I can bore for England when it comes to my mental health, as no doubt my loyal reader will testify, always assuming she or he hasn’t reached for the strychnine by now. I always worry, if that’s the right word, that my writing about depression and anxiety will come across as whinging self-pity, as people were always quick to tell me when I was too young and too ignorant to know what was going on.
My depression comes but it never goes. It’s either severe, as per the professional diagnosis I received many years ago, or it’s just there, bubbling away just below the surface. And I don’t need to close my eyes to ‘see’ or feel it.
Worse for me is its permanence. There were times when I felt almost ‘normal’, where I could get on with things just like ‘normal’ people did. More than anything, I learned techniques to make it look like there was nothing wrong. These started at senior school where I learned to bluff in order to suggest I understood what I was being taught and at work where I hid my 39 years of struggle with paperwork in jobs which required huge amounts of paperwork and others which basically were comprised entirely of paperwork.
Covid and the lockdowns it necessitated may have brought everything to a head, or it may be complete coincidence that I struggled; Covid and the well known condition known as Long British Red Cross which is caused by working for a bullying and abusive employer. When you leave, you wake up to find someone has come along in the dead of night and driven long nails into your car tyres (obviously a coincidence). I can honestly say that four years on and I am still struggling to get over the damage caused to me by a charity – a fucking charity – which has earned its name by its humanitarianism, and all but drove this boy to madness.
That said, I’m in a period of what is not exactly respite because I am still troubled by wild and exhausting nightmares, self-hate and a level of depression at which I can function and act like all is well. If acting through depression gained awards, I’d have a sideboard cluttered with Academy Awards.
Anyway, other people write about this stuff far better than I do, particularly one of my favourite writers, John Crace who is The Guardian’s Parliamentary sketch writer and compiles a digested week for the Saturday edition of the paper. He’s been very unwell this year, to the extent he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. For many months, he was too ill to even write. Now, he writes, he hopes he is in some form of respite and has returned to the paper and on Saturday he returned to his digested week, which is basically a diary. The first entry, Monday, is an immensely powerful read and I related to it instantly. I know that he goes through what I do, but on stilts. I’m still able to function, of a sort, although where he can’t leave his room, I’m often extremely reluctant to leave my Man Cave. Lockdown turned me into a hermit of sorts and it’s only now I am trying to get out more.
Certainly, I know more clearly than ever who my true friends are, the ones I can rely on are the ones who have kept in touch during these strange and dark times. John Crace may not be a friend because I’ve never met him but I do see him as a kindred spirit. Here I include, without permission, Monday from this week’s Digested Week. If anyone from The Guardian wants me to remove it, just drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do so before you can say ‘If you don’t take it down I’ll see you in court’.
It’s great to be well enough to come back to doing digested week on a fortnightly basis. I’ve suffered with mental health issues throughout my adult life, but the last few months have been among the worst and it is only recently that I have been able to make a gradual return to work. Throughout this time I couldn’t have been looked after better as I have been supported by so many people from family, friends and colleagues at work to mental health professionals – I was lucky enough to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital at my lowest point – yet I am still unable to say exactly why I had such bad depression and anxiety at this particular point. When people ask, I’ve taken to saying that it was the result of being stuck at home and not seeing anyone during lockdown as that sounds a plausible explanation, though I have no idea if it is true. After all, I seemed to survive the first lockdown just fine. All I know for certain is that I had reached a point where I would wake up having a panic attack every morning and on some days be unable to leave the bedroom, except to go to the toilet, for the entire day. Recovery was painfully slow and I knew I was getting better only when I belatedly realised that I had gone several days without horrific nightmares and that my anxiety levels were not as high as they had been. Even then it took a while to trust that the improvement was permanent. I’m sure my mental health problems will return – they always have – but hopefully I will have a prolonged period of respite. All I can do is keep my fingers crossed, keep on taking the meds, doing as my therapist says and say thank you to everyone who helped me. Not least the readers who took the trouble to get in touch.