Julian's Story: "The stigma that still surrounds mental illness is remarkable"
I am never completely free of depression, even when I’m well. Every day involves some form of confrontation with depressive symptoms. Some days are easier than others but respite remains for me something to work towards.
I have had a relationship with depression for as long as I can remember. When I eventually sought treatment, some twelve years ago, what I went on to experience through psychotherapy revealed that I had been depressed since childhood. Whilst all of us in our lives experience low periods and moods, for those with a diagnosis of clinical depression these remain enduring and persistent. I guess over time I have become astute, resigned and resolved to realise that I’ve had and always will have, a long-term relationship with a mental illness.
I ‘came out’ about my mental illness just after my youngest son was born in 2002. It was an emotional time, naturally, but I found myself spiralling into a depressive state with all the cla3ssic signs of pain and anxiety. Men shouldn’t experience ‘post-natal depression’ should they? And yet, here I was, depressed as a result of the aftermath of birth. Fears about responsibility, about love and support, about illness and vulnerability, about my own methods of coping. I mentioned ‘depression’ to my wife and she booked an appointment with a doctor. Without her, I wouldn’t have gone.
Since that time I have never thought about anything other than being open, honest and transparent about my disability. Sometimes this has been beneficial, but equally it can be a hindrance as it can effect quite substantially how people relate to you. You would automatically think that being honest and open is always the best policy. However, the discrimination and stigma that surrounds mental illness is remarkable and does impact on how people like me live our lives. On the balance of things, though, I’ve always believed that people need to see who I am and what I am: a normal person with a disability that is largely, but not exclusively, hidden. Depression can be as enriching as it can be debilitating - it might sound strange but I do believe that having depression has made me much more empathetic and sensitive to other people’s problems and that certainly cannot be a bad thing.
There are coping strategies, for sure, and I have learnt to deal with my symptoms as best I can. However, sometimes, there is little that I can do to prevent it from having a deep impact. For example, social interaction becomes a fearful thing to contemplate. Feeling that you are being watched constantly; your every action, movement, spoken word or mannerism being scrutinised by everybody around you. What do I do? I become motionless and speechless, chained to my desk at work or my armchair at home. I cannot answer the telephone, make a decision, I lose all motivation to complete small tasks like simply getting up to grab some food or a drink.
Living in a world of distorted reality is scary. I think everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong. I have little appreciation of how I look or come across to others. I get frustrated and angry at my inability to interact in any constructive or meaningful way. I rely on other people, particularly my wife, to do the most basic of things. I feel myself becoming stripped of my dignity, of my rationality, of my masculinity, even - the basic elements that make one feel positive about oneself.
However, that world is never static. Whilst I know I will become ill at times, I also know I will get over it. I just don’t know when and sometimes even how. What happens in the intervening period is also sometimes very unpredictable. I also know that we would all benefit from a more open and compassionate understanding of depression and indeed of other mental illness.
Perhaps that’s the main reason why I ‘came out’. I simply want to make a difference.