“My name is Andrew. I’m 44, married with two lovely kids. I have suffered with depression since my early teens. This is my journey.
The depression came about because of an accident, not to me but to my Father. We jokingly say that he fell off the back off a lorry; actually he was leaning against a support on the back of a wagon when it collapsed, he and a fellow worker fell, and my Dad was left with a fractured skull and an altered personality and has never worked again. I can’t remember exactly how I was told, I think it was by my friend’s Mother and I vaguely remember having to stay with them for a few days.
I do remember walking into the living room when my Dad got out of hospital; I was warned to be gentle as he was quite fragile. He had two black eyes and looked very frail. At the age I was at the time your Dad is Superman! He wasn’t supposed to be like this! I seem to remember vowing that I would have to be the man of the house. I say dad never worked again, he did work for a little while because he had another accident at work when he cut his head open!
As I said, I believed I needed to be the man of the house, a role I was not ready for, although no one else had any expectations of me. There is something else that prayed on my mind at this time. When my Dad was 16 his father died, I was paranoid that history was going to repeat itself especially how ill he was. I remember being very relieved when I turned 17, we had cheated history.
When I left school I went to Art College to do my Btec in fashion. I had been ‘well built’ for most of senior school, I decided I was fat so pretty much stopped eating. I’m not going to say I have anorexia but it was pretty close. I went from a 38” waist to about a 24” at my worst, I collapsed in a bathroom in Paris on a college trip, and I wasn’t well. It got to the point where it hurt more to eat that it did to not eat. I have a picture of me during that time, wearing a baggy jumper to hide my body; I look like I could snap if I bent over.
After college I started working in the fashion industry, probably one of the most stressful environments to work in. I lasted about 15 years with various episodes of the dog but I still didn’t know what it was, I had talked about suicide with my then girlfriend (now wife) but I thought that was normal! Eventually the first glimpse into what was actually happening to me came about. We were told the company I was working for wanted us all to move to Leicester as that was closer to head office, this was never an option for me as my wife worked here and we had just had a baby and moved to a new house we loved. Of course the alternative was redundancy. I became ill, I would sleep up to 22 hours a day, I became dehydrated as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink. I kept going back to the doctors who kept sending me for tests, diabetes, thyroid, all sorts. I asked if it could be stress related. He then asked if I was stressed. I explained that I was being made redundant; we had just had a baby and moved into a house that was about twice the mortgage of our previous home (in our previous house we had been broken into 4 times over 2 years including twice in one week). After three months on the sick the doctor decided I was ill because I was overweight!
After I left the fashion industry I started a business making clothes and soft furnishings, my wife went back to work full time. I also started a part time degree in textiles, this had become a pattern for me; taking too much on so I would fail, this would then prove to me how useless I felt; how much of a failure I was and why I was not worth knowing or loving.
Eventually of course it all came to a head.
My wife had to go to Austria with work and it would be over a weekend, it would have been almost impossible for her to come home so her company paid for me to meet her in Saltsburg. We had a long chat as things had not been great between us for a while, we decided I needed to go and see a different doctor and tell him what was going on. I flew back home and my wife went back to work. I didn’t eat while Nicola was away, I was punishing myself; food felt like the one thing I had control over. I sat one night, kids in bed and took every pill I could find and quite a lot of whiskey, and sat back, feeling calm for the first time in years. This was it, my time to clock out.
Of course it suddenly struck me that it would be my kids that would find me, I was a horrible person but I couldn’t do that to them! I took myself to the toilet and made myself throw up until I had nothing left then stayed up all night in case I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s funny but shortly after this we had a party for my daughter’s birthday and lots of people commented on how well I looked! I had shaved my head as my hair was falling out; I had a hunted look in my eyes.
We went to the doctors and told him how I felt; he asked Nicola if I ever hit her or the kids. I was horrified at the time but I can see he was asking all the right questions. My life was in freefall and I had absolutely no control. I was prescribed anti-depressants and sent home and told to wait for the crisis team. They arrived at our house not long after us, two ladies, one went and spoke to Nicola and the other sat and let me talk. They visited a couple of times until I was relatively stable. I’m not sure if it was a complete nervous breakdown but it’s as close as I ever want to be!
The doctor recommended MIND to me, they were great and dug into what was causing the depression as well as giving me coping strategies. The first time I went there I felt like the world was in colour and not the black and white I had seen it for years. I went on to see MIND several times after that as the depression would find its way back.
I finally felt strong enough to ask the doctor if I could have some counselling which he arranged. I remember sitting in the waiting room with Nicola; everyone had various nervous twitches, no one would give eye contact; and when you caught a glimpse of their eyes it was terrifying, I wondered what they saw when they looked at me for sure I had the same.
I felt terrible about the amount of medication I was on, largest dosage of anti-depressants plus another type to help me sleep – all of this just to help me feel ‘normal. I had told my Therapist that this felt like the last chance for me as I couldn’t go on feeling the way I was, I realise how melodramatic that was now but I meant it at the time. I think I realised that this might work and I was ready for it too when the therapist asked what I wanted, previously when asked I would say that I just wanted to be like everyone else, this time I said I just wanted to be comfortable being me! I can see now what a huge shift that statement was.
I had a full course of CBT which I feel gave me the tools finally to get to grips with my issues.
I’d like to say that that is the end of my journey, I had hit rock bottom and over the course of about 7 years I had crawled my way out of it, from near death and self harm to loving life. Growing up I could never see myself growing old, I was sure I would be dead by 37! I started to become ill again a few years ago and after a lot of tests I was told I had Ankylosing Spondalitis (a form of arthritis that affects any joints) but the medication was often worse than the illness. Earlier this year my diagnosis was changed to Fibromyalgia which can apparently be brought on by depression. I have been unable to work since my latest flare up in January, at the time of writing this it’s the end of July.
For people who don’t know what Fibromyalgia is, it’s basically constant pain, all over. I can’t walk far; I have no upper body strength any more, can’t lift, can’t even put my arms above my head without pain. So of course the depression is back. I’m waiting to be referred for more counselling as I type but I at least know what is happening this time so I feel better placed to cope.”
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