So we have a family setting, you could say that depression was pervasive in the family, but we were either unaware (I certainly was) or in denial.
As I grew up it was just life. Outwardly extroverted and hyperactive, inwardly introverted and reflective.
I didn’t fit the family mold, I didn’t want to join the armed forces or play sport, I wanted to read and do art. I’m not sure whether this introversion was a “symptom” of my depression or not, maybe I was just a sensitive child.
Teenage years were a minefield, which is probably the same for most teenagers anyway.
When outside of school I spent the rest of my time in my room, reading, dreaming and planning for my next dungeons and dragons session.
I played a lot of D&D. Nearly 30 years later my D&D playing mates are still some of my best friends.
My family tried often to get me outside the house, but while they succeeded, my safe place was my room, or the D&D sessions.
As much as the D&D was probably avoiding the issue, it probably kept me alive, gave me an outlet to be creative, to mix with people and actually achieve things, like starting the D&D club and my Catholic high school (thanks to Father for defending the club against all the parents calling satanism in a Catholic school, you probably kept me alive).
At 17, high school finished, I went to University, but not a close University, one in the bush, I didn’t really know why, but I had to get away.
I went a little crazy then, but to be fair, that craziness only lasted about 13 years, most of it I don’t honestly remember.
I do know I only stayed as a student at Uni for 1 year, where at least I had the sense to realise that, where my fellow students were going without food to buy teaching aids, I was going without food to buy booze… maybe not the best way to start what I thought would be a teaching career.
There was lots of partying and bands, with lots of alcohol, lots. A standard night out was a large bottle of spirits and a slab of beer (24 cans). I was fortunate (though some may suggest unfortunate) to spend the next 20 years working in Universities. It didn’t particularly matter that I was out 6-7 nights a week. I did my job well (which was primarily interacting with students) and they weren’t fully aware until lunch time most days anyway.
In reality I was out of control.
Even as I woke up and completed each of “those phases he is going through”, it was just to begin a new one.
(I would love to give you some photos of these phases.. there aren’t that many that exist… I really wasn’t photogenic at the time)
The Op-Shop-Punk phase lasted a long time, but that was in part due to my alternative music interests… until I stopped watching and listening to the bands because it was too hard to get back to the bar.
The Hippy phase was more that I couldn’t be bothered shaving my Mo-Hawk any longer, so my hair and beard just grew until they would grow no longer.
The Skinhead phase more that I couldn’t be bothered brushing the knots out of my hair.
The I don’t give a stuff about my hair phase continues to this day, but then I figure there are more important things in life than a new style every week.
Just “happy” to exist
I was a functioning human being, I did my days work, often excelling at it, although often falling for long hours.
I was functioning, but not striving for anything, just “happy” to exist.
People that knew me were concerned about my welfare, but I would shrug it off… I was still alive. I had failed to achieve my goal of being dead by 21, live fast, die young, so not much could stop me.
The reality was though, that things were getting darker, my mood was getting darker. Not in the “I’m hitting up the satanic ritual this Friday night” sense, just that where in my earlier years I would sing everywhere I went (badly, sure, but I sang at the top of my lungs) and dance until my nose was broken for the upteenth time, I changed to never singing and I wouldn’t hit a dance floor unless I had collapsed there. People talk about how you can’t appreciate the highs without experiencing the lows, the problem is when you are living in a constant state low, lesser lows become your highs.
I started to become frantic, just in everything thing I did, but you know what… I was OK. I didn’t know anything was wrong, it was just life.
Putting it in gaming terms
You know when you get that new game, the one that has system specs way lower than your 3 year old PC.
You install it and it’s amazing.
You know it could be better, and one day when you buy that new PC you will get the full value out of it, the full colors, the full enjoyment.
Occasionally you see the game played on a friends brand new machine and your jaw drops. You can’t believe how good their experience is, but you aren’t in a position to change your circumstances, so you just live with the relatively dodgy graphics, the lag.
At the same time that you are envious of your friends gaming experience, you are somewhat shameful knowing it is always you standing in the bad, not getting out of the way of the waves of damage that you don’t see until you are already dead in game.
Your life is the 3 year old machine with the substandard graphics, but it’s your life and you continue to live it, not really appreciating that if you make the change, your gaming experience (or in the case of depression, your life) could be full and vibrant.
I got lucky.
A few chance things made me stop and wonder if something really was wrong.
Suicide isn’t normal.
A casual conversation with a friend, which somehow turned to the subject that 6 out of her 10 best friends had committed suicide.
I shrugged this off, pointing out knowingly that everyone thinks about suicide.
She corrected me on this. A healthy person doesn’t think about suicide… ever.
To which I responded that I had though about suicide everyday, multiple times, for as long as I could remember, although I never intended to go through with it.
Then there were the occasions where I felt something was wrong and I was losing my grasp. I would drive at 100km per hour through inner city streets (unmindful of my, or others safety), to reach a friend to talk to… about, well anything apart from what was wrong.
Luckily one day one of my friends wasn’t home, but her boyfriend was leaving the house as I arrived. He changed his plans and we talked for hours.
This guy was as crazy as me, yet there was something about him.
If we were sitting in the back yard, or the park, anywhere really, wild animals would just come to him, sit next to him, sit in his lap. He just exuded an amazing peace. This peace reset me several times, ultimately keeping me alive long enough, just long enough.
I got a Christmas card one year from my oldest and closest female friend. I am the Godfather of her child, though I protested it at the time, because Godfathering is for life, not just a good time.
The card was the usual 50 cent card, but the words in it made me feel loved, they cut through in some way that all the previous verbal acknowledgments of my worth hadn’t. I don’t know how many times I read that card, just soaking in the feeling of being loved, of being worthy of love.
I’m OK, You’re OK
I was working in a bookshop at the time, run by a new-age hippy counselor, so there was no shortage of self help books. One day I picked up the book I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas A Harris MD, and for some unknown reason, I read it.
It saved my life.
Maybe not by itself, but in conjunction with the few other chance “awakenings”, it brought the reality home and allowed me to realise that I wasn’t OK, but I could be OK.
Of course… I didn’t actually do anything about it beyond reading the book.. self help books require one critical component…
The Penny Dropped.
Then one day, I woke and I knew I wasn’t OK.
I knew I was loved, I knew I should be OK, but I wasn’t.
What’s more, I knew I couldn’t, wouldn’t do anything about it on my own.
I rang my family doctor, one I hadn’t seen in years. he was on the opposite side of the city from where I lived, there were doctors on the corner, but I went to him. For some reason I trusted this doctor, the one that “never wanted to see me”, told me to come back and see him in a few years, as usual, every time I saw him.
This day I made an appointment.
This day I waited in his waiting room.
I walked into his office and before we could get the usual greetings out of the way, the ones we had basically shared for 30 years I said.
I’m going to kill myself if you don’t get me help.
Not right now, but some day soon.
He did what I had always feared, he referred me to a money guzzling psychiatrist, the ones with the infinite sessions that cost more than monthly rent, but on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
This saved my life.
This made me realise that depression IS normal, but only in it’s prevalence, not in the necessity to live under it’s shadow all one’s life.
This made me realise that it can be quickly treated, so you can resume normal functioning. This isn’t to say that it wont be a long process to recovery, and probably wont be a permanent recovery. However, stepping back from the darkest of precipices is easier than you think, and regaining a normal life is a wonderful thing.
I did it the hard way 1st time. No anti depression drugs, just working through everything I could. My psychiatrist and I came to the realisation that I had been self medicating for years. I wasn’t an alcoholic per se, I was self medicating the depression away… it’s just a damn shame that a side effect of the alcohol is, well, depression.
Ohhh.. by the way, I sing a lot again now.
Yes, still badly. I drive Odin crazy with my singing, he wants me to shut up.
But, I know something now, my singing is like a canary in a mineshaft… the time to worry is when the singing stops.
I also know that Slam-dancing went out of style a long time ago… so beyond the Hokey-Pokey I don’t dance.
It could be you, or the person next to you.
The problem with depression is that it is so prevalent (1 in 8 men will experience depression in their lifetime), so incapacitating, yet to treatable.
It’s also quite a simple thing to decide if you should take the next step and have a chat to your local doctor. Maybe you or a loved one aren’t depressed, maybe you are just having a bad patch, but wouldn’t you rather be sure and safe and happy, than sorry?
For the last 2 weeks have you had:
1. Depressed mood
2. Loss of interest or pleasure
If you answered ‘YES’ to either of these questions, complete the symptom checklist below:
- Depressed mood most of the day
- Less interest or pleasure in all activities
- Weight loss or gain (when not dieting)
- Sleeping difficulties
- Slowed or fastened movements
- Tiredness or loss of energy
- Feeling worthless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death
(Sourced from Beyond Blue, where they source: American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: APA.).
Think about it
Talk about it
Tell people about BeyondBlue (or check it out yourself)
and if you feel like it, buy this Gnome a Mo!
You can give via Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Paypal.
Paypal, perfect for those abstained coffee donations
Gnomer and Out!
Other Posts of mine on Movember:
- Shave and a Haircut: Movember
- Just in case you thought I wasn’t serious
- Depression in the family: Movember
- Youth gone wild: Movember
- Married with child and depressed: Movember
- Depression in the workplace: Movember
- Talking about it saves lives: Movember
- Better Off without me
- Aware People are Supportive People: Movember
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