Scars

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It’s still there if you look closely.

Just under my chin. Can you see it? Just zoom in a bit.

Front pages, August 13th 2014

Front pages, August 13th 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten years ago I was at the top of my game. Money was great, family was great, loved my job, loads of good mates; it was fantastic.

Then the darkness.

I can’t really remember the first experience but it didn’t seem to creep up on me. It happened suddenly and I was very aware of it. It terrified me.

There is a vague recollection of lethargy. Things just going out of focus and a fortnight off work when I “couldn’t cope.” Nothing had changed in my life. There was no discernible trigger point. It was as if a tap had been turned on and I was filled with despair. It was all very odd so I went to my doctor and he gave me some pills.

I have no idea what these pills were but I hated them and binned them within weeks after seeing a documentary about people getting addicted to antidepressants. So on I went.

I thought I was happy but looking back I know now I was starting to do some very very strange things. I would have months of really out of character, ultra-positive behaviour – being the life and soul of every situation and exuding confidence. I remember presenting some bollocks to a room of about 2,000 people and it didn’t phase me at all whereas before I would have been crapping myself. Then there was the come down. Another week or two off work. Days lying there staring at the wall cursing my good fortune.

Life went on. I found myself moving up the ranks in my company and working with some seriously important people. I was regarded as this egregious life of the party type person, full of ideas and positivity – someone I didn’t recognise. Was I drinking a lot at this time? No. My job involved a lot of driving and I wasn’t stupid. Yet.

I used humour to mask what was tearing me apart inside. The nature of my job meant that I could hide away for days at a time while I was “working at home”,  all the time climbing the walls and gradually beginning to dread having to put the mask back on. This cycle of highs and lows continued and eventually the lows invaded the highs. I had to take the lows to work and things became unbearable. I was never a big drinker but found that alcohol somehow allowed me to put on an act.

Occasionally I went to the doctor and would be given a prescription for some pills. Inevitably these were discarded in some hotel room.

My stupidity mounted and my family life crumbled. I wasn’t able to articulate what I was feeling and on the rare occasions when I was able to say “I feel shit” was told to have another pint.

The crunch came when I began to suffer from panic attacks for no apparent reason. I would be in a situation I would have previously been entirely comfortable with and for no discernible reason the room would start to spin, I would lose my sense of balance and lose total control of my breathing – so much that I thought I was going to die. My first panic attack was the most terrifying experience of my life. They don’t get any easier.

My life spiraled out of control. I was by then using far too much alcohol in a vain attempt to control the panic attacks – a spectacularly dumb idea as alcohol is a depressant.

The darkness when it descended became more and more pronounced. My mood swings had totally alienated my family and I felt very very isolated. I remember making a very conscious decision to take my life.

By this stage I was living in England and after finishing work drove down to my favourite pub which just happened to be next to a railway crossing on the east coast Rail line from London King Cross. I ordered Steak and Ale Pie (my favourite) and then moved outside with a pint and a chaser. In my pocket I had a bottle of vodka and would occasionally take a sneaky slug from the bottle. I kept staring at the railway crossing and knew what I wanted to to do, was determined to do.

Somebody saved me.

A stranger ( I still don’t know who) came to talk to me and very very reluctantly I spilled my guts and he gently disuaded me from the course of action I was contemplating.

Suicide isn’t easy.

Two days later I was back in Belfast.

On the second day back home I saw a fantastic doctor (who will remain anonymous) who did not prescribe pills but instead referred me to a therapist, experienced in mental health issues. The waiting list was long. Very long.

Six months later I found myself with my current therapist.

The six months had been traumatic. Ambulances were called on more than more than one occasion as I siphoned pills from the medicine cabinets of friends and family.

The darkness had taken hold.

My therapist was a friendly fella. He relaxed me and and asked me all the  questions I wanted to answer.

Except one.

“Tell me about the scar under your chin?”

I explained that on two occasions I had passed out and fallen, causing very deep cuts in my chin, the first time when I was eight or nine years old.

When he asked “what happened” I found myself explaining the  loss of balance, the fear, the loss of control that had terrified me in later years. I was carrying the scars of a child.

So the panic attacks were not new. What of the depression?

I have literally no idea.

I have read about chemical imbalance and misalignment and all sorts. All I know is that the cure for Depression is not on the horizon. The brain is a right bastard to deal with.

So when I look in the mirror and see my scars, although they are physical, I see them as a manifestation of many years of pain. I carry them with pride. I’m winning a war that not everyone can win.

Meanwhile the mainstream press try to align a ’cause’ to Robin Williams tragic suicide thus demeaning a real illness.

Robin Williams died of depression – not bankruptcy or whatever – get over it.

As for me. I’m okay. I like what I’m doing.

I like rocking boats.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Comrade Stalin

    Thank you for writing this. The taboo around depression and mental illness is a difficult thing to overcome (anonymity helps). You don’t want to tell people what’s going on as they’ll think you’re a nutter. Or they’ll be afraid to speak their mind in front of you in case they think it’ll set you off. And anyway, you tell yourself, why would they want to be burdened with your problems ? Perhaps if they were they wouldn’t want to know you anymore. Etc.

    Serious depression (of the kind which leads to suicide attempts) strikes me as something which is rather poorly understood and for which we have few reliable tools to try to solve. It’s impossible to say whether the problem is psychological or physiological, and I imagine it’s probably a combination of both. If someone’s brain is physically wired to respond to stress or difficult situations with black moods and suicide, this is a physical defect and is likely to be there for as long as the person lives.

    I often wonder how much of these kinds of problems are to do with the direction the modern world (and by “modern” I mean anything following the industrial revolution) where, while the world gets smaller, relationships become more distant and family ties more impersonal. People have greater and greater expectations and stresses placed on them.

    In the software industry where I work there can be serious penalties for missing deadlines. Imagine being the guy who caused the recent “heartbleed” security bug, where the entire world thinks you’re an asshole and where your bug cost companies across the globe hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenue, security problems, patches etc. I have friends in the financial service industry who work as traders at Citi, down in Titanic Quarter. They’re trading in sums involving millions of dollars each day. One slip or false move and there’s a sum of money lost equivalent to a lifetime’s salary.

    At home, as with the workplace, people are expected to be simultaneously patient, understanding, responsible, be a good parent or spouse, and never make mistakes or bad judgements.

    This is even excluding the fact that many people, more than may admit it, have had difficulties of some kind in their upbringing. Maybe their parents didn’t show them much attention, and having grown up to see other people’s parents they are resentful.

    I think there are few people who are really capable of processing all of the above neatly and coming out in one piece. But it disturbs me that some people would go to a doctor who would prescribe pills that merely block out or downplay the effects.

  • Mister_Joe

    Agree totally except for the comment about being disturbed about people going to the doctor for pills. The pills are not a cure, of course, but in desperation it’s understandable that some people need some type of help when feeling totally desperate and a short course may help them cope..

  • babyface finlayson

    The media do like a cause of the day, but I’m not sure how that demeans the illness.If the media coverage encourages some one to seek help rather than head for a railway line with a bottle of vodka then that is a good thing, surely?

  • john claudius

    I’ve suffered from depression all my life culminating in a very close attempt at committing suicide several years ago. Its very difficult to explain what brought me to that point. Looking back I can see various trigger points that led to my descent but these were probably no more traumatic than what anyone else goes through during the course of their life. I’ve a wife, kids, I’m not well off but not on my uppers either. I play competitive sports even though I’m approaching middle age, I’ve some good friends, good family and don’t suffer from any other ill health. I’ve a good social life. I’m what you may call your average punter. I don’t hide from problems but face them head on. I’m very rational about things. So what brought me to being within seconds of death? To me it was a rational decision. I weighed up the pros and cons, thought about my family and the effect on them and decided it was better that I died. In my mind this wasn’t a selfish act in fact it was quite the opposite, I thought I was being altruistic, that the burden on me and them would dissapear. The actual point of going to kill myself was actually very calming. I was happy not despairing. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and by extension everyone else’s.
    So the why’s and why nots, the motivation of depression and suicide are very difficult to pigeon hole.

  • frankie white

    brilliant blog, I am going through something similar, have been battling it on and off for over 6 years now, it’s always good to read stuff like this, gives you hope and a sense that you aren’t alone, so again thank you.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Excellent blog and well done to the person involved for the valiant way in which they are dealing with their illness.

    A number of points that I would make regarding ‘depression,’ as
    Comrade Stalin has stated it is still very much a taboo and for someone to
    admit to having it they are frequently considered ‘mad’ or ‘unstable’. On the
    flip side of the coin and a reason why many don’t believe in it is because many
    people unfortunately fake it to either get paid time off work or receive other
    forms of benefit. As it’s impossible to prove or disprove if someone has it,
    this issue has now become widespread and it’s extremely disturbing as the
    genuine sufferers are either disbelieved or too afraid to come forward as they
    maybe considered faking it.

    Interesting that the blog pointed out that one of the key turning points was human
    interaction and how this helped, again with less community spirit etc these
    days we have lost something valuable and perhaps this needs to be looked at in
    society??

  • Joe_Hoggs

    You’re still standing, that’s a great achievement and remember to focus on all the other great achievements you have accomplished in your time. Write them down at the end of each day and seek professional help. You will be fine and good luck.

  • Michael Henry

    It’s a matter of getting on with life-it is to precious –

    If ones like a talk- then talk-
    If ones need a pint- then drink- etc-but it’s good to live through another day-

    When it is over some day we will be gone for a very long time from Earth and I don’t think Suicide will be a option if we can’t stand Heaven or Hell-

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m sure there are some people who fake depression to take time off, but we need to be careful about saying it’s more widespread than it is. But it’s not a good idea. An employer can quite legally fire you if you have an illness that can be expected to periodically interfere with your ability to do your job.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Of course, I wrote the above in a rush (on my way to work) and did not mean to downplay the fact that medication may be an entirely appropriate way to deal with the problem.

    My point was, of course, that swallowing a pill won’t deal with root causes such as problems at home or stress etc.

  • Donagh Mc Keown

    Top class, Fireman. I have a t-shirt from psychotic attack (one) a three years of depression. I recovered. How and why Robbin Williams is none of my business. Undeerstanding that there may be a way out as in your case and a way to some recovery is more important to share at this time I started a FB page, blog and a wee radio programme on the subject of Mental Health and Wellbeing a year or two ago, with the intention of breaking stigma, encouraging positive reformative debate and offering varieties of solutions for those in such situations. When I revive the radio show in the coming months, I would love to share your insight. There’s a great article in todays Guardian and providing The Slugger allows it in comments, I shall paste it below. Ta very much as we say in Lurgan

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/13/robin-williams-suicide-how-not-to-kill-readers-front-pages?CMP=fb_gu