I lived a dual life, a private one and a public one, with depression for many years. To the outside world I had a great life – a lovely family, successful career and healthy lifestyle. But inside I was battling almost every day to simply survive, thinking I didn’t deserve any of it.
I lived with depression without ever accepting that or really acknowledging it. I suspected deep inside but always pushed it away, never really seeking help and being too scared to admit it. I constantly wore a mask. My acting could probably have won many awards.
I did my best to hide it and to function without showing the pain inside. I would hide in a meeting room crying, and then go out to hold a presentation without anyone knowing. I would often save the tears until cycling home, when no-one could see. I made excuses to not talk about it at home.
This was odd really, as I used to encourage others to talk. As a senior leader at work I often spoke to my team about the importance of being open and talking. I did the same as a parent to my children. I cared that everyone else felt comfortable to talk and knew that it was okay to not be okay.
The problem was that I didn’t include myself.
I was working long hours, driven by the harshest of self-critics and self-perfectionist voices, doing more than was expected of me. We had family illnesses that we struggled through, and I never really stopped to consider the impacts they had on my thoughts. I wanted to support everyone else, to be there and help whenever I could.
I think that was partly why I didn’t open up more. It was more important to be strong for others, so I ignored and avoided my own feelings. I saw them as a weakness that was not helpful to anyone. I was also scared to admit I was struggling, with a fear of what would follow if I did.
And I smiled though it all.
I had a session of phone counselling several years back. Looking back, I realise now that I didn’t open up fully in those sessions - never told the full truth of how I felt. It was just treated as a short period of stress. I regret that now. Maybe I didn’t feel I could talk as openly as I can now.
My smile started to crack during 2016 and by December was completely broken. It was a turning point. With the encouragement of my fabulous wife and two work colleagues, I went to the GP and was formally diagnosed with depression.
Without that encouragement and support from those three people I am not sure what would have happened next. I suspect they saved my life. It took several weeks for me to accept depression was serious and that I really did need help. My GP and therapist have been instrumental in helping with that understanding.
It might seem hard to understand for some: how can you carry on day-to-day with depression? Many people do and they hide it well. We find ways of covering it up and coping, sometimes with bad habits
Poor sleeping patterns and snacking (especially biscuits!) were some of mine. Feelings would build up and then I would be impatient, irritable or get angry over the most ridiculous thing. That would then be followed by inner recriminations which fed the depression and would lead to emotional pain which I continued to hide.
Now I am learning to manage the depression. It’s hard, it takes time and no one can tell you how long treatments will take. That was hard for me to understand at the start. I was used to plans and working to deadlines. But health doesn’t work like that. There are many things that can help you and hinder you.
Recovery may mean the same as management, and that is okay. You find what works for you.
It really is okay to say if you need help. That can be easier said than done. It’s hard, especially for men and those in positions of authority, to admit a weakness. Even when they know it’s the right thing for them. Actually, it’s a very brave thing to do.
You may be surprised by how many people will support you, even share their own experiences to help. It’s also the kindness and understanding of strangers, peer support and charities that will help to sustain you, alongside family and friends.
I am not sure why I didn’t talk about it earlier, as talking about depression is the best thing I ever did. It is ok to reach out for help if you need to.