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Learning to Live Again …

Learning to Live Again …

 

June1, 2009 –  Although I am writing this piece with much fear and trepidation I do so with the hope that my experiences can help others lead a life where sunshine shines a little brighter and big black clouds are seen only in occasional showers instead of torrential downpours. Normally the people writing these so called “words of wisdom” are ones who have not actually dealt with the issue firsthand, rather those who have read about it in book, studied it at school and talked to others who experience the problem personally. Hopefully this will help others walking in the same shoes see that there is hope out there.

Dragonfly_dreams is a member of DF

Learning to Live Again …

June1, 2009 – Although I am writing this piece with much fear and trepidation I do so with the hope that my experiences can help others lead a life where sunshine shines a little brighter and big black clouds are seen only in occasional showers instead of torrential downpours. Normally the people writing these so called “words of wisdom” are ones who have not actually dealt with the issue firsthand, rather those who have read about it in book, studied it at school and talked to others who experience the problem personally. Hopefully this will help others walking in the same shoes see that there is hope out there.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with depression. Denial quickly set in. That sort of thing didn’t happen to me! I was a “man” – big, strong, tough and in control – and we don’t get depressed. Moody? Maybe. Depressed? Definitely not! Depression was, as far as I was concerned, a trendy catch phrase for weak people to hide behind or an excuse for those looking for an easy way out of a tough situation. I still believe that depression, along with stress, are often misdiagnosed and prescriptions handed out to people far too easily but in these ever changing times I also know that depression is one of the fastest growing issues facing adults. I was lucky – I had a year from hell and came through the other side stronger – but others are nor so lucky

Depression is still a word that carries a lot of stigma: those with depression are made fun of, sniggered at and generally labelled weak by most. It’s because of this stigma that depression gets swept under the rug by sufferers – particularly males – who are loath to speak about its impact on them. Because of people’s unwillingness to discuss a “mental illness” it is generally misunderstood and rarely gets the public forum it so richly deserves. I still have only ever told two people that I suffer from depression and one of those was only very recently. But actually telling that person I suffer from depression was such a massive thing for me to admit that I had no choice but to actually put these thoughts down on paper.

Depression doesn’t discriminate – I have an extremely high IQ (the tests were done whilst serving in the military), I am fit, masculine, self employed and confident (and I’d be happy to step into a boxing ring with any man who thinks that only “weak” people have depression) yet I have felt the disease’s wrath throughout my life. I also get bored easily, I think too much and I care too much about the people in my life at the expense of my own wellbeing but that’s just me. I work in an industry that is the envy of many yet I often question my involvement and worthiness in spite of enjoying a good reputation within my chosen field. I am the one who takes care of people and situations. I manage things; things don’t manage me.

I now know enough to accept that I had been suffering since the age of 25 yet I managed to keep it hidden from the world… there were moments when alone when I would find myself in a strange space yet I’d go to the gym, hit a punching bag or go for a run and I’d manage to hide it from everybody. I used to think I was just moody (I am a Scorpio after all) but the signs were there. In my late twenties I spent much of my time coping with the demands of two businesses and an incompetent business partner whilst watching the last 10 years of hard work and solid financial security going down the drain … my reaction was to use violence as an outlet. At the nightclub I operated I would hit people with pool cues, rip earrings out of their ears, throw them head first down three/four flights of (concrete) stairs and generally test myself against any troublemaker bigger and stronger than I was (and in a venue that looked like a scene from ‘Once Were Warriors’ that wasn’t hard). I look back now and realise that this was what I did when I felt insecure and lost. Rather that look weak I’d try to show strength, or at least what I perceived as strength. I am by nature a gentle, sensitive man and I look back at many of these acts with much regret.

I have always felt that suicide is for cowards yet one day a little over four years ago I found myself sitting alone in the bathroom of my house contemplating suicide. I had felt the full brunt of six months of horrendous panic attacks that often lasted for five or six hours twice a day and couldn’t fathom what I was going through … I really was a mess. I sat there for over two hours thinking of the various ways to stop the pain yet ensure that my loved ones wouldn’t have to walk in on a horrific scene. The fear that my demise could send my kids to a similar place to where I was at that point in time terrified me. I have never felt as bad I did that day but I understand now how people **** themselves and don’t judge as quickly as I once did. To this day I feel sick when I think about it – how a man like me could dip to that level is something I will never fathom.

I had given no indication to anyone that was how I was feeling. People around me knew I had some “issues” of late (I had been very quiet and withdrawn but for a quiet spoken man that wasn’t too unusual) but I couldn’t and wouldn’t let them know the extent to how low I had sunk and just how bad I was feeling … I didn’t want to burden them with an issue that was 100% mine to deal with.

Yet, the hardest part of all was this trying to hide it from the world: outside I was my normal, affable, relaxed, in-control self but inside I was falling apart. Up until that point in time I really had not been a person who talked a lot and I definitely didn’t share my feelings. I kept them locked inside for fear they would be used against me.

It was at this point that I chose to seek treatment … me coming to that conclusion was extremely hard and one that I wrestled with for weeks: How was I going to tell some stranger, someone who probably had never felt depression first hand, my most intimate fears. I couldn’t even reveal these feelings to my wife and she was the one person I felt I could always talk to. I admit I cried like a baby the night before I took that step (I actually cancelled my first appointment) but getting it off my chest it helped strip away the pain. Talking about my problem was cleansing … I had the year from hell but I’ve been good ever since although just as an addict is always an addict I know I will always suffer from depression even if its hidden deep inside.

I am a married to a good woman. She’s beautiful, strong and a great mother to our children. I tried my best to keep my illness from her for a long time but it was only fair that I shared the truth; after all she was the one who had to worry when I was carted off in an ambulance 3 times in the space of a month. She’s been there every step of the way although at times I didn’t deserve her support. Even during “my year from hell” when I did my very best to push her and everyone else away she instinctively knew that as a friend she had to hold on to stop me drowning … We’ve had some great time/s and on very rare occasions some trying ones but I’ve never regretted the time we have had together. My only regret is that too often she has had to be an audience for my pain and she deserves so much more than that … I have no doubt the past few years have been tough on her. Unlike so many others who still look at the person they see in front of them as normal, she knew the boy before the man and has seen a change in me. I understand that part of her longs for the carefree spirit she met many years ago and although it’s still there I fear she no longer sees it. It’s not that I’ve changed completely and have turned into a bad person who is hard to live with at all but she treats me different now. It’s as if she’s treating me with kid gloves for fear of upsetting me and that is something I can’t live with anymore. I get very self conscious with the thought that someone could be looking at me as “damaged goods”. She has begun to find comfort in others – only recently I accidentally stumbled across correspondence between her and a female friend (she had left open an instant message chat on my laptop) where she had stated she was having lunch with, and I quote, a “special” friend – but for this I bear no malice and will never mention it to her. Of course I could be reading too much into it but nevertheless I can only offer what she has offered so often: understanding.

My children are my heart and soul … I try to be the best I can be for them. I teach them to express their feelings, to say I love you and show affection, to be true to themselves. I think I am a good parent although at times I don’t spend enough quality time with them. That said, they are more interested in spending time with their friends these days so we’re doing fine – just as long as I have time to kick a football, play a video game, talk about music/boyfriends/movies/clothes or share a hug every now and again they are happy. Most importantly they all know that Dad is always here for them no matter what the situation.

I have never been one to blame others for my mistakes and shortcomings. I have never asked others for help and believe that one’s actions speak louder than words. The way someone acts and how they make others feel is the measure of a man. I have always been someone who tried to do everything with my life… but in reality I have ultimately ended up doing nothing. I think my quest to be the best friend/father/partner/lover for everybody else and not worry about me was quite detrimental to myself in hindsight. What’s that song say? “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” … makes sense. I only wish it wasn’t so ****** soppy!

Mine was a normal, working class childhood. I went to a lot of schools and as the new kid in town found the best way to fit in was not to get too close to anyone and fight when they tried to test me (they always did). I played sport and through boxing or football I managed to earn the other kids respect and quickly made friends in every place I went to.

At 10 I was sexually molested by a stranger but I never mentioned that to anyone until my mid 30s and only three people, two of them my parents (whom I never told at the time as I didn’t want them to feel like bad parents), in the world know that to this day. My take on it was that I deserved it for being stupid, maybe even enjoyed it … I now understand that is what happens to children. They blame themselves for what has happened rather than acknowledge that they are actually victims. It wasn’t traumatic at the time – an eleven year old in 1980 was pretty sheltered – although it did mess with my self esteem a little as I reached my teens. To this day I feel no anger for the man involved. He has had to live with what he did …

At 14 I discovered accidentally that my Dad was not my biological father and this became a major issue for me for many years. It hurt more than words can ever describe and I was angry for a long, long time but now I understand why they didn’t tell me … they just didn’t know how. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, particularly in today’s society but in 1983/4 it wasn’t so common. At a time when I needed security to help me through the tumultuous teenage years discovering my whole life up to that point had been a lie was devastating. I kept this info locked inside for 5/6 months before saying something to my Dad in a fit of anger … something I regret to this day. He didn’t deserve that after taking me under his wing and financially providing for me from a small child. He treated the three of us the same and friends would have never known one of us was not his. Funnily enough to this day, I am the one who is most like him …

It was this discovery that turned me from a good, quiet kid into someone who overnight became a self destructive personality for a 2 year period. I drank constantly, did drugs, went to night clubs, foolishly fought groups of teenagers single-handedly or tested myself against grown men and misbehaved any way I could.

My biological father was a lifetime criminal with numerous habits – he stole, assaulted, shot, stabbed, beat woman, gambled and everything else you would expect from inner city London thug in the 1960s. It was not until my late twenties after watching a movie that I recalled memories of the “big house” … British slang for prison. It was here that I would visit my father as a small child (how’s that for a nice memory). My birth name is very uncommon so I made some calls and met my aunties on a trip to England (I came to Australia as a toddler) a few years ago. At this time I discovered he had been killed (or that was what the family had heard at least) so I never got to meet him and it’s probably for the best. I don’t know what would have happened when I came face to face with man who had not only beat my mother constantly but kidnapped me and left me locked in a room for days as a toddler. I’d like to think I could just have looked him in the eye, said hello, goodbye and moved on. I have often wondered how much of him is inside me but I try not to think too much about that for obvious reasons …

I can’t say any one of these things contributed to me getting panic attacks or succumbing to depression at all but they have all been targeted by my therapist (I never thought I’d be saying “my therapist”) as triggers for it. Depression can affect people from all walks of life – those from broken homes or houses filled with love, rich or poor, male or female, young or old – but trying to overcome it alone is not the answer.

Depression has a way of affecting and twisting every aspect of your life if you let it but if you are willing to fight and not wallow in the misery you can overcome! But it’s up to you. You have to fight. You have to want to win. Only you can control what is happening to you. Of course, there are times when letting go and falling into that big bloke hole is easier than fighting … and this is why so many of us end up at the point of no return. One only has such much fight in them. But life is series of battles, we all fight them every day … you just have to get up and keep going.

You can and need to take control of every aspect of you life … I know sometimes you don’t want to but at the end of the day not giving in is the only option. You have to realise that there are many things that cause depression – it can be a chemical imbalance, a lack of self esteem, a traumatic incident a change in status or environment – but whatever it is you need to address it and, if need be, make the necessary changes, I’m not talking about what you do for a living but who you are as a person. If where you work and live ,or who you live and work with is bringing you down then you need to make a changes… but making sweeping changes won’t change things overnight, and every little change should be thought through carefully before one acts upon them. At the end of the day removing the cancerous parts of one’s life is crucial. If it makes you happy do it, if it doesn’t don’t do it. Pretty simple.

I also came to realise that medication and self analysis was only part the answer. You have to be able talk openly with someone … but be warned the wrong person can be disastrous. I found talking to my wife tough as she often blamed herself for me feeling the way I did … she couldn’t understand that it was about me and me only. If I said (and I never raise my voice, I am not really one for yelling) I was having bad day and needed some space she would reply that she’s had a tough day too. I don’t think she was trying to be awkward, she was just trying to relate and show me that she related to how I was feeling. I just felt she was trying to turn everything into a pi**ing contest and I became frustrated and even more withdrawn. She wasn’t, but that’s how I took it.

Some time ago I met someone who I gelled with almost from the moment I spoke to them. I wasn’t looking for anyone or anything. I had thrown myself into my work and was trying to give my children the best of me that I could. It was purely a chance meeting yet this person had such an amazing aura and serenity about her that I realised only after a few very brief conversations that she offered something that no person had offered to me before. The fact that she is beautiful and extremely intelligent didn’t really register until quite some time later. I know she’s got some issues of her own to deal with right now but when she reads this I hope she feels proud and happy to know how much of a difference she has made in one person’s life …

She may or may not love me. In fact if I am honest with myself I know they don’t feel the same way I do at all. If pushed to give an answer I’d say they may (and it’s a BIG may) love me but aren’t in love with me. We have managed to become very close over the past 12 months and I know I need her in my life … when I’m with her, or know I am going to see her, nothing can get me down. She never judges me, she is a great conversationalist, she listens when I talk and as far as I am concerned her eyes never lie. She’s not comfortable taking compliments or expressing her feelings (she’s lived a life without love from what I can ascertain from our conversations and I’d be very surprised if she’s ever uttered the words “I love you”) but I think I’ve made an impact on her life too. If she values me only half as much as I do her then we’re doing OK. She hides it well but at the end of the day her life is missing something and I only want her to feel truly happy because I know the joy true happiness brings. She deserves so much more than what she has and it hurts that I can’t be there day in day out to give her what she needs. Thanks to her presence in my life I have managed to stop taking the paroxytone that has been a much unwanted crutch for the past 3 years (I’ve got past the brain zaps and withdrawal headaches and, fingers crossed, don’t intend ever going back). For me taking the medication was the thing that bothered me the most. I have always been a fighter and by taking the drugs I felt that I had given in and let the disease beat me. That’s not the case but that was my logic. To this day I have never gone in and had the prescription filled personally. I can’t stand the thought of someone knowing something that personal about me, especially if it’s showing a crack in my armour.

I now also know that companionship should never be underestimated when dealing with the hardships life throws at you, especially one clouded by depression. Finding true happiness is paramount to your wellbeing. But when I talk of happiness I mean true happiness. Not the stereotypical happiness that society, your friends and family defines it to be. If a house, 2.5 kids and a white picket fence is what you need then grab that and hold on tight. If you need something a little less conservative go for it …. We are all different but the one thing we have in common is the need to be happy and the desire to be loved. I had someone I care for tell me recently they were “happy enough” and it almost broke my heart. That was one of the saddest things I have ever heard in my life… we all deserve to be happy, not happy enough.

Even though the past three years have seen me bounce back to be better than ever I’m not someone who has beaten depression. So, don’t think I’m some guy, head over heels in love, feeling on top of the world who has decided to share his wisdom with the world from behind rose coloured glasses. Just this past month I’ve been informed by my friend that there’s no way she can have a real relationship with me and as much as I understand her reasons that it’s our current circumstances that keep us apart I did take a look at myself and wondered just what it is about me that’s not worth the risk? Sure it would be bumpy for a bit but we’d come through the other side OK. I’d always show her love and respect yet give her all the space she needs but that’s not enough so it has to be me doesn’t it? She’s not happy in her current situation so obviously I’m not good enough for a plethora of reasons… Sound familiar? That’s not really how it is but that’s how we turn it back on ourselves. Still her presence has opened up a whole new world for me and I am looking at the positives – as pathetic as it sounds on paper I’m happy with whatever she chooses to give me.
Just this past week I had the best conversation I had with my soon-to-be teenage daughter in two years! I’d had a revelation, if me talking to someone who cared and listened could make such a difference to me why couldn’t I do the same for her and just be a friend for a minute instead of a dad. To hear my teenage daughter say “I love you Daddy” was amazing and brought a tear to my eye… the only thing that made me sad was that I hadn’t heard her say that in such a long time.

I am in a great place but know that deep down I am still wrestling to take control of this big black dog that’s never too far away… it’s always willing to start snapping at my throat but I’m managing to fight it and keep it at arm’s length. In boxing terms I’d say I’m winning the round easily and feel optimistic that I’m on track to win the fight. Whether I win the bout won’t be answered until that final bell sounds.

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