Dark days of depression: not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill.
This weekend has seen me tweet twice about football, an almost unheard of situation previously. Today, Gary Speed, the Wales Football Manager died suddenly at his home from a suspected suicide, an absolutely tragic loss to his family, friends and of course to the football community.
Yesterday I heard about a tweet that Stan Collymore had sent, describing his experience of depression, so I tracked it down. You can read it here. It is a deeply honest reflection, written with graphic detail and an eloquence that grabbed me. He talks about the benefits he has found from running:
The running I find really has helped massively, as i’m sure you guys that suffer who exercise find, the tangible release of calm, and “being on top of things” powers your internal dynamo, and keeps the black dog from the door.
Before moving on to explain the feeling when depression takes over, describing his latest experience as:
Around 10 days ago however, I started to feel anxiety, which grew into irrational fear, which in turn turned into insomnia for 3 days (little sleep, and an incredibly active, negative mind), that in turn over last weekend (Swansea v Man United) into Hypersomnia, whereby my energy levels dipped to zero,and my sleep went from 8 to 18 hours overnight … So fit and healthy one day, mind, body and soul withering and dying the next. This to me is the most frightening of experiences, and one fellow suffers i’m sure will agree is the “thud” that sets the Depression rolling.
Stan describes further the impact of depression on him (seriously if you’re still reading just go read the whole thing – it is powerful) and talks about how to support someone:
I’m typing and my brain is full, cloudy and detached but I know I need to elaborate on what i’m going through because there are so many going through this that need to know it’s an illness, just an illness. Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill, and that with this particular illness, for its sufferers, for family and friends who are there but feel they can’t help, you can!
Patience, time, kindness and support. That’s all we need. No “pull your socks up”, no “get out of bed you lazy git”, just acknowledge the feedback the sufferer gives, get them to go to the GP asap, and help them do the little things bit by bit.
That may seem simple but in my experience, and currently as we speak, having a bath, walking for 5 minutes in the fresh air, making a meal, all things that days before were the norm, seem alien, so friends and family can help, just by being non judgemental, and helping in the background to get the sufferer literally back on their feet.
It’s hard to know what to do when you’re confronted with someone who is depressed, it’s hard to know what to say or what to do, but as is so often the case in any of these situations, the reality seems to be that mostly what people require (or at least what Stan is advocating) is time, support, patience and kindness. No judgement, maybe an ear to listen, and a helping hand.
It’s also hard to live with someone who is depressed. To keep trying to get it right, to worry about getting things wrong, to start to feel responsible, to not be able to help, to feel part of the problem as well as potentially part of the solution. Of course the reality is that when someone is depressed they are ill, a myriad of situations and circumstances conspire to make someone ill, it is never the cause of one person, or one circumstance. That said I know how hard it is to remember that, when you’re faced with depression or living with someone in the throws of depression, it is hard to hold onto things you take for granted at other times. I consider myself lucky to have felt depressed, but never to have suffered from depression.
I am very aware of some of the trigger points for my own mental health, and try very hard to keep my life in balance, to force myself to regularly exercise, to have a good diet, and to not get too absorbed into any one area of my life (although work seems to be the constant thing I need to challenge on this regard). That said if I thought I was depressed, or those who were closest to me thought I was at any point, I’d want to be encouraged to seek help and see my GP. I think we still have a long way to go in breaking down stigma around mental health and well-being in the UK, and I know that seeking help can feel like a huge hurdle to jump.
When I read Stan’s post I thought about how I felt when I heard that my Dad’s cancer had returned – and how hard it is for people to know what to say in that situation, I wrote about it here. The reality is, I think we probably worry ourselves so much about saying the right thing, or not wanting to make it worse, that we can skirt around the issue. Acknowledgement, a listening ear, support and patience – that’s what helps, you don’t need to have the right words, or a solution up your sleeve, you have to care.
If you are concerned about someone then try to encourage them to see their GP, and also let them know they can always talk in confidence to the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email Jo@Samaritans.org. Stan finishes his tweet with:
I hope that if you are suffering, or know someone that does, that a little insight into someone elses experiences might resonate with one or two and give them the comfort of knowing that there are millions out there like us that deal with this reality in our lives.
Remember the statistic, 1 in 4 of us will experience mental ill health – that’s 25% of all of us, depression is an illness and one that can be treated with the right support. If you’re reading this and worried about yourself, or someone you know, remember you are not alone, seek help and things will improve.
Sources of support:
(cc) on flickr by Tommarsh – Black Dog of Depression, St Patrick’s Day Parade 2011, Dublin