"I live, and thrive, with depression"
I was diagnosed with depression back in 2001, although it seems pretty clear in retrospect that it’s something that’s been with me undiagnosed since my teenage years.
In 2002 and again in 2004, I had extended periods off work lasting several months, with crippling symptoms.
With the help of my GP, I attempted to control the illness through various medications. These got me back to work and functioning, but I was certainly not thriving - I became withdrawn, lost contact with friends, and got pretty fat too. So, even with the tablets, my life felt like more of an existence, and I dreaded another big episode kicking in.
The feelings in the pits of those moments when the illness is at its very worst are truly awful.
I felt useless and worthless as a father, a husband, an employee - as a person.
The situation felt hopeless, and I couldn’t see any way in which I could recover or be helped. Possibly the nastiest kick in the guts that depression gave me, though, was the constant feeling that I didn’t deserve help, that I wasn’t worthy of it, and that I was entirely at fault for feeling as I did.
I can only describe what helped me begin to get better, as the treatments and techniques to control depression must be as individual as each person who has it. I came off the tablets; I felt they numbed the pain of my illness, but they took away my joy too - and when you’re a parent of two small children, you need that joy.
I bumbled along at first, with enormous amounts of help from my wife, family and also - and this is hugely important - from my workplace, where I felt I wasn’t thrown on the scrapheap, nor was my professionalism and ability ever challenged. Instead, it was acknowledged I was ill, not incapable.
In fact, work became an area of help rather than a burden, as I improved my skills, knowledge and seniority in the organisation. It helped me find that sense of worth that I needed.
Small things too - a smile, a touch, a text - helped enormously, especially at the worst times when I couldn’t talk about how I was, or had no idea what I needed. I might not have shown a positive response at the time, but it did really help.
Progress wasn’t quick; I didn’t have a sudden turnaround. Instead I worked slowly at learning how to recognise the signs I was heading towards a low, and the triggers that might set me back.
I’ve leaned on professionals and family to hold me up when I felt low. And I’ve done things that, as a bit of an old cynic, I never thought I would. I have techniques I use; affirmations, quiet moments to reflect on what has gone right and where I have made a difference to people. It even appears I was using mindfulness before I knew what it was - no, really! Minor things, sometimes, have helped to remind me I have value, I have worth and that illness is not my fault.
Many years down the line, and that slow progress has led to promotions, better fitness (I ran my first half marathon in 2015), I’ve made contact with friends I’d lost touch with for over a decade, and I’ve shifted plenty of the weight I put on (not quite all of it though - there’s always progress to be made). And I think I’m a much better person to be around now - it’s very satisfying when I tell people about my illness and they are genuinely surprised.
I have realised I will never be rid of this illness, and will have depressive tendencies and some bad days throughout my life, but now I feel equipped to deal with that and can say with confidence that I live, and thrive, with depression, rather than simply existing through it.
Paul Hibbert was previously LionHeart’s director of finance and corporate services.