“Today is tough … but I also know that I have much to give”

“I believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that there’s a stereotypical definition of someone who suffers from depression … That stereotype is completely inaccurate.”

Somebody I know got in touch and asked me to share the below piece they wrote, with the hope that it might resonate with someone; that it might just help someone. It’s candid, and it’s courageous, and it can’t have been easy to write. I’d ask that if it strikes a chord with you, you might share it. And try to remember that no matter how low you feel, how despairing, that chances are, you too have more to give.

Thanks to the writer for entrusting me with his words, which I have reproduced in full below.

“I’ll miss Doggy when I die”….The first words I heard this morning when I walked into my daughter’s bedroom. She was in floods of tears. I comforted her as best I could telling her that she has many many years ahead of her and that Mammy and Daddy love her lots. I don’t know what upset her, possibly a bad dream, but it’s fair to say that 5 minutes later she was her usual chatty, good humoured self and eating her Weetabix. Doggy isn’t actually a dog, but a cuddly toy that could even be a lamb, and she’s had it since she was born, which, incidentally is 5 years ago next week.

The incident got me thinking as to how resilient children are, but also, how incidents in childhood, while quickly forgotten on the surface, can dwell in the subconscious and lead to issues in later years. I’m far from being a psychologist, but suffering in later life as a result of a childhood incident is certainly true of me. I have suffered from depression for 24 years, since I was 17 years old, and I can pinpoint exactly what lead to it, and like my daughter is now, I was 4 years old at the time, nearly 5, and for a short period of time was not in my parents direct care. The whats and whys will remain with me to the grave – neither of my parents are, or ever were aware of what happened. My Dad has passed away since, and were my mother to become aware of the details, I think it would kill her too.

I’ve kept my depression to myself for every single day of the last 24 years. My wife knows what happened when I was a child, she’s the only one I’ve ever opened up to about it, but I’ve never told her of the darkness that consumes me almost daily. Maybe that’s selfish, or maybe it’s selfless, I really don’t know, but it’s the way I deal with it. My close friends would say I’m moody, or “thick’ as they put it, but again, none of them would have any idea as to how difficult every day is. I don’t know how best to explain that – probably because I’m quite extroverted, and put myself in situations through music and drama, where I’m in the public eye. Because people see me as having the confidence to sing or act in front of hundreds, I couldn’t therefore possibly suffer from depression? I’ve recently completed a musical, in which, my role was that of a depressed, angry, loner, a role that I feel I did justice to. Why do I feel I did it justice? Because it was easy for me to portray the real me. It’s ironic, how many people, many strangers included, who have approached me on the street since to congratulate me, and asking how I was able to deliver such a difficult role……if only they knew just how easy it was for me on this occasion.

To watch a football match, musical, or a play, or even to watch a band play a gig on stage, is to see a snapshot in time of that player, actor or musician. The audience sees what the eye allows them. I believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that there’s a stereotypical definition of someone who suffers from depression, one of someone introverted, unable to engage, sitting in a dark room popping anti depressants, suicidal, and certainly not someone who would be able to take to a football pitch or a musical stage. That stereotype is completely inaccurate. My depression, and I can only speak for myself, manifests itself in a completely different manner.

Depression for me has meant that the primary issue I have difficulty controlling, is my anger. I’m highly prone to becoming angry at the drop of a hat – not in violent terms, but in terms of opposing someone or something, or becoming irritable over the most mundane of issues. This is where I feel sorry for my family, because as the closest people to me, they endure it most. I can only imagine that I’m difficult to be around at times, and damn close to impossible when I’m finding things most difficult. I’m also highly critical of myself, and have found myself being too hard on, and too critical of my daughter as a result. She’s only a child for God’s sake!! This is the one thing that I find upsets me most. I’ve also found myself to be prone to particular “triggers” that turn things dark for me very, very quickly. The reason for me taking to the keyboard today, (the first time I’ve done such a thing), is as a result of such an occasion yesterday which has left me feeling so worthless that I could crawl into a corner and die. My wife, who is normally my rock, was quite irritable herself yesterday. During a conversation between me, her, and her immediate family, I badgered her on a non issue, which led to her telling me to “Fuck Off”. This in itself I wouldn’t tend to take to heart, but it was the manner in which it was delivered, and the venom in her voice that knocked me completely, leading me to start questioning whether or not she has any respect for me any more, or whether indeed there may even be someone else, someone better in her life.

I’m probably in as lonely a place today as I’ve been in years. It’s just been my daughter and I at home today, which is normally a bit of a lift for me because we have such fun together, but today, I’ve found myself becoming the stereotype – wanting to sleep, I’ve barely eaten, and yes, if it wasn’t for my daughter, I don’t honestly know what scene my wife would return from work tonight to find.

I’ve lost 2 close friends to suicide in the last 3 years. There have been times when I’ve been at my lowest, that I’ve considered the same. Today is one of those days. However, I’ve seen first hand, the devastation of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, a wife and a girlfriend as a result of those 2 deaths, not to mention the questions of close friends that have been left unanswered. The main reason that even though it may cross my mind, I don’t think I’m capable of taking my own life, is the sound that I can hear coming from the next room, the sound of my daughter singing “Let It Go”, from “Frozen” for the 100th time today!!! It’s one of the few things today that has brought a smile to my face. She’s dancing round the room with glitter falling from her “Anna dress”, all over the floor. I’m glad she’s in there and I’m in here, so that she can’t see the only thing falling in this room – my tears on the keyboard.

Frozen Elsa costume

That aside, while I’m finding today to be difficult, I know that even though some days are tough, I also know that I have much to give. I have another musical in a few weeks to prepare for, I have a gig tonight, but most of all, I have a daughter that needs me and while there are times that she might wonder, she has a father who loves her more than she’ll ever know. I have a wife who, despite what happened yesterday, I would walk across hot coals for. The shortest day of the year is 5 days past, so things can only get brighter, plus the football starts in less than 2 weeks.

I’m not 100% sure what made me write this, but it’s been therapeutic of sorts. Having written it, I’m going to ask someone I trust to make it public so that maybe someone reading it in a similar situation will also feel that they have more to give.

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Guest Post – The damage of the ‘temporary depression’ campaign

In light of the last post, and the phenomenal reaction it received, I’ve decided to continue the conversation about mental health on the blog. Over the course of the last week I’ve been contacted by a lot of people, sharing their own experiences, or those of people close to them. It’s been serious food for thought, and served to hammer home just how different each and every person’s mental health experience is and how different their needs are. One of the mails that really stood out was from Sinead Fallon, and with her kind permission I have reproduced it below. 

Recent attempts by the media to highlight mental illness have left me feeling more isolated from society than ever. Am I alone? With journalists and commentators jumping over themselves to find the most ‘normal’ cases of mental ill health, we have been regaled with images and stories of average young, middle-class men, suffering from temporary depressive episodes. Throw in the odd celebrity and the most recent charity attempt to raise money to solve the problem.

The problem presented by the ‘temporary depression’ approach is this. As a person with a long term mental illness – Biploar Affective Disorder, I find the campaign disingenuous and dangerous. The stories inevitably involve an episode in which the young male feels down, has no energy, wants to stay in bed all day, and loses interest in life. These are all symptoms of a depressive episode. Depressive episodes are very serious. Depression can ruin your life. These are both true.

The problem is this: all the stories then presented a series of events in which support was received from family, friends, GPs, medication and counselling and the person became ‘normal’ again. The End.

For 1 in 10 people living with a serious mental illness, this is not the case. But we are not heard. Our mental illnesses are life long, we do NOT ‘get over it’ – we learn to accept our fate and live with our illnesses. The presentation of the story in which someone is depressed and gets over it is dangerous, because so many of the people who experience these kind of depressive episodes don’t return to their lives as they knew them, which isn’t always a bad thing by the way. Their illnesses grow and change over the years. They receive new diagnoses of bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, eating disorders etc.  They continue to suffer periodic episodes of psychosis or depression. Their lives never return to how they were before. Relationships are seriously affected. Employment is a serious challenge. Poor physical health is common. The damage of the lifelong mental illness is immeasurable.

The media, like society in general find it difficult to understand us. They want to fix us, find that magic formula to get us back to normal. We have learned the hard way that there is no getting back to normal. There is just acceptance of this new life as the normal. Societal attitudes around mental health in Ireland can lead to stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion for those with mental health issues.  These attitudes are influenced by messages and opinions coming from politicians, public commentators and the media. When we are seen to refuse to present ourselves as normal and when we refuse to recover as these others have, how does society treat us?

Listening to Bressie tell us all he didn’t ever feel suicidal because he had a good support network was particularly nauseating. Does this mean then that those of us who do feel suicidal or those who have died by suicide did not have a good support network?

Equally the presentation of the ‘mother’ saving the son from depression may leave mothers feeling useless for not being able to solve their son’s mental illnesses. I do not blame in anyway Bressie or the others who shared their stories and I do wish them all the best. I just wish there was more balance in the presentation of the stories. When will a schizophrenic middle aged woman from a working class background sit on Brendan O’ Connors couch? Soon, I hope.

For those who watched and read the stories and who are feeling something similar, please do not give up when you don’t start to experience the recovery spoken of. You are most probably one of the majority of those who need to accept a more difficult fate.