Mental illness. So many column inches are dedicated to this delicate but serious issue which so adversely affects our society. An issue which despite numerous efforts and initiatives remains largely a taboo subject. A silent ‘killer’, its symptoms are rarely if ever palpable and for all intents and purposes its victims rarely show adverse signs that anything is not as it should be, mostly choosing to suffer in silence for years on end before they reach out for help or worse… But as they say, ‘you have to walk a mile in a man’s shoes’ to fully understand just how devastating mental illness can be. Mark* is a sufferer and here he charters his journey in coping and overcoming depression…
For the sake of this interview my name, as suggested by the interviewer, is Mark. I am a musician, but a rock’n’roll lifestyle is as far remote for me as life on Mars, except for the drugs…
The drugs… Not the hallucinogenic kind or the type they call ‘recreational’ these days, but life dependant chemicals upon which the quality of my and my family’s everyday life is determined. You see, I suffer from clinical depression and have done so for most of my adult life, though it was only quite recently that I sought help and was finally diagnosed. Beamed across the world, the death by alleged suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain a few months ago and so many before him, opens the floodgates once again of just how dangerous and despairing living on the edge of an abyss can be for those who ‘live’ in the clutches of this terrible illness without seeking help.
And so, I am Mark, and this is my story…
I am the youngest of four siblings, the only boy in the family and spoilt to death from a young age by both my sisters and my mother. I had a great childhood and spent most of my time with dad, who after the constant mollycoddling at home, offered great respite as a solid father figure. I remember we used to escape to the garage every day and tinker with whatever project he had going at the time… Anything, as long as we avoided the oestrogen fuelled environment at the house. I grew up into a lad’s lad, did quite well at school and despite my dad’s scepticism, started guitar lessons and joined a band.
Earning a living as a musician proved to be quite tricky, so when the opportunity came along to join a reputable band overseas, I unhesitantly upped sticks and left. I met a wonderful girl with whom I hit it off immediately, got hitched and within our first year of marriage were expecting our first child. Despite everyone’s reservations back home regarding my unconventional career, I was doing quite well… had not made it to the Top Ten yet, but we were in demand with plenty of gigs lined up all over the continent.
That was more than seven years ago and looking back I can’t quite put my finger on when it all started. Despite my career choice, I was never an extrovert, never the life and soul of the party, which is contradictory seeing as I earned my living by going a bit crazy on stage most nights of the year. Slowly but surely over the days and weeks, I felt a dark haze starting to settle over me; I felt sad most of the time as if I had lost all appetite for life. I tried to analyse my feelings over and over again, but really and truly there was nothing wrong. I was doing what I loved best, had a great wife who was the love of my life and a beautiful, happy child. Financially we were comfortable, and life was a ball… If only I could see it!
I descended more and more into misery and while my wife, family and friends were very understanding, the feeling of unexplained devastation lingered persistently throughout all my waking hours. Looking back, I now realise that living with me, my mood swings and constant despair must have taken a huge toll on my wife and family.
Still, even during those dark days I could not even begin to think that something was genuinely wrong with me. I believed that this was a phase which would go away, given time. My wife hinted every now and again that I could be suffering from depression, which only resulted in my flying into a rage. I had transformed into someone I myself didn’t even recognise – all I wanted to do was sleep and be alone, my moods ranged from sobbing whenever I was alone to shouting and swearing at whoever so much as called my name.
My work was suffering as were my relationships and while I was self-absorbed most of the time, going through my feelings of inexplicable anguish, time and time again in my head, somewhere in the recesses of my soul I felt guilt eating at me for letting my nearest and dearest endure all this.
Things came to a head one Christmas morning, when I simply couldn’t summon the energy to get out of bed. The pain on my child’s face, who was, a few minutes earlier, literally jumping up and down waiting for me to get up to help him open his presents was heart-breaking. I knew there and then that I needed to seek help immediately if I wanted to be again the husband, father, son, brother and friend I used to be.
Recognising the fact that I actually had a problem was a huge leap forward, and as soon as I made the commitment, my whole family stepped in and created a huge support network around me. During my illness I had become distant and unapproachable making it impossible for them to reach out to me and help me rid myself of the bleak shroud I was enveloped in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
With the help of our wonderful family doctor who has patiently guided me throughout, I can now look at the mirror and see my old self smiling back at me. The road to recovery has been long and difficult and even now life’s not always rosy and sadly, I may be on medication for the rest of my days, but it’s a very small price to pay for getting myself out of the horrible abyss that is clinical depression. My one and only regret is that I did not seek help sooner…
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee
|Knowing the symptoms…
Worldwide it is estimated that 350 million* people suffer from depression – approximately 5% of the planet’s population. Of these only half receive treatment although effective treatment exists in most countries. Combating the illness is quite straightforward, with plenty of different approaches available, as long as the sufferer recognises the signs and seeks professional help straightaway.
Symptoms might include:
*Source – www.clinicalresearch.com