And I have to say I’m delighted to be taking the steps I have been. The one thing that I think will stick in my mind forever about this first meeting was how liberating it was to speak openly and unashamedly about depression to someone, and to have this someone speak to me just as openly and frankly.
Of course I was a little nervous when I first sat down and a little unsure as to what to say, but as soon as I answered a few opening questions about my circumstances she* completely lowered my guard by talking about depression, its effects and how important it is to tackle it and not struggle alone as I had been doing. It was the detail with which she spoke that gave me the confidence that I was in good hands and was with someone that understood and had dealt with and helped people like me. That may seem strange considering that I was sitting opposite the senior employment consultant of an organisation** whose remit is exactly that – helping people like me – but there is a difference between appearances and reality, as a lot of people with mental health issues can attest to due to unfortunate dealings with doctors (and people in general), which I’ll come back to later.
Anyway, I now felt confident enough to offer more than just perfunctory answers and elaborate a little, which brings me to another point that will always stick in my mind. Once I began talking, she listened, and I mean really listened. She didn’t interject at any point with comments, but simply waited for me to finish. Again, that may seem a small thing but it is incredibly hard to find that. With no interruptions forthcoming and in an environment I felt was safe, I found myself speaking more freely than I normally would having just met someone. I mean, I hardly revealed anything amazing or even anything more than what I had put on my referral forms I had initially posted to their office. But still, it was nice.
The one issue that came up – and again I know I may come across as incredibly naïve not to have thought about it – was the possibility (or in her opinion, going by my history, the probability) of my depression returning at some point in the future. To be honest, with all the progress I’ve been making, which includes an emphasis on looking forward and positivity that I have been staunchly sticking to, I really hadn’t considered the ramifications of depression returning. Caught off guard, I suddenly felt a little vulnerable and hankering after a stiff drink (an urge I hadn’t felt in quite a while and I later shared that for many years that was how I coped, by self-medicating with alcohol).
The feeling soon passed though and we examined further the implications of the possible re-emergence of depression. Composure regained, I remembered that everything that was being said was from a place of understanding and crucially, of experience, and as I have said to myself plenty of times recently and also to her, I’m done with trying to cope alone and allowing destructive thought patterns – such as that asking for help is weak – hinder me. Moreover, seeing as she is the one with ample experience of dealing with people like me, I need to just defer to her and allow other peoples wisdom to guide me because after all, I haven’t done such a great job myself this last 8 or 9 years.
Basically what was explained to me was that, seeing as every time I had a bout of depression they had got steadily worse and darker, it was important, imperative, to now stay on the track I was on and stay in contact with all the relevant parties because simply put, the pattern of the bouts getting worse and not dealing with things properly can easily lead to psychosis. To me it sounded extreme but I listened intently because I never thought my mind would ever take me to the some of the places it had during the last few years, this after always believing in the aftermath of a bout that I had a handle on it and that I could cope, before it came back far stronger and as I say, far darker too.
After all this, I was informed of the ways in which the organisation could help me. These ranged from helping me identify jobs I want to go for, to preparing for interviews to discussing my mental health with prospective employers because again, what happens if the depression returns when I am working? If your employer knows from the outset that you have a mental health issue then you are protected by law. If though, you go for a job, do not disclose you have any issues and suddenly find yourself struck down, you can be sacked for underperformance. This was a scenario that had played on my mind a lot in the last couple of years and scared me from really throwing myself into the job market, because not only did I lack the confidence to disclose I suffered with depression, I no doubt wouldn’t have had the confidence to admit that depression was the source of my troubles if I had managed to land a job in the last couple of years and then found myself struggling.
The truth of the matter is that there was a lot of self-sabotage in the way I went about applications during this period; they were part of the charade, part of the narrative that I concocted to enable me to pass as OK to friends and family whilst secretly falling into deeper, darker depths. It was in fact when my mind betrayed me to the extent that suicidal thoughts became a big feature of my depression that I truly knew I had to make drastic changes in the way I went about things. I never wanted to get to the point where I would do something stupid and not even be aware of it because I was being gripped so tightly by depression. I certainly respect the power and danger of depression because I’ve charted its evolution within me.
I’ll admit that there are details missing here about all the options available to me, because as you can imagine despite the experience being pleasant it was still a little overwhelming. What I will say is that all the help that is available is help that I am going to gratefully receive and utilise. I’ll be attending the job club on Monday, have been placed in a small group that gets help and guidance in terms of job searching and also have my weekly meetings with the lady I met on Tuesday.
One of the things that I am most looking forward to doing is rebuilding my confidence in my skills and abilities. I am aware that I am a capable person and have many skills that make me employable but one of the consequences of my depression is that for a long time I lost confidence and often felt stuck in a pattern of self-loathing and low self-esteem, all of which are things I know don’t tally with how my friends see me but the only explanation I can offer to anyone who found it surprising when I finally came out and told my friends is that it felt easier for a long time to simply act in a way that passed as normal. The thing with acting and pretending though is that the weight of the deception, of trying to keep up the pretence, gets heavier and heavier until you reach breaking point.
One of the avenues that was presented to me during my meeting was the possibility of in the future working within the mental health sector, which is something that appeals to me. I suppose it is a common thing that once you have received help and have begun the process of overcoming your problems, you wish to be able to help others in similar situations.
I was even informed of how people who learn to cope with their issues can be deployed to help people within the medical profession and businesses understand just what it is like to live with a mental health issue, which brings me back to my experience with a doctor that I said I would get to.
It was explained to me how even now, there is still so much ignorance about mental health and how it affects people and that this ignorance stretches through every facet of society. This really shouldn’t be the case, not in 2015, not when there is so much information readily available but, it chimed with my own experience.
A few years ago, I found the courage to go to the doctor. I found this courage principally because at the time I was in my first serious relationship and I confided to my girlfriend my problems, which is a restrained way of saying that I fell apart one night as I was in the middle of one of those dark periods (hiding things from friends is infinitely easier than a partner because, well, you’re not around them so much and you don’t really have that same opportunity to bury yourself in isolation.) Anyway, my girlfriend of the time accompanied me and, let’s see, from the off the doctor seemed pretty disinterested, seemingly only half-listening to what I was saying to her (which I know could be misconstrued as paranoia on my part) Finally she looks up and says that it sounds like depression with bi polar tendencies (I’m actually sure that the more extreme of my mood swings and bad decision making was down to alcohol but nevertheless I’m seeing the doctor next week anyway but I really don’t think I have bi-polar but at the time I guess it fit). After the doctor said this, I thought OK I guess this is the part where she’ll elaborate and give me information about where to go, who to talk to etc. anything really other than looking at me and saying ‘you have a girlfriend, you have a job, you’re at uni, why are you depressed?’ I was stumped because hey, you’re right, that’s how depression works.
She wrote up a prescription for some pills, told me to take them and then come back and see her. She didn’t even take the time to explain the prescription to me. I didn’t take the pills because I’m scared to go down that route but to not even take the time to explain them to me, I mean come on.
Oh and incidentally, that job I had ended up being the last one I’ve had after I quit a few months later because I couldn’t cope. The girlfriend went too but that whole relationship was admittedly a very interesting story that I really don’t have time for here seeing as this is already clocking in at nearly 2000 words.
In the end though, that experience with the doctor was a long time ago and you know what, now is a time of positivity and forward momentum. So it lets just end on that.
*She being Earlyne Jordan, the senior employment consultant of –