Let me give you some background. I’m 38 year old Yorkshireman, now in Kent with my wife and two kids. I’ve worked in the travel industry my whole life. I live with depression – I don’t like to say I “suffer” because I’ve made big changes in my life the last three years to ensure I understand my triggers and that I’m in control.
I’ve no idea how long I’ve lived with this. I remember at 20 having to take a week off from my work in France to have a rest. I thought I was just a bit burnt out and I didn’t really get what was up. I saw a GP back home, who decided it best to prescribe me a “new job” and “some chill out time”. I walked out of the surgery feeling a little empty and even more confused than when I went in. I returned to France the following week and just kept my low moods to myself. I guess because I’d not understood what was wrong myself, I couldn’t/didn’t want to explain that to anyone else.
So, 17 more years went by, highs and lows seemingly taken in my stride. Yet, during the last five years, with sleep deprivation and increased responsibility with children, it seemed the lows got lower, darker and were lasting a lot longer. My previous attempt to ask a GP for help – however badly I must have phrased it – really put me off going back again but the next appointment I made was one of the best things I’ve done of late. I pretty much broke down as soon as I tried to talk to the GP, almost relieved that I’d said something out loud and the person in front of me was full of empathy, support and a box of tissues! I had finally gotten over the myth that a big, bold, chirpy northerner couldn’t cry or admit weakness. I’d realised that telling someone “I’m not OK right now” is possible.
The path my GP sent me down allowed me the chance to clear my head. The medication that I was so petrified would turn me into a perma-smiley zombie, did nothing of the sort. It reduced the highs and eased off the lows, turning cycles of peaks and troughs into a more balanced outlook. With the clarity came a confidence; a confidence to talk to people. I started with an emotional conversation with my wife. We were honest and said everything we needed to say – the clear understanding born from that day still helps us better understand each other now. From there, I explained things to my mum, then a few of my mates and probably some people I didn’t even know!
Once I’d started talking openly about it and not being ashamed or embarrassed, the pressures I’d placed upon myself in previous years – knowing something was up but not confronting it – all but dried up. The support from family and friends when we talked was immense. The texts from the lads every now and again with a simple “how’s tricks?” was ample evidence that me opening my mouth and saying something was the biggest help of all. I’d pretty much ironed out my personal life in the 12 months after that trip to the GP. Everyone knew in my inner circle of family and friends; help was there when I needed an ear and nobody was patronising or unhelpful – all was good.
There’d be the odd occasion at work though – after two hours of sleep and a mounting workload – where I’d just cave in at my desk and come to a shuddering halt. Not as bad as in years gone by, but still enough to make an eight hour day a bit of a strain. I didn’t want my colleagues to think I was being an arse. The ease of telling friends and family seemed a long way off when it came to the people who’d hired me, who look to me for guidance and who pay me. Yet my wonky thought processes were terrified my colleagues would assume me to be weak and incapable. When I asked my senior management team for a meeting so I could elaborate, I almost felt like I was back in that GP surgery again; dry mouth, palpitations and fear of judgement. Yet biting the bullet, I said to my bosses “I’ve got depression – I’m managing it, I’m coping but every now and again you might need to allow me the odd blip”.
I’d done it! Did it help? Well yes, much like the post conversation era with my wife, the people around me in the office understood when enough was enough, offered more help, shared workloads and allowed me time out of the office if I ever required it. Just knowing that people understood what was happening in my head helped me to really clear a path to work smarter and better with everyone around me. Talking to fellow colleagues, just like I did with friends, helped them get what was going on in my head and they were a terrific support to me. I think I even reciprocally helped a few others myself, all through the power of talking.
That was like the final piece of the puzzle really. Some of us spend more time with colleagues than with our families, so it’s crucial to know that your team, bosses and whoever it is you work with, have your back. Open honesty breeds trust and loyalty – a solid platform upon which you can build yourself back up with.