My battle with depression
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Hello everyone, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sharon Whitchurch. I’m 43 and a floating support worker, happily married to Paul for nearly twenty years. I am a mum to a wonderful young lady, I am in a job I love and am part of a fantastic community group.
I have something in common with the late, great Robin Williams. Would you like to guess what it is? I’ll tell you that it isn’t the fact that our surnames begin with the same letter. In fact before I tell you, I will be presumptuous as there is a good chance that we have something in common too. Guessed it yet? Yes, I have depression. There, I’ve said it. The scary thing is that once it is out there it can’t be retracted. It’s still such a taboo. It’s almost easier to say “I’m an alcoholic”, or “I failed my driving test seventeen times." I’m not and I didn’t by the way!
I, like many people, found out about Robin Williams’ very untimely death on Tuesday (12 August) morning, when my husband came home from work (he works nights you see). I honestly thought at first it was a very bad joke because I misheard him and thought he said Robbie Williams. It was early and I hadn’t had a cup of tea.
Then the shock of what had actually happened started to sink in. Robin Williams has committed suicide? Surely not? He’s a comic genius; he has everything going for him doesn’t he? We now all know, since more details have been released, that although depression is the main factor in his tragic suicide, there were quite a few other problems too.
Anyway, back to my battle with depression. As I said, for the last 20+ years I have battled with depression. It is always there, in the background, but something will trigger it and BOOM! It’s in the forefront of my mind, in front of everything. I eat, sleep (kind of) and drink depression. I won’t bore you with all the details of what happens but it comes in cycles. I can see when it is coming now. I can spot the signs. So can my family. And they are helpless. They know that there is nothing that they can do in the beginning. It has to take hold. I have to fall into the black hole. Or at least I have to get so close to the black hole that I am teetering on the edge. I remember watching an incredibly accurate video about depression being like a black dog that you carry around. How it weighs you down, and eventually you just can’t cope with it anymore. For me it’s a black hole. When I’m well, the hole is tiny. When I’m ill, the hole is huge and when I’m very ill, I’m in the hole, holding on by my fingertips. At the moment the hole is small. I’m in a good place.
Depression and all the other mental illnesses that are associated with it can be a silent killer. Sometimes literally. A friend of mine lost her husband to depression a couple of years ago. He, like Robin Williams, committed suicide. The worst of it is, she didn’t even realise that he was depressed. He was the life and soul of the party. Always willing and eager to do anything for anyone. Always the loud one, the one who did everything they could to make people smile. He rarely said: "No, sorry, I can’t do that." That’s me. I do all of that. Sorry, did all of that.
It’s like a paradox, because while you’re on a mission to do all of the above, depression can also kill your zest for life; it can kill your relationships and your personality. It turns you into a zombie. You exist. You function. You wander around on auto-pilot. But by doing all of the above, people can’t get in. Can’t see what you’re really going through. Can’t see that your brain isn’t working quite right. Can’t see that there’s something wrong with the wiring. I am one of the lucky ones. My family stuck by me. Looking back, I wonder how sometimes! I was awful. I did everything I could to push them away. I was horrible. I hated me, thought I was worthless. I didn’t deserve them so I expected them to leave. That was inevitable. Of course they were going to go. But, they were going to leave on my terms, that much I was going to control.
I have taken pills, all sorts. Prescribed ones I hasten to add. Ones for straightforward depression, ones to combat stress as well as depression. Pills to help with anxiety as well as depression. But all they did was mask the problem. They never really fixed it. Then, after my latest episode - which by the way was just after I had left teaching - after a lot of thought I decided that I needed a break. I made myself an appointment at the Job Centre to sign-on. I saw it as a new opportunity to diversify, but bills still needed to be paid so needs must. I sat there across from an advisor and felt as if I was floating up out of myself. Next thing I knew I was crying, not full-on uncontrollable sobs (I have some pride you know) and then I knew. It was back. Depression had been threatening me with a visit, and here it was. Oh great! I have to say the advisor was amazing. Tissues, kind words and a gentle push to go and get myself to my GP. I clearly wasn’t well.
More pills were prescribed but this time there was something else. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). I had to learn to look after myself. Had to learn that I was worthwhile. That I could make a difference. That I was good at something. There was a lot of talking, a lot of tears, some homework, more tears, more talking, more tears and then my interview at Bromford. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t ‘fixed’ straight away. I don’t think you’re ever ‘fixed’ as far as depression is concerned. I still took my pills, every day at first. Then every other day, with the odd visit to the GP thrown in. Occasionally I would dip into the therapy strategies I had learnt. Then before I knew it, I couldn’t remember when I had last taken an anti-depressant. For anyone that takes them, they will know how massive that is. I’ve thrown the last few away, although I’m not going to lie - it took a few weeks to pluck up the courage to do that, even though I wasn’t taking them anymore!
Now I support people at Bromford. I help them get themselves straight and into permanent accommodation. Sometimes it is that straightforward. Sometimes it is a lot more complicated. You can’t tell when you first meet them. You don’t know what they might be suffering from. What demons they are wrestling with. Depression is silent. It is invisible. By the time we realise that we are depressed we feel so alone – even in a crowded room with people we love – we don’t know how to ask for help.
I’m guessing that’s where Robin Williams was. It’s so sad that he was in such a dark place that he couldn’t see any other way out. I sincerely hope that he is allowed to sleep well now. Let us remember him as he was.
If you or anyone you know needs help, Bromford offers a wide range of support services to help mental health and emotional wellbeing. You can also contact:
Rethink Mental Illness: 0300 5000 927
Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393
The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90