A Battle with the Black Dog

26 Jul

A lot of people would have heard of the term or seen the video called ‘I had a black dog, his name was depression’ where writer and illustrator tells the story of overcoming ‘The Black Dog of Depression’.

The Black Dog Campaign reduces the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourages people to seek help early, rather than suffering in silence.

The campaign aims are:

  • Reduce stigma, prejudice and exclusion
  • Encourage more people to seek help
  • Educate members of the public – #StopStigma
  • Take mental health into schools, colleges and the workplace
  • Change perceptions of mental illness
  • Demonstrate the importance of research
  • Involve young people in mental health
  • Change attitudes of future generations

The subject of Mental Health is a big passion of mine. It is something sadly I have had to go through myself with my own battle with depression and anxiety. 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue in their life.

My first experience of depression was in my mid-teens, I remember feeling so awfully low and a regular feeling of thinking ‘I don’t want to be here’. I was unhappy at school and lived in a different village to my college so only knew one or two people where I lived which was very isolating and I struggled academically in most of my subjects. I never told anyone how I felt at that age I did not understand and just hoped things would pick up. Through sixth form it was a little better but I just wanted to get away from college and into the world of work.

I became much happier once I started a full time job and for a few years sailed along quite nicely, things seemed to be good. At the age of 18 I found my faith and was baptised in 2004, I felt I had a purpose in my life, and although times were not always here I felt I had more of an inner strength. In 2006 and at the age of 20 I went on a missionary trip to Namibia for the summer. This involved staying in an orphanage, visiting AIDS patients in the villages and taking food, as well as other activities. I was never prepared emotionally for this trip, I felt very chilled. It wasn’t until I had I had a bad experience at the airport which was very hostile and involved taking me to an enclosed room for a search of my suitcase that I my first real experience anxiety hit. I was okay the first day, and then thereafter I suddenly felt in danger, I was a long way from home and was absolutely petrified. I couldn’t eat, and was regularly sick from panic. The fear was indescribable. I spent the entire rest of the trip feeling like this and it was torture. A few weeks later I landed back in the UK and felt a huge sigh of relief like I was safe again.

However as time went on I realized it had followed me home, the anxiety was chronic, I felt in danger every moment of every day, fear that I had done something wrong or had made a mistake somehow and it ate me up. This soon led to a very dark time in my life. I find it hard to describe just how dark that place was. The thought of ending it all went through my head on a daily basis, it wasn’t necessarily that I did not want to be here but I had no quality of life the way I was feeling. This went on a good few years. I tried to go abroad a couple of times again to battle my phobia of airports and holidays just felt like torture the same fear and panic attacks would come back, something is going to happen, there is no way I can get home.

I could be surrounded by a great group of people but never felt so alone and isolated. People who saw me day to day in my job would never know the turmoil I was going through, not even some of my friends knew the torture I was feeling. It was like a constant black cloud that followed me. There were times I felt in utter distress. It was only when I started getting really dark thoughts about suicide I decided to see a GP who was absolutely brilliant, he did an assessment which showed I was severely depressed and had generalized anxiety disorder and symptoms of OCD. It was many situations that led to this point. Not just the anxiety, but a mixture of life events in this time. After trying counselling which did not work for me I went for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for six weeks. This was the best thing I ever did. Finally someone I felt could get inside my head and untangle all the knots where it had gone wrong. I could talk freely and no matter how insane it sounded I knew my Therapist understood. He set me exercise and goals to achieve.

One of these was changing jobs and another to go abroad again. I went to Florida with some family again to see a friend and it was the first time I loved a holiday in a long time. So much so I achieved my main goal to travel on my own and meet my friend out there for a couple of weeks before flying back.

I felt at a time I would never lead a normal life. My anxiety/depression has never completely gone, it is always there, that black dog lingering in the distance waiting, but I feel I have techniques now and I have never stopped taking my medication. There are times when that black cloud comes over me again and it will last a good few days, and no matter how awful it feels, I know that glimpse of light will shine through again.

Depression/Anxiety is a cruel illness. It is such a dark place, and people who do not understand will tell you cheer up, it isn’t that bad etc. Unfortunately the brain does not work that way. In this day in age, the pressure is so high and constant.

In the past couple of years I have known or known of people who have had friends/family who has taken their own life, and it literally breaks my heart. The thought that someone feels there is absolutely no way out. There is a saying “They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. We will never know the torture a person goes through before deciding that there is no way out, why a person walks in front of a train, or out to sea and the unanswered questions and guilt left on loved ones left behind.

Depression can still be such a taboo subject, and there needs to be more help out there and openness to talk about our feelings no matter how dark they may be. I long ago went on a STOP suicide workshop, a campaign, a pledge where you say “I’d ask”, meaning if someone came to me and said ‘I feel hopeless’ or ‘I do not want to be here anymore’ instead of saying oh don’t be silly, I would respond and dare to ask someone if they were getting thoughts of ending their life?! We need to be more open to ask the question and maybe more lives could be saved if only we could tell somebody and not feel guilty and ashamed.

Note: The cure for asthma is not “just breathe!” and the cure for cancer is not “stop growing those cells!” Similarly, the cure for depression is not, “just be happier!”, and the cure for anxiety is not, “stop worrying so much!” These are not phases of life for teenagers and the weak-minded; they are serious chronic medical illnesses.

People who die by suicide do not want to end their lives; they want to end their pain.

Stephen Fry once said “If you know someone who is depressed please resolve never to ask them why. Depression is not a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, hopelessness and loneliness they are going through. Be there for the when they come through the other side. It is hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest noblest and best things you will ever do.

It is tough if you have never suffered this way to understand how a depressed or anxious person is feeling but today let us stand together, look out for the signs, and speak up if we need it. There is support and as isolating as it feels, there are many people going through a similar situation.

Today if someone talks about ending their life, no matter how attention seeking, you think it is, let’s take the pledge and say “I’d ask”, let us open our eyes and break the taboo of mental health and like Stephen Fry said be kind and noble for people who need us.

 

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