I have had problems with depression for my whole adult life. Despite running as fast as I can away from it, with a desperation to put it behind me, it always comes back. For all my successes, for all my acceptance and understanding of myself, for all my progress as a well-adjusted adult, it won't leave me.
Depression will still hijack my feelings
It's scary. And it's terrible. At first it wiped away my optimism. At its worst I would wake up in the middle of the night, swamped in sweat, with an utter, sheer bleakness. I was 19 when I read an article in a student newspaper describing exactly the problems I was having, it was called depression. Everything can be going well in my life, and it will still hijack my feelings.
I felt that having depression was my fault
Antidepressants have helped, as have talking therapies. I have been making use of both of these off and on for the last 15 years. Often, I have thought that my problems had been put behind me. I went back to university to get a First in my degree, I won a place over hundreds of candidates to gain my first serious job on a graduate scheme, and I now do a job that I am passionate about. I had a wonderful girlfriend who has become my beautiful wife, and is now also a great mother to our little boy, our boy who makes my heart flip with joy.
Depression has always come back to haunt me, and to grab me in its vice-like grip. When I first started having problems with my mental health, when I was about 16 or 17, I felt guilty. I felt as though through the choices I had made in my life I had brought problems on myself. I analysed my life and attempted to correct any imperfections. I would now be the perfect student/ son/ friend/ boyfriend. Unfortunately, this just made things worse. By trying to be perfect I was doomed to constant failure, I got caught in a vicious and unpleasant cycle of feeling worse and worse and trying to make up for it by being 'better' and 'better'. I felt that I had no right to be depressed and that it was my fault. Thoughts that have had their echoes in others' reactions to it.
There has been a reluctance from some people close to me to engage with me about it
There has been a lot of shame in the way that I have thought about and acted on my mental health problems. First of all from my side, I have been ashamed to be honest about how I felt and I have tried to keep it from people, which has made it difficult for some of those who care about me to talk to me about it. And also from others, there has been a reluctance from some people close to me to accept it and engage with me about it; on telling one employer that I was struggling with depression, they responded with 'well that's obvious, it's written all over your face. It's not our responsibility if you've joined our company with existing psychological problems.' One friend epitomised a fairly frequent view when they commented that they knew people with real problems who actually had things to be depressed about. Attitudes like that have made me all the keener to think I could put it behind me and present myself as 'normal'.
It would be good if there was no reason not to be honest about how we felt
Before I had a problem with depression, I was ignorant about it. I thought that people should 'get over themselves' if they had a mental health problem. I understand that we as a society have a long way to go before there is enough information and honesty about mental health in the public domain. There are two main reasons I support the Time to Change campaign to put an end to mental health discrimination and stigma. First, for myself now, and people like me, it would be good if there was no reason not to be honest about how we felt and what state our mental health was in; to be able to look after ourselves and seek professional help in an open way. And second, for people like I was when I was young. To be young, and to have a mental health problem and not understand it, and to feel guilty about it seems to me to be tremendously sad and an indictment of our society in 21st century Britain.
I am proud of myself, all aspects of myself. Like everyone, I have flaws, these are not a product of my mental health, they are just my flaws. I experience depression, there is also much more to me and I'm happy to be open about all of it.