April 4, 2016

I was diagnosed with depression in 2009 and anxiety soon followed. Having lost a 9 year relationship, several professional jobs and a number of friends due to the effects of the condition, I now consider it my most defining feature. After enduring thoughts of suicide, several episodes of self harm and numerous panic attacks, the idea of this life limiting condition being something that I could just shrug off and get over became as ridiculous as asking a terminal cancer patient to look on the bright side. Having lost a close friend to cancer at the age of 33 and another friend to depression related suicide at 34, I have experienced the trauma that physical and mental illness cause and there isn't really much between them. When somebody you love dies as the result of an illness, it hurts in the same way.

After seeing numerous therapists and trying two different types of antidepressants, I am still battling with my condition every day. Alongside the condition itself, I also battle ignorance. People have said things like "yeah, but you laugh when you watch comedy and you smile you eat nice food, you mustn't be sad all the time." Those who have depression will probably be silently seething as they read that, those who have no experience of it will be wondering what the problem is. Depression is not sadness. That's something that needs to be firmly established. It's a complicated disease that causes physical and emotional problems that dramatically impact on a person's ability to function. Being able to laugh at a comedy show or smile when you taste a well cooked meal doesn't mean you're suddenly ok, it just means for that moment, you are enjoying the thing that you're experiencing. The brick wall of negativity and lethargy that prevents you from getting out of bed or going to a social event is always there. Sometimes it's just a little bit easier to climb over than others.

My friends and family have been as supportive as they could possibly be and I feel lucky to know so many people who tell me they can be there for me in times of crisis. Unfortunately, unless you have experienced depression and anxiety, it's almost impossible to conceive what it really feels like. This is where the advice and suggestions will come in. Have you tried running? painting? meditating? It might help you feel better if you join a gym! The well meaning suggestions are relentless and quite frankly, exhausting. Although the resources available for mental health treatment are stretched at the moment, I will always favour my GP's advice over that of a misguided but well meaning friend.

At this point, I have learned to recognise some of my symptoms. Among many others, they are: Clumsiness, forgetfulness, self doubt and criticism that goes beyond every day neurosis. I often try to discuss these symptoms with friends in order to help myself organise my thoughts. Although it might not seem like much, it is absolutely devastating when somebody tells me "that happens to all of us, mate." It feels as if all of the work I have done to identify the physical and emotional symptoms of my condition was completely futile. It sends me back to the start of this horrible journey when I thought you could get over a mental health problem by just "getting on with it." You can't. I am currently on a waiting list for high intensity therapy as well as some medication but in the mean time, I am reliant on my GP and the support of my friends and family.

What I will suggest, is that if you are helping somebody get through depression, anxiety or worse, both, please try to listen to them. That's something that is said a lot when mental health problems are mentioned, but few seem to understand what it really means. Just listening and empathising, without offering suggestions or advice is the most effective form of support I have ever been given. One or two people who have been through the situation themselves have done this for me and it felt incredible. As I waited for the rundown of "things I can try" like a sledgehammer made of well intentioned advice, a glorious silence descended on the room and my friend just sat there. He told me he wished he could make it go away but he couldn't. He also told me that any time I wanted to talk about how I was feeling, he would listen. That sounds like almost nothing, but it is more helpful and supportive than any suggestion you could possibly think of. 

​What do you think of the issues raised in Matt's blog? Tell us in the comments

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