Monday, 8 November 2010

Rohan's Story*

Never before have I been so aware of myself, my strengths, happiness and many faults, as I was this morning on Sunday 10 October, World Mental Health Day 2010.
World Mental Health Day
There are so many misconceptions and myths surrounding mental health and depression, and they add a stigma which so often perpetuates the issues, and actively instil fear in those that might otherwise seek help.
For those who consistently tell society that sufferers can just ‘snap out of it with willpower’, I have nothing but contempt and pity, for as they have judged others so too will they be judged.
Depression and mental illness is not just ‘in the head’, as some would claim, but is a very real illness with potentially devastating consequences.
Women are more likely to suffer from depression than men, 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression at some time, compared to 1 in 10 men. Men are far more likely to commit suicide, this may be because men are more reluctant to seek help for depression or it may be due to other factors including substance misuse, unemployment and social isolation
I cannot speak from a medical perspective, but can certainly do so as an individual who suffered from depression for the best part of ten years, a period which could and should have been a fraction of that, had I sought the assistance available to me.
Before I continue, I must emphasise that there is no blame to any of the circumstances surrounding my symptoms, but only on myself for being too proud and stubborn to either recognise or, more pointedly deal with them.
At the age of eighteen, I had had opportunities beyond what many would consider as reasonable. My parents did not have much, but had made every sacrifice to give me a first-class education and to nurture my sporting talents, particularly in cricket.
Two years later, I had become a man, far before I was ready to assume such responsibility. There were several underlying circumstances, not least the divorce of my parents, but most pertinently that in not dealing properly with that, I had turned to the bottle and turned my back on cricket altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, I was never an alcoholic that needed his first drink at 7am, but I was often to be found at the Student Union bar from lunchtime, often not to leave until the dying embers of the evening. Believe me when I say that is NO life for a young man just out of his teens.
The spin-off was that I ostracised and hid away from true friends because they are the ones who would tell the truth and would try and get me to seek help. We surround ourselves with ‘yes men’, none of whom truly care enough to disagree with us.
Denial turns to frustration, which turns to anger, out of which eventually emanates self-loathing. At this point, life no longer holds any type of value.
Life, at most points, was the same as that of anyone else, but an ‘episode’ was seldom distant. It is very difficult to describe the emotions and the constant shifts. It was almost as if there was no middle-ground, just moments of extreme happiness intertwined with dangerous lows, best described on a site that I discovered today:-
These destructive patterns of thinking seem to be connected to a “switch” in the mind of a person who struggles with depression. Certain “triggers” seem to “trip” the switch, causing a flood of hopeless and self-loathing thoughts, which then ignites the embers of depression into full-fledged flames.
Triggers can be anything that trips the switch, such as being criticized, having an argument with a spouse, losing a job, flunking a test, making a mistake, becoming ill, being denied a promotion, feeling rejected, raising a difficult child, having a bad day, experiencing a loss or disappointment, having a financial setback, and so on.
~ Source: Serenity Online
During this long period, there were times when the switch would not be tripped for over a year, but I always knew that it might not be far away. I lost a lot of friends during that period, and am eternally grateful to those who have stood, and continue to stand by me.
It was Saturday 14 January, 2006, the day on which I started to live again. I woke up that morning in St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, at the age of 31, as a man with a past before he had even begun to explore his future.
By that point in my life, I had taken two major overdoses, and shamefully managed to acquire myself a single record, the type which is not available in HMV.
I know that I would not be here today, but for the intervention of Danielle, my late fiancée, and one of my closest friends Sally. Unanimously that morning, I was told that I was on my own and would have to face up to my problems. Dani simply said that as much as she loved me, she had to walk away. Maybe, it was tough love, either way it was indubitably my saving grace.
I moved back to Birmingham that weekend, leaving behind a life strewn with unpaid debts and bills, broken friendships, lies, anger and self-disgust. How on earth could I expect Dani to love me, when I was incapable even of liking myself.
Of course, there was one person, who had always loved me, despite the traumas to which I had subjected her, and that was my mother. She took me back in at that point, and I vowed to myself that the time for change had come.
I was fortunate to encounter a man whom I only knew for 6 months, but who had a dramatic impact on my life. My counsellor, who has sadly passed away, was the most positive influence on me, never reneging on the promise that he made not to be a comfort blanket. Instead he challenged me to start believing in and getting the best out of myself.
Make no mistake, this was not an easy process as baggage, for so long unattended, was carefully opened and constructively packed away into the past. It was a journey of self-discovery which has made me the person that I am today.
If there is a sole vindication of the positive changes in my life, it is that Dani took me back into her life, and that we were engaged to be married prior to her untimely loss last November. In many respects, it makes her loss all the more tragic.
However, any fears that I would find myself slipping towards any type of depression were confined to those around me, certainly never entering my psyche. I am a very different human being now, to the one which terrorised myself over a long period of time.
I am not too proud to talk about my problems – if this was the case, you would not be reading this. I am not afraid to deal with the challenges that life brings, and I cherish the gifts that we are given every day. I am surrounded by a fabulous group of friends and family who are not afraid to tell me the truth, and moreover, I am unafraid to listen.
It is because of where I have been, that I have absolutely no fear in where I am going. If I said that there were no regrets, it would be an untruth, but they are few and far between. My biggest regret is that I did not have the strength and wherewithal to deal with my depression before it had such a damaging impact on my life and on those around me.
For this alone, I implore you all to be more accepting of mental illness and depression, and not to attach a stigma to it. As an illness, it can have fatal consequences, and yet with the right support, it truly can be cured permanently. Whether you are reading this as someone who has or is suffering, or know someone that has, please do something positive to change it.
Mental illness is not just ‘in the mind’ but can have physiological and physical impacts, so we owe it to ourselves and those around us to do everything we can to raise awareness of it, and erase the ignorant myths and conceptions around it.
From a person who could not bare to look himself in the mirror, I am now a man full of life, hope, appreciation, and a better awareness of the feelings of those around me. In those moments of reflection and melancholy of all that has transpired, I simply remind myself of all the gifts I have had, and remind myself of the words of the Prophet Isaiah:-
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned”
However, you do not have to be spiritual to seek help, for it is available for all who choose to take it.
I have today written about things that have not been previously spoken outside my very closest circles. I dedicate this post to Danielle Antonia Price, my best friend and late fiancée, and to Pedros Kypridemos, an incredible man and counsellor. You both believed in me, and although you are not with me today, I feel you looking down on me and shining a light on me at every moment.

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