Depression – A Journey
(Published March 2009)
It is almost 20 years ago, as I was approaching 40, that I was first diagnosed with depression. I had no idea what was happening to me, but I started to get various symptoms, including physical pain in my chest. I had been promoted at work and I was finding it very difficult to cope with my new job. Apart from the usually ups and downs when growing up, I had always been healthy and happy with my lot, and was the proud father to three children and had a very supportive wife.
After visits to my doctor and various tests which proved I was physically in good shape, my doctor diagnosed depression, and the mystery illness was solved. She prescribed antidepressants and, although I soon felt better, she told me that I had to stay on them for at least 6 months, which I reluctantly did.
Soon I was settled in my new job, although I was never totally comfortable about being a manager, but it was my career so I kept my head down and worked hard. After a few years, I had forgotten about depression, and therefore when the symptoms of low mood and low self confidence came on gradually, I did not recognise the signs, and suffered another period of depression. Through a confidential arrangement which my employer had in place, I arranged some counselling and that helped. I visited my doctor but this time anti-depressants were slower to assist. Once again, I was not happy being on medication, and after a couple of months, whenever I felt better, I stopped the medication. I managed to avoid being off work, although it was difficult at times.
Suffering from depression had really given me a jolt, but after getting through a period of depression, I appreciated life and good health even more, and I believe it made me a better person. Money, career and possessions became less important and my family took priority. I became involved in a variety of voluntary organisations, including my local church, and I looked at life differently.
I was now in my late 40s, and although I had agreed with my wife, that I would not let depression creep up on me again, it did. Perhaps it was a combination of pressure of work, involvement in other organisations, and another mid-life crisis. Whatever it was, it hit me harder than before, and I was off work for a couple of months. My doctor prescribed anti-depressants, but it was a longer process. Every morning I woke up, and could barely get out of bed to face the day. Fortunately, by the end of the day, I usually felt better, and gradually the improvement in my mood came earlier each day, until one day, I remember sitting down about 11am, and I felt the depression lift – oh what relief.
This time, I was determined not to let depression catch me out again. I was given a sideways move when I returned to work, with less pressure and responsibility. I spoke to my doctor and we agreed that I should stay on anti-depressants at a reduced dose, for the longer term. The opportunity for early retirement came along when I reached 50, and I grabbed it with both hands. Now, I could really do what I wanted to do, which was to turn my hobby of photography into a business, while still remaining involved in a variety of voluntary organisations. Life was good, and I was very grateful. We now had a grandson, and although the thought of having a grandchild made me feel old, I remained young at heart and returned to my sport of dinghy racing. Then life, which I had tried not to take for granted, hit me a cruel blow, when our youngest son Keith, was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and subsequently died less than 2 years later, at the age of 23 after an incredibly brave fight. I remember when we got the diagnosis, I was worried that I would not cope, and that I would fall into a deep depression, just when I needed to be strong, to help our son. I saw my doctor and we agreed that I would increase my dosage of anti-depressants as required. By this time, I understood my depression, and I felt I had it under control, and I only marginally increased my medication, but I knew it was there if I needed more.
Also, it may seem strange, but soon after my son was diagnosed with cancer, we got a dog. This was my other support during Keith’s illness. I needed to remain strong, and having the dog got me away from the house at regular intervals every day, for fresh air and exercise. That is what helped to sustain me through this very dark time.
It’s almost a year since Keith died, and I think about him every day, but at the age of 56, I am depression free, with the help of anti-depressants, and a very supportive wife and a friendly lively dog.