Just as I was saying that things were going slow, the week is over and that concludes week 37 of pregnancy! I have something important to talk about this week, and that is mental health. Men’s mental health in particular!
Men’s Mental Health
Yesterday was world mental health day, a very important day for me personally and a great opportunity to talk about and raise awareness around mental health. I haven’t touched on my mental health problems on the blog yet, so now is as good a time as any. I’ll start by talking about the kind of person I am and how I ended up in a situation I think a lot of men can relate to.
My friends might say I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, a mans man, a perpetual joker. I live in the moment (more so these days!), love my beer, music, football and games. I have a decent job, I’m happily married, I have a lovely little dog and life was good. You could say I have nothing and I mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g to be depressed about.
It’s ok not to be ok…
In late 2014 I found myself in denial. Denial that anything was wrong. I knew deep down that something was wrong but I just didn’t want to face up to what that might be. I found myself stuck in a loop, but that loop somehow gave me a tiny bit of purpose. I’d wake up, go to work, work a lot of overtime, come home, drink 8 beers and go to sleep.
I was “myself” in work. I’d crack a smile, I’d joke around, nobody would have known. Not a single person. I began to struggle at home though, I was becoming distant to my loved ones. I knew my drinking was having an impact on my relationship with my wife but I didn’t care. It would have been easier if we’d have split up. I became explosive and argumentative. To be frank I was behaving like a monumental dickhead. I said things to my wife I’ll never repeat, horrible things. Looking back on it, I’m so thankful she stuck around because I could have never got through this without her.
The Black Dog
My mind was racing 24-7, I began overthinking the tiniest thing. My thoughts turned incredibly morbid. I’d google things like, “Easiest ways to die”. I was watching documentaries on suicide. I was empty, my mind was hazy and I’d completely withdrawn myself. Nobody could help me, I’m useless, nobody cares, I’m just creating problems I don’t want people worrying about me. I’d drank myself into deep trouble.
I remember being at work and my mother called me. She didn’t say hello, she just said I’ve booked you an appointment at the doctors, you need to see someone about your depression. I flew off the handle. I’m ashamed of how I spoke to her. Depression can make you say some pretty out of line things. It was along the lines of “leave me the fuck alone there’s nothing wrong with me and who do you think you are calling my doctors” etc. etc.
She hung up and I rang Sarah and gave her a mouth full, I was sure she’d been talking behind my back about my problems (she probably had). It was time to swallow my pride, I knew something was wrong so I agreed to go.
I remember sitting in the doctors waiting room. I was extremely anxious, I went over and over in my head of excuses I could use not to go in. Looking around at other people and just felt like I shouldn’t be there. This is pointless, nobody can help me, they don’t have a clue – a few of the things racing through my mind. Out of nowhere, the bell rings and my name is on the screen. Let me tell you that this was the single most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. I walked into that room, sat down, he asked “What can I do for you today” and that was it. Tears. Tears like you’ve never seen tears before. I couldn’t get my words out. He sat patiently and waited for me to collect myself and I remember just saying to him “I’m struggling”.
I can’t think of a time in the last 15 years that anything has made me cry. I don’t know what it was, it just came over me. He asked me how long have I felt like this, how much I was drinking and working and immediately signed me off work for a month. In no uncertain terms, I was clinically depressed.
It got worse before it got better
The weeks following my diagnosis were difficult for me. I’m a problem solver and my immediate response to being told I was depressed was to try and figure out why. In hindsight that wasn’t a good idea at all. I’m still no further forward to this day. I spent days immersed in the internet trying to figure out how to ‘snap out of it’. Initially, my doctor had prescribed me something which was supposed to help, however, I couldn’t sleep on the stuff. I went back at the end of my month off work and he prescribed me Mirtazapine. This stuff has worked wonders for me and helps me get to sleep.
At my second visit, I was signed off work for 6 months as I hadn’t shown an improvement. I’d thought the medicine would ‘make me better’ which it didn’t. I found myself feeling lower than ever and no work to keep me busy. Eventually, I’d felt like I had exhausted all of my options and decided to try therapy. Trust me when I say this that going to therapy was an extremely difficult choice for me. I just felt like I had nowhere else to go. I think there’s a sense of pride that blokes hold on to, we like to think we can fix our own problems and we don’t need anyone else to tell us how to do it. How wrong I was!
Just give it a go!
Initially, when I went for my first round of therapy, I was asked to do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The first few weeks were difficult because I was very much creating barriers and being evasive to the questions I was asked. As time went on though, it ended up being a really good decision to go to CBT. Hell, in the end, I used to look forward to talking to my counsellor. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I ended up joining the gym and losing 36lb as part of one of the recommendations made to me. I was feeling a lot better about myself but I knew I had a long way to go.
After 6 months of therapy, I was referred to another sort of therapy to discuss issues I was having and ended up doing 16 weeks of intense Interpersonal Therapy. This was a lot more difficult for me emotionally but again I was glad I did it. I have taken a lot away from both therapies and definitely have better coping strategies when it comes to depression.
And here we are now
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my life is perfect now. Depression still has a big part to play in my life, but I am in a position where I can cope better. My good days vastly outnumber my bad days. When the bad days arrive, it’s difficult but I’m in a way better position to talk about my issues with loved ones. Talking about my emotions has been very difficult and I’m sure a lot of men feel the same way. My advice to you if you are struggling is that it’s ok to not be ok.
People won’t judge you, the people around you love you, and no matter how bad it gets there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always someone who you can talk to. I know it’s easy for me to say this but trust me when I was at my lowest, I’d often think to myself “well you don’t have a fucking clue what I’m going through…nobody can help”. I’m so glad I swallowed my pride and asked for help.
The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide. It’s time we shake the stigma and get talking to each other. I’m all ears if you want to talk. Write me and we can chat in more detail. It could be chatting to a stranger that changes your life.
I’ll be back to our pregnancy updates next week!