“Lloyd” – as my name was called I walked slowly and unsteadily towards the consultation room. Inside, in a detailed and extremely wide-ranging conversation, I talked about how I’d been feeling and how things had been, and continued to, deteriorate over the previous few months (more in Part 1 & 2 on that).
The diagnosis from my consultant psychiatrist was clear I was suffering from pretty severe depression and anxiety. Some of my scores on the tests they undertake to test these things were nearly off the scale (not that I realised it at the time). Also, my depression and anxiety was likely to be a biological one – due to a chemical imbalance in the brain – that’s not to say other things going on in your life don’t aggravate it but that it’s likely there in some form most of the time. That explained why, when I’d come off my medication in the middle of 2017, the house of cards had collapsed and it had been nearly impossible to put it back together again.
The next part I found terrifying. We discussed if I actually needed to go into hospital for some intensive treatment. That hit me like a train. That cut through the haze I was feeling. Bang. Right between the eyes.
I wasn’t too fussed on that, I was convinced it probably would have made me worse. We agreed I should not stay in my flat on my own to recover, I needed to be around people who could care for me. So, it was agreed I would go back to Wales.
My medication was overhauled. My previous medication was altered and a brand-new medication was introduced – which would gradually increase in dosage as I saw if there were any side effects.
I can write about it rationally now but the whole morning of that day was nothing short of a whirlwind. At the time I had little to no idea what was going on.
I left the hospital and out in the street I rang my mother. I genuinely couldn’t remember what had just happened. I remember saying I’d been given a “bag full of medication to take” – I hadn’t it was just a few more tablets. I broke down in tears on the phone and sobbed uncontrollably. I remember thinking at that point maybe I’d made the wrong decision about not going into hospital. I couldn’t cope anymore.
I rang my Granny and a similar experience occurred, I still couldn’t remember what had happened in the appointment and I broke down in tears again.
Harder still was explaining to my family the dark suicidal thoughts I’d been having. We have pretty immediate family experience of suicide, so that was genuinely one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had. Thankfully, and as always, they responded amazingly and said they were glad (if that’s the right word) to know and by getting it out in the open with them, I could get the help I needed.
I was a blubbering wreck. On the streets of central London, no less.
Luckily, somewhere deep inside my seemingly non-functioning brain my lawyer’s training had helped. I’d noted down a few things in my trusty notepad during the consultation. I didn’t remember I’d done this of course. But I managed to piece together what had happened and I went to get the prescription for my new medication dispensed.
The thought of organising my journey home from London seemed overwhelming. When I’m well I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Click, click and its done – all online. Easy. It seemed like a major challenge now.
Anyway, I got home. It was different to how I’d felt before and explained in Part 1 & 2. This time I felt totally numb. Everything was negative and all consuming. I wanted to just sleep and never wake up. The problem was I couldn’t really sleep at that point. I was stuck in a perpetual cycle of misery.
What little sleep I could get was punctuated by frequent and lengthy spells of being awake. Time which was spent worrying and feeling incredibly negative about the world and myself. It was destroying me, no matter how hard I fought.
For at least the first week of being home I cried every morning when I woke up. The suicidal thoughts would permeate through even the simplest activities, in the shower, making some coffee. The negativity and misery was everywhere I looked. I couldn’t escape it. Not for a second.
As I sat there staring at the new tablet I was about to take, I wondered if this would be the answer. Yet the negativity kicked back in. The previous one hadn’t really worked. Why should this? Any glimmer of hope disappeared. And disappeared quickly.
Through the whole of this chronic period my energy levels were even lower than before. At the end of each day I’d feel like I’d run a marathon – I hadn’t of course. I’m fat for God’s sake.
I’d try my best to instil some sense of routine in my day, if you can call it that. I’d at least try and be out of bed at a half sensible time and have a shower. Some days that was easy, some days it was next to impossible.
I continued my CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. After my decline into negative suicidal thoughts, the therapy changed tact and focussed for several weeks on my own safety and developing a safety plan that I could revert to if I felt like I was about to act on some of the negative thoughts. I won’t go into the specifics of this but it involved getting several close friends / family to agree to be a part of the plan and agreeing a code word I could text or WhatsApp them in the event I felt something was about to happen. It’s a genius idea.
Every few weeks I would see my consultant psychiatrist and we would carefully monitor the impact the new medication was having on me. Thankfully, I seemed to tolerate the medication pretty well. These sorts of tablets can be hit and miss for some people, so that felt like a major victory. My medication was increasing gradually nearly every week and I started to see some positive results – the suicidal thoughts began to occur less often and my sleep was getting better. It certainly wasn’t perfect though.
In the early part of this recovery, I wasn’t really capable of much. I’d try and watch TV but I’d often get lost in the haze I was experiencing. I’d often have to rewatch crucial bits of programmes several times to try and work out what was going on. Not like me at all.
I reverted to what I call “simple yet rewarding” tasks. Things I could do easily, without much effort and I could stand back and get at least some sense of achievement. One afternoon, I planted a holly bush in a pot. It took me 10 minutes but it gave me a greater sense of achievement and uplift in my mood than anything had in that month had. I was so proud of it, it seems, I got my father to take a photo of it:
Inspired by that, I did things like moving books around on my bookshelves. Only 5 or 10 minutes a day. But I could stand back and feel like I’d achieved something, even if that was the only meaningful thing I’d done that day. It doesn’t sound all that exciting or fulsome now I’m sure as you read this but it meant a lot to me at the time. Compare that to my usual complicated work as a lawyer and you can understand how basic we are talking.
Crucial I think to my escape from that period was being strict on using my phone and social media. For at least two weeks, I would give my phone to my mother in the evenings so I couldn’t take it to bed and I’d often not look at it bar an hour or so in the evening all day. It was refreshing and liberating. It certainly helped. I stopped all social media and bar a few messages with friends and that I didn’t really have much contact with the outside world.
There were points where I wondered if I’d ever be well again? I contemplated what my life would be like if I couldn’t get out of this patch. Thankfully I didn’t dwell on that too often but it was a recurrent thought around that time.
As we rolled through February I was beginning to feel like I was starting to get better. The deep depression and anxiety I had felt was not as deep and not as bad. It felt more under control. I wasn’t better, but I was getting better.
I continued with my weekly CBT and visits to see my consultant. They were pleased with progress, so was I. It was time towards the end of February for me to go back to London and go back to work – a phased return again. I’d split my time between Wales and London, so I could continue my recovery at home but start to get a sense of routine and normality back into my life.
As I boarded the train in Cardiff Central to London Paddington, I realised this train journey summed up my future now. You’ve made it this far, but there’s still a whole journey to go. That’s how I felt. I still had months and months of recovery and work to do to get back to where I was. I’d escaped the very worst part but this was really only the beginning. I needed to learn to live properly with this condition. It wasn’t going to defeat me. Not for a second.
I want to thank the group of people who have acted as the ‘review board’ for the What Have You Got To Be Miserable About? series of posts. Their guidance was invaluable and they, along with some others, also contributed massively to my recovery, for which I’ll be forever grateful.
I have been truly overwhelmed by the reaction these three blog posts have received. I expected maybe my friends and family would comment and say they liked them. But I have received hundreds of comments, likes, shares, tweets, retweets and private messages since they’ve been posted. Many have shared their own struggles with me and I’ve been touched by their honesty and openness but also worried. I’m worried how widespread the issue of mental illness is. The statistics are shocking but if the messages I’ve received are anything to go by, the reality is far worse.
The plan when I started this blog was to write these three posts – which I found, in a strange way, therapeutic and a useful record for my own purposes – and stop. I didn’t plan to continue.
However, I’ve been inspired by what people have said to me and the reaction these posts have received.
That’s why I’ve decided I will continue writing. I want to continue the conversation that I seem to have started, entirely by accident. There’ll be no fixed schedule – I prefer it that way. I’ll document from time to time how my recovery is going and how my condition is.
However, next I’m going to write a short series on things which have helped me through my depression and anxiety, in the hope it can serve some use for others. So next will be ‘The Power of …’ series of posts and here’s what I’ll cover, in no particular order (as they say on X Factor):
- The Power of … the Simple & Rewarding – about how I found some simple tasks massively rewarding and some of the things I tried which worked and didn’t work for me;
- The Power of … the Outdoors – how little spells of time spent outside can help bring perspective to an otherwise irrational and horrendous day; and
- The Power of … Family & Friends – perhaps the most important for me. I’ll share some of my experiences of how others have helped, and continue to help, me through my depression and anxiety.
Hopefully they’ll be interesting. They might not be. I haven’t written them yet.
As always, let me know what you think, particularly if things like this have helped you (or if you’ve helped someone else) through depression and anxiety. Over and out.