“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.

We all need to help each other to prevent suicide

Wednesday 10th September was World Suicide Prevention Day. There are now lots of days and weeks designated for mental health awareness, so much so that it’s starting to become a bit confusing, but I reckon there’s probably never a bad time to be reminded to mind your mind. Next Friday October 10th is World Mental Health Day. With these two dates in mind,  I wrote this column for the Mayo News on Tuesday 16th September.

Last Wednesday was World Suicide Prevention Day, a global day designated for raising awareness of suicide and suicide prevention. Traditionally shrouded in silence and shame, the stigma with which suicide was traditionally regarded in Ireland is being slowly cast aside. But as welcome as that is, it makes the consequences no less devastating, and indeed it is an occurrence with which many of us are all too painfully familiar. Recent statistics from the World Health Organisation suggest that at a global level, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Ireland has the fourth highest suicide rate in Europe, and 475 people died this way last year. Over one a day. That’s a lot of grieving families, partners and friends.

Suicide is complex, as are the reasons behind it. There is, however an established link between suicide and mental ill-health, and we are finally starting to talk about it. The conversation has developed significantly in recent years, and we are slowly but surely moving towards a point where it is just as normal and acceptable to talk about your mental health (or ill-health – there is an important distinction) as it is your physical wellbeing. However, it truly is a case of a lot done, a lot more to do.

Crucially, the question people are starting to ask is “What can we do?” This is a welcome development, given the countless campaigns to raise awareness of suicide and depression. At this point, I think it’s fair to say we’re all well aware of the problem. Now what we need are solutions, and the truth is, every single one of us can make a difference. To put it bluntly, it’s high time we all looked in the mirror, and stepped up and took some responsibility for suicide prevention.

It’s all very well advising people struggling with their mental wellbeing to “reach out”, “get help” and “talk to someone”. That’s the overriding message, and yes, it’s good advice – more often than not, it will help. But as someone who has suffered in the past with mental ill-health, the fundamental problem with telling people who are struggling to “get help” is that it places all the onus on someone who is unwell to take that first step. What if, for a change, those who are well started doing some of the reaching out? When you’re in that dark place, when you’re so unwell that you’re starting to believe that not being alive at all would be preferable to living with unrelenting darkness, it’s common to withdraw and isolate yourself. “Just talking” to someone can seem like a mammoth task. When I experienced my first bout of depression over fourteen years ago, I didn’t leave my house for nearly two weeks. I needed someone to reach out to me, and I was one of the lucky ones – somebody did. I will forever be grateful to that person, because I owe them my life.

If we are serious about tackling suicide, we all need step up to the plate, and start being kinder to each other. We need to be cognisant of the fact that 1 in 4 of the people around us will be suffering from a mental health issue (mild or major) at any one time. Every single one of us at some point will experience emotional difficulties. We don’t know what others are dealing with in their day-to-day lives, and there may not be any signs. But there are lots of little things we can all do. A phone call, an email to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while; even a kind word to a stranger can make the world of difference. When you ask someone how they are, listen to their reply. Remind your loved ones that you love them.

If someone comes to you for help, it can be daunting, but don’t panic – you don’t need to be a professional to help; neither do you need to solve the problem. Just listen. For as little or as long as it takes. Hang in there; don’t give up on them. Believe me when I say that simply being there can be enough. [Update: If you do wish to equip yourself, the HSE ASIST course is an excellent free resource – read my account of it here.]

Let’s look in the mirror and take some responsibility here. Let’s as a community educate ourselves and be more thoughtful, supportive and kinder to each other. And let’s end this scourge on our society for once and for all.

270209_reachingout

Time to Talk

Today is National Time to Talk Day, and as such, it’s a good day to reflect on what it means to talk, but also what it means to listen. It’s important.

Time to talk

The national conversation around mental health often focuses on the message “Talk to someone”. But to talk, you need to have someone to listen, right?

It can be hard to know what to do if someone decides to talk to you about a mental health issue. They might just feel a bit down, or they might be more worried about themselves. And if they’ve chosen you to talk to, that responsibility can feel a bit daunting, or it may feel like too big a problem for you to take on.

That’s fine. We’re all human.

But if someone decides to talk to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve chosen you in the hope that you’ll solve all their problems. They may simply need to put how their feelings into words, or share them with someone. Sometimes doing that alone can make all the difference, so having someone to sit and listen and empathise with how they feel can make all the difference.

If you do feel you need some tips on how to say something back, the Green Ribbon website has some really useful advice. And it’s just normal, everyday stuff, not out of anyone’s reach.

This poem by Robert Frost sums it right up.

“When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.”

So today on Time To Talk day, in your conversations , make a point of really listening to what the other person has to say, without distractions. Give them your full attention – give them five minutes or half an hour of your time.  When you ask “how are you?” be aware that the answer may not be “I’m grand”.

And that’s grand.