I had been depressed once before in my life. Causally. I was getting divorced and after being a very hands on – breakfast in the morning, bath time at night – father, I was suddenly facing stretches of eleven days without seeing my daughters. Prior to that, as a teen, I had been moody, blue and low but, at the risk of downplaying my teenage angst, never depressed. And stress, stress, too. I know about stress. Not things are a bit hectic at work stressed but will I have to make these people redundant stressed.
But, by and large, I have always been a coper. Pile it on, I’ll deal with it.
Last year, something went wrong. I don’t know when it started. Perhaps just after my forty-fourth birthday. I’ve never worried about birthdays but forty-five has always struck me as a definite ‘half way’ milestone, so maybe it was being in that year that kicked it off. Anyway, I began to feel… odd. Nothing I couldn’t cope with but a strong sense that change was afoot, that somewhere, tucked away, a change was taking place.
Just before Christmas, that week when the weather was *really* bad and travel was a nightmare, I had to go to Colchester and then Nottingham on business. I was lucky, either one step ahead or far enough behind the really bad snow to escape being trapped anywhere (with a couple of close shaves). I was away for three days, with just short bursts – one or two hours – of company in meetings. Normally, this is fine: I become engrossed in music and books and myself. This time, though, it was different. I remember tweeting on my way home that I was in a fugue state. It was meant to be a humorous exaggeration but it felt real.
Normally, I love Christmas. I’ve always liked it but, after I was divorced, it somehow took on a greater importance for me, especially as a family time. This time, though, it was empty. Suddenly, I was seeing Christmas as other people saw it. My kids were looking to me for an enthusiasm that I was struggling to muster. I found myself envying my ‘normal’ self, the self that was naturally ebullient, and wondering how I got back. At some point over Christmas, I realised I wasn’t going back.
To be honest, I can’t quite remember what happened next. At some point I was on the ‘phone to my mother – with whom I have a very adult to adult relationship – and she asked me how I was. I replied “Actually, I’ve been feeling a bit depressed”. Between the start and the end of the sentence, I was in tears. On the one hand this told me that what I was feeling was real and material, on the other, it confirmed a deep, deep fear.
My mum recommended I take anti-depressants, as did my wife. I wasn’t sure. My mum can be a bit old school in her methods and my wife is South African, where all sorts of things are handed over the counter. So, I set off to see a friend of mine who takes them. He was typically, characteristically, lovely and sympathetic but strongly against anti-depressants. I was at a loss.
But I am lucky. Even when times are bad, my luck still comes through. In 1993 I worked with a young woman who became a star in a blue chip organisation but then took a career diversion to become a counsellor. She is a wonderful friend to me. And she’s a counsellor. It’s time to come clean: I’ve always been interested in what she does but, on some level, some deep level, I’ve always been a cynic. Now, in desperation, I rang her. We talked for half an hour and I felt better yet no better. Amongst other things she told me that I’d feel tired after talking to her and that I needed to see a counsellor, face to face. She was right on both counts. I fell asleep for two hours and then I contacted someone I knew locally who was a counsellor (again, lucky me).
In the midst of all this I was having to deal with the impact the depression was having on my day to day life. At work, I had to tell my right hand man what was going on. I was scared to do this as there is depression in his family and I thought it might horrify him to have that spectre follow him into the workplace. At home, my wife was amazing, allowing me to be just what I was being: sleeping, tearful, moping. My teenage daughters, though, were clearly worried, despite my best efforts to be myself. But I’d lost being myself.
My first session with the counsellor, Tina, was useful in as much as it gave me an opportunity vomit up every single concern I had about my life. Worries that I’d never verbalised before were thrown up onto the table, mostly to wither on the spot. I went home and slept all evening. But I didn’t feel much better. I began to think about how I could resign from my company, how it might work without me. The depression was a real, physical presence within me. I had no confidence it would go away. I began to think about what it really meant to live with depression. I wasn’t suicidal but I began to to understand what attracts the suicides.
The second session with Tina was a miracle. One can understand the mechanics of counselling, in the way that one can learn some chords on a guitar. It doesn’t make you The Beatles, though. In that second session, Tina led me to the root of my depression and I ended up sitting there with her, crying. Crying both with the feelings and, after a while, with relief. That evening, feeling better, feeling happier, while my wife was at netball, I sat on the sofa, with a cup of tea, simply enjoying not being depressed. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
I’m still seeing Tina and I have learnt a lot about myself. I’ve learnt, above all else, that it’s time for a change. I hope that is what that blog might be about.