– REAL LIFE –
I want to talk about depression today. Depression is like a hungry beast that feeds on misery. When you feel like shit, the Beast thrives.
Depression is an insidious condition that affects a staggering number of people and yet it is the most mis-understood illness in the world.
Let’s take a look at hypothetical Tony. Hypothetical Tony’s life is common to many, just someone trying to maintain an ordinary, humble life. Tony is 34, lives with his partner of 13 years and their 2 year old daughter. Tony wakes up some mornings and cant face going into work. It’s not the job per se’, it’s not the people. It’s not any one thing and yet he can’t bring himself to go. He just can’t . He can’t face the interactions. He just wants to hide away from the world.
Tony has a set of very good friends who look out for each other. His best friend is Robert and Robert comes by once a week to see how he’s doing. Tony starts to hide from Robert. Tony hears the doorbell ring, he looks out of the window, sees his best friend waiting on the doorstep and instead of letting him in and making a cup of tea Tony hides. He hides under the table. It’s difficult to get under the table, Tony is putting on weight and, lets face it, tables aren’t meant for hiding under when you’re 34. Regardless, Tony hides until Robert goes away.
Robert rings Tony later that day to see how he’s doing. Tony, feeling gulty he didn’t let his friend into the house and ignores the call because he doesn’t know what to say. Robert leaves a message. Tony listens to it, deletes it and texts Robert just before bedtime to say “sorry, I was out when you called.” The same thing happens the following week.
Tony isn’t going to work and so he won’t get paid for the days he’s off. He’s worried that the amount of days he’s having off will lead to disciplinary action. He’s staying home and he’s not getting the amount of exercise he’s used to. He’s alienating his friends and he’s feeling bad for putting his partner under pressure. This is self-destructive behaviour and Tony is feeding the Beast called depression.
It’s a vicious cycle. Tony has fed the Beast with an extra big dose of guilt and social anxiety. The Beast is now stronger because now Tony is even more depressed. He’s got a medical condition he feels nobody understands and he’s got a ton of guilt about how it’s affecting everyone he loves. Tony hates what’s become of him, hates the person he’s become. Some days he feels like a fool, like he’s indulged his anxieties by staying home from work. He now has a bit more guilt to feed to the Beast.
Tony looks at his daughter. There she is laying in her little bed, fast asleep and dreaming her sweet dreams. “What kind of dad am I?” Tony thinks to himself. “I can’t bring myself to walk her to playgroup.” Tony can’t bring himself to do that because it involves intercting with other parents. He can’t do that because the strain of pretending there’s nothing wrong is just too much. “What kind of dad am I? What kind of dad will I be? She’s better off without me.”
That was Tony’s first suicidal thought. Mild, very mild and it’s the sort of thing a lot of us say when we’re at a low ebb. But when somebody with depression says it, when somebody who has a nice fat Beast on their back says it there’s a little part of them that 110% means it.
Tony lays in bed. What a silly man he is, thinking things like that. He vows to not let thoughts like that cross his mind. In fact Tony has had enough of how this Beast is controlling his life and alienating everyone around him. It’s 11 o clock, he can get a good night’s sleep and wake up the next day refreshed and he’s going to have a better. He’s going to make sure of it. Enough is enough says Tony. No more of this depression shit.
At 7 o clock the next morning it’s time for Tony to get up and go to work. He can’t. He just can’t. The thought of seeing people, pretending there’s nothing wrong. Sitting with his manager and fillng out the back-to-work form, handing in his sick note. Explaining to his boss. Explaining to all the people that say “Hi Tony, haven’t seen you for ages, where you been buddy?” No, no,no! He can’t go through that. It’s too hard. Nobody understands. Nobody even cares, probably. He can’t go through it. He won’t go through it. He stays home. And in doing so he’s just fed the Beast another big helping of angst.
Now Tony is in the self destructive cycle nicely. His wages have come in and he’s found out that the statutory sick pay is worth about £18 and it’s bloody been taxed too! He sists with his partner, they sit looking at their bank accounts, their list of outgoings and no matter how many times he puts the figures into the calculator, no matter how re-arranges things there’s just no getting away from the fact that they have more outgoings than money coming in. They’ll have to borrow the money.
Tony has been off work for 8 weeks now. Two paydays have been and gone and the money is getting tight. Then the boiler packs up. Tony has a two year old daughter, the house can’t be cold it’s as simple as that. Tony and his partner borrow more money so they can get the boiler fixed.
The electricity board have written a letter. There’s been a miscalculation – Tony owes £250. He rings the supplier and although the girl on the phone is very helpful and says Tony can pay in instalments he SCREAMS down the phone at her. Tony throws the phone at the wall and it breaks. Tony’s partner comes home from work, she’s taken on more hours and she’s exhausted. She’s not happy to see the bill and she’s even less happy to see the telephone in bits on the floor.
“This can’t go on Tony,” his partner says. Tony knows she’s right. He must do something about this. Tony goes to see the Doctor. He went 4 weeks ago to see the Doctor and she basically said “there, there Mr Whoever You Are – here are some tablets to make your brain better. They won’t work straight away.” The doctor is right – it’ll take 3-4 weeks to get into his system. They’d be working by now if he’d taken them everyday like he’s supposed to. Tony won’t take the tablets – they have odd side-effects. They make his throat hurt and his stomach ache. The tablets even stop him reaching orgasm. “Now I can’t even have sex with my partner without it all going wrong” Tony thinks to himself. “If I can’t even do that, what the hell is the point of it all?” That’s Tony’s second suicidal thought.
Tony goes back to the doctor. It takes a lot to even walk 10 minutes to the surgery. He feels strange being outside, like everybody knows he hasn’t been out of the house for ages. He can tell people are looking at him, thinking he’s a bit odd, like he’s not quite normal.
Tony tells the doctor everything, about the tablets, about the bills, his partner, even the phone. The only thing he doesn’t mention is the suicidal thoughts because he doesn’t want to be over dramatic, it’s not like he’d ever actually go ahead and kill himself. The doctor is very nice, she says she’ll refer Tony for some counselling but she warns there’s a bit of a waiting list. She prescribes some different anti-depressant medication but there’s a cue at the pharmacy counter and he doesn’t think he can face it so he goes home and asks his partner to pick up the meds the next day.
Now let’s take a break. What would you say to Tony? Do you think he’s being a bit pathetic? Is he making a big deal out of nothing? Is he just letting himself get worked up for no reason? Perhaps Tony should just sort it out, yeah? Come on Tony, mate. Cheer up, it ain’t all that bad you know. You’ve got a lovely girlfriend, she’s a bit of a stunner and your little girl is such a sweetie. What on Earth have you got to be depressed about? There are people who’d give anything to have your life. Tony can’t see it that way. Tony is ill, very, very ill and he’s about to get worse.
Work has called Tony in for a meeting. He tells his manager he can’t bear to see his colleagues and so the meeting is held in the coffee shop around the corner. It’s a formal meeting and his manager has brought someone to take notes. Tony does his best to explain, it’s difficult and embarrassing and he has a sneaking suspicion his manager think he’s making it all up, that he’s just skiving. This is an important moment for him, his opportunity to make his employer understand but he can’t find the words. He can’t describe the feelings of dread, the terrible anxiety or the anger and frustration he feels at himself for being this way. It’s not like he can even say he has an appointment for counselling because he’s still on the waiting list.
Tony’s manager reminds him he needs to get his sick note in on time and hopes he feels well enough to come back to work soon. The meeting has fed the Beast a little.
It seems to be getting worse, the cycle of self destruction is more viscious and now Tony and his partner have defaulted on a repayment of their loan because they just don’t have the money. He knows it’ll affect his credit rating and will make borrowing more money, if they should need it, a bit harder. Now he’s a financial failure and he’s fed the Beast some more.
Work have sent letter, they’ve issued a disciplinary because of the amount of time he’s had off sick. Tony thinks he should be referred to the company’s Occupational Support but his employer disagrees. If he had a bad back or any physical incapacity to do his day-to-day job he;d have been referred to Occupational Support but he doesn’t have any visible problem. He considers asking his doctor to write a letter but it’ll cost £15 and money is so tight he just can’t afford it. Now he doesn’t suspect people don’t understand – he knows It, it’s been confirmed by the treatment he’s received and the lack of help that’s been offered.
This is the cycle and how it works. Once in it, it’s very hard to break out of it, and it can’t be done without help.
I have more on this but as it’s quite long we’ll stop it here.
I seem to have trouble uploading poems in the correct written format so I’m working on that at the moment, hopefully you’ll see more poems in the upcoming weeks – once I get the bugs ironed out!
Copyright Martin Gregory