Learning to live with depression…recognising the signs

L

So, it seems that I have depression.

Atypical Depression to be specific which, according to WebMD, is rather common. In fact, as at March 2018 The World Health Organisation estimate that world-wide, roughly 300 million people suffer from depression in some way, shape or form.

So, when you think about it, that’s a lot of people.

One hell of a lot.

with depression ignorance ain’t bliss

As is often the case, until we are directly affected by something we remain blissfully unaware of how that something can affect us. As we move into our fifties, we have rolled with a lot of punches. We have experienced the good and the bad, built our walls, layered our wisdom and nurtured a wealth of experience to help us get by the best way that we can.

by 50 we have rolled with a few punches

By now we have learnt to cope. At our best we excel. At our worst we endure.

But DEPRESSION? Jesus, that’s a mental health thing….One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

….Rainman

…A Beautiful Mind.

So, based on the above Hollywood references, it’s obvious then that I was ill-informed AND un-educated on the entire subject. Sure, I knew there was such a THING as mental health. I had HEARD of depression. And as a result of my job I had been to enough suicides and read enough suicide notes to realise that for some people, things could get way out of hand.

But these were things that happened to others. It was hardly something that I would have to worry about.

Yeah. Well I got that wrong, didn’t I?

depression can affect anyone…..regardless of who you are

The reason for this post then, is quite simple.

I want to give a bit of an insight into the signs, symptoms and behaviours that led me to drop my hardcore male ego and go looking for a little help. Because I can guarantee that that there are thousands of fifty-plus males out there struggling just a little, or maybe even a lot and are just too damn proud and arrogant to admit it.

Also, this post is not meant to be an in-depth study of the condition. That’s what professionals are for. And universities. All it is really trying to achieve is to show that depression can affect anyone and that help, if you are prepared to look for it, is available. There will be links at the end, both to other articles and also to organisations that deal with this sort of thing. This isn’t to make anyone read until the final sentence. After all the subject matter is rather specific so you probably wouldn’t have read the first if it didn’t interest you.

Which is why I made the conscious decision to be open and honest about the whole depression thing. Not only on-line but also out there, transparent and reflective for the world to see. I want to demonstrate that:

  1. depression doesn’t discriminate
  2. help in dealing with depression is available

Honestly, my view is f**k it, why hide it? I have done enough ridiculous, embarrassing things during my fifty-two years to have a hide like a Sherman tank. Dealing with depression is just something else that I will have to learn how to handle.

depression, the stigma and a thing called ego

That’s not to say that there is no stigma attached. However, I think that these days, the stigma is more entrenched in one’s own mind rather than with society as a whole. I still needed to get over that of course, mainly because being male, I ‘sometimes’ have the odd drama with my ego.

Ego is a strange and quite deceptive beast, its unique failing being it can make us think that we are a hell of a lot harder than we are actually are. Weakness? Emotion? Feelings? F***ing not likely. Not OUR gender and certainly not ME.  We hunted mammoth. We possess thousand-yard stares. We invented the V8 engine.

Yeah. All of those things.

But it also appears that we can suffer from depression.

so i have depression, who can I blame?

If you were to ask my wife, she would tell you, with absolute certainty, that something’s been a little off with me for years.

This, of course, could be her fault. After all a man can only attend so many Christmas socials, be told he’s driving too fast and be put on restrictive calorie diets ‘for his own good’ before something gives.

It could also be a natural reaction to the fact that the mirrors in my house are possessed by a demon who has my face and an eighty-year old’s body. Or that I must now receive my doctors 15″ inch fingers in my ass once a year because my prostate is on the way out.

But it’s none of these.

So the best analogy I can think of is that depression filled me from the boots up. You don’t really notice it when its lapping hesitantly around your ankles but by the time it reaches your knees it’s become a subtle yet noticeable change in behaviour, albeit one that can be passed off as a dozen different things. Age, our job, financial pressure, raising a family. The list goes on. Of course, any or all of these things can be a contributor and maybe all it would take is for us to stop and take a breather every now and then just to see how we are travelling.

But we don’t. Generally, we ignore things in much the same way as we tend to ignore our wives and our physical ailments. Men are pretty good at ADVISING a visit to the doctor but going ourselves?

Yeah, NOT.

Because the LAST thing any male wants to do is become a frequent flyer at the doctor’s surgery. Let alone with some goddamn ailment you can’t even SEE.

me…..wrong? Hardly

Just before I outline the symptoms that affected me, I would like to touch on a point about which I was totally and utterly wrong.

With the little I thought I knew about depression (little being obviously nothing), I was of the belief that it took a singular, life changing event to trigger the condition. A death, a serious illness, a critical incident. Something major to upset the delicate balance of our lives.

Apparently not.

Nor, it seems, is it necessarily related to a family history of the condition.

depression can manifest over time

What I have learnt is that depression can manifest over time. And in just the same way you will eventually fill a bucket drop by drop, so the repetition of stress and events can trigger depression. In my case it was the job that I do, plain, simple, black and white. But for others it could be, for example, a long term abusive relationship. The point here is that it is NOT necessarily a single life altering event.

Not at all.

depression. The signs and symptoms which i ignored

So, below and in no particular order are (were) the signs and symptoms of my depression.

• Lack of empathy toward anyone’s pain and suffering
• Quick to anger in particular situations only (this is one of the reasons why it is Atypical apparently)
• Intolerant (especially of noise)
• Actively avoid crowds and public places
• Memory loss
• Loss of motivation (but definitely not for everything)
• Difficulty processing too much information (very noticeable)
• Withdrawal and isolation
• Loss of sex drive
• Hypervigilance (extreme but as a direct result of my profession)

I probably deserve at least some kind of mild acclaim because the above signs I managed to successfully ignore for almost two years. Ignore, that is, until late last year when I reacted a little oddly to a couple of situations at work that made me pull myself up rather quickly. But the very strange thing about that reaction was that I didn’t break down, hide in a corner and hope like all hell the world would just swallow me up. No.

What actually happened is that I seriously over-reacted to some things that deserved little or no reaction at all. How? Well to put it modestly I flew off the f*****g handle. Four times in the space of thirty minutes. It was ugly and it was out of character, however had I been a little more aware I might have been able to see it coming long before it actually did. But I didn’t. So it came. Impressively.

but there were also some things that did not affect me

Something that you may have noticed is that the signs and symptoms outlined above do not include some of the things that may regularly be associated with depression. To be very clear I didn’t feel worthless, I had no trouble ‘facing the day’, I remained physically active, I could look forward to things and I most definitely was NOT (and am not) in any way, shape or form suicidal. My sleep patterns, although all over the place after seventeen years of shift work, had not changed noticeably and I did not have recurring dreams other than the one involving myself and Elle Mcpherson.

Which is why, when I learnt that I was suffering from depression I really was rather surprised. Actually, I thought the doctor was out of their f*****g mind because obviously, with my extensive knowledge on the subject, I knew far, far more than she did. A fact that I may or may not have mentioned at the time and one which I am absolutely positive that she appreciated.

the most difficult part of the whole damn thing

Which brings me to the most difficult part of this whole thing and something which is rather common to men in general, especially men of my generation.

1. Recognising something wasn’t right
2. Admitting something wasn’t right
3. Talking about what wasn’t right

So, it took over two years to finally have that honest conversation with myself and admit that something was wrong. But even then, rather than feel the blessed release of admission, the first feeling I had was:

“Shit, I’m going to have to talk with someone about this.”

And personally, this was THE absolute hardest part. It was all good to finally admit that something wasn’t quite right, but be buggered if I was prepared to have a host of deep and meaningful conversations about my current state of mind.

Which meant it still took roughly two weeks before I could drop the ego and admit that I MAY be in need of a little professional help. Of course my argument for putting this off was a simple one. All I needed was a little time off, a little time away from the shit I dealt with at work. A little time just to unwind, recharge and I would be right as rain and ready to bat on.

Wrong. Again.

scared of talking about stuff? not me….

So, here I was, a fifty-two year old man frightened of a little open and revealing discussion. Frightened at what I might learn, frightened that I may have weaknesses. May not be the hard, bulletproof male that I had always believed that I was.

bloody hell, I had to talk about stuff

Thankfully, the initial process was quite simple and after a referral from my GP (he with the 15″ fingers) I found myself, cutting a long story short, in frank and earnest discussions with psychologists, psychiatrists and associated mental health professionals.

And f**k me did I hate it.

But I did it.

And after a number of visits, the odd questionnaire and a sometimes invasive probing into my actual FEELINGS I was told, in one of those oddly neutral voices that is a pre-requisite of the modern medical professional that I had depression.

She: “Well, from what you’ve told me, I would suggest that you are suffering from depression.”

Me: (inside voice) “f**king what?” (outside voice) “Ok.”

She: “Don’t be surprised, it’s quite common actually”

Me: (inside voice) “No, a cold is common.”  (outside voice) “Ok.”

She: (inside voice) “Cop that tough guy.” (outside voice) “In your case, its more Atypical Depression”

Me: (all voices) “Well that’s shit.”

Followed by, on reflection, the only singular, multi-syllable male response left open to me:

“Ok, then how do we fix it?”

My naivety, whilst no doubt amusing to the good doctor, was honest. Something’s broken, lets fix it. How hard can it be?

A little harder, it seems than I would have thought.

well look at me, i have a ‘condition’

So, when one wanders somewhat bemused out of a clinical and antiseptic environment with the knowledge he is now in possession of a diagnosed mental health condition, the walk across the car-park is a rather long one.

Depression? Surely not. After all, isn’t depression that thing when you lay in bed all day and can’t leave the house? That condition when everything is just too damn hard, the world and everything in it is f****d and suicidal thoughts take up every waking moment?

Apparently not. But I’ve gone over this bit before.

So. Being the pragmatic and practical fellow that I am I decided to look at the positives:

1. There was a reason for my behaviour
2. It had a name
3. It was treatable
4. I learnt some humility

And of course the negatives:

1. None really

And this may seem a little surprising, the fact that I couldn’t (and still can’t) find a negative. But why should it? After all there are others far, far worse off than me. I have been given a treatment plan which I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been diagnosed. I am learning to recognise the triggers to my condition and subsequently how to avoid them. I can get out of doing stuff I don’t want to. And I can finally blame my wife for driving me crazy.

Perfect.

so what was the end result

Well, there is no end result…..not yet anyhow. I visit a psychiatrist once a month and a psychologist once a month, meaning I speak with professionals every two weeks. I am supposed to be taking medication however have forged an agreement with the psychiatrist that I hold off doing this for as long as I possibly can.

My duties at work have altered drastically. I am on a mental health plan and for the sanity of everyone I have no dealings with the public whatsoever in a professional capacity. I am learning to understand that my moods are the result of a chemical imbalance and not just me being a right prick for no apparent reason. I am on a specific diet. I am slightly less hypervigilant however if I go out for dinner or even just out, I MUST sit or stand in a certain spot, otherwise I cannot relax.

I have a wife who has watched this develop for years and who continues to support me beyond any good reason I know. She senses my moods before I do. Between us we will manage.

ok, time to wrap this thing up

My experience with depression is nowhere near as severe as what so many others suffer. Sure, it will mean the end of the job I have known for the last seventeen years of my life but perhaps it was time for that anyhow. I have a mental illness but I also have a shih-tzu/poodle for a dog so I am way past being embarrassed about anything anymore. There are some things that I struggle with but dozens more that I don’t. So…

  1. If you think you might need help, seek it.
  2. if you think you’re too hard or manly to get depression, you’re not.
  3. if you are scared, embarrassed, frightened, that’s ok. So was I.
  4. if talking about stuff isn’t your thing, then you better learn to make it your thing
  5. you’re not alone. Sounds like a wank this last one but really, you’re not.

Beyond Blue Australia 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

The European Depression Association

Alden-Tan.com

Order of Man

Try any of the above. They make a good first step.

If you believe you know someone who may benefit from reading this, please share because every little bit helps. If you wish to comment or perhaps offer your story or a view don’t hesitate to use the comment section. I will most definitely reply.

BJM

Add comment

Thoughts..?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By bjm

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories