Hi. My name is Rob and I have depression.
The thing is, that is a lie.
My name isn’t Rob. My real name is Chas and although I had been told by those closest to me that I was depressed, that something was wrong, I was too ashamed to do anything about it.
Partly I didn’t believe it could happen to me. I mean, I am indestructible; I have everything, great job, nice house, lovely kids, pretty wife. I fell into the trap of thinking that just because I was successful on the outside, there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong on the inside.
But there was something very wrong. The inside of my head was continually attacked, with a voice that was mine, but wasn’t me. Like an invasive species, thoughts which bore no relation to the person I am, devoured the character which defined me. I became less than whole.
This is when the mistakes started. Instead of looking at the man in the mirror and asking why his life had turned from Technicolor to monochrome, I looked at everything else and everyone else and blamed them for not making me happy.
If I buy more things it will make me happy. It didn’t. If I have a bigger house, a bigger car, a different job, more sex, then surely I’d feel better? I tried them all, and now I am faced with more debt than I am ever likely to pay off and I am no happier.
But, that is not the worst part of it. Not even close.
My wife. My beautiful intelligent wife.
The best way I have found to describe my depression is to liken it to an oil. A thick black oil. On a good day, you get one or two drops staining your clothes and you brush it off and continue as normal. On a bad day, it swamps you, it engulfs everything, and you have to fight to keep from getting submerged and drowning. As time goes on it gets harder and harder to fight, it takes every ounce of your willpower just to keep going. The oil becomes so tempting, so thick, so black, so easy just to relax into and disappear.
One thing kept me from taking that single extra step past the edge of the train platform: My daughter. I would come home in the evening and she would be waiting for me dressed as a gym coach, a hairdresser, a scientist, or whatever she had most recently seen on tv and ask me to play with her. I couldn’t bear the thought of her getting dressed up to play and me not coming home. I would not betray her trust. I would keep fighting. I would keep fighting for as long as I could.
I managed it for a while. I pretended that everything would be ok. I genuinely hoped that it would pass, like a teenage crush.
It didn’t pass, and every day I grew weaker from the constant strain of the battle. I finally admitted I wasn’t strong enough to cope when my wife said that she’d had enough. Enough of being told that if she tried harder I’d be happy. That we’d be happy. On a daily basis I had unwittingly pulled her into a battle that she couldn’t win. That no one could win. I was trying so hard to find something to make me feel better, something to beat the depression that I was too proud to admit to. A drowning man grasping for something to cling to, I had dragged her into my oil.
The hardest thing to cope with, is not what depression has done to me. It is what it did to her. What I did to her. I love my wife, and I hurt her. Not just a superficial hurt, but a scar that runs deep, a scar that will take a long time to heal.
I will always have to live with the knowledge that I damaged something beautiful. The difficulty with a mental illness is separating the illness from the person. Separating the invader from the native. It was me, but it wasn’t me. My brain was not releasing enough serotonin which was causing my depression. It is a disease like any other. People pay lip service to this idea, but how many actually believe it? People judge you for something that is outside of your control, in a way they never would with say, cancer or diabetes. Yet I have no more control over how my mind functions than I have over how my kidney functions.
So what’s next?
I am now getting the treatment that I need and it seems to be working. But what about the thousands of other men and women who are fighting alone until they are can’t fight anymore? In 2013 suicide was the single biggest cause of death in men under 45 in England and Wales (78% of suicides are male). What about their families, their kids? What about the others like me? What about my wife? My kids? At the time of writing I don’t know if my marriage is going to survive the emotional damage to my wife. I don’t know if she will be able to look past the disease and see the man underneath. We are having counselling and I pray that we will find a way to rebuild.
The only way we can reduce these horrifying statistics, the only way to remove the shame and the stigma that stopped me seeking help for so long, is for everyone to be open and honest about mental health and treat depression as the disease it is.
My name is Chas and I have depression.