As I believe I have mentioned on occasion, my head isn’t always the easiest place to live in. If you’ve not read one of my blogs on this subject before, to bring you up to speed, I suffer from clinical depression, diagnosed in my mid-twenties, but in all probability going back to my early teens. I’m also, in the past few years, growing increasingly prone to anxiety episodes, probably in part due to my low self-esteem and high levels of social anxiety, which in my youth I used to deal with with drink, which is no longer a coping mechanism I use. Primarily because it’s not a particularly successful one, long-term. It’s been a while since I’ve written about it, but the time has come to bring it up again, because we should never stop talking about it. But I warn you now, today’s offering comes with a smattering of politics, and God, and also contains a shameless plug for a thing coming up at work. You may consider that a disclaimer.
I’ve become increasingly aware of late that my issues are in part seasonal (a lot of caution in my self analysis, “probably”, “primarily”, “in part”). I do seem to suffer more in the winter months, be it lack of sunlight, or just normal feeling cold and miserable. And the last three months have been tough, and consistently so. It feels like a long time since I’ve had a low period of this length, and I’ve a number of factors that I wonder are part of this. The world, frankly, seems a harder and nastier place of late. A white-supremacist in the White House, feeding off a general rise in right-wing sentiments both in the US and Europe. An impossibly self-harming political decision at home with our decision to leave the EU, a process falling apart before it’s even properly begun, and against a growing consensus that this was a really, really, terrible idea – one again grown from an insidious and nasty brand of nationalism. We also seem to be learning more and more every day about the way men in power (by which I mean ‘men’) have routinely used that power to subjugate and abuse women – I’m not saying I was unaware of it, or that I’d rather not hear about it, it should be brought into the open and exposed, if we’re to hope of dealing with it. But there’s no escaping the fact that the world right now seems pretty bleak.
I’ve also, on a personal note, just started a new job, at about the same time my mood started declining. I’m not unhappy in my decision – I loved the Box Office, and have been at my happiest there, but the opportunity came up to try something new and interesting, and the time was also right for me to start making more of a financial contribution at home. But this is offset by the fact that for the first time in seven (?) years, I’ve gone back to working full-time, Monday-Friday, 9-5(ish). And I won’t lie, I’ve found it hard. I don’t say that looking for sympathy, I’m painfully aware that many, many people do more difficult work than me, under far worse conditions. However, other than a brief period in HR, I haven’t worked a regular, office hours, gig since I was at the County Council, and we know how that panned out (if you don’t, short version is, it was horrible and I had a terrible time of it). My new job is a world apart from that, but the truth is working part-time suited me very well, and having to get up every weekday, rain or shine, and drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to go and do a full day has… been a shift.
I also got a pretty hard-hitting virus in October, and I’ve had it suggested that post-viral depression is a thing, so there’s that.
Anyway, long and short, it’s been a rough ride. I’ve kept functioning, kept going into work, learned a new job, been told I’m doing okay at it, and Sarah’s not kicked me out of home, despite the fact it’s been pretty miserable here for a lot of the past couple of months. Holding it together, but only just, at times. I’ve sat down to write something on it a couple of times, and each time something’s happened that’s triggered an episode, resulting in me not being able to face the keyboard. So this is long overdue.
One incident that stands out from the past few weeks is nearly breaking down crying uncontrollably in Church (I warned you). Communion service, and we reached the point where we say (not in this form, but I can’t remember the form my new Church uses), “Lord, I’m not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”. And I just went. I was sitting near the back, and can be a quiet crier when the need arises, so I think I got away with it. But I was helpless for a few moments. It hit home in a way I couldn’t deal with.
Now, the sentiment behind my reaction needs unpacking a bit. As recipient of a Catholic schooling, I’m all too aware of some folks’ distrust of any religion that constantly tells people how unworthy they are, and I’m not unsympathetic to that distrust. But when I hear those words, my focus isn’t on the bit that says I’m not worthy, my focus is on the bit that makes it abundantly clear that my worthiness or otherwise isn’t an issue.
There’s also the fact that I’ve been a practising Christian my whole life, or at least as much of it as I could be said to be operating under my own steam, and clearly I’m still having a rough time of it, so you might argue it’s clearly not as easy as that makes it sound.
But my reading of that, why that hit home so much on that day, is because I heard something that, even removed from its Christian context, I believe is still an important thing that I think everyone suffering mental health problems could do with hearing. Depression is not a meritocracy. You may not think you deserve help. No two people experience these things the same way, but let’s face it, it’s quite likely that you don’t think you deserve help, but whether or not you (think you) deserve it is irrelevant. Whether or not you think there’s anything that can help you, there almost certainly is, if you look for it. Whether or not you think anyone will listen, or will understand, or will want to help, there’s almost certainly someone who will, if you ask them. Just reach out. Just talk to someone. Stop holding it inside as your burden to carry, and yours alone. Because it isn’t. The healing won’t be instantaneous (and to be fair, that part of the communion service doesn’t say it will be). But that first moment of relief, when you reach out to someone and they reach back, is in itself a gift. And whilst there are no quick answers, or easy fixes, one thing is for sure, all processes have to start somewhere. And there’s no question that that applies to you as much as to anyone, whether you believe it or not.
Quick plug, then. One of the new initiatives the Theatre Royal Norwich has put into place recently is Creative Matters, a series of seasons where the Theatre puts on a number of events around a certain topic, and in January 2018, Creative Matters will be looking at the issue of men’s mental health. The series comprises talks, films, performances and workshops, and in a county where middle-aged men are statistically very unlikely to seek help, and suicide rates are above the national average, I’m personally delighted that the organisation I work for has decided this is something they want to address. You can find out more here.
That’s it then. My wisdom may seem a bit disjointed today, but like I said, it’s taken me a long time to get round to writing this, because of how low I’ve been and for how long. The fact I have written it now is, I believe, a sign that I am starting to make some progress again. But we’re waiting til the New Year to see how I’m doing, and there’s a chance it might be time for me to start getting some of that help for myself. We’ll see. But in the meantime, Christmas approaches, and as full of joy as the time is, let’s remember that for some people it can just add to the stress, so let’s take care of each other out there, yeah?