December 9, 2009

Steady family, good career and no more money worries than most people, but none of this has stopped me falling victim to depression.

Well, if I'm gonna be writing a blog you'll want to know a bit about me and why I want to do it I guess. First the why - I'm fed up with saying I'm OK when people ask. It doesn't help me, or those around me. If people ask me something about my illness I'll tell them the truth and in doing that I hope to give people an insight and some understanding. Don't get me wrong, it's not been easy to do it, but it's gotten easier. Here you go, here's my story.

I am a serving firefighter in Greater Manchester, married for over 20 years and have two sons aged 17 & 15. I have suffered with depression for approximately 15 years, though I've only had medical intervention in the last six. Five years ago I tried to commit suicide, which resulted in me being admitted to a psychiatric unit for several weeks, and I returned to work after a few months. I was discharged from mental health services approximately six months after that.

Over the following four years I have battled with my depression and just about kept my head above water. I've either been on medication, going on medication or coming off it. Some months ago I was looking at coming off medication - as it happened I didn't, and within a couple of months I had started to slide again. I was at a point that I knew I needed help, I didn't know what sort of help I just needed something. Even though I'd been involved with mental health services I had no idea where to turn for help other than my GP. So off I went for my appointment, my medication was increased and I was referred to community mental health - but was told it would be a 3-4 month wait. I didn't need help in three months I needed it NOW. I was ever-so-slowly sinking.

I went to my occupational health, hoping to shortcut the system and get myself some help. This was when I told the lads that I worked with that I was struggling. They didn't have a clue and were supportive even though they didn't understand. At my next appointment with the GP, I saw a different doctor and the decision was made to keep my medication the same, and have another look in a month. I had to recount my medical history again, including the fact that I had previously had a failed suicide attempt. As I left I was told that, because I was married and had children, there was statistically very little chance I would attempt suicide. Which bit of “I've already attempted to kill myself" did they not understand?

Up until this point I was still working. Outside work, I suppose I just existed. I had some CBT authorised through work. I had a couple of sessions before my life imploded. I didn't last the month till my next appointment with the GP, I had got to the point that I would break down for no reason at all. I just couldn't go to work any longer.

This was when my depression took on a whole new life of its own. Things were now happening to me that I had never experienced and certainly didn't understand. It started one night when I was in the bath, all warm relaxing and bubbly. I shut my eyes and watched myself cut my wrists and lie there dying, it was like watching a DVD - once it finished it would replay again. I can't describe how scary that was.

From that day things just spiraled out of control. I think that was one of the things that most unsettled me, I now had no control. The visions then could strike at any time and now I didn't even have to shut my eyes to see myself hanging from a tree, jumping from a bridge, cutting my wrists. Not long after the first vision I would hear my own voice telling me to get on with it, as I was going to do it at some stage.

I now needed a sick note, so it was back to the GP. A different doctor, he phoned my wife and sent me straight down to A&E. There I was seen by the Crisis Home Resolution team. They started to visit me at home every couple of days. I saw a psychiatrist within a week and my medication was changed. The CHR team carried on visiting me over the next week. By Sunday, my life had completely fallen apart and they asked me to come in to hospital as an informal patient. I told my wife - she was devastated - I just couldn't go, I couldn't leave her.

There were lots of tears that day and when things calmed down a little, my wife told me that although me going into hospital would have been traumatic at any time, that day was exactly five years to the day since I was admitted last time. I'm a bloke you know, we're no good with dates - I had no idea. Sunday night was one of the worst in my life, the morning just couldn't come fast enough. I was asked to go in again, it wasn't even a question and I suppose Sunday had sort of prepared us for it.

That was me back in hospital five years and a day later. I'll recount my progress from there next time. But I'd like to leave you with these thoughts.

Everyone, most people anyway, jump to conclusions. In my case people think that I'm stressed or traumatized and become depressed because of the job I do. Nothing could be further from the truth. People think something has to go wrong in your life for you to become depressed. In my case, sometimes it just happens - it creeps up and gets me.

And a lot of people have no idea what suffering from depression is like, how do you describe it? Here is my best effort at describing it to one of the lads at work who loves football. Imagine your team playing the local rivals, ahead with minutes to go, you've got it in the bag, three points tucked away. In the final minute they equalize - gutted is normally the reaction. The referee adds extra time and guess what happens? Bang, they score and you've been beaten. The feeling you get when the ball hits the back of the net, that split-second of realization. Now take that split second and imagine feeling like that all the time.

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