The Most Difficult Posting

I have thought for a while now about writing this entry as it deals with something very personal about myself and also feels deeply scary to write but I think it is important to tackle the issue as it is one of the last big stigmas.

I suffer from depression. To be more accurate, I have a medical condition which causes me to experience bouts of extreme depression and panic attacks. Effectively, my brain chemistry is out of kilter and without daily medication I am at the mercy of said dodgy chemistry.

I am fortunate that my condition is organic so responds well to medication.

Depression and related conditions are prevalent in our society –

A fifth of early deaths are related to mental health problems, compared to under a sixth for both heart disease and cancer.

At least 1 in 10 of all Scots are on medication for depression.

But depression is still surrounded by myth and stigma. A panic attack sounds almost trivial, but it is not. Odd that The Onion gives the best description of what it feels like.

Depression is a name given to a symptom which can have a range of causes. Sometimes it is like mine and organic in nature. Sometimes it is triggered by an external event such as loss or a public holiday where the pressure to have fun becomes too much and loneliness and despair kick in.

This time of year is particularly bad with a lack of light, a number of public holidays and often a lack of normal support networks all acting as potential triggers.

The key thing for anyone who experiences depression is to seek professional help immediately.

The BBC site has a good guide on the options.

If you are in the UK then check out NHSDirect.

My condition is with me for life but with medication and support I can live a normal life. I do not let my disability define me, nor should you.

This was a hard post to write but if it helps someone to find professional help then it will have been worth it.


29 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Posting

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  3. There’s something inherently vulnerable about writing blogs, and your post is a brave and excellent example.

    Your point about the Onion post is intriguing. What is it about certain humourists that they capture the human condition so well? I have been fascinated by the works of people like Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Andy Kaufman in this respect.

    Anyway, have a great New Year Mark, I look forward to seeing you in 2010.

  4. Well done and thank you for sharing this Mark, the more we can talk about this stuff the better.

    Hope seems so elusive sometimes, especially for those whose condition is exacerbated by seasonal effects at this time of year, but I think that the more we see seemingly “ordinary” people who can just say “Yes I have that too”, the easier it will be for people who are still suffering (and their families & friends) to get the help that is there.

    Happy New Year 😉

  5. Mark, we haven’t met but I follow you on Twitter – this is a wonderful post, very open and human. Courage is a wonderful thing, allowing us to move forward in life, sometimes to overcome fears and stigmas. I have had first hand experience of this within my family and so I have a lot of admiration for you. Have a fabulous New Year.

  6. Mark – thank you for sharing. A lot of people don’t have the courage to be honest with themselves and others so good on you. I found yoga and meditation is what saved me in a very dark time. I hope to meet you again very soon. Everyday is a gift and every communication of humility like this is inspirational.

  7. Well done Mark on a brave post. As one who often finds it difficult to reveal personal information in such a public forum, I applaud you.

    You’ve really made me think today, about the things I need to do to keep myself happy and balanced in my life, and how recognising these things is so important for all of us.

    I’m also thinking about courage, and how small (and large) acts of courage from everyone could become a truly unstoppable force for good in our society.

    Thank you for your act of courage.

  8. Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing.

    And thank you for directing me to the Onion description of a panic attack. This will be incredibly helpful for many people I know.

    Its difficult to rescue yourself whilst you’re in the grip but I think recognizing that this is common is one of the first ways to disarm the panic.

  9. There is also far less understanding of mental health issues even by healthcare professionals than there is of heart disease and cancer.
    Sometimes, it seems that people in the late 20th/early 21st centuries are less understanding and tolerant of depression than in the preceding centuries.
    It seems that we are all expected to have brains that function in the same way, like expecting all people to be the same height and weight.
    There must be an evolutionary advantage to humans in having some who are born with a tendency to depression, however.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Mark.

    I will write at greater length elsewhere.

  10. Mark – Thanks for the personal insight on such an important and often mis-understood topic. I’ve sailed in and out of this space myself over the years and through therapy have been able to gain insights into myself I never thought possible – of course just talking about going through therapy is often a stigma and one that I find difficult to talk about publicly.

    I hope that your post and example helps others to realise that they can talk about it and take steps to help themselves – and others – through difficult times.

  11. Hats off to you, Mark. It’s amazing of you to be so willing to share.

    Two things I’ve learned: the people I like the most are the ones who are REAL, who’ve experienced struggles and found a way through that works for them. Your post (sharing of yourself) and the comments it is sparking in our community are helping me even more respect the people I’d already looked up to.

    Life isn’t easy on its own, and all the harder when your body chemistry is working against you. Well done you for finding a method that works for you. I admire that.

    Secondly: I’ve learned that it’s good to not be alone with this kind of stuff. (This is hard for me; my instinct is to pull back when faced with a mess. But then I end up facing it with only my own tools, and no one to be there with me or laugh at it with me… What a waste that is!) Your example of sharing is inspiring.

    New year hugs to you… And sending sunlight thoughts your way. Thanks for this.

  12. Mark…. You are one of the most sincere, warm and genuine people I have met in the last few years…. and it is refreshing, timely and touching that you share your humanness even on this blog…
    I know many people that are affected by depression in different ways and at different times, and I will be sure to send them a link to this piece, for a sense of support, connection and inspiration..
    My teddy and I are sending you a cuddle and look forward to seeing you in 2010.

  13. Mark,
    Thank you very much. Like the others I feel ever so glad that you’ve found the courage to write about what it’s like for you. You have no idea how much good you might be doing for another person who is on the brink of cracking up, or coming out.
    The pressure to keep it all bottled up inside, the energy consumed… it is such a relief to open up – and discover there is life after disclosing you have experienced depression.

    It was good of Jeremy Gould to bring your blog to my attention. He’s good like that.

    I can’t remember when I first realised I would gain from telling people that I’m vulnerable to bouts of severe depression. But I can remember being scared the doctor might write “stress” on the medical certificate in February 1995. Instead he wrote “viral infection”. I was afraid my employer The National Trust would sack me if they found out I couldn’t cope.

    By the time I went back for my next certificate I felt it was pointless to cover up. I felt so immerced in depression, I couldn’t imagine it ever lifting. To m y surprise, my employer was kind & caring. It was a good thing I’d put in a certificate that said I was suffering from “stress” or “depression” or whatever it was the doctor wrote. I was out, and there was no way back into the shadows.

    You are so right to say that the sooner a person gets help the better. Never put off the day. There is magnificent help out there – the trick is to be open to it and to tune the help to your own particular nature.

    I’ve gained so much professionally from revealing to others that I’ve experienced depression. So many barriers crumble. So many others breathe a sign of relief and feel that they can talk to you in a real way. It’s made me a lot of money – to be as crude about it as I can.

    What I’ve gained personally from being open about depression would take a book to describe. I’ve been blogging a lot about depression since start of 2007. You have done something important. It’s not surprising it feels scary. Anything really valuable comes with scary feelings. If it’s not scary, it’s not all that important, I’d say.

    In such a public role, as such a public figure of a leader, it is particularly hard but also particularly valuable. There are people who read your blog who “lurk”, who teeter on the brink of joining in the conversation, who are vexed by the challenge of coming out.

    People with depression are ordinary. There’s nothing remarkable about people who get depressed and feel awful. It’s a normal part of being human, and almost everyone who experiences depression lives on to experience what it’s like to get over it. It’s both horrendous and survivable.

    It’s even possible to turn it to your advantage.

    I held back from writing anything for fear I’d go on too long. This is my pet topic and experience. While I’m well I can look depression in the face and smile at it. I shake your hand Mark and the hands of all your friends who’ve written so encouragingly.

    Keep it up.

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  15. I don’t have an awful lot to add to what has been said above, except to say thank you for the help you have given me during our brief non-acquaintance. Possibly without realising it, you were a major factor in me being able to deal with ‘the muppet situation’, which though I made light of it, nearly finished me off after my year of disasters. I know something of what you have to deal with, so I also understand how difficult it can be to get up and go to work each day, and to stay in contact with other humans, never mind to take the time and trouble to reach out and help to hold other people up during difficult times. Thank you, Mark. I hope I get to give you a (bear) hug one day. Kirsten

  16. Thank you for writing this post, i must have been very hard to do.

    It is true to say that speaking out about depression is a great thing to do and I am sure your own admission and the links to other help sites will help those who are struggling.

  17. Thank you for writing this and sharing this. It’s so good when more people are open about it – breaking down those stigmas and showing that those with mental health problems can also be clever, capable people. It’s also made me discover Paul O’Mahony – who has some sage advice. I’ll be reading a lot more of him.

    Happy New Year. Nicky.

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  19. Thank you for posting this. I have had many years’ experience with panic attacks an bouts of depression, as have others in my family. I reject the term ‘mental illness’ and my experiences of being given medication by our family GP were very negative. The best advice I can give you is that depression is a very common phenomenon, and a very varied one. You will find your own way through the forest. Talk to many people, not only professionals, but people who have had depression. Read about it . If you find The Onion helpful, good! Art and humour are centuries-old ways of dealing with human emotions; they are deep and moving, and far fewer side-effects.

  20. Hi Mark – I was alerted to this post by Mindapples and like everyone else I admire your honesty. My whole blog is about the search for happiness and I think the things I’m looking at, like being active and connecting with friends, can help but…

    …the thing that kills me about depression is that it comes out of nowhere, for no reason you can put your finger on, and lasts for days, weeks, sometimes months. Even though everything can be going well for you, you suddenly feel devoid of any hope. Then you might be OK again. Very hard for “upbeat” friends, family and partners, to understand, especially with the British “chin up” culture.

    Posts like this will certainly help with the “shame” factor associated with depression.

    Best wishes, Sasha

  21. Hi

    Just to add my belated appreciation for your posting, it is a sensitive and complicated subject and to open yourself up as you have done shows true courage.
    Having lost my brother in law to depression at only 29 it is absolutely vital for the populous to get the “real” story on depression and your post does that in spades! Well Done to you sir! :o)


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