Why ‘outing’ your fears is the first step towards freedom
Posted Monday 23 April 2012
Depression has been part of my life for so long. Maybe it is part of who I am now.
The events leading up to my breakdown and subsequent start down to the road to recovery started once I understood one immutable fact. I had never been myself with anyone, but myself. That one thought set in motion a chain of events that led to numerous guilty feelings, thoughts, and internal recriminations.
I had people who I worked with, who thought I dealt with the day to day pressures the job entailed - I did not.
I had friends who thought that they had known me for years - they did not.
As a depressive, you expend so much energy being what other people expect you to be that you never really enjoy your life. Things that some people take for granted, like absolute choice is denied to you by factors that are seemingly outside of your control. And most of all, the spiral of not having these choices determine that the cycle is never broken in your own mind.
Even for someone like me who could probably reason their way out of a paper bag, not even the truth can set you free. Knowledge of your situation is never enough, because you don’t have the capacity to accept that knowledge.
I have suffered depression on and off for about 15 years, and during those periods I have had times that you could describe as happy. But if I’m honest, this is more to do with the fact that I have been extremely busy over those periods.
I have been happiest at work when it’s busy because it gives me no time to think about the things that get me down. I have been happiest in relationships that have kept me occupied. In the silence of my own mind, alone, I have been forced to face my own demons. And found myself wanting in my response to them.
In the days leading up to my decision to tell my friends about my depression, I spent most of them panicking. What would they think? How would they react? Would they treat me any differently? Could I deal with people not understanding? How would I deal with the stigma of mental health?
Several times over the previous set of months, I had gone through the same mental processes, and had done absolutely nothing. Scared because doing so would mean that people I worked with would view me differently. Scared that I might lose my job. Scared that the promotion I had worked so hard for would be ruined because internally I was finding it hard to cope.
There were several defining moments in ‘outing’ myself.
The first was leaving my previous job. Slightly cowardly I thought, but because I had broken ties with those people from a work perspective, I felt the risk was less.
The second was during the vetting stage after the offer on my new job. It had been the first time that I had been asked directly about mental health on the application form.
The form had actually used the term ‘depression’ in brackets when talking about disabilities including mental health. I had signed the affirmative in regards to mental health, and they had called me to ask questions.
Admittedly I did lie about the current status of my mental health (I was suicidal at the time), but I’d been able to answer all the questions including around medication to their satisfaction. The job offer was still on the table after it had all been submitted.
It gave me the confidence that I was employable even with prior mental health history. Unfortunately, I don’t think my bosses had been giving any training to deal with people prone to depressive issues, or read my file. If they had, then they would have ensured that I was OK with the work and the levels of expectation that they themselves were exposing me to.
The third moment was the realisation that it was not just work expectation that was driving me further into depression.
There was clearly a fundamental feeling of unhappiness about the job that I do, but more so than that, it was the lack of choices that I felt I had in terms of how my life had panned out.
The feeling of being trapped, in a situation of your own making, and not being able to find a way out. It was me that had run up stupid debts in my teens which were contributing to my financial situation. It was me that had chosen to follow my parent’s advice on careers rather than follow my own dreams. It was my fault that I didn’t have the strength of character to do what I needed to do what I really wanted.
So, in realising that these things were problems, I began to do what I think most depressives do best. Think. Reason. Find a logical solution to solve them. Outline a set of steps, albeit small in nature, to get me to a bigger end goal.
The problem being, that the first step is always the biggest. So I decided to actually post a blog on my Facebook and Twitter pages for all my friends to read. It was the easiest way to get the information across, and I’ve always been confident in my ability to tell a story. Why not mine?
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone to tell their innermost feelings on Facebook or Twitter, because the internet is full of people “trolling”, or with a lack of understanding of how to deal with people with mental health issues.
It is probably the biggest risk I have ever taken; at a time I was most fragile. But in my mind, I had nothing to lose. I had already decided I was going to take my life in the next couple of days, if something didn’t change. At that point, people’s opinions wouldn’t count anyway. So logically, why would I not take the risk? I wouldn’t be here for the supposed sympathy or “wish we could have helped him” speech. Nobody could hurt me as much as I could hurt myself now.
And there it was... “Nobody could hurt me as much as I could hurt myself”. A realisation that I was the only one doing the damage. All the pent up frustration of not talking, not being myself, and not doing with my life what I wanted. So, I quit my job (despite protestations from many that a recession isn’t the best time to quit) and posted my blog.
And what did I get from it? An absolute feeling of freedom. I instantly took the filter off things I said about my state of being. If I felt bad, I posted it. If I felt good, I posted it. If I felt indifferent, I posted it. I tweeted and posted in both states of euphoria and states of depression. My friends called me regularly, and for the first time I discussed my hopes, my fears and honestly how I felt.
Just to make this clear, I am in no way through the worst of it. As I said, just because you understand the problem, doesn’t necessarily give you the tools to deal with the issues.
If you are depressed and reading this, my advice to you as a friend, is to find somebody or someone you trust. Somebody who is patient, but will be honest with you. Confide, speak openly and honestly with them.
Accept your moods for what they are, don’t kick yourself for them. Everybody has bad days. Worry less about the future, live in the present. You cannot see the future. Your time machine is broken. Most importantly, do what makes you happy. If your job or your life is not what you want, take small steps to change your reality.
As a listener, don’t judge the person. You can be honest with them, without sounding accusatory. Tell them that that they are loved, that you will always be there for them, and that you are worried. Remind them of the positives, even if they don’t seem to be listening. It all goes in, one way or another.
Don’t be scared to remind them that THEY are in control of their life. Nobody else. Remind them that guilt is a good thing in small portions. It is that guilt that makes them a decent person. Most all remind them, that life is hard. Not everyone will like them. Not everyone will agree with the choices they make. But they are only here once. It is their mistakes that will make them grow.
And remember, when you are at your lowest; and you have forgotten who you are and the things that made you laugh. Remember:
In the midst of winter I finally learned that there was, within me, an invincible summer
If you're struggling with depression, read our guide. It describes the symptoms of depression and the different kinds of treatment available. It suggests ways you can help yourself, and what family and friends can do.
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