I remember it vividly as if it was yesterday, I was in my mid twenties and I came home one evening and felt tired so went to bed before an evening meal. Then an hour later I tried to get up to go to the bathroom but felt completely exhausted, I thought I might have the flu, but not only did I feel exhausted I also had this overwhelming sense of dread. It was as if I could not see any future, not in a year, a month, a week, a day, even in the next hour, it was as if my life had ended but I was still breathing.
As the days and weeks went on and although the exhaustion passed the sense of dread and fear did not. It was as if this eternal optimist was covered in darkness, there was a cloud over my head like some cartoon character.
'it was as if my life had ended but I was still breathing.'
Then I had my first panic attack; trying to explain a panic attack to anyone who hasn't experienced one is difficult, but it is like a wave of fear that rushes through your entire body, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. You start to sweat, you feel like you are going to black out and want to run, the only problem is that there is nowhere to run to because the fear is inside. even though they last just a few moments it feels like they last an eternity.
I went to see my GP to try and understand what was going on. He said I was completely exhausted from overwork and was suffering from depression and that the panic attacks were part of the depression. He suggested some antidepressants, which I took home to try. After taking them for a period of time they made me feel even worse, it can take time to work out the right medication and each case is different so it's worth working with your GP to try and figure it out. He also advised counselling and so I started to see a counsellor and yes I even got on the couch not knowing what to expect. Instead of trying to peel me like an onion to discover what had caused it, he helped me learn some relaxation exercises. Although helpful there was part of me screaming to know why I was like this, why I was full of fear and dread, if only I could find the trigger then perhaps I could go back and fix it.
My (now regular) trips to the GP and the counsellor were meant to help but it did not mean I was getting better, in fact I was getting worse. I was having more panic attacks (which at the worst point were about 20 an hour) I became afraid of having them and of the overwhelming fear, as a coping strategy I became agoraphobic not leaving the house and also a little OCD, always using the same knife and fork, eating the same foods, all those little things were obsessively maintained in an attempt to try and put some control in what felt like a mind that was out of control.
I was afraid of each day not knowing how bad the attacks would be and went to bed at night filled with dread. I was afraid of dying but feeling so overwhelmed by this sickness not sure if I could carry on living like this.
Months before I had been the life and soul of the party, seen as the strong and gregarious one, on stage playing guitar and singing or recording, I was the one who could get the job done and the one with all the creative ideas. Now I felt a shadow of my former self, an empty shell of darkness and wondering if my life was over - my heart was beating and the blood may have been running through my veins, I still looked the same on the outside, but inside I was gone... I felt like a dead man walking.
'they would look at me puzzled wondering when I was going to pull myself together, when I would snap out of it'
As if this wasn't bad enough I also had the task of trying to explain what had happened to my both friends and colleagues. They seemed bewildered, I still looked like the same guy, but when I was trying to explain to them about my sickness, they would look at me puzzled and wondering when I was going to pull myself together, when I would snap out of it, when I would realise that life was too good to miss, that I should 'count my blessings' and get back with the program. I wanted to scream at them 'don't you think I wish I could just wake up from this nightmare and get on with my life again?' but I didn't feel brave enough to challenge them. For them it all seemed so simple, so logical, but a sickness like this is complex and illogical. There were no easy answers, no pills, no cliches, no pithy verses (religious or otherwise) that could free me from this prison... If only I thought.
For many people loneliness is part of the deal with depression, you can be in a room filled with people but feel completely isolated, misunderstood and feel like a burden to those around you, I thought that if I was them then I wouldn't want to hang around with me so why would anyone else want to?
So there I was with what seemed like a perfect storm of depression, anxiety, fear and loneliness feeding one another, it was a toxic emotional cocktail which seemed to be relentless, each one feeding the other - it was the stuff of nightmares.
This nightmare lasted what seemed like an eternity, in reality about 2 years, but as far as I was concerned it was 2 years too long. During this period the idea of writing or performing was the furthest thing from my mind, in fact I thought that would never happen again. I now lived in a monochrome world with where my senses were dulled and the chance of me writing anything was highly unlikely, I recollect penning some Job-like laments as I tried to make sense of it all, but in reality they were simply an attempt at catharsis rather than any kind of world changing creativity. The idea of leaving my house seemed like an impossibility so as far as I was concerned my performing days were over - this was as good as it was going to get and it was a dark prison of fear that I saw no escape from.
So that's my story of depression, it's an attempt (if not a clumsy one) at trying to explain what this kind of illness can feel like and how it can affect you. In reality it is different for each person, but in many cases the outcomes are the same. Stopping a person dead in their tracks, making one feel as if there is no future and that any chance of bringing any kind of creative contribution to the world is about as possible as walking to the moon. It affects 1 in 4 people at some point in their life and studies suggest is more likely to affect those with creative personalities or working in creative sectors, it is highly likely that you know at least one person who has either struggled who is struggling with this. Since writing my first article another person has lost their fight with depression and is no longer with us.
In the next article I will be sharing how I escaped from my depression and found a life I never dreamed I would ever have again.
You are not alone, there is hope.