This Is My Depression.

In not-quite-the-words-of-Usher: This Is My Depression.

I can, by my own admission, be quite slow on the uptake when it comes to certain things. For example, it was only last year that I realised Doctor Who is an alien; despite having known of him since childhood. It was only recently that I changed my mobile phone tariff to make it cheaper; despite my more expensive contract running out at the end of last year.

And it was only yesterday that I went to see a doctor about my depression; despite apparently having had it since I was a teenager.

I didn’t actually know it wasn’t “normal”…

I can only speak for myself here. As with breeds of whale, designs of shoes and cuts of meat; mental health issues come in a variety of forms. So I can only share in terms of my own limited edition mental illness.

I’d like to point out nice and early that my admission/revelation/confession/casual mention that I have depression isn’t a massive thing for me (and I hope it won’t be for the people who know me too), in as much as I have had it for all my adult life and so saying it out aloud is just that: an open admission. I haven’t ever hidden it away; I just never knew for sure what it was myself. I didn’t actually know it wasn’t “normal”, for want of a word so much better that you could have it gift wrapped in diamond encrusted paper and sold for a ludicrous sum which could feed an entire nation for a year.

Whether you met me a year ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or today: you have always known me with depression – or having a liking for fish fingers – so nothing changes. I have worked and done things I am amazingly proud of doing whilst this has been part of my life (without understanding that it was). It’s just now I actually officially know because a doctor told me so.

Also, it’s not apparent every day. Most days my little head brain goes along with my own chosen belief to be positive, appreciative and celebratory of the life I have. That may explain why we don’t always know who has depression (or other mental illnesses). Chances are you and I probably know a fair few people with depression; we just don’t know that we do. (It’s not always people eating fish fingers, just so you know. Some people just like to eat fish fingers. They are delicious, after all.)

Depression And Work.

Throughout my career I have had amazing feelings of highs. I am not sure if that is linked or not. The passion that fuels my creativity and my desire to write and present radio has always taken me high. That’s what I love. I don’t know whether the lows that follow – and they do because the higher and more active an idea makes me, the further I have to come down – are a part of all this. I am sure that’s shared by most people who are creative.

Again, all I know is for me and I am learning about all that goes with it. What I know for sure is that I want that next radio or writing job in order to experience the highs, because I get to share what comes from it and that’s what it’s all about. There is no feeling like creating an amazing piece of radio or writing and, for that, I am thankful; whether it is linked or not.

I am aware that my ramblings so far may seem a little odd. How does someone with depression, and who feels the symptoms of depression, not actually know that they have the mind numbing nuisance? Well, I didn’t actually realise what I had was depression. Or, rather, I didn’t actually realise I “had” anything at all until relatively recently. It was a conversation with a friend that led to a massive light of realisation being shone upon me. (Or a slight glimmer beginning to flicker into realisation, at  least.)

When it feels like black clouds are rolling in your head and there is an accompanying thunder that only you know…”

The first open realisation that I had a thing with an actual name came from a seemingly frivolous conversation over coffee. (It may have been wine. It was probably wine, to be honest). At the time I was living somewhere new, hoping to set up a new life and a new career yet, life being what it is, things didn’t go to plan. During the chat someone brought up the topic of something not quite going the way they wanted it to. I agreed with them. Examples came, accompanied by the feelings they experienced. I agreed with those also. Then I offered my own examples.

“Like when the thought of getting out of bed on certain days feels like it’s actually draining you of the energy that wouldn’t even be matched by climbing a mountain on others. Or being filled with abject fear and dread that someone is going to say hello to you  and you’re faced with the prospect of having to reply. That is harder than any mathematical challenge you could face….”

My friends were looking at me. Then each other. And then me.

(“I’ve hooked into some pretty good observational comedy here,” I thought to myself.) “Or when it feels like black clouds are rolling in your head and there is an accompanying thunder that only you know because it’s not audible to anyone else.”

“That’s depression.” I was told.

“Well no, because it’s not every day. Some days I feel ace. But everyone has days where they find themselves crying on their own for no reason whatsoever. It’s just life, isn’t it?” I innocently replied.

“No,” said my other friend, “That’s depression. You should see someone.”

And so that’s what I did. I saw someone. 2 and a bit years later, I saw someone.

Initially, and because I’d always had varying extremities of it, I didn’t see anyone about it. I just knew that way as being my life, and still assumed it to be how most people were too. It all goes on behind closed doors so why would anyone know? Even in public, people must have been the same. How is it possible to tell if someone is drinking on a night out because they enjoy drinking; or because they’re literally trying to get “out of their head”? It’s just how we are all made.

It isn’t though, is it?

That feeling that you just want to escape your own mind and the constant numbing darkness inside your head isn’t shared by the majority. I didn’t know that until very recently. I just assumed it was. Maybe we could all share something else instead: a massive box of chocolates, for example? I’d prefer that to be our shared “thing”. (You can have the coffee centres.)

There have been many, many nights out in the past where I have fully, wholeheartedly loved and enjoyed the experiences as accompanied by friends and alcohol. However, there have also been times where I have been with – or without – friends, and drinking for escapism rather than fun; those moments I don’t look back on so fondly. I didn’t know why I felt that at the time, suffice to say I thought every one else did too, at some point.

My Depression
Drunk Fool or Depressed Drinker: it depends what’s happening behind the eyes.

Don’t get me wrong: some things I have done  as a result of immaturity and stupidity (haven’t we all?); rather than because of depression. Many things I have done for harmless fun and because I was in a really positive place in my head at the time; rather than because of depression. Equally, pinning mistakes – or “opportunities to learn lessons” – on being depressed is all too easy an option. Sometimes in life you can just do silly things for a laugh and because it feels right and everyone around shares in the joy; other times because you’re just acting like a d**k.

I used to wear silk shirts and knitted waistcoats. If I thought I could pin that on a mental illness then, believe me, I would.

I thought knowing that I had depression would be enough. After all, everyone in the spotlight seems to have it these days. Actually, that’s not the case. It just seems to be more prevalent because, thankfully, the stigma is being dissolved and disproved. That said – and this may be some form of insecurity and anxiety linked to it all – I thought that there were people with far more genuine depression than I had. I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon, as I saw it. If I knew I had it, I could live life with it and make decisions accordingly. I didn’t have to shout about it. I would just no longer listen to Morrissey, for example. (Oh but how I love Morrissey.)

I took mental health tests that had been recommended, just to be sure it wasn’t some sort of empty concern. I scored highly. It seemed that I was far better at this “having depression” thing than I had ever been at anything at school.

I continued about my business. Fearing talking to people on certain days, feeling like walking through the office was like wading through a shallow river of the thickest treacle for fear of acknowledgement. Some days I would be the happiest person around. There was no telling which way my little chemically random brain would sway. This was to be my life, because as long as I knew what was wrong, there was no point in worrying others. Isn’t it ironic? (I think it is. I am not entirely sure but if “10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife” is, then I am going with it.)

So why suddenly see a doctor (as sudden as almost 20 years can be)? Well – and here’s the most Disney-esque this tale is going to get, folks – I met a girl.

My Depression
I met a girl. It took us time to learn to pose correctly for photos.

A wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful, female girl. A girl who I wanted to share waking hours with. A girl who deserved the respect that is shown through honesty and hope. A girl who is truly like no girl I have ever known before. (Not even like Mariette in Darling Buds of May – and this girl is real, too!) A girl who I wanted to be the best version of me for. And better. (Still do, by the way.) A girl I was to fall in love with and who deserved to have someone who would be open with her – and himself – about everything.

And so it was that I awoke one morning after having been out the night before for no good reason other than I didn’t want to be at home alone.

(ASIDE: Some days you can feel so low that you just want to be on your own; other days you feel so low that you don’t want to be on your own. It’s an odd little monkey in that way. Oh, but the majority of the time – and again I speak for myself only – you want to be with the normal mixture of people and alone time. Oh, they’re coming. Back to the story…)

That morning I felt low. I felt mind numbingly, bed huggingly, bereft-of energy-but-highly-fidgety, soul-emptily, sobbingly low. There wasn’t a reason for that build up. It just seemed to be worse than in the past. It had seemed to have grown worse over the last few years and months. (I remember cleaning my teeth in Nottingham, feeling amazingly bright and thinking, “I’d better enjoy this because this won’t last”.) I managed to get up, pull on clothes, and trudge toward a doctor’s.

Now, I grew up in the countryside. I grew up surrounded by fields and trees and birds and scenery so stunning that my eyes would drown in its richness and my soul become drunk by the very depth of its deliciousness. The colours that changed with the seasons never grew any less beautiful no matter what month or year was passing. All this remains true to this day.

My Depression
Beverley Westwood: A beautiful home.

As I trudged towards the doctors, the autumn leaves were on the ground. They were golden and red and orange and bronze and I… I felt nothing. I marvel in such simplistic wonderment almost daily and yet, this day, I felt nothing. No wonderment. No wish that I did feel something. I just felt numb. (Bloody good job I was heading to speak to someone really, wasn’t it?)

As it was, the doctor wouldn’t let me register as my address had recently changed, so I went to a centre where I sat with a group of strangers. Or, as I saw them, “An audience”. Despite feeling numb and my mind feeling like it had closed early for the day, quips, jokes and side-stepping ensued for a couple of hours, as well as open and honest discussion. I felt relief. Then I spoke to the man who had run the centre for 30 years. We chatted, he asked questions, he shook my hand and he said I should see a doctor. “If you cut yourself, you put a plaster on it, don’t you?” True, Mr R. Very true.

The next night, still throbbing in my head and feeling a tenth of the height I actually am, I went on stage and hosted a night. It’s actual madness!

My Depression
Depression isn’t always obvious. It wasn’t a happy head speaking into that mic.

That brings those of you still reading to here and now. Yesterday I saw a doctor and told him that I “thought” I “may have” depression. I explained everything, his eyebrows raised and he told me there was no doubt that I did.  That I had for years, in fact. All this probably happened in less time than it’s taken to read this very blog.

So, why have I shared all this? Well, because there is a stigma, still. Because mental health isn’t something to be shied away from or hidden under the carpet. Or bed. So I have waffled on in what can only be described as a self-indulged pudding of words (1) to show that is the case, it is an open thing and it’s amazing what talking can do and (2) to say that part of the depression I have is encompasses a short attention span and so I can’t actually remember what my second point was going to be.

As I say, this is only my own, personal experience. I spoke to one of my closest friends about it in a bar called The Bank in Birmingham before I spoke to anyone else. It felt amazing to share with him. That’s true friendship. I told my Mum and Dad. Then I told my girlfriend. Then family and, before I knew it, it’s just a thing. As I said earlier on, it’s always been a part of me.

If you have it, you’ll know that. If you know someone who has it, you’ll know that. If you think you have a mental illness – be it depression or anything else – I hope you see that and that you find you can talk to someone.

My girlfriend talks to me openly about it all the time. The biggest chain around you neck can, through talking, become… a nice necklace… (Oh, and I was doing so well, too…)

I also have no concerns about being open about my condition damaging my career because 1 in 4 people suffer from something similar. The media world isn’t a dark ages place to be and I hope everyone else can feel the same way, wherever they work. The people who hold prejudices should be the minority and, if there has to be any judging, then let us judge them. Or let us ignore them and then all go to the pictures together. That’ll learn ’em!

Here’s What I Have Learnt Today…

Depression for me now is just a thing. It’s not a concern, it’s just part of who I am. This is not a tale of “woah is me”. I embrace my mental state because it’s part of me, it makes me who I am, and who I am is currently eating a Bourbon biscuit. I know I am lucky. In fact, my biggest concern at the time of writing is that my girlfriend told me this weekend that she doesn’t like The Muppets. This depression thingy can be treated with tablets. I have NO idea how to get around that issue right now…

Just one more thing. On that day I first went to the doctor’s, I told my boss that I had ‘flu. The next day I confessed that I suffered from depression. She was ace about it. “But you’re one of the happiest people I know,” she said. Which goes to show why I didn’t realise it myself for so long. Also, she’s probably right, I probably am. That’s because I have amazing friends, amazing family, an amazing girlfriend. I always choose to be positive and appreciative. Life is too good not to be, isn’t it?

I may have depression but I’m fortunate; some people have a whole lot less than I’ve got.

Al x