Being depressed and being a man are two things that often aren’t spoken about. Today I have an anonymous blog post from a man who wants to share his story. I am happy to provide this space for him to speak about his experiences safely. Please make him feel welcome.
If you or someone you know is struggling with feeling depressed then please seek help. The first port of call is usually your GP, however there are a plethora of help lines available including Lifeline, Kids Helpline, and Beyond Blue.
Sometimes something happens in my head that just makes functioning as normal seem like an incredibly difficult thing to do. People say things like, oh we all go through slumps, we all have peaks and troughs; we just have to buck-up, take a teaspoon of cement and crack on. She’ll be right, as you Aussies say. Stiff upper lip for us Poms.
Sometimes though, the mountain in front seems insurmountable. And yet it might be something as simple as going to work in the morning. Sure, we all have days where we can’t be bothered going to work, but you know something is amiss when you would rather not do anything for the fear of a situation in front of you. I’m not talking about a soldier going to war or a fire fighter running into a blazing inferno, I’m talking about those times in our lives when, for some reason, the situation we are about to be in, as mundane as it may be, just seems too damn hard. And so, rather than put yourself forward, you make excuses to not do anything. You orchestrate a way of ‘getting out of it.’
This will take some explaining and first of all I should address my anonymity. I am a male blogger and there are clues to my identity in here but I’d rather keep it a little hush hush. Tegan has been kind enough to host my rambling as a guest post and I thank her for that.
My blog goes alright but many of my readers know me personally and I’d rather some of the things I say here not get back to certain people… particularly my mother, my wife and the students I teach (or rather, the parents of students I teach) The first will worry, the second doesn’t quite understand, and the third… well, I give enough of myself in my job every day. I don’t need to give everything.
So back to my point about orchestrating a situation in order to avoid something. In my job I am the person at the centre of things. That is my role. I’m a counselor, a disciplinarian and a motivator. Recently though I seem to have lost my edge. Or, more accurately, I am very aware that my ‘edge’ is at risk and I don’t know what to do to fix it. There are huge events that I organise, lead or a play a big part in. If I don’t show up, I let a lot of people down. The world will still turn without me of course, I’m by no means indispensable, but it is an expectation of my role (and the persona I’ve created for myself) that I will be there. Front and centre.
Sometimes I just don’t want to be. The thought fills me with dread and I look for a way out. I want to sit on the sidelines like an awkward teenage nerd at the school dance. I want to be in a room by myself. And this is the core of the matter; sometimes the simple act of getting out of the house is a feat in itself.
Let me make it clear. I have NEVER not done something I was expected to do. I have always made it out of the house, I have always played my part, and I have always found satisfaction from the achievement.
But it shouldn’t be an achievement. I’m increasingly aware of how much harder it is becoming for me to simply function. And it isn’t just work, though even as I write this I am consumed with the thought of my day tomorrow because I know there will be confrontation. It’s nothing big. Nothing I can’t handle, but it would be so much easier to ‘just not go’ and so my brain keeps whirring. But like I say, it isn’t just work.
I was so very close to cancelling or re-organising a trip away for my wife’s birthday because the thought of flying was consuming me… weeks before. I’ve never been afraid of flying until a terrible storm a few years ago. We nearly crashed. Now I have to chew down panic whenever we hit the smallest turbulence. Also normal, I know. What isn’t normal though is the anxiety that creeps in WEEKS before the flight. The heart flutters when I book the ticket. I fixate on things.
Years ago, our son was born not long after a natural disaster which took our house. He nearly never made it but he pulled through like a champ. At the time, and for about a year afterwards, I was having severe pains in my head that I’d never experienced before. I had a patch on the top of my skull that was prickly and sensitive to the touch and for nearly a year, whenever I touched it (daily showers were a nightmare) a shooting pain needled down through my skull and into my neck and shoulders. Then one day I collapsed. A storm broke over my head and the agony of it dropped me to my knees. My wife found me clawing at my own head and I was rushed to hospital.
They did every test imaginable on me but found nothing wrong. I got the impression the doc at the hospital thought I was bunging it on a bit… I promise you I wasn’t (this is anonymous, why would I lie?) And then a few months later I was in front of a different doc for an unrelated matter and the ‘head thing’ came up. He asked what I knew about depression. I said not a lot, but that I’d once sat the Beyond Blue test online and my score tipped me over the line.
The fact that I’d sat the test really interested him and he told me to talk to my wife about it and come back to him. I didn’t know how to approach this conversation with her so I made a joke of it,
‘You’ll never guess what the bloody doctor said, he reckons I might have depression.’
I waited for the response to see which direction this conversation would take,
‘What do you have to be depressed about?!’
Okay, that direction.
‘I know right!’ I said, ‘what a load of bollocks!’
That was three years ago. I never went back to the doctors. And here I sit, finally, for the first time ever, writing about it.
I don’t know how to describe it adequately so I’ll recount a conversation I had about two years ago with an older man I worked with. He sat at the desk next to mine and he asked me if I was okay. I said I was fine to which he replied, ‘cut the shit, you’ve been out of sorts for ages. What’s going on?’
We talked and somehow I managed to squeeze out the dreaded D word and then waited breathlessly as it hung in the air between us. I felt like such an arse. Men don’t talk to each other about this shit. I waited for the ‘tea-spoon of cement’ or ‘she’ll be right’ but it never came. He looked at me and said, ‘so how do you feel?’
I hesitated and realised I didn’t really know so I stammered out the D word again. He told me that wasn’t good enough. The D word wasn’t a feeling. He wanted to know how I felt.
I didn’t know what to say to him. I’m a sensitive sort of guy but even I have my ‘grunt and scratch myself’ limit. The silence dragged on as I searched for the words to express what I couldn’t express. You’re a writer, damnit! Speak! But I didn’t. Eventually, he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t want to put words in your mouth but tell me if this is close. Sometimes you just get washed over by sadness and you feel like crying for absolutely no reason. Or fear. You get attacked by a sudden and irrational fear that leaves your heart fluttering uncomfortably. You feel like you’re walking through a tunnel.’
I swear to god those were his words. His eloquence and absolute accuracy hit me like a shot to the gut and I stood up and walked away to smoke my first cigarette since my daughter was born. And then I had the second. When I finished the third I went back to my desk and said, ‘yes.’
My colleague looked at me and said, ‘I know mate. I’ve been there and I see it in you and I’ll tell you the same thing a doc told me that made me finally understand. It isn’t a weakness. It isn’t something you can just ‘get over’. A teaspoon of cement will not fix it. It’s chemical. The levels are wrong and you need help to get them evened out again.’
He gave me the analogy of a runner. Someone who runs every single day and then suddenly stops. The chemicals in the runner’s body are used to being at a certain level and then all of a sudden they no longer have the means to reach those levels. This affects more than we can possibly know. The runner quitting his routine is just an analogy for something being wrong with the balance and we can’t put it right ourselves. We need help. He told me to get help. I said I would.
So why am I writing this? It isn’t a cry for help; it is simply that I was given an opportunity (thank you Tegan) to write about it for the first time in my life. To really and truly express the inner turmoil that sometimes threatens to completely, totally, and utterly consume me.
I’m a ‘Daddy-Blogger’ and being a parent is the worst part of it.
Every parent deals with the stresses and anxieties of having their heart outside their body; running around in the fragile forms of their children. We all know the terror when they get hurt, the sleepless nights when they’re ill, and the ache when they aren’t with us.
But sometimes I can barely leave the house for fear that I’ll never see them again. My wife is getting wise to this. The days I ‘forget things’ and come back inside, giving the kids one more hug and kiss before I finally leave for work. The nights I sleep on the floor of their room in case they stop breathing (??!!) The times at the park I bring them home early when other kids show up, just in case they get pushed over and hurt.
And the night terrors that have me screaming.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a consistent thing. This isn’t something that you, as a reader, need to be concerned about. I know it isn’t healthy but I have it under control.
The very act of writing this is a great help and I thank Tegan for publishing it and you for reading it. I think we all just need someone to talk to; whether it is the guy at the desk next to us or a collection of readers I may never meet, it’s good to talk.
Now go give your loved ones a hug.
Linking up with Jess for IBOT.