I have recently been thinking a lot about the subject of depression. Having heard a lot of views expressed on the condition, some very supportive, and some wholly dismissive of even the existence of depression as a medical condition, I felt that now is a good time to share some of my own experiences and research on the subject. Why tell this story now? I want vulnerable people to know that they're not alone, as I have benefited from other's stories.
My family could provide almost perfect data, for a study in the inheritance of mental disorders. On my mother’s side, my Papa was an extremely abusive parent, often not talking to any of his 4 kids for months at a time. His wife had died at the age of 34 and it changed the man and his children and his children’s children forever.
My aunt was a serial liar, adulterer, and suffered from violent episodes. She was also an extreme paranoid. My uncle P, was an alcoholic of the most committed variety for all his adult life. I don’t think I ever saw the man smile. My other uncle B, was prone to disappearing for long spells and would return with new families in tow repeatedly leaving them to start the process over again. That is until his thirties when he committed suicide. My own mother was repeatedly sexually abused by one of her brothers and has never been stable of mind in her life as a result of all these influences.
Rather than protecting us from her past, my mother chose to share every detail with my sister J and I. We were privy to everything before the age of 7, I knew everything. My sister was abused by my mother’s latest husband in her formative years, as was I, though he saved the sexual abuse for my sister. J (my sister) is a complete paranoid. She is alone completely in the world as she cannot trust anyone and has no self-esteem whatsoever. She suffers from too many mental health problems for me to list here, perpetuating the condition to her own kids. Besides, her story is not mine to tell. She has suffered so because she is the best of us, with the biggest heart. My dad’s side of the family has its problems with mental health too, believe me.
As for me, I had an early acceptance that I too, inevitably would have mental health problems. I decided at 10 years old to deal with it on my own, as and when it arose. I figured that I would deal with my problems by myself, figuring out the root of each problem (basically analysing myself) and then move on in life.
Believe it or not, this worked for an awful long time, with only 2 episodes of proper “blackness” through to my late teens. Twice in that time I decided that I was worthless and unwanted, and considered suicide. I really felt that I was a bad person and that I didn’t deserve all the things that “good” people had. Fortunately I found a way out one of those times and the other, my attempt was so spectacularly unsuccessful, that it was more a comedy sketch than a genuine suicide attempt. I was 15.
I enjoyed my late teens immensely, made some great friends, and had a lot of exceptionally fun times, with virtually no black days. I had the independence to leave home, and find my own life. Inevitably it didn’t last. For the last 15 years, I’ve gradually sunk lower and lower into a depressive state. I’ve been able to hold back black days, with the help of my ever-present and understanding wife, vigorous exercise, hypnosis, deep self-analysis, and other techniques, but eventually a perfect storm happened to bring on the lowest point in my life.
I had slowly cut myself off from any social life over the course of around 15 years. Always making excuses not to go places, talk to people, attend family events, for the simple reason that I had absolutely no self-esteem, and couldn’t face being in other people’s company. I hid away, had tantrums, picked fights at home, feigned illness, stuck my fingers down my throat to vomit, so I could avoid social engagements. New people terrified me, old friends even more so. I just wanted to lock myself away from the world and for the most part that’s what I did.
Shortly after my son was born, old memories of my own childhood neglect started to return to me. My wife and I were under so much pressure. Work, a very demanding and frequently ill baby, a strained relationship ourselves, illness after illness resulting in missed days from work added to the pressure.
I had 6 chest infections in 5 months, was diagnosed with asthma, attended a gastroenterology and a liver specialist, having countless tests and a colonoscopy. My son wasn’t eating well or putting on weight. The blackness took me. I was angry, desperate, so alone, inconsolably sad, crying for no reason, unable to communicate with anyone, aggressive, looking for excuses to hate everybody and everything and utterly defeated. Everything seemed so futile, and there was no end in sight. I was a good dad, but failing at everything else in my life. I tried really hard to push on, be happy, but I couldn’t get out of that state of mind.
Nat, my wife, gave it to me straight. Get help or your son will suffer for your problems. I hated that she had said it. I didn’t want help. I wanted to run away from it and continue to deal with it on my own. I knew that she was right. I had a chance to end the cycle. My son doesn’t need to know any of these family problems. I can be the last link in that chain. I went to see the doc. I was petulant, angry, and destroyed. How had it come to this? I felt like such a failure. I remember telling the doc “Just tell me what to do, I don’t want your help, but tell me to do it and I will”.
She prescribed me an anti-depressant, which has re-connected the pathways in my brain and allowed me the capacity to regain all my vitality and interest in the world. I still have grumpy days, but that’s it, no despair, no blackness. I can fix things that go wrong, I can accept the things I can’t fix and move on. I don’t lie awake at night, fuming, re-living every event, or crying. I don’t worry about anything, ever. I’m the happiest, most confident, vital, interested and interesting that I’ve been in almost 2 decades.
I don’t know why I’m telling this story other than it’s mine to tell and I want you to know it. I know that there are people who see depression as a weakness and believe that people should just “get on with it” Believe me I tried.
What have I learned now I can look at the world again?
Have lots of people in your life. People make you happy. Be interested in everything. Have empathy. Engage with the world. Want good things for the people in your life and for strangers. Accept people and listen to their stories, in their lives you find solace, and can see your own salvation. Wish for good things for others.
Finally I learned that what has saved me from the fate of my sister, my mother and many others is the love of my wonderful wife, who accepts me no matter what, but gives me the hard truths and the options that will save me from my demons. I’m so grateful to my little wife and my little son, who by making me his hero, makes me the man he thinks I am.
Depression will return to me, I know this, but I know what to do about it now, and I know who I am without it. I’ve made some new friends this year since being treated for depression and entering the world again, and re-discovered some old ones. They have helped me more than they will ever know, due to their openness, acceptance of a stranger and willingness to tell me their stories. This is mine. Make of it what you will.
Father, Husband, Son, Brother, Friend and sufferer of moderate to severe depression.
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ANSWER: Mark, thanks for sharing about your journey. So glad you have chosen to honour your wife as she's truly loved you through your journey. How wonderful she is. Blessings to you as you continue your journey. May your troubles continue to turn your heart into a heart of compassion for others because you can truly understand brokenness yourself. I just read this quote: "Great hearts can only be made by great troubles." -C.H. Spurgeon
Merri Ellen :)
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