Darth Vader – one of the ultimate movie baddies.

So where am I going with all this?

Well, last September I wrote about my depression for the first time, using a Star Wars analogy with Vader as ‘Stress’ and the Emperor as ‘Depression’. Since that first adventure, I’ve experienced the pitfalls of The Empire Strikes Back, the second part of the original Star Wars trilogy. When I say I’ve experienced it, I don’t mean I’ve sat down and watched it with a giant, over-priced bucket of popcorn. No, nothing fun like that. I’ve lived through the resurgence and revenge of an evil power – the one I call Paul Brookes. He is my alter-ego, who corrupts my thoughts and feelings with his equivalent of the Dark Side of the Force.

Brookes appeared to have taken a deadly blow in the first episode of my depression, but he was gathering strength, somewhere just out of view. He was waiting for my stress levels to build again, and looking for the right time to move in for the kill. And, like Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, he resurfaced and wreaked havoc. OK, so I wasn’t frozen in carbonite like Han Solo, and I didn’t have my arm sliced off like Luke Skywalker, but I did take a brutal beating from my nemesis.

Brookes’ powers had grown. Just as the Empire ruled the galaxy, Brookes ruled my brain. Just as the Empire had been building a second Death Star (a moon-sized space station with enough fire power to blow up whole planets with one blast), Brookes had been working on demolishing my rebellion with his own destructive devices – crushing my self-esteem, convincing me to take everything personally, kicking me when I was down and smashing the life out of me.

Brookes isn’t dead – yet. His Empire has not been defeated – yet. His Death Star has not been destroyed – yet. But note the word ‘yet’. Because Brookes has not killed off my hope that I will get better. He has not finished off my faith that good times will return. He has underestimated my tenacity – my determination to hang on, no matter what wounds he has inflicted on my battered body and mind. He has failed to recognise the threat that the powers of good pose to his existence.

Just as Luke Skywalker had to face up to his destiny and confront the forces of evil to complete his training, I now stand with a mission ahead of me. I have an Empire to overthrow, a galaxy to reclaim, and a better life to lead. Brookes has made me small, weak and feeble – pathetic opposition to his sneering arrogance and despicable disregard for my wellbeing. But he has not taken away my terrier-like persistence. Not permanently. I am playing Brookes at his own game. He hibernated until the time was right for him. Now I’m emerging from my own slumbers to take him on in a climactic battle.

Do not underestimate the power of the bright side of the Force, Brookes. I’m back. And this time it’s personal.

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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.