On the face of it, I don’t imagine you would guess. If asked to describe myself in a tweet bearing in mind those unforgiving 140 characters, I might be tempted to keep you guessing and go with a slick concoction – “ Confident, outgoing, risk-taker, ad-lib guest speaker who sees no barriers only possibilities” You might not like my audacity but tweets don’t lend themselves to context. Or perhaps if I was to go the soft route and delve into the composition of fairy-tales, I could tell you just how wonderful my life has turned out to be. How hard I have worked, the hours I have dedicated and the success I have enjoyed in attaining worldwide representation with my business. Whether it’s the tweet or the fairy-tale, the fact of the matter is that neither is untrue. It’s just not the full story.
The full story is that I have lived with depression from when I was a small child. I retreat from using the word “suffer” because it has been my lifelong mission and resolve not to suffer from something I can confront. “Battle” is my expression of choice because it best describes the fabric of what living with depression is really like and I think it illustrates aptly the mechanics of what is the fight of my life.
I am 42 years of age and therefore am of the generation who enjoyed that awe-inspiring moment when Bob Geldof ripped up the poster of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John on Top of the Pops when he along with the Boomtown Rats knocked “Summer nights” off the number one slot with the now iconic song “Tell me why I don’t like Mondays”. Well for me, it’s Tuesdays. I don’t like Tuesdays. In fact I hate Tuesdays, always have and probably always will. Just knowing it’s a Tuesday can jumpstart a cascade of stumbles into a thick fog. Though I have known it my entire life, I still cannot explain why one specific day of the week should wield that kind of power. It doesn’t happen every Tuesday, it doesn’t even have to happen every month but when it comes, it reduces everything to nothing. Nothing. My motivation deserts me, my goals are meaningless and my ambitions useless. I see nothing worthwhile in what has gone before and my vista of the future is non-existent.
Some of my earliest memories going back to when I was four or five years of age are marked by periods where a terrible sense of doom permeates. I didn’t understand it and back then I thought it was how everyone else felt too. It followed me through to my teens and though I began to see cracks and differences between me and my equals, to talk about it would have been a step too far. I would be ridiculed. I myself as a teenager was guilty of ridiculing the Americans and their penchant for therapy. That was so not the Irish psyche.
On reaching early adulthood, I began to recognise the warning signs of the onset of my depression although I was loathe to put a name on it – in fact I don’t believe I actually thought it had a name. I blamed myself. Everyone else had it sorted. I didn’t. So I lived like that. A lone soldier blaming his desolation on a unique faulty valve of his own invention.
It took me up until the grand old age of 41 – a year ago – before I arrived at the position whereby I could admit both to myself and to others that I had depression. It is a beast and a burden but it is not a faulty valve and it is not an invention. More than that, it is a bone-fide, real life, breathing disease for which there are days where there is absolutely no relief. Those are the days where songs have no melody, colours no lustre and smells no distinction. There is no warmth in the sun, no taste in a meal and no quench for a thirst. These are all indicators of my impending gloom. The simple task of grass-cutting can be a neon sign to my mood changes. When the sweet scent of freshly cut grass evades me then I know I am on a downward spiral.
I bury myself in work and I am reluctant to pause. To rest can equate to not getting going again. The tackle continues and I am gradually learning how my own actions can equip me for the fight. For instance, lately I’ve avoided the collapse by prompt morning rises to go for a cycle, a swim or a run. I look to my surroundings and I use them. I have come to learn that how I begin the day is vital. I am also learning the importance of what goes into my body. Juice as opposed to coffee in the mornings and an avoidance of alcohol on the days when my vulnerability creeps over the horizon.
The greatest joy and proudest achievement I have known in the last year is my being able to finally verbalise what I kept silent so long. I have accepted my depression as part of who I am and how I tick. I have finally come to realise that it is okay not to feel okay and that asking for help is not an act of weakness but an act of empowerment.
Getting help gives me options. It is my armour now against that black Tuesday, my shield against the days of whirring lawn-mowers that yield no scent and my safety net across the crevice I gaze into and wonder about the fall.
The bad days do pass and though that bright dot in the distance can take its bloody time in getting here, I can now trust and believe that it will arrive, big and bold and bright.
Would I like to describe myself in a tweet in just under 140 characters? Not really. No one should be condensed into a perception because perceptions are wrong. No one should be coloured into a fairy-tale either because happy ever after’s don’t exist in real life. Yet happy moments do and I continue to build my contentment around them.
In my real life I continue to fight my fight but it’s different now. I can now talk freely to people and exchange openly with others going through the same process. I want to highlight the growing artillery of support for people like me because unfortunately there is an army of us out there. More than anything else however, I don’t want anyone to feel like they are a lone soldier fighting a solo battle in an isolated world. That is my ambition and my goal and at the risk of sounding audacious – I have a knack of achieving both. With help.