This has been one of the harder updates on “my story” I have had to write. In fact, I positively don’t want to write it. I don’t want to admit to the millions that come on to this site that I am not a happy, well-adjusted person by now. I feel I have to stand as a shining example. So many people have said my story has inspired them. What happens if people read my story and conclude there really is no hope?
In the feedback to this site some people say my story is a sham. I have so much. I have no reason to feel low. I don’t have real problems. And it’s true, some people do have it worse. Indeed, there is probably somebody, somewhere in the world, that has it worse than whoever you are. Of course, that does not help anyone feel better. There are people that say situational depression is much more serious. Personally, I’d swap a challenging set of circumstances for a brain that does not make me feel OK whatever the circumstances.
The truth is, whether people are suicidal due to external factors, or internal factors, makes no difference. You feel it one way or the other, and you struggle to cope with it. Mental illness is just a potent a killer as cancer is, but with a different route.
Last year I wrote I was “more happy, more content, more connected to myself, more alive, than perhaps ever in my life”. This year, I feel almost the exact opposite. Indeed, re-reading last year’s update I start to wonder who was the imposter who wrote all that positive stuff??? Did I really feel like that? And whilst at some level it makes me sad to see I did not maintain how I felt then, it is a great example of how life can change. Who is to say that by Dec 2015 I may not feel that way again? One thing is for certain, life is always changing.
It is funny because although in this moment I feel I have regressed in terms of my mental state, 2014 did have some quite positive things. I managed to have my longest and deepest relationship ever. I leant huge amounts over that time about myself and how I am in a relationship. Like it is bloody hard for me to stay in one! And that a relationship was not a pathway to transform me into a happy person. Indeed, even though I knew this years ago, I am closer than ever to understanding that whatever that thing in our lives we crave, which we think will make us happy (e.g. better job, partner, money, success, kids)….long term, it won’t. I have had that tested out a number of times in my life now. I hate to say this, but it just doesn’t.
So the relationship was accompanied by some very challenging courses I did with my girlfriend on relationships, and the continuation of my therapy. Which at the start of the year I was loving, and at the end of the year I was hating. The only thing that really changed about it was me. What in the hell does it take for me to be happy???
In the meantime, somehow the company I lead had a really good year. Work is a great focus for me. I’d be dead without it. I can’t not work. It is almost a haven just to have something positive to focus on. The challenge of “doing a good job”. And I probably am - things have really changed over the last couple of years, and we are looking forward to the next couple quite optimistically.
I intentionally took a step back from competing at softball tournaments, where I was struggling to cope with the pressure I was placing upon myself, and just not enjoying playing any more. It seemed a big move to stop what I had been doing for nearly 20 years though. Nevertheless, I did, and in its place I helped coach a friend at golf, and as a result played more myself. I really started to enjoy golf again and got an appetite for playing. Sometimes it was a real escape for how I was feeling – a few hours where all that occupied my mind was my golf swing with no room for the relationship traumas I was going through.
Recently a couple of friends had people in their families kill themselves. It makes me reflect what helps people in that dark place? What would it take for someone to believe they can be helped? That their life can be better? When they may have been on medication, when they have tried all sorts of therapy and other stuff, over a period of years. What would it take to restore hope to the hopeless? And I read the feedback from people on the site. The people that say they are beyond help. That nothing can change their minds now.
And in my dark moments I ask myself the same questions. Does anything really make a difference? I sometimes sit in front of my therapist and say I don’t see what difference it makes if I talk or don’t talk – it’s all the same. Whether I take meds or not – it’s all the same. Then I look back, in my case just to a year ago, for some maybe it is more. But it wasn’t all the same. I did do things, or had circumstances that conspired, to make me feel happier than I am now. And if that happened then, logically it must be possible again.
One of the things I have been thinking about a lot is what does make a difference to me when in a dark space? I have noticed my tendency to be alone, or feel alone even if I do have people around me. I also noticed that on a course, when I was surrounded by people I could connect with and share how I was feeling, and have support from fellow men, that I felt much better. It has made me think more about the power of a group; the importance of a group – especially for those, like me, who don’t have love and support from their family. It will be something I hope to explore next year. I think support networks could be a much bigger feature for those suffering with severe depression.