There has been a lot of coverage in the past week about England cricketer, Michael Yardy taking the decision to leave the world cup early to return home due to suffering from severe depression. The reports of this have been mixed; thankfully though, we live in a time where there is a greater acceptance of depression as a serious illness, however there are still those who hold the view that sufferers of mental illness are simply ‘unhappy’, or a ‘bit down’. These are the people who look at a sportsman like Yardy and generally think that he should be grateful for the fortunate position that he has found himself in, and that perhaps he should just stop moaning.
I think it takes a great deal of courage to admit and be open about depression, even in these enlightened times; after all, even though you might be able to talk about it, no one really knows the pain and suffering that a person goes through during these times.
During most of my twenties, I myself went through several bouts of serious depression and panic attacks. These episodes became so serious, that at one point during the mid 1990’s, I went through what could probably be considered a complete nervous breakdown. It’s very difficult for me to describe to you how this felt; at the time I certainly felt unable to talk about it; I was embarrassed, almost ashamed, and considered myself to be very, very weak. Throughout this whole period, I struggled to maintain a normal life; including holding down a full-time job. I became very withdrawn, and although I’ve always been a very sociable man, I quite often felt like shutting myself away from the world. Panic attacks added to the pain; I occasionally would be unable to set foot in a shop if too many people were there, I would become a nervous wreck if someone as much as spoke to me. There was one incident where I ran out of a hairdressers half way through a haircut; I simply felt unable to be around people, or any amount of pressure. Sporadically, I also started to drink a lot; a hell of a lot.
The root cause of my problems was the sudden and unexpected death of my Mother in 1993. I had no idea how to deal with this at the time, so I shut it out; I almost pretended it hadn’t happened. The last thing I would have been able to do at the time would have been to talk about it; that just didn’t seem to be an option, and of course, over the next few years, the pressure of this continued to build up inside me to the point where my behaviour began to become increasingly unpredictable and self-destructive.
I don’t think I can begin to describe just how dark these times were; there are periods that remain firmly locked away in my head; to be honest they will probably always stay there, and this blog is certainly not the place to relive them. This is down to self-protection; I’ve tried very hard to maintain an image of being very thick-skinned; however, this is only partly true. I have become fairly tough over the years, I’ve had to, there wasn’t really any other option. It was, and sometimes still is, just a question of surviving, of getting through the day, and of waking up the next morning.
Days, months and years soon pass, and I left it too long before deciding to try to get help. I have untold amounts of respect for anyone finding themselves in that position. The first step is always the biggest and hardest; even before you feel able to discuss your problems, you have the far harder task of coming to terms with it yourself. This took me a long time to do, and I often wish that I’d been able to take that great leap of faith far sooner than I did; after all, my illness took its toll not only on me, but also on those around me, and especially upon those closest to me. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I hurt those I loved due to my inability to talk or express my feelings; even now this still crops up from time to time, it has prevented me from allowing people to become too close to me; this has always been a great sadness in my life, and I’ve often felt that I’ve missed out on a lot of living.
Receiving treatment can be a long and painful process; I went through a very tough period whilst taking prescribed antidepressants. At the time it didn’t feel as if they were actually doing anything to help me. Of course, realistically, you don’t start taking these and suddenly wake up a week later feeling and acting like Mr Happy and on top of the world. They simply help to provide balance in your life, they level you out; although, in my case the side effects were horrendous. I found therapy to be of much greater use; the beauty of this is that they don’t actually say that much too you, they leave you to talk, to release everything that you’ve storing up over the years.
I found that over time I was able to discuss not only my Mothers death, but also her in general. I was able to go back to my childhood, talk about my parents divorce, address a lot of issues that I’d long kept buried. It was a long and very rocky path, taking probably the best part of a year to even myself out. However, there is no magic cure, only acceptance, and an ability to recognise the signs of oncoming depression. What I managed to learn was how to deal with depression when it comes knocking on my door; for example, these days I only really suffer during the winter months, and I find the Christmas period very hard to deal with. I now know the signs though, and I deal with it accordingly. It’s been eight years since I last visited the doctor, or took medication for depression, and touch wood, I’ll never have to again for the remainder of my life.
We shouldn’t judge those who suffer from this illness. It can and does take over your life, dramatically changes your personality, and can leave one feeling totally helpless and useless. What we need is more acceptance, understanding and empathy for those people who are undoubtably going through the fight of their lives.