Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I've never seen Titanic

On Sunday posts began appearing on Facebook saying 'RIP Gary Speed'. Who's Gary Speed I hear you ask; I asked the same thing. It turns out he was the Wales football manager and ex-Wales player. Only 42 he was found hanged at home with no suggestion of foul play. The inquest begins today but suicide as a result of depression is being suggested.

He was a happily married family man doing well in his job, liked and admired by many many people. He appeared on a football show on the Saturday afternoon before he died and seemed as normal. He must have masked his depression well but how deep must it have been for him to take his own life?

I obviously had no idea who he was until yesterday and can't pretend to mourn him in anything other than a 'that is sad for his family and a waste of life' way, and my level of depression bears no comparison with his but maybe I should talk about the experience. I was thinking this yesterday and then last night I went to an event and one of the speakers there mentioned his depression and the reaction it had got. And I decided I would write this post.

I didn't think of it as depression initially; I was just anxious. It was just me being stupid and I needed to pull myself together.

It began when I was a teenager, the first worries assailed me. What would start as a little niggle grew into an obsessive anxiety. And the anxiety itself became greater and greater until it overwhelmed me.

What was worse was that, by this time, I was happily married with young children. My husband had a good job and we had a comfortable home. In short I had it all. What was there to be anxious about? I remember Husband saying that if I didn't have something to worry about I'd invent something.

And that was true. The slightest thing would set me off. I'd get the cold shiver running through me, my stomach would drop and 'what if' would pop into my mind; from there it was downhill. I could tell myself as much as I liked that it was nothing, I was being silly and try and think about something else but my brain was on one track by then and there were no turnings off.

By this time also I was a Christian. That should have helped right? Doesn't the bible tell us not to worry as God has everything in his control? 'Well, yes, but what if ...?' Guilt number 1 (or maybe 2 if you include the fact that I had no reason or right to be miserable).

But I asked for prayer and dear and very lovely people prayed for me. And I felt nothing when they prayed and no different afterwards. Guilt number 3. I must get better - or say I am - otherwise I'm letting everyone and God down. And it must be my fault anyway.

Most of my concerns were about health, either mine or the children's. I'd go to the doctor who'd reassure me and for a time I'd be okay. But the time between panics got shorter and shorter. I tried the doctor again, this time explaining that I can't stop worrying. At first they say, 'Get more exercise. Take up a hobby. You've nothing to worry about.' Eventually one sends me to a counsellor who listens and gives me a relaxation tape.

I do my relaxation exercises religiously every night but never get to the end of the tape as I've fallen asleep. Oh yes, I had no problem relaxing while lying on my bed; it was putting it into practice when walking around Sainsburys when I failed. Going to Sainsburys became something I dreaded; I had to pluck up my courage to go and try to get around before the panic overtook me.

The counsellor gave up on me saying there was nothing more she could suggest.

The film Titanic was in the cinemas around now. Everyone was going and everyone said, 'You've got to see it in the cinema to get the full special effects.' I smiled and made the excuse that Husband wouldn't enjoy it but really I was too scared to go and sit in a cinema in case I had a panic attack.

My life by now was entirely controlled by fear. There was hardly a moment when I wasn't anxious about something irrational. I was gloomy and distant with my family. I asked Husband yesterday what I had been like. He said, 'You were always stressed and miserable.'

I remember standing behind the bathroom door hardly breathing, hiding from something but from what I don't know. I desperately wanted to curl up in bed and stay there.

I couldn't enjoy anything; I couldn't anticipate events with pleasure because 'I might not be here by then.' Honestly I was a right misery!

At last a doctor realised that I was serious when I said my life was controlled by anxiety and fear and prescribed seroxat for me. She said that depression could be caused by a lack of a chemical serotonin in the brain, and suggested I try these tablets to correct that imbalance. (I also had this sort of belief that anxiety wasn't a proper 'illness' whereas depression was, and surely I was just being silly and anxious?)

And, dear readers, if you've managed to stay with me this long, I have to tell you that a tiny little pill changed my life.

Since taking my happy pill I am a different person. No, not different, well, yes, different but actually the person that was inside the shell of fear, the one I was meant to be rather than someone less than that.

Over the years the doctor has suggested on occasion that I try to come off them and I have given it a go but the symptoms have returned and there is no way I am going back there. It seems to me if there was an imbalance in my brain then it's likely to continue. I suppose my brain could right itself but I'm happy with my little pill. And I believe that depression, a chemical imbalance, whatever it is, is just as valid an illness as a more obviously physical one. (There has been in the past - maybe not so much now - an embarrassment in churches about sufferers of a mental illness.) Husband, like thousands of others, has to take a daily thyroxin dose; what difference is there between that and my seroxat?

I realise that my case is far less serious than Gary Speed's or that of many others who suffer silently and invisibly, but I'm so glad I sought help and found it at the right time.

And I try to mention my happy pill sometimes - especially in church situations - because I want to see an end to the shame and the stigma. Christians get depressed too!

By the way, I still need God and call out to him and trust and rely on him; my happy pill hasn't made him redundant. He is the rock that underpins my life. He's also my creator and inventor of serotonin ...


Furtheron said...

A brilliant post Liz - your honesty, openness and courage in sharing this is fantastic.

I did know who Gary Speed was but was so shocked at the news - like you said the man had everything... didn't he?

Steve Clark (who? you ask) he was guitarist with Def Leppard (Who?...) he died in 1991. They were one of the biggest bands on the planet, wealth, fame and glory. But to put it bluntly - he drank himself to death. He was a year or so older than me, he had all I wanted but at that moment I knew he and I were more linked than anything I knew I'd probably do the same thing... Still took 13 years more before I finally gave in.

The one thing you cling to when there are things like this with celebrities (Amy Winehouse, Gary Speed, Justin Fashnu) is that others suffering in silence see how it can affect anyone from any walk of life and they reach out for help.

Inspirational post - thanks

MissKris said...

Excellent post, Liz. Excellent! I am going to pass it on to my daughter to read as I think this might help her a lot because she deals with this same problem. Many times I've told her it might be due to a chemical imbalance. Maybe it will finally get her in to see a doctor. I hope so. Thank you so much for sharing...it was so honest! Bless you.

katney said...

So well stated adn well described, Liz. Thank you for sharing--it is so very important for everyone to be aware--whether they suffer themselves or love someone who does.

Mike Tea said...

A wonderful post Liz. Close to home I fancy for a lot more Christians than would care to admit it. Christians do get anxious and depressed and vacuous sloganeering, like "claim the victory" doesn't help.

I am glad you found what does and hope others will be encouraged to introduce a large helping of Christin common-sense into their struggles and seek the help they need. God gave us prayer and he also gave us doctors, friends, counsellors and a host of resources we should call on when needed.

The stigma attatched to this subject in the church and in the wider world must be eradicated and descent, lovely people who suffer must be helped and encouraged.

Dr Stu said...

"...depression could be caused by a lack of a chemical serotonin..."

Lack of Serotonin? As in chocolate? Hard to believe in your case, Liz ;-)

Liz said...

Thanks all - except dr stu! Anyone would think I ate a lot of chocolate!

Leslie: said...

I take a happy pill, too, Liz. We're in the same club. My late husband killed himself because of depression and my 2nd daughter has Bipolar 2. *sigh* I guess inherited from all sides. Poor girl, but she keeps on keeping on, although there was a time...I believe God created people who are bright enough to become doctors and scientists and so He has a hand in all the discoveries to help us. Amen!

nick said...

That people like Gary Speed still commit suicide because they can't bring themselves to admit their psychic anguish and get the help they need is tragic.

Thanks for sharing your own psychic problems and your attempts to subdue them. I'm very prone to anxiety and fear myself but so far I've managed to deal with them without the need for outside help.

What we need is walk-in centres in every High Street where we can confess to such hang-ups and get them dealt with quickly, before they become so serious we feel life isn't worth living any more.

Rose said...

Such a wonderful post, Liz. Your honesty and openness may very well help someone who is struggling right now with depression.