The recent death of Robin Williams may not have come as a complete surprise. Over the years on his own admission he admitted that he misused drugs and had been fighting depression for most of his life. He had many demons and although it was thought he was bi-polar it was never diagnosed. It is more likely that he was a manic depressive.
Not all depressive illnesses are so apparent and not as severe as Robins. Many people refuse to talk about how they are feeling for fear of being considered ‘loopy’ or ‘nuts’ or some other derogatory term. So is it any wonder when things start going downhill many try to keep it a secret.
I kept my depression hidden for some time . After a traumatic event in my life it took a couple of years to develop. It started very slowly. I was able to function, able to carry out the day to day activities and able to drag myself into work in the mornings. I appeared happy and could be the life and soul of any party. However on some occasions the mask slipped and on one occasion as I chaired a meeting, tears came from nowhere and I dissolved into uncontrollable sobs. My embarrassed colleagues were unsure what to do. On other occasions while sitting at my desk I would start to cry for no reason. I remember sitting with clients and a voice in my head saying ‘ I don’t want to be here, why am I here?’ I felt afraid and my heart started pounding and that is when I decided to see a doctor. My blood pressure was through the roof and he signed me off work. He recommended anti depressants but I refused. I came home and went to bed and that is mostly where I stayed over the next six months.
The panic attacks became more frequent and more debilitating. I refused to speak to friends on the phone. My family lived a long way off and appeared to be unaware what I was going through. My mother came from the ‘you need to pull yourself together ‘ school of thought. She had little sympathy and her occasional phone call only added to my depression. I barely held the home together and if it hadn’t been for someone coming into clean a couple of days a week we would never have managed. I lay in bed most days. My husband went to work and I just lay there. My thoughts were dark and confused. On a number of occasions I heard voices in my head. I reached the stage where the bang of a door or a sudden loud noise hurt. That is hard to explain but it was as if every nerve end was so sensitive that they reacted to noise. I was having two or three panic attacks every day and I couldn’t see a future. I was so desperate on one occasion that I tried the anti depressants but they made me violently ill and I decided I didn’t need that of top of what I was already suffering. I needed to see my doctor again in order to get a certificate for work.
I was very lucky that I made that appointment. It was a locum and he suggested that he should refer me to a counsellor. I could wait for an appointment or I could go privately and be seen relatively quickly, which I did. After 3 or 4 sessions I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I felt my mood beginning to lift and I followed his advice to set myself a project. My project, strange though it may seem, was to strip the pine woodwork in the hall removing all the white paint. At first I thought I can’t do this but by the third morning I couldn’t wait to get up and start work. It took me weeks but I loved it and everyday I could see the fruits of my labour. Gradually the black mist was lifting and I was beginning to feel normal again. The panic attacks had disappeared. My only medication was a beta blocker to help keep my blood pressure under control. Of course I can’t say this therapy will work for everyone but it worked for me.
My advice, however, would be to talk to someone as soon as you begin to feel that something is not quite right. Don’t let it take you over. Talk to a counsellor, talk to the Samaritans or talk to your doctor. There is no shame in being depressed and help is out there. @amhNI Lifeline 0808 808 8000, or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.