I was always being told I could talk the hind legs off a donkey. I was always telling people I could talk the hind legs off a donkey. Sort of a chat-happy kind of lad I was, growing up.
To a degree I had felt that this had followed me throughout later life. I’ve worked in the communications/PR arena for over 10 years now so being able to talk a good game is something of a prerequisite.
The problem is, something changed in the middle there somewhere. No need to go into masses of detail: Parental separation, troubled early teen years, crippled by inhibitions. When I say there’s no need to go in to detail, that’s not to belittle it, either. Those were all massive problems in their own right but I’m far from unique in having experienced them and, more importantly, I don’t want to focus on the low points. So I won’t. Needless to say, though, something changed.
I didn’t know it, though. Not at the time. I’ve only just come to realise it. I was diagnosed with depression a little under a year ago. I wouldn’t say I suffer with it, and prefer to say I’m challenged by it. Only in that period have I realised just how much I had stopped talking. Not professionally, you understand. I’m still a very poor man’s Alistair Campbell if you can imagine such hilarity. But, personally, I’d stopped talking. I’d stopped taking time to check on myself and see how I was doing and, as such, when someone would ask me “How are you?” the answer would be “Yeah, fantastic. Top notch.” Because in truth I had no idea – I hadn’t taken time to figure out how I was, having long since shut that part of me down when I was about 11 or 12. I didn’t really start again until years later when I was fortunate enough to meet the lovely young lady who’d later become my wife.
She has been the difference for me and knowing her is the finest privilege I’ve ever had. I’ve benefited substantially from professional support in small doses over the last year but nothing has helped me plug back in the bits of me that I’d unplugged than by being so brutally honest with her about my life, my feelings and my insecurities.
Let me explain. Imagine you’re in the bathroom. You’ve spent an age on your hands and knees cleaning the floor. You’re by the basin and go to put a hand on it to assist you back to your feet. As you do, you feel it wobble slightly. The sealant has worn away from the wall a little over the years and, in all honesty, if you put your full weight on it to stand up, it’s going to fall down and so are you. So you don’t lean. But that old adage of having someone to lean on in times of trouble is a very good one – we all need to lean.
I was worried about the sealant when my challenge with depression was at its worst. I never feared my wife didn’t love me and I never thought she’d run for the hills – but I still didn’t want to lean. How can I verbalise the things that have been in my head for the better part of 20 years? Soul mate for life she most certainly is – but how can I tell her all of that without the basin wobbling? It was no use. I’d have to find another way to get up off the floor and, sure enough, I couldn’t.
The truth is you have to lean. I eventually did manage to hold on to the basin and put my full weight on it and I managed to stand up again. I know many men aren’t as lucky and don’t have their basin – let alone the ability to lean. But what I do know is that I did, and still do. It makes me very lucky and, thanks to my wife, the bathroom basin and whatever else we can mix into the metaphor, I’m doing okay.
So we do a lot of talking in our house. I do a lot of it. “Stop wittering on,” she’ll say, as I spout off some random statistic or meaningless babble. I feel like I can once again ensure that the camel is talked away from its own hind limbs by my chit-chat and, most crucially, I ask myself everyday “How are you doing?”
Some days I’m fantastic. Other days I don’t feel so great. But I always ask. And I always listen. She does too. It’s important to talk and it’s important to lean. Don’t resist the urge to lean, either.
Do check the actual sealant on your actual basins, though!
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