NICK'S EXCITING DEPRESSION BLOG
The dual purpose of this blog is to hopefully help me to come to terms with my illness and to shed some personal insight onto depression for people who are interested in understanding how it actually feels…
PART 6 - Friday 6th October 2017
It’s been 196 days since I last sat here in my local pub – drinking coffee obviously, it’s only 3pm – to write this blog because I firmly believed that the blog I really wanted to write – the triumphant one that tells the world that against all the odds I’ve finally found the inner resources to haul myself out of this black hole of emotional and psychological inertia – was one that I’d never be well enough to write.
After two years of cognitive, social and professional paralysis I was resigned to the fact that I’d never even come close to being the person I’d been before the depression took hold of me.
Such was the crippling day to day, minute to minute anxiety that was continuing to shrink my existence that any dreams or normality were just that; dreams.
After my last fleetingly hopeful post in late March things somehow took a turn for the worse.
Prior to April I’d at least been able to rely on my physical health despite my mental fragility but probably due to the compound physiological strain of months and months of incessant daily stress my body started to crumble under the pressure.
A heavy cough morphed into a hacking bout of pleurisy which several rounds of antibiotics – combined with the ineffectual antidepressants I was already taking – failed to quell.
Then came the joy of a urinary tract infection, which ultimately manifested itself in a grotesquely swollen right testicle, which ballooned to the size of a plump grapefruit.
Before I knew it I was on an intravenous morphine drip for 48 hours at my local hospital and being pumped full of enough drugs to tranquilise a horse.
Bizarrely this anatomical distraction fuelled a (very) short-term spike in my mental health and for 24 hours after I left hospital I was so fixated by my gargantuan gonad – by then only the size or a ripe avocado – that I almost forgot I was depressed.
The distraction was short lived though and normal dysfunctional abnormality returned with a vengeance and my already subterranean mood nosedived.
The (horrifically expensive) private schema therapy I’d been attempting to get to grips with for a year felt like it was merely reinforcing my dysfunctionality, the drugs still weren’t working, (once effective SSRI’s no longer touched the sides, antipsychotics lobotomized my spirit) and I just couldn’t quite buy into - or persevere with - the various holistic (mindfulness, Vedic meditation, acupuncture) approaches I’d tried. I knew exercise would help but who wants to jog round the park when you can barely squeeze one of your bollocks into your running shorts?
At this point I seriously felt like I was running out of options and switched back from my (relatively) new and very expensive consultant psychiatrist to my previous and also very expensive consultant.
Grave expressions were exchanged; next stage, treatment resistant options were discussed, including the last chance saloon of Electroconvulsive Therapy.
With hope in short supply a revolutionary new therapy called Rapid Wake Light Therapy was posited, which, compared to having an electrical charge zapped through my skull, sounded like a breeze.
Designed to recalibrate my appallingly arbitrary sleep patterns and re-set my distorted circadian rhythm all I had to do was check into a hospital ward for five days with dozens of other seriously mentally ill patients – several of them on 15 minute suicide watch – and not sleep.
Well; not sleep for the first 36 hours at least and then gradually re-align my sleep patterns so by day five I was back to a traditional 11pm to 7am sleep and hopefully – like 50% of patients who try this therapy – I’d be showing, ‘significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.’
Retrospectively I can see that the 50% success rate was fanciful at best but at that point I probably would have stood on my head for seven days in a bucket of urine if someone in a white coat had told me it would make me feel better.
Suffice to say I was in the resistant half and showed zero signs of any improvement, not helped by one highly paid clinician’s astonishingly flip assertion that, ‘what can you do, it’s a flip of the coin I’m afraid.’ Nice work if you can get it.
My previous panic-attack sparked excursions to A&E had brought me to the attention of the local NHS Mental Health services, who explained that they’d be unable to help me if I was under the care of a private practitioner.
I’d brushed shoulders with NHS mental health services before and previously been told that to access any sort of talking therapy I’d have to wait months, so often at the point of desperation I’d always been forced to bite the financial bullet and take the private, more immediate, option.
But with my faith in the private route disintegrating and even my own consultant suggesting I might want to consider going back under state supervision, I decided to swap the leather sofas and bowls of complimentary Werther’s Originals of the private sector for the threadbare chairs and dilapidated buildings of my local NHS mental health provision and hoped for the best.
The surroundings were undoubtedly uncared for but instantly I felt the opposite.
Whereas before I’d had the nagging doubt that the second I’d walked out of the room my handsomely remunerated practitioners had moved on, I now felt like the team of professionals tasked with the unenviable goal of dragging me out of this deep and debilitating malaise, genuinely gave a shit.
Alternative diagnoses were deliberated – was I in fact a more glamourous Bipolar II not just a bog standard Treatment Resistant Depressive - blood tests were taken, multiple treatment routes were discussed and comprehensive joined up care was administered.
Conclusions weren’t jumped to but I felt carefully monitored and genuinely safe under the umbrella of care I was receiving; a feeling I’d not experienced in or out of the treatment room for two full years.
A new medication was eventually agreed (a combination of the SSRI Duloxetine and the mood stabilizer Lithium), along with a back-to-basics weekly session of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a psychologist I felt instantly understood by to re-establish some routine in my previous flailing, rudderless daily routine.
That was all about two months ago and – touches a very, very large plank of wood - things have gradually improved since then.
I’m acutely aware of rebounding too rapidly, overloading myself and crashing again but where my previous desperation-induced inactivity was slowly eroding my mental capacity, a gradual resumption of engagement with work, physical activity and most importantly people, does appear to be slowly reactivating the areas of my life that I truly believed would be dormant forever.
I haven’t turned into some sort of delusionally positive evangelist overnight, but compared to where I was at the beginning of the summer the signs are promising. I’m laughing (occasionally). My memory is improving. I’m running (slowly). My memory is improving (OK, that needs work). And I’m no longer inexplicably obsessed with the laundry.
Clearly there’s a long, long way to go but for whatever reason – the medication, the therapy, the exercise or just the fact that my inner psyche finally got bored with being depressed, who can really know? – I seem to have finally found the momentum that’s eluded me for this entire episode.
The real struggle – to get fully well and then to stay well – starts here.
PART 5 - Thursday 16th March 2017
The long-term goal of this blog as I’ve stated before is to somehow help myself head towards a more positive, less depressed, more functional existence.
The danger, as I’ve discovered by writing the first four posts, is that it will just give me another opportunity to dwell on the negative, making that elusive positive momentum even harder to obtain.
So, in the light of a very fleeting few moments of positivity this morning, I’m going to attempt to write a positive post, focusing on feeling good, not on feeling bad.
It was literally only five or ten seconds about half an hour ago whilst walking back from dropping my son off to school – it’s his eighth birthday today – as the sun shone on my face (I always feel brighter in the sun) and I headed to the local shops to pick up some groceries and my new antidepressant medication, I experienced a few seconds of something which felt a little bit like calm.
That constant gnawing edginess in my gut, my permanently furrowed brow and fuzzy head – feelings that have plagued me virtually every waking minute since this latest episode began – were temporarily absent.
I resisted the urge to check my phone (primarily to check on emails, texts, whatsapp or messenger messages which I’ll then feel irrationally stressed out about answering,) another bad habit that usually exacerbates my sense of being on high alert and not being able to cope all the time.
I then carried on walking down the path, briefly enjoyed the feeling of spring sun on my face and felt a tiny, inexplicable sense of freedom. There was no rush of euphoria or swell of happiness, satisfaction and contentment coursing through my veins but just for a few moments there was a tiny period where the anxiety and dread wasn’t the paramount feeling.
For people not suffering from depression this might seem totally inconsequential but so dominant has the prevailing mood of doom and worry been I wanted to chronicle the moment in writing, I suppose to reinforce the fact that, however fleeting, it did actually happen.
As I’ve been told in numerous therapy sessions and read in dozens of self-help books depression is not a set in stone, unchanging mood state.
It’s a spectrum of feeling, and I know that telling myself internally or moaning to other people that, “I feel awful, all the time,” is a) not true, and b) only going to underline the perception that I’m permanently stuck.
The truth is that I have felt awful, a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Depression has a horrible way of filtering out the positive and accentuating the negative and defeatist negativity has now become a default mental habit.
If I attempt – not easy, believe me - to look at the last 18 months objectively and not through the gloomy prism of depression I can see that there have been some brighter moments; feeling connected to my kids when I cuddle them at bedtime, watching their instinctive joie de vie at life’s small pleasures, feeling the love of my wife when she looks into my eyes and understands how I’m feeling, listening to friends’ kind words, singing along to a favourite song in the car at the top of my voice, screaming loudly at the radio when Harry Kane scored against Arsenal to briefly take Tottenham to the top of the table.
The problem has been - and largely continues to be – that these moments don’t seem to last. They’re an anomaly rather than the norm.
And so it was this morning.
By the time I returned home, the underlying fear – of not knowing what to do for the rest of the day and feeling frustrated by such a total lack of purpose, ability to work and general mental confusion and exhaustion – had returned but rather than just sit down and descent rapidly into my usual rumination rabbit hole – I’ve picked up my laptop, brought it outside into the morning sun, and started writing this.
Which I guess is positive in itself and perhaps tomorrow that fleeting feeling of calm will last a minute. And perhaps that default negativity will be just ever so slightly weakened and I’ll feel ever so slightly more able to connect in the multitude of ways I’m struggling to connect.
As everyone tells me time and time again; one small step at a time.
Till next time,
PART 4 - Friday 10th March 2017
Another really shitty aspect of depression is the hideous yo-yo of emotions and moods it takes you through and the fact that some days – or even hours – are so much worse than others. And the fact that hanging on to any sort of positivity seems so bloody hard.
It’s been quite emotional to read some of the responses (thank you to everyone whose taken the time to even read my outpourings) that starting this blog – and my friend Richard Chambury’s photo-blog about my predicament too – has provoked but such is the negative power of depression I read many people’s kind comments about my supposed bravery or writing ability and it makes me feel like a fraud as the fact that I’m not beating this depression makes me feel like a coward, not someone who is courageous.
The blog has also persuaded some other people who suffer from similar conditions to speak out about what they’re going through and knowing how strong the temptation to keep it all in is, hopefully they’ll feel a tiny bit better for feeling like they could open up a little about their feelings.
Unlike the previous posts I’m writing this – on a fairly grey Friday morning – in the middle of a very, very low 36 hours and it’s consequently a bit muddled but I guess that’s more of an honest reflection of how depression makes me feel and behave as so much of the last 18 months has felt like this.
At this precise moment in time – 11.46am – I want to go close this laptop, go to sleep and not have to think about anything but I’m going to force myself to carry on as I know each time I give up I’m reinforcing my feelings of inadequacy.
A planned lunch yesterday fell through at the last minute and as is so common for me right now, I just sort of froze and simply didn’t know what to do with myself odd though that might sound to people not suffering from mental illness. After sitting on a bench down the road from my house like a confused hobo for about half an hour, rumination then panic set in and within two or three hours I’d retreated to bed, hiding under the duvet covers, unable to face anything or anyone, rigid with inertia.
I remained in this paralysing half awake half asleep, head buried under the pillow state for about six hours – I tried reading but couldn’t really concentrate - until my wife finally persuaded me to actually come downstairs and eat something.
And surprise, surprise the result of yet another wasted afternoon of avoidance was that relief didn’t really come. I ended up feeling like more of a recluse, more of a coward, more of a failure and more sapped of energy and less likely to do the things that might make me feel better like some physical exercise, some meditation or God forbid actually talking to anyone.
I woke early (about 4.45am) failed to get back to sleep and somehow ruminated for another three hours by which time the prospect of getting out of bed, helping my kids get ready for school and eating breakfast seemed like an impossibility.
Again, pressured by my understandably exasperated wife, I ultimately relented, summoned some energy for these basic tasks, took my son to reading morning then returned home for the next daily cycle of, ‘what the hell do I do now?’ because my ability to plan anything, and basically just, ‘be,’ is so painfully impaired.
Before going out for the day and leaving me to my own haphazard devices my worried wife had contacted several people to ask them to check up on me as I was in such a hopeless mindset and I’ve now foisted myself on another eternally understanding friend (Crissie, your patience in the light of my broken record bleating is unbelievable) and I’m now writing this in her front room so I don’t have to risk being at home alone (sad but true I'm afraid), ruminating myself into an anxious frenzy then escaping to bed in a vain attempt to block out the chronic anxiety, then ultimately feeling worse. Crazy right?
Shining a light on my ridiculous neuroses feels weird; like I’m basically telling the world what a fuck up I am but suppressed emotions and avoidant communication is what’s got me here in the first place so maybe somehow this sort of splurging will eventually start to help me in the real world. For now at least I’m expressing something outwardly in some way and not keeping everything bouncing around in my head.
It does feel stupidly self indulgent and obsessive and one track but if nothing else it’s preferable to keeping all those pin balling thoughts in, however insane this makes me look.
Which is another really weird thing about depression; people’s perceptions of how I am.
Dropping my (almost) eight-year-old son off at school yesterday morning one of his friend’s dads, remarked that I, ‘always looked quite relaxed in the mornings,’ which I found staggering as most mornings I feel like I’m about to take an exam I haven’t revised for.
Rather than continue to maintain the charade I took the opportunity to tell him that actually I was battling depression and felt like absolute death most of the time and he said, ‘you’d never have known.’
I suppose in the other dad’s mind he, ‘believed,’ that I was fine so for him I was fine. For me, despite appearing on the outside to be fine and having a regular steam of people trying their best to help me and convince me that I’m not a total nutter, inside I just don’t believe it, so I don’t feel it.
So somehow I need to find that self-belief and motivation and that’s the brick wall I keep smashing into, however much I try to look at the evidence of things in my life that are fine.
In a truly bizarre self sabotaging way it’s almost like I’m addicted to feeling depressed, so entrenched are the patterns that keep me here. It’s like I don’t want to kick the habit even though it’s causing me so much pain. Somehow I have become comfortable with discomfort.
Anyway I’m now boring myself and probably anyone who has bravely managed to get this far but I’m too tired to write anything else now.
Till next time.
PART 3 - Tuesday 7 March 2017
AFTER BLOG POST NUMBER TWO'S rib-tickling insights into suicidal thoughts I’d thought I’d change the tone a little and share some of the positive aspects of living with depression and anxiety.
This is quite a tough ask for someone whose been viewing the world through shit-coloured spectacles for 18 months but here goes…
- Depression appears to be more affective than any diet known to man or woman. Every time I get depressed I shed at least a stone. How many of my fat and happy peers can still fit comfortably in the suit they wore on their wedding day 18 years ago?
- Errm… that’s it.
Signing off till next time.
OK, OK that was a little defeatist; let’s widen the brief a little and explore the link between depression, mental agility and humour.
I’ve always prided myself on a well-developed (if sometimes excessively sarcastic) sense of humour and an ability to think quickly on my feet.
So of all the mental faculties currently compromised by depression – and there are many - it’s deeply frustrating to feel like I’ve got the verbal intellectual agility of a paving stone and a seeming inability to see the funny side of anything.
Again, in the interests of shining a light on how depression feels, I’ll attempt to explain.
The reduced mental capacity – not that surprising when so many of my waking moments are dominated by gnawing negative thoughts sapping my useful thinking potential – transforms previously simple tasks into arduous mental marathons.
Recalling information – people’s names, a story I read this morning, childhood memories, emotions, what someone told me ten minutes ago, people’s names, where I parked the car, cooking instructions from a recipe, people’s names – is inexplicably challenging.
I regularly feel like the spinning rainbow wheel on my laptop, forever stuck in flux, trying to open several applications at once and failing to access any. It’s like there are just too many windows open and the whole operating system has short-circuited.
And because of the corrosive, subliminally sniping inner critic (“why the hell can’t you remember this stuff?”, “what is wrong with your brain?”, “You must be developing early onset Alzheimer’s,”) processing this threadbare patchwork of half-information has become a nightmare to the point that automatic, previously hard-wired processes feel like they’re unraveling.
Where once I instinctively knew how to follow a plot on a TV drama, memorise a route on a road map, follow a simple political argument, make small talk to people or complete rudimentary calculations, now I just can’t. Instead an undercurrent of doubt, unease and ever-present anxiety prevails.
To the people with me it probably looks like all is well and people inform me on an almost daily basis, ‘you’re doing really well,’ and, ‘you look so much better,’ but inside my stuttering, whirring system, things just don’t feel right.
And the more I don’t feel right, the harder those processes feel to complete, the more I avoid them and the more I don’t feel right. And so on and so on and so on.
The disintegration of humour is also beyond a joke.
I’ve always taken great solace in being able to react humourously to something or someone and conjure up a sharp response or a smart retort to lighten a moment and - when I’m fine - playing with language in a subversive, irreverent way has been one of life’s pleasures.
With depression clouding my life though I feel like the kid in the class who just doesn’t get the joke. Everything goes over my head and when I watch other people laughing or chuckling at something I simply don’t feel it. It’s like my life has become one excruciatingly unfunny episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys.
Removing humour from my social armoury makes me feel painfully detached and also frustrated and angry that I can’t access it. And the more annoyed I get at its absence the harder it becomes to regain.
Reason – and years of professional advice and sporadic mindfulness - tells me that achieving some sort of, ‘acceptance,’ of how I feel now and reducing my resistance to it will help quieten my noisy, destructive mind and give me some more positive headspace but I’m so impatiently desperate to feel better that I just seem to be going round in circles.
Life feels like an eternal joke-free and pleasure-free Catch 22.
I’ve tried meditation; I’ve tried breathing exercises. I’ve tried acupuncture; I’ve tried a dizzying array of antidepressants. I even found myself supressing the urge to fart ostentatiously during a Vinyasa Yoga class this morning surrounded by dozens of serene women in leotards in my continuing bid to find some, ‘flow,’ but so far none of these methods have really touched the sides.
Medication has masked the symptoms intermittently over the years and I’ve had long spells of wellness under their pharmaceutical influence but the episodes have always returned.
So where do I go from here?
I honestly don’t know but writing this is preferable to wandering round the house muttering, ‘what the hell do I do now?’ to myself so I guess I’ll keep writing.
Till next time.
PART 2 - Thursday 2 March 2017
THE ULTIMATE AIM OF WRITING THESE BLOG POSTS is - through a spirit of openness and honesty - to help me come to terms with my depression and stop avoiding the difficult challenges that keep me trapped in a vicious circle of negativity, inactivity and self-defeating rumination.
So in the interests of confronting a difficult challenge I’ve decided to tackle one of mental illness’s most thorny subjects – suicidal thoughts.
After 54 minutes and seven deleted openings (imagine how crap the spiked ones were) the above two paragraphs have taken me as long to write as the whole previous post.
Clearly discussing really difficult stuff is going to be harder than I thought.
So where to start with suicidal thoughts?
Where do they come from? How often do I have them? What do they feel like? How do I combat them? Why on earth am I telling people?
Answering the last question first I guess I’m sharing my experiences as a kind of subverted celebration; I’m still here in full (physical) health and haven’t inflicted the inevitable mental torment and guilt trip of suicide’s messy aftermath on my wife, children and loved ones.
And maybe just one person reading this diatribe might think again about following through with their suicidal thoughts.
I’m lucky in the sense that so far my suicidal thoughts have been just that; thoughts.
I’ve never tip-toed to the edge of a ten story car park and considered taking that final step. I’ve never washed down a handful of pills with a pint of vodka. I’ve never tightened a plastic bag round my neck. I’ve never thrown myself in front on a speeding train.
In fact the closest I’ve come to putting any thoughts into action is watching a You Tube video on how to tie a hangman’s noose properly but my mind was so blitzed by extreme anxiety at the time I couldn’t follow the instructions.
Nevertheless I have had all of these thoughts in the last 18 months and many more self-destructive fantasies, which at those moments of heart-pumping, chest-constricting, cranium-crushing despair, seemed preferable to the prospect of simply remaining on earth in a depressed state.
Perhaps re-reading the previous paragraph will help to explain to people who haven’t suffered from depression how it actually feels.
Imagine feeling so helpless, so lost, so devoid of hope and solutions to escape from the suffocating torment you find yourself in for whatever reason that you’d rather kill yourself.
So why haven’t my suicidal thoughts - of which there have been many since this latest depleting journey began in the autumn of 2015 - graduated from (horribly warped) imagination to (even more horrible) reality?
Primarily the impact on my two children, who through no fault of their own, have already been forced to deal with negotiating life with a depressed parent and all the myriad complications that brings.
Their resilience and continued positivity in the light of my own all-encompassing cloud of doom has been remarkable to witness and crushing that spirit through such an act of selfishness – however much pain I’m in – would be the ultimate act of parental betrayal.
In addition to not wanting to condemn my long suffering wife to an even more arduous future, the other factor that’s kept my thoughts as just thoughts – and it’s the reason I’m even bothering to write this blog now when I’d rather just seek the daily sanctuary of sleep – is that somewhere in my psyche there still exists a speck of hope.
I can’t really feel it, and I certainly can’t seem to access it to kick-start any sort of positive momentum on this excruciating journey, but the fact that I’m still here means it must be there somewhere.
I just hope I can look back on these moments in a brighter future and see how far I’ve travelled.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
PART 1 - Tuesday 28 February 2017
PROCRASTINATION is one of the most limiting and self-defeating facets of mental illness and this public pronoucement comes a mere 24 years and four months after my first episode of depression.
Back then, as a trainee journalist on the Post Graduate Diploma Newspaper Journalism course at the University Of Central Lancashire in (de)Preston, I remember feeling literally paralysed by fear for the first time in my life.
Despite not being confronted by a ravenous, sabre-toothed tiger or having a gun held to my head by a violent psychopath, the physical feeling that something horrendous was about to happen whenever I got to within two minutes of the lecture room was so overpowering that I took to inventing physical illnesses to skip classes and spent several weeks aimlessly wandering Preston's picturesque streets during the empty days before trying my best to leave the course before the end of the first term.
A change in living circumstances, (I began commuting from Liverpool where I’d been at university instead of almost asphyxiating myself to death each day with a Calor Gas heater in a sweaty, ice cold boxroom) some Christmas home comforts and a shaky resolve to, 'give it one last try,' resulted in a fairly rapid shift from doom to hope and after a successful week's Spring work experience at the esteemed West Lancashire broadsheet The Ormskirk Advertiser, I was offered a junior reporter job and so began a two and half decade cycle of psychological and journalistic boom and bust.
As the rest of my website demonstrates, since that first flirtation with depression I've edited several glossy magazines, been press officer for an awarding winning Channel 4 TV show, travelled the world for free as a travel journalist, interviewed some of the world's highest profile celebrities, and had interviews, features, photographs, news stories and front page splashes published by the majority of Britain's national newspapers and dozens of magazines. I’ve also been married for almost 18 years to an amazingly patient wife, been an involved father to two fantastic children and managed to function relatively normally for probably 70% of that time.
What this website hasn't demonstrated - until now - is that in between the periods of productivity, stability and sociability there have been several episodes of spectacularly debilitating depression and anxiety, each one feeling more devastating than the last and each one stripping me of hope, confidence, self-belief and on more than one occasion even the will to live.
My current situation – as my friends and some professional acquaintances will know to some degree – is frustratingly stuck on bust not boom.
So I’ve decided to embark on this blog, partly in the hope that just writing down my thoughts and sharing them honestly rather than letting them internally terrorise me might be in some way therapeutic and eventually lead to my recovery as this episode has now been plaguing me for 18 months. The previous one lasted a year.
I suppose I’m also hoping that by sharing my experience it might in some way be useful to others, by helping them to understand the reality of living with mental illness and all the limitations it places on sufferers and their families.
I don’t have a plan of what I’m going to write about, how often I’m going to write or even who I’m really trying to appeal to but right now doing this just seems somehow better than doing nothing – which is the compulsion I wake up with every morning at the moment.
Anyway, I’m rambling. That’s it for now.
Proof that there's more to journalism than hacking and illegal payments to corrupt officials; the UK Press Gazette's illuminating insight into a day in the life of British media...
OVER THE YEARS I've interviewed Dita Von Teese, Sienna Miller, Katie Price, Gillian Anderson, Alexa Chung, Pixie Lott (and Ann Widdicombe) but comedienne SARAH MILLICAN is the first celebrity to ever give me the horn.
Have a listen...
MP4 video/audio file [792.8 KB]