Climbing Back from the Brink

I’ll never forget that feeling.

Lying in bed,
limbs restless,
shaking,
cold sweats,
heart pounding.

Utterly terrified, unable to comprehend what was happening to me.  A feeling of absolute dread gripping my entire being at the thought of the day ahead and the expectation on me to tutor a workshop.  A workshop that I had delivered many times and had always enjoyed.  If I was to use one word to summarise what depression felt like to me it would be: terror.

At this stage of my first depression I had no idea what was happening to me, nor how long I would have to endure this state of being – or more accurately, non-being – and no idea how much further I had to fall.  Surely, please surely, the bottom couldn’t be much further away.  I had a recurring image in my mind and sensation in my body, of a boulder rolling down a cliff, gathering momentum, impossible to stop.  And when I was to hit bottom – of which I had no doubt – I had no idea where I would be, nor how, or indeed if, I would be able to climb back.

Thankfully I was able to climb back.  Not once, but twice.  Just as it is almost impossible for me to trace depression back to one thing, so too it is impossible to attribute my recovery to one particular moment or treatment.  Instead, there were a combination of factors that put me on the road to recovery.

Medication

When first prescribed anti-depressants I was scared to take them.  Would they change me?  Would I become dependent?  If they did help me would the recovered version still be me?  Would I experience the same range of emotions?

I decided not to take them.  I’ll beat this myself.

But I had no idea how….

I continued to get worse until what was probably the worst day of my life.  Every day with depression can feel like the worst day of your life but the events of this particular day set it apart –  a complete breakdown at a work conference at Alton Towers.  Not good.

And so to a key moment in recovery – although recovery was still over 4 months away – as a good friend that had recently overcome depression himself came to see me.  His advice – take the tablets.  They will help.  Take the tablets.  So I did, and I continue to take them.

Do they make me a different person?  Well, they help to keep me a well person and that is all that matters.  And just as a diabetic wouldn’t feel pressured to stop taking insulin so as not to feel ‘dependent’ on medicine to make him healthy, neither do I feel a need to stop taking a medication that helps me.

Learning about depression

I read just about everything that I could to do with depression.  Understanding the illness helps you to realise that what you are going through is not unique to you and it starts to make some sort of sense.

Yes, right now you are pretty much f***ed, but hey, you’re not the only one!

A major problem for me at the time was that I could relate powerfully to the bad bits that I read – how depression can destroy your life, your relationships, your career – but not to the stories of recovery, nor the methods suggested.  ‘Ah yes, well, that might work for them but it wouldn’t work for me because…..’

There was always a because.

Because that’s another thing about depression, it’s a liar.  It isn’t you.  It is an illness.  And it can be overcome.

Counselling

Without counselling I may not be here, writing this, trying to give hope to others.  Counselling wasn’t cheap but it saved my life.  I can’t put a price on that.

I had to overcome significant internal resistance to actually book my first session.  There were two reasons for this:

1.       I was convinced nothing would help me, that I would never feel anything other than the hell that I was in.  But as long as the psychologist was out there there was some hope that there was something, someone, that could help me.  However once I was to make that appointment, once I was to start the treatment that would inevitably fail because I couldn’t be cured…. well, what then?

My life would be over.  I couldn’t make the call.

2.       I was never going to get better and I would never be able to work again.  I would lose my home and my family, in addition to my already lost mind.  I would need as much money as I could to keep me from the streets for as long as possible.  So I couldn’t spend any money.

To my depressed mind this was more than logical, it was cast iron, self-evident truth.

(My psychologist taught me that I was ‘catastrophising’.  I see what he meant….).

Throughout recovery there was no magic moment, no startling revelation, no moment of clarity; no one time or event that I can say, THAT made the difference.  It was a process – one that continues to this day – of gradually understanding myself better, recognising damaging patterns of thought.

Improvements seemed imperceptible but with hindsight I can see steps along the way that pointed towards recovery.  There is a lesson here: to persevere when things feel hopeless; to trust the longer-term process of recovery when the hoped for ‘breakthrough’ doesn’t appear, and to measure progress via the small things – the spontaneous smiles that begin to reappear; a peaceful, uninterrupted night’s sleep.

And remember – a day at a time, a step at a time.  It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but you will find beauty and joy in life again.

A day at a time.  A step at a time.

And with that I was able to live my life again.  To enjoy my life again.  To be ‘me’ again.

Welcome back Matthew, I missed you.

Soundtrack: Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros