Through the process of making this film I’ve had a lot of people, old friends and complete strangers telling me about their problems and feelings. One of these people is someone I love. Our friendship began when we worked together. A very generous man. Someone who went out of his way on my first day, he took me out for a burger and genuinely wanted to get to know me. We worked together for years and since then I haven’t seen him nearly as much as I would like. So when I started this project and got an email from him with the below words, I was blown away by his honesty. Thank you champ.
I wondered for a long time whether I should try to put pen to paper before I eventually sat down and wrote the following. As I write this opening I can tell you that finding a start point or even a reason to start at all has been a contributory excuse to why it’s taken me so long to get to the “get go”.
There are other reasons. Laziness, time constraints, an avoidance to jeopardise the emotional status quo. The latter is a constant deal breaker especially when your going through an “up” part of your existence. Why would I want to start addressing issues that regularly hound me when they’re not currently evident. Whenever I do hit the “buffers” talking or writing about the way I feel is the furthest inspiration away. But when I am on a sabbatical from the curse I naturally (as a man anyway) always hope that each new day will be it, the new beginning at last, the end of the nightmare. So far it hasn’t been as the cyclical nature of depression seems, at least, to be a constant.
I should tell you a little about me. My least favourite subject and another reason why I’ve found it hard to get to a start point. I think it’s important should anyone else ever read this that people know that just like them I am (or think I am) a fairly normal, rational, reasonably educated and grounded individual. I had a great childhood, strong and loving parents, three elder sisters. I’ve worked since I left school at 16, I’ve played sports, travelled, loved and lost, done things I’m proud of and things I’m not, been in a semi-serious band. I am married to a delightful lady who is the love of my life and whom I waited diligently to meet before getting married (I knew she was out there somewhere). I am the very proud father to a wonderful 7 year old son. I’m intensely loyal, predominantly polite but do have a fragile self confidence and a trigger-happy temper on occasion.
I will mention that I lost my father whom I loved and worshiped when I was six. I don’t know if it’s relevant but, as I’ll come to later, some would say that this “might” be the catalyst to my mental traumas since. I’m not sure I buy into that theory but as it’s been put forward as a “reason” thought it should be noted.
Of additional note is that all three of my elder sisters have experienced some type of mental aberration to varying degrees. Again I don’t know if their physiological states are relevant to mine but think it should be included just in case someone far more clever than I can prove categorically that they are.
People do tell me that I’ve done a fair amount in life which of course I consider as their kind attempts to boost my self-esteem. I’ve done some interesting stuff and had some interesting jobs. I’ve tried to excel at certain things mostly sport and music and whilst probably managing to perform above average comparatively, I’ve never been good enough to make a career from either.
Perhaps most relevant to writing about myself are those elements in my life that affect me the most. Things that apply on a daily basis and that could have something to do with the battle against anxiety and depression.
First and foremost is my hatred of the diminishing values shown by an ever-growing community. An ironic way to describe a collective of those who are so self-obsessed and greed driven that they have successfully managed to chase the spirit from community. These people take many guises in society. They’re not all politicians and bank robbers. Many are bosses.
Secondly, the narcissistic state that we now find ourselves lost in. Social media has thrown it’s hat in with those determined to break communities down into individuals. Again there’s a massive dose of tragic irony in the title “Social” as all these platforms are ultimately doing the opposite, dumbing down actual conversation and interaction to button presses and faux emotional responses.
And thirdly loyalty. I can only assume that loyalty is a hereditary blessing passed down through generations as otherwise I can’t place it’s origin. I have to be loyal no matter the consequence. Whether it’s defending a crap boss, continuing with a plan that’s perpetually flawed (could be anything) or flying my country of birth’s colours as I watch them regularly take a panning. I believe in many if not all moral values and constantly prey that others do likewise.
Outwardly, most should be forgiven for mistaking what appears to be a confident person who likes to make people smile, normally with a garbage line in humour, enjoys a conversation on practically anything and has on occasion gone out of my way to be playful. All those descriptions of my personality are true, to a degree, but no doubt like many others these are easy character traits to display if my brain is engaged and fully occupied.
I’ve often reflected that my ability to indulge in banter and walk away from most micky-taking moments unscathed and on top is no more than a pathetic defensive mechanism for
me to hide behind. I have wondered that if I, a seemingly OK individual that’s never been that kid in the school yard that was last to be picked for a team, had been less able
physically and mentally what sort of place I’d be in now. Does that make me guilty of being a bit of a bully albeit one that never intends to do any harm to others? Inadvertently I
guess it must but I must stress that it’s not as though I seek out the weak to purposely make myself feel bigger or better. I’m happy to go “toe-to-toe” with anyone to save face but my quick-wittedness isn’t a weapon I’ve honed for malicious reason and I hope never will be.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION THEN?
I’m taking a stab in the dark here but feel that I’m reasonably placed to hypothesise about the subject. Why is the suicide rate in men suffering from stress in the UK so high? Why do so many men, seemingly happy, married with kids and with good jobs feel they simply can’t carry on?
Well here goes…
You grow up being taught and hopefully learning continually throughout life. The vast majority of things are explainable. Quantum physics is a tricky, complex subject and yet if you’re that way inclined you can learn about it, some learning quickly, others may take longer. No matter how difficult a subject you know that given time you can understand it better. If you have any doubts you can find an expert, explain your confusion and receive an answer to make things clearer.
Depression grips like no other disease because it turns you in on yourself. You don’t know what you’re going through and certainly can’t explain it to others easily. You can’t google or Wikipedia an answer because no one knows the subject matter well enough to produce a simple answer. In a bid to overcome the anxiety you HAVE to try to ignore it to a degree. You have to try to approach your everyday life by at least appearing like all is well. This is as much for your own sanity as for those around you. You have to go to bed at night thinking that tomorrow is the beginning of another day in which, with a huge amount of luck your past psychological misgivings will be behind you. Depression makes you feel stupid and this leads to an anger and loneliness. It’s an attack on the senses that feels so personal that you begin to turn your hatred for it away from the reason it exists focussing instead on the inability to coherently deal with it.
You don’t want to turn to loved ones. You know that they will either feel responsible for your condition or feel bad for their lack of being able to understand it.
You don’t want to tell friends. It’s not the sort of thing “blokes” do at the best of times and you certainly don’t want to try to explain your “ed the ball” behaviour when you know you can’t.
You don’t want to talk to the doctor because you either fear the worst and don’t want that confirming. You also know how long a road to recovery it might be via counselling.
I doubt there’s many out there that know the real root of their suffering. Describing where my problems began is both simple and impossible a little like when you lose your keys and someone asks you where you last had them. I also firmly believe that the root isn’t necessarily the place to find the answer to your woes. There are people who experience life changing moments good and bad every minute of every day but whom are seemingly unaffected by such impact. I’m yet to establish (how would I even know) if the “chain of doom” my over-thinking mind is naturally capable of is a chemical imbalance in my brain but given that I feel pretty grounded otherwise have certainly reached the conclusion that it could be.
As much as possible then when talking about the possible trigger for my condition I rightly or wrongly have decided that it’s not important. Back to the lost key comparison and it’s easy to see why: Did you leave them on the table, have you checked through your pockets, are they in your bag, etc,etc. None of these questions help when you’re frantically trying to find them on a Monday morning or you’ll be late for work. All you want at that point is a remedy, a definitive answer so that you can move on. You don’t care where they are or why they are where they are, all you want is your keys to appear to start your day more effectively.
None the less I will offer a start point as it might just help someone else to see where a potential catalyst could be and act on it before I did.
I was roughly 20 at the time and 21st Birthday celebrations were a constant weekend filler. I lived in a hotel at the time. My mum and stepfather had decided to buy a small hotel in my local town and as I was still living at home then I became a long term guest in one of the rooms.
I had a job in Manchester in a mens fashion shop and had a reasonable amount of disposable cash to enjoy myself with. Most nights were spent in the pub, a decent enough boozer and within a short walk from “home”. I had a long term girlfriend but we didn’t see each other 24/7 so I could still go to the pub with my mates without issue.
As luck would have it one of my pals had booked his 21st at the hotel months before we had bought it. What could be better than a good piss up where I could then fall into bed without even having to walk home?
The night had only been a couple of hours long however when I started to feel a little weird. The initial stomach cramps could have been anything – dodgy pint or pork pie from the buffet was what I was thinking. But as the cramps got worse I had to retreat to my bedroom. That was my first sense of helplessness. I was lying on the floor of my room doubled over in agony. I knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t a physical reaction albeit that it felt like one. I felt huge amounts of nausea but knew I wouldn’t be sick. The confusion immediately set my mind racing: Why was I feeling this way? Why couldn’t I control it? Why was this happening to me?
The more I tried to delve for an answer the deeper the darkness seemed.
The pain eventually subsided that night but it did so under a proviso and one which I should have known would become a familiar “negotiation” from that day on. I was obviously gutted that two floors beneath me there was a great party in full flow. I had looked forward to it almost as much as the birthday boy. And yet I simply couldn’t escape the clutches of what I was going through enough to join in. Even then I was thinking “this is ridiculous”, “get a grip on yourself”, “It’s all in your head man”. But it wasn’t until I finally admitted defeat, until I decided I wasn’t going back downstairs that an almost instant relief kicked in.
That night I did what any self-respecting ignoramus would do. I parked it. Put it down to a one off blip. I couldn’t fathom what I had just gone through as much as I thought it had been mental rather than physical, so I decided that it was merely a visiting sensation that would not repeat itself. Sadly that wasn’t to be the case.
The very next evening I made my way out to the pub across the school fields as usual.
I got to the far side of the field onto the road and then hit the imaginary wall head on. I couldn’t walk such was the intense sickness. I made myself throw up over a wall in the forlorn hope that the past 48 hours had indeed been some sort of sickness bug or food poisoning. No change to the sensation. I waited for about 20 minutes before I decided I’d have to return home. And there it was again. An immediate change in condition once I had made my mind up my night was over.
What the hell was going on? I loved my life and most certainly my social life wo why couldn’t I face doing what I loved? We all get those butterflies before a dentist appointment or before an interview. But those are experiences we’d all really prefer to avoid so it’s natural to feel trepidation. But going to the pub to do what I like best for God’s sake, what is that about?
The condition showed no sign of letting up. Going to work was no problem. I guess subliminally my mind worked fine when I didn’t have to rely on my thoughts for company. That’s to say that at work my mind was occupied with what I had to do and that meant it couldn’t wonder down other paths whether cognitively or not. But once I had committed to anything outside of the workplace the cramps would start again. Very subtlety to start with but with an increasing momentum the closer to the event I became until going anywhere was simply out of the question.
I told my mum. Only because I had to as she found my newly found “stay at home” status a little weird herself. Off to the doctors we went, yet another one of those horrible young adult experiences you dread. Having to tell someone about shit you didn’t and couldn’t understand yourself was never going to be easy.
To be fair I think he grasped it. Of course I didn’t really think he had. How could he? If I couldn’t get my head round it how could I expect anyone else to. That’s when you realise that which ever way you dress it up: depression, anxiety, stress, is a very, very lonely place.
The Doctor put me on a course of fairly strong anti-depressants and referred me to a physchoanalysist for counselling. I don’t want anyone that may read this to assume the worst from this treatment as I can only talk about my experiences and as much as I still have my doubts medicine and therapy has most likely moved on from 30 years ago.
The drugs had the kind of “happy tablet” results you’d expect. After a few days I already found I was now drifting through existence in a semi-zombie like state. This was OK to be honest. Of course my “chain of doom” sixth sense was already telling me that the pills I was prescribed weren’t going to solve anything long term. Like a cold and flu remedy they were merely there to take the edge of the symptoms. I knew that but I was in a slightly better place than I had been so what the hell. If anything, as I knew that I wasn’t being automatically cured as I’d like to have been it did make me decide to attend the meetings with the “shrink” I’d been told to go to.
At this point I thought I was in a position of control. I had established that there was something wrong and I had acted upon it. I had received and was taking my medication and there were signs, whilst very murky through the drug fuelled haze, that I was improving. And of course this “thing” was going to be easily resolved wasn’t it? It had to be. As quickly had this rapid, out-of-nowhere intrusion occurred that it had to be as quick and simple to rectify.
My scepticism for those who meddle in head science didn’t deter my treatment…for long at least. To this day I am still in awe of how our heads work. As I’ve played a lot of sport I’ve seen my body gradually deteriorate. I except it as much I hate it. But my body is purely a carriage with me at the reigns. I’d point myself at what I wanted to do physically and where possible my body obliges. Naturally then I expected that I was in charge of my brain, that I could ask it to perform tasks, to answer questions and in this case rationalise what I was going through which of course I couldn’t. But could someone else?
My fears that the Head Doctor would dive deep into my past to come up with some spurious evidence of when and why my head had broken didn’t take long to coincide. After three sessions we had made my way back through what ever big or small traumas I’d had along the way and arrived at the door of my fathers death when I was just a boy. If it had been a film script it would never have been made due to lack of originality. Great. Well done Doc. Now what? Now that you’ve managed to make me expose almost all of the skeletons in the closet, thus ensuring that my mind is now plagued by all the stuff I wanted to forget, where do we go from here?
As much as I was now living in a world with a pain I didn’t understand I, in my opinion, I had now managed to introduce yet more smoke screens to the actual truth and a way out. The experience also shed a much darker, gloomier perspective on matters. I’d been wrestling with stuff I couldn’t explain but had now had a host of memories thrust into the mix to contend with and it had sent me into a bit of a nose-dive. The very nature of the inquisition still provokes an angry reaction. Endless “how did that make you feel” questions at every juncture sent my brain into total discombobulation and escalated the state of my already fragile self awareness into an oversaturated swamp of unanswered and on reflection unanswerable queries about my past. How this was supposed to help me I have no idea. Years later I read “The Dice Man” by George Cockcroft (aka Luke Rhinehart) which did a lot to confirm my conclusions at the time.
Suffice to say after a third interrogation I decided enough was enough and ended the therapy now in a significantly more damaged place than I’d started. My expert had pretty much pinned my newfound anxieties on the death of my father. Not only had I been robbed of my dad he was now apparently the “root” of my current predicament. Double blow right there and one which I wasn’t willing to entertain regardless of whether there was any merit in the argument.
By now I was about three months into the antidepressants. I was no further forward and was now in a completely suspended state. I literally drifted through existence. Nothing bothered me particularly but I recognised that that wasn’t good. As much as the drugs had rounded off the edges of my anxiety they had also added a filter to any of the nicer sensations, those you wanted to experience at full clarity. I was stuck between two evils with no foreseeable exit.
The drugs also had some odd side effects the first of which you’d like to think was a good one. I had become addicted to sex. Great you would think. As much as my girlfriend at the time might have initially been happy with the predicament things soon became stressed. I wasn’t going out at all. I would get home from work and wait for my girlfriend to arrive before the insatiable shagging would ensue. But I barely spoke to her in that time. She would arrive, we’d have sex until she left. I’m not even sure how much either of us enjoyed it and frankly I didn’t need to know. The drugs had stripped any sort of emotional sensation from what I was doing and making love or not I had nothing to offer as a boyfriend, friend or simply as a person.
I think that perhaps the sex was as much a mental reaction as much as it was a chemical one. If I could find something to occupy my mind (or on this occasion simply not make me think about anything) then I wasn’t having to think about the other bad things either.
The other most notable side effect crept up more slowly and amidst the weird trigger from mental stress to psychological manifestation was definitely a physical one. The drugs were taking a toll on my stomach. Soon I was faced with only being able to muster up enough of a hunger to eat the most basic of foods. I lived on mashed potato and baked beans as a consequence. Every meal, every day for months it was all I could manage. I knew that irrelevant of the safety net the drugs had brought to appease my mental symptoms that I couldn’t maintain them in my system without long term damage. My doctor had initially prescribed a gradual increase in dosage. I didn’t step up my intake when requested because somewhere my gut feeling (excuse the pun) was telling me that both mentally and physically it wouldn’t be wise. Instead I started the long process of weaning myself away from my chemical comfort zone.
Four months on I had freed myself from the antidepressants and the hazy grip they’d had over me. I was mostly OK with this buoyed on by the fact that I’d actually accomplished the goal I had set. Result.
I was now generally in a better place. I was playing rugby again, training hard and enjoying being back in a team environment. Sport has always been a safe haven for me. The comradery aside it gave my natural spirit the opportunity to breath. When I was playing rugby or any sport for that matter I was able to exist in the moment. No other thoughts would come and interrupt this utopic space and I have always been grateful to sport for this respite.
My girlfriend had moved on, exhausted more by my erratic mood swings rather than my addiction to intercourse and I dealt with it as most would. Disappointment of rejection replaced by anger. The usual.
A different work place also helped and for a while and I seemed at least to have parked my anxiety and all it’s baggage. But I knew there was always a chance things would change such was the surprise nature of my first encounter. It could come back as I had still not addressed what prompted it in the first place.
THE CHAIN OF DOOM
Years from that initial meeting with my condition (which I still don’t know what to call) things started to heat up again albeit this time in a different guise. This is the period of life from roughly thirtyfiveish to now and I call it the “Chain of Doom”.
I have a quick mind. I have always been able to more than hold my own in a playful shit-slinging contest because I can think of the most apt, funny reposte very quickly. I work people out very quickly (sometimes wrongly but rarely). I can pinpoint what hidden message someone is trying to disguise in order to get what they want in seconds. I’ve refined this ability over the years as a side effect to trying to second guess my own emotional output so intensely. My wife says that I have always been an unduly harsh critic of myself (true) and of others. She’s right but it’s because I’ve seen so many others gain relative amounts of success without the talent to back it up, to get somewhere on their own self-confidence rather than their ability that leaves me so critical. There’s a considerable amount of jealousy involved here and perhaps an unfair reflection on my part of some individuals that I’ve given short shrift to. Self confidence is a commodity that, when evident in the right amount in a person can give so much. Those blessed with large doses of it tend to do quite well in life. They have no qualms about placing themselves in an unknown position and learning on the go. I dislike this trait, often confusing self worth as delusional narcissism when actually it’s a characteristic that I’d really like to have some of.
The Chain of Doom all started as what felt like fairly harmless analysis of a situation. If I was at work I would see a circumstance before it happened. I would take a split second to play out a scenario from neginning to end and then react to it before it happened thus resolving an issue before it could arise. Within these parameters I would also establish who the “idiot” was. Who is the one that will pontificate on the answer to a simple conundrum long enough that things were out of hand by the time they’d made their mind up? My loathing of such persons is as unfair reaction as being saddled with the “ability” to see the fire before the smoke and one which I should have learned to rein in by now.
I’m not saying that I’m some sort of clairvoyant as that’s simply not accurate. I just see how a problem can be avoided before others that’s all. Some might say this is a “negative” personality trait but I merely want to avoid the avoidable to produce a better result. In todays society where everyone seems to be hooked up with some sort of outlet for their ego- filled, selfie taking I am definitely in the minority as I simply don’t think that a personal insight of me is worthy or interesting enough to anyone else to care. Consequently I don’t let me personal gain get in the way of making the right decision.
If only this ability to problem solve were the place at which my internal probing stopped. If I could just harness the Chain of Doom to solve problems that would be amazing and fulfilling. But it’s not. What was once a great solution giver has now become an irritating backdrop to my days.
Now the Chain of Doom consumes me on a daily basis. It works without motivation and without invitation. The Chain of Doom is an ever present which highlights every possible scenario that I can imagine. It started by latching itself on to a doctors favourite, the aforementioned suggestion that my fathers death is the nucleus of all the bad that surrounds me. He died at 42 playing in a football match years after he had stopped playing competitively. As I reached my later 30’s and combined with my withdrawal from competitive rugby my mind would frequently start to fret about my mortality. Every cough or cold would kick-start my mind into drawing the darkest possible conclusion. And like most men the more I thought might be wrong with me the less inclined I became to have any concerns addressed. This cycle of negativity helped to ramp up the intensity of my wandering mind to an oppressive level stopping me from doing things as I could only see a disastrous ending to them before I’d even started them.
I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t make it past 42. I stopped making plans and I certainly never imagined what I might do with a life that would soon be over. What was the point? I guess that’s a reason I never really considered being a father until it happened without my wife and I trying. I genuinely didn’t want to bring someone else into the world to experience what I had, a life without a father to love and impress. This circumstance didn’t help with my work choices either. I’ve had really good jobs. Some that people could only dream of. Yet my lack of belief in a future that would, could never exist prevented me from really focussing properly on any of them.
My 42nd birthday came and went and I’m still here. Subsequent to that the Chain of Doom has focussed on other weaknesses whenever I feed it with the fuel it needs to gather momentum. Not that I do this on purpose. If I was doing it proactively I think it would concern me less. It’s an automated process and it chooses it’s own frailty to focus on. Before you know it I have turned an everyday occurrence into a dramatic, doom filled, linear journey that ultimately ends in disaster. No matter how I try to avoid the train of thought I become rapidly ensconced in one harrowing domino effect after another.
There are of course times when these leanings are less profound, times when I feel less inhibited than others. But there is no uniformity or discernable pattern to events. One day OK, sometimes a week but then a day or days without respite. Even on the days when the Chain of Doom seems absent I still feel it’s presence. I know I think too much. If I’m feeling OK I immediately ask why and of course in turn that can bring about the Chain of Doom without intention.
I think less about death directly now. It doesn’t stop my concerns about what the overall magnitude of stress is doing to me physically and I now consider these actual inflictions as posing a more genuine threat to my existence than my thoughts could ever do previously. Weirdly that feels like a better place to be. I know that my stress levels are not good. Nonetheless, as stress is a recognised phenomenon that we all know is unhealthy I at least know it’s existence is real rather than a “feeling” that I can’t explain to others.
In short, depression, anxiety and stress require you to play a role that the most acclaimed of actors couldn’t hope to pull off. You have to convince everybody, including yourself, that all is OK, all day, everyday. You have to appear normal when a cacophony of voices bounces around your cranium telling you otherwise. To keep up this charade overtime is punishing and I think for some, way too much to hope for.
MEDICAL INTERVENTION AND EXPERT ADVICE
I talk here from a mans perspective. It’s important to recognise that men, faced with a problem they can’t rationalise, react differently from women on the whole. Women will do the right thing and visit a doctor. Women want a matter to be resolved and are better equipped to voice their concerns and as we know communication is a problem area for most males.
Irrelevant to my experience in actually discussing my mental health thirty years ago, when in fairness my GP did propose a plan of treatment, I haven’t been back in recent time even when I’ve needed to. Why? Simply put I can’t face it. I can’t face the torrent of questions that I’ve already asked myself thousands of times over to be asked again. I also don’t want the obvious to be exposed. I don’t want to be told how much my level of stress is impacting on my health even though I know it is. I don’t want to be poked and prodded physically and mentally by someone who shares no empathy. When you’ve been fighting the demons so long you don’t want to have to start from the beginning again. You WANT answers to be given not asked for.
Perhaps that’s another reason why for so many men medical help comes too late or not at all. They need it’s intervention but won’t ask as they fear the confirmation of their doubts.
WORKING THROUGH IT
Whilst I’m not prepared to lay blame on how work plays it’s part in this elaborate plot to bring me to a halt there is not doubt that it is a factor in everything. It could be the catalyst for some but not for me. I have had some great jobs just not great bosses and as they’re the ones that control your working environment they’ve had a definite impact as some stage.
I’ve had some amazing jobs that i’ve loved albeit they have all been a tainted experience due to other people.
Perhaps most significantly, when you already feel that nobody understands or listens to you, when you add a boss that definitely ignores your thoughts and suggestions, that feels no obligation to thank you for anything you do, is when their blatant disregard becomes a compounding influence on you and the voice you’ve already lost.
But it’s never that easy is it? To break free from yet another vicious circle. I need to work to avoid having even longer dormant spells to overthink things and I need work to ensure that financially at least, I don’t add to the worries I already have. The bloody-minded approach i’ve already had to learn to take against my anxieties plays a part also. I don’t want to let the bastards grind me down so I continue with the charade that tomorrow is another day and it will all be different.
I have zero doubt that the workplace and all it’s anomalies: cliques, bullying, belittling, ingratitude, lack of respect, are all additional mind fucks that you can’t afford to have included in your already bulging bag of axes to grind.
My loyalty and I suppose my inert need to please people means that I would never be my own boss. To be honest, I know ME better than anyone else. Would I rather work for a total wanker who shows me scant respect or appreciation? Or would I rather work for me, a fairly unstable mentalist with a stack load of emotional baggage and very low self esteem? The answer as painful as it may seem is an obvious one.
BOOZE AND OTHERS AS AN ESCAPE ROUTE
Life has to continue and preferably the daily grind can have the wheels greased occasionally. Personally, whilst I work in a stressful environment which at times I loathe, work is both a stress reliever and a stress provider. I’m yet to work out which is the lesser of two evils. On the one hand I can go to work and become so absolved by what I’m doing that I don’t have time to think about anything else and that is totally welcome. On the other, when time is at a premium and you’re exhausted by the process it most certainly adds to the fireman’s pole effect of sinking fast. Add to that that weekends punctuate the workflow and numerous issues present themselves.
I regularly hit an exhaustion wall at the weekends. I throw myself into a work project in order to escape my thought processes. That can help ease your mental worries but once it stops, for holidays or weekends, the combined effect of emotional tiredness coupled with the time you now have for your owns thought clouds to gather again can be very testing. Friday evening is usually OK as you have two days to relax. Saturday is OK also not least in the summer months as along with playing sport (mainly golf, more on this later) you can dedicate more time to social interaction which is always good to occupy the mind. Sundays are tough days as you know you have to return to work the following day. This in its self is weird as you know work can help and yet still feel the stress of returning to it.
Winter is less easy for keeping the brain ticking over and I do find that with darker days come darker thoughts. Aside from the seasonal deficiencies I have found that keeping a balanced outlook is difficult at the weekend. I want to spend time with my wife and son but keeping the truth that all might be far from good in your head a secret from them is also stress that you don’t really want. Certainly there are times where you feel that you would be better off as far away from them as possible but that verbalising that sensation will seem hurtful even though that’s the last thing you want it to feel like.
Consequently I have relied on booze, nicotine and cannabis throughout my adult life with varying dependence on each given a particular time. I have found that all can offer a very short term fix as they do, like antidepressants, take the edges of the harsh corners. Booze brings the relaxation point forward. Even a couple of beers can shed a different light on a bad day by removing the extreme outline of a pressured scenario. I have a drink every night. In my head it’s never a “big drink” though. More of a way to relax my mind regardless of the fact that this could just be a placebo effect.
I also find that a drink helps me to sleep and that without something to numb my emotions sufficiently I struggle to get a well rested night. Many like to dream but I find that without something to help me into a deep sleep my mind soon starts to paint “unpretty” pictures that are more night mares than dreams. Sleep should be a safe haven away from the Chain of Doom yet sadly it has a way of filling every emotional slot.
Smoking is also a help as much as I loathe it. There are times when a cigarette is simply a great way to calm down. Smoking obviously adds to stress levels in that you know it’s doing you harm but feel you can’t leave it alone for fear of increased stress levels.
Cannabis too, as much as it dumbs down the fear and removes (to a degree) the thought processes from turning into a monster is a temporary fix and on occasion one which I have been grateful for. Like alcohol I haven’t ever reached excessive levels of abusing it but do like it to assist a restless night.
Perhaps the best therapy in my case has been sport. I’ve always loved it but as my anxiety has grown over time it has become more important than ever.
I’ve been blessed in that I’ve always been quite proficient at many sports. Rugby has been a major part of my life both for leisure purpose and for work. I’ve travelled the world because of it and I will always be truly grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to play.
There’s no surprise either that many professional sportsmen and women have struggled mentally once their careers have come to an end. Sport at every levels demands your time to improve but certainly at a professional level, when that is how you occupy the majority of your time, when your entire life is planned around it means professional sports people are going to experience a backlash personally when the bubble they’ve existed in for so long is burst.
Sport requires a constant, dedicated focus from the mind to control the body. Ultimately the repetition required to improve skill sets is designed to help programme the mind to make such actions become second nature. This in turn allows the mind to run freely. There’s still your thought process puffing away in the background but there’s no room at the inn for entertaining other distractions.
Nowadays I rely on golf to provide my mental respite. As much as playing badly is an irritating sensation it is still so much better a way to occupy the brain than not playing. I rely heavily on the 4-5 hour “window of freedom” golf allows me and do miss it greatly during the wet weather months.
As much as depression, anxiety and stress are considered mental health issues their effect on the rest of you can be just as devastating. There are links to stress creating strain on the stomach, heart, lungs in addition to skin and hair condition.
In my experience stress manifests itself in numerous ways and mostly in quite specifically targeted, prolonged bouts. It will take it’s toll on my stomach and digestive system, my skin condition and my general appearance. It tends to hone in on one of these areas (occasionally two) at a time. For many years it caused a very noticeable and uncomfortable large rash on my right shin. Recently this rescinded only for the symptoms to move to my ears and hands (broken skin, constant itchiness) and my stomach which constantly feels like someone is standing on top of my tummy, squeezing and contorting it.
Oddly (and perhaps wrongly) I see these physical manifestations as a good thing. In my warped existence I consider them to be evidence of stress that no longer resides in my head but has taken on a physical form and one that is less exhausting. No doubt I also see them to be something “real” rather than just “virtual” mental intrusions and that conclusion is one that helps me to think that the outside world can at least see my stress in a physical incarnation, that it’s proof that I do actually have an “illness’ of sorts.
The knock on effect of such physical symptoms born out of mental frailty is that you do start to suffer from a sort of hypochondriasis. Every ache or pain no matter how insignificant or not is magnified to a level of gravity that inadvertently adds to the stress that pre-empted it creating yet another perpetual cycle which is hard to live with and almost impossible to control.
AN END TO THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE?
Thinking that a “fix” to my problems is possible is not high on my expectancies. As my wife tells me “No one can help you fix your problem unless you yourself want to fix it” and therein lies one of the toughest realities.
My psychological problems are sealed in by the seemingly unbreakable circles that I laid out to protect myself. I recognise that I need help but my scepticism of what’s available prohibits me from exploring the options. I am currently at a point where I have my situation under some control. I don’t see an end to any of my issues not least as I don’t really know what they are, when they will present themselves or at what magnitude the next wave will hit. I think I can recognise the signs that I might be mentally plummeting in time to set off my failsafe mechanisms and prevent things from getting to a critical point. Essentially the defence system I built to shield me has now become another layer in the unsolvable puzzle.
I definitely don’t want to live my days out feeling the way I do. I want to change but I can’t face taking a leap of faith with a supposed expert whom may be taking their own. What I want are some clear answers and a route to success rather than a host of possibilities and reasons relayed by people who say they’re experts but are less educated on the subject than those they wish to treat.
I don’t want to become reliant on drugs as they come with their own issues and I want to be freed from dependencies rather than answerable to them.
I don’t want to churn through my past in the hope that it somehow enlightens me to the cause as I don’t necessarily believe that there has to have been a trigger somewhere. Short of someone inventing a time machine allowing one to travel back and change events to suit what possible help could it be anyway?
That said, amidst the thousands of possible causes that I’ve contemplated I do feel that I’ve reached one conclusion. I believe that the brain is a very complex machine and one which we have very little control over. Like any machine it’s bound to develop flaws due to wear and tear or other. Unlike most machines though this is one that had no human creator, no design blueprint and consequently no one being that can truly lay claim to knowing it well enough to have all the answers.
I believe that my personal mental circumstances are the result of imbalance, chemical or mechanical, within the brain itself. As a result depression, anxiety and stress, whilst they could be a by- product of circumstance, are in my opinion more likely to be random, invasive inflictions suffered by millions of unfortunate and non-complicit souls.
It’s probably fairly evident by now that I have done a lot of thinking about my current existence and it’s status. The Ghost in the Machine seems an apt description.
Throughout my posturing and pontification, I can see why the “madness” drives people to the point of destruction. When pushed to discuss the matter it feels like no one wants to listen to what you’re saying. Finding an empathetic ear is almost impossible. Drugs might work but are not without additional complications.
All of these implications and uncertainties can only lead to a very lonely place on the planet. For some that level of virtual solitude is simply too much to suffer and armed with nothing but hope and perseverance to muddle through means that there will always be casualties until more is done to help stop them. What that is I don’t have the foggiest.